Shanghai is a relatively young city. It used to be a sleepy fishing village until the Western powers decided it was ideally located to start trading with China in the early 19th century. What Shanghai lacks in terms of old Buddhist temples or imperial palaces is amply compensated for by the fascinating mixture of traditional Chinese and colonial Western architectures and cultures. The traditional narrow alleys of Shanghai, the ‘Shikumen’, where the locals still hang their laundry to dry on bamboo poles, stand comfortably next to colonial French and German villas that now house trendy bars and restaurants, and the shiny skyscrapers that house the city’s bankers and businessmen. This is what gives Shanghai its open culture, its cosmopolitan flavor and its irresistible attractiveness.
What to see in Shanghai?
Shanghai’s centerpiece is no doubt the Bund, the boulevard along the Pujiang River, that spits Shanghai in two pieces, with the classical European architecture of ‘old’ Shanghai on one side and he spectacular skyline of the new financial district on the other. A stroll along the Bund at sunset when the lights come up on the Pudong side is nothing short of spectacular.
For a peek into old Shanghai, one has to go to the area around the famed Yuyuan Gardens and the Temple of the City God, a short stroll from the Bund. The enormous, golden roofed Jing’an Temple stands in great contrast to the modern high-rise of Shanghai’s central business district on Nanjing Road.
Shanghai also has its fair share of museums and galleries. The Shanghai Museum on People’s Square contains one of the richest collections of historical and cultural artifacts in the country, and is not to be missed. For contemporary arts, head to the Shanghai Contemporary Arts Museum in what used to be Shanghai’s main power plant, or one of the many art districts, old factories that have been redeveloped to house artist studios and art galleries.