Beijing vs Shanghai

8 July 2014

Beijing and Shanghai, China's two most visited, couldn’t be more different. One is steeped in rich history and takes you back through the centuries, while the other flourishes with its international cosmopolitan scene. So, which one is right for you? We run through the four big selling points of each city – food, heritage, shopping and attractions – to help make the decision a little easier.

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Shopping

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 The bustling Yuyuan Garden, Shanghai

While Beijing’s traditional shops are slowly being replaced by shopping malls, there are still plenty of open-air markets and street vendors offering more traditional arts, crafts and clothing. The grandest shopping mall in Beijing is Wangfujing Dajie  – a pedestrian-only commercial avenue lined with clothing outlets, souvenir shops and two popular malls.

Shanghai, in contrast, is home to many luxury shopping malls including Plaza 66 and Shanghai IFC. The advantage of shopping in Shanghai is its wide avenues with many flagship stores, as well as an eclectic mix of boutiques and local designers.
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Attractions

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 Tiananmen Square at dusk

The ultimate Beijing experience is Tiananmen Square - a pinnacle of great cultural significance and the site of several important events in Chinese history. Head to the 798 art district, set in a sprawling decommissioned military factory, to catch a glimpse of China’s modern art world. Also worth a trip is The Great Wall of China, just two hours away by car.

Shanghai rivals Beijing with its attractions, including the Shanghai Museum - built in the shape of an ancient bronze cooking vessel - the People’s Square, and the outdoor Dongtai Road Antiques Market. Contemporary art lovers must visit M50, the Moganshan Road arts district. For nightlife, you can’t go past the Bund in Shanghai, the historic riverfront area. The city spent over $700 million to widen the sidewalks at the foot of 1920s and 1930s era buildings, filled with restaurants, shops and bars.
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Heritage

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 Beijing's 'new' Summer Palace

If you’re looking for centuries of history, Beijing is where it’s at. It has been the urban centre of China for more than 30 Centuries and is known as the art and music capital of China. Beijing contrasts a mix of ancient history with the utilitarian architecture of the Mao era. Beijing is also home to a 1000-year-old Summer Palace as well as a 'new' Summer Palace, each beautiful in their own ways.

Shanghai is the newer of the two cities with most buildings built in the 1970s and 1980s. While it does still have its share of historic buildings, it is a modern cosmopolitan city and home to some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world.
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Food

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 Who's up for dumplings?

Shanghai may have a world-wide reputation for international dining, but it's Beijing where you will find China’s traditional cuisine, generally divided into two styles: imperial and home style. Imperial style is usually reserved for the elite and for dining at restaurants – think China’s famous Peking duck.

Most people, however, will eat home-style dishes that use simple and readily available ingredients. Dishes include street food such as fried dough twists, jian bing (egg crepes), and douzhi (fermented mung bean milk). Shanghai in contrast, has become a beacon for high-end dining, attracting famous chefs and international cuisine. Its street food is also different, often considered much lighter on the palate.

Rowena Ryan

As a well-travelled writer, Rowena looks for the local experience. Whether it’s a glass of rose in Paris or a shiraz in the Barossa, she embraces the fascinating and different cultures around the globe. Rowena loves Canada for its Caesar’s (a Clamato-based cocktail), the local markets in regional France, and a North American sports bar for wings and a cold beer.