Since the 2008 Olympics the eyes of the world have turned to China, with Beijing understandably leading the way. But in fact it is Shanghai that perhaps best epitomises what modern China is all about and the city is a must-visit destination for any visitor to this mysterious, alluring and forward-looking country.
For the first-time visitor, the sheer scale and dynamism of Shanghai is enough to take your breath away. Towering modern architecture dominates the skyline, and yet dig beneath the surface and you will find that this gleaming modernity remains inextricably interwoven with shiny temples, bustling street markets and classic Chinese gardens.
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Start your visit with a meander along the Nanjing Road. This is China’s most famous shopping street and is absolutely teeming with high-end boutiques, full to the seams with designer names. For something a bit easier on the wallet and with an authentic Chinese feel, head to the Yuyuan Bazaar. Here you will find a delightful selection of attractive Chinese jewellery, crafts and artworks, with plenty of options if you are looking for gifts or mementos of your trip.
As you wonder through the streets it is hard not to be struck by the beguiling combination of old and new. Explore between the steel and glass and discover Shanghai’s many temples, such as the Jinshan Donglin temple. Over 700 years old, it has recently be renovated and returned to its former glory. It is also responsible for several entries in the Guinness Book of Records!
A coastal location always adds a unique charm to an urban destination and Shanghai is no exception. There is plenty of beach entertainment to be found away from the skyscrapers of the central district. Try taking a trip out to the Jinshan City beach, on the north bank of Hangzhou Bay, for an eyeful of attractive scenery and plenty of beachside entertainment including sailing, windsurfing and bungee jumping. The best time to visit is in the early spring, when the national kite flying championships and world beach volleyball tournament take place here, or in the height of summer to coincide with the Fengxia Music Festival.
A visit to a tea house is a must when you are staying in Shanghai. Choose from a huge selection of teas and indulge in the many traditional Chinese delicacies that accompany them, often free of charge.
If you still have room for more, Shanghai’s restaurants will certainly not disappoint. The local cuisine has a reputation for being light, fresh and well balanced, featuring plenty of seafood, chicken, goose and deliciously fresh vegetables.
Do be sure to take a phrase book and make some effort to master at least a few key words. English speakers are still scarce in China, and although there are more in Shanghai than in many areas a few handy words of Mandarin can go a long way.
There is plenty of accommodation in Shanghai to suit every budget and the choice is as diverse as everything else in this bustling cultural centre. For a reliable option at a good price check out the mid-price motel chains or pick from quirky guest houses to five-star luxury at either end of the spectrum.