Shanghai: Visit the Pearl of the Orient

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Shanghai: Visit the Pearl of the Orient:table of contents

The Pearl of the Orient, Shanghai has seen incredible growth in the last 30 years to become one of the largest and most modern cities in the world. With the futuristic modern forest of skyscrapers in Pudong and the historical patches of traditional architecture dotted around Puxi, Shanghai offers a fascinating blend of the old and the new. Here are 10 places in this ever-changing city you have to visit on a trip to Shanghai.

1. The Bund

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A riverside front of classic European architecture, the Bund is the perfect contrast to its across-the-river neighbor of Pudong, a futuristic sea of skyscrapers and chrome structures. Originally part of the British settlement of the city, the line of historic buildings were mostly used as banks and trading houses for various countries during the 20th century. The Bund area is particularly beautiful at night when the buildings in the Pudong skyline turn their lights on.

2. Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street

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Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street is always a hive of activity, full of people from all corners of China flocking to buy clothes, luxury goods or just bear witness to this busy, bustling stretch of town. Running for over a kilometer from People’s Square in the west and finishing close to the Bund in the east, this road is chock-a-block full of restaurants, historic department stores and more. The street has a long history in the city and has always been a popular center of commerce in Shanghai since it was first established in around 1845. It's best to visit the area at night, when the neon street signs and buildings are all lit up illuminating the street.

3. Shanghai Disneyland

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A more recent addition to the list of Shanghai's attractions, Shanghai Disneyland is China's first foray into the magical kingdom. The park does a great job of blending classic Disney rides and entertainment with aspects of Chinese culture, particularly noticeable during their Lunar Year celebrations when traditional-style Disney decorations are strewn all around the park. Although it's a little far out of the city, it's well worth a day trip especially if you are traveling with children.

4. Oriental Pearl TV Tower

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One of the most iconic landmarks jutting out of the impressive skyline of Pudong, the Oriental Pearl Tower is a strong symbol of Shanghai's rapid urban growth. Built in the '90s when much of the district was still farmland and low-rise apartments, this futuristic-looking tower became the first of a myriad of skyscrapers that sprung up in the following 20 years. Check out the viewing platform at the top for some incredible views of Shanghai.

5. Yu Garden

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An impressive complex of stunning traditional Chinese architecture and picturesque gardens, Yu Garden has a history that dates back to 1559, built during the Ming Dynasty. The area is especially popular for the Huxinting Teahouse which sits in a beautiful scenic pond at the center of the area. The streets around here are usually crowded during the Lunar Year when the city decorates the area with Chinese lanterns and ceremonial decorations.

6. Tianzifang

This historical network of narrow alleys and lane houses hosts a range of charming restaurants and shops selling handmade creations and crafts, perfect for an afternoon to stroll around. The area is a great insight into Shanghai's traditional style of housing in the popular former French concession, although it has been renovated it still manages to mostly keep the original style.

7. Xintiandi (新天地)

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One of the most popular areas for the youth of the city, Xintiandi is an upscale district full of fancy restaurants, shops and entertainment. Still retaining some of its older residential neighborhoods and buildings, Xintiandi is another example of old meets new in the ever-changing city of Shanghai. The neighborhood also has a vibrant nightlife scene, full of bars, nightclubs and karaoke venues that open till the early hours of the morning. It's the perfect place to see the modern face and energy of the city.

8. Jing'an Temple

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A stunning ancient Buddhist temple lathered in gold and over-the-top decorations, Jing'an Temple shines strongly as a beacon of traditional Chinese architecture surrounded by towering modern skyscrapers. Dating back as far as the 3rd century when it was built by Wu during China's Three Kingdom period, Jing'an Temple was renovated in the '90s to become the remarkable masterpiece of traditional architecture seen today.

9. China Art Museum

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Once the site of the highly successful 2010 Shanghai World Expo, the China Art Museum is housed in the spectacular former China Pavilion, an extraordinary design of traditional and modern Chinese architecture. Inside the museum is one of the largest collections of modern art in Asia. The museum is closed every Monday and you'll need to book tickets to visit online, albeit with no charge.

10. Zhujiajiao

Photo by Fabio Achilli

One of the many 'Venices of the East' dotted around the outskirts of Shanghai, Zhujiajiao is a picturesque ancient water town known for its beautifully preserved traditional buildings, bridges and waterways that skirt around the town. Zhujiajiao is one of the easiest of the water villages to reach being connected with a metro line, taking just over an hour from central Shanghai.

A fascinating blend of modern and traditional architecture, Shanghai offers all the entertainment and excitement you could expect from this magnificent megalopolis while still retaining its unique historic charm and culture. Whether you're visiting for its abundance of mouth-watering eats, to witness the spectacular skyline or marvel at its picturesque Chinese constructions, Shanghai is sure to please any travelers that set foot in this futuristic urban wonder.