As one of China’s two great cities, Shanghai is a glamorous mix of contrasts. You’ll discover thousands of years of imperial history alongside world-leading technology. Space age skyscrapers tower over gracious art deco buildings; meanwhile, in the surrounding parks, the locals practice tai chi at dawn as they have done for centuries. It’s a vast modern metropolis home to over 20 million people - and although there is plenty to spend your money on in Shanghai, there is also a wealth of freebies. Here’s our pick of the best.
Dive headfirst into 4000 years of Chinese history at the wonderful Shanghai Museum. Entry is free and with four floors of priceless treasures to explore, you could easily spend at least half a day here. Highlights include exquisite jade carvings, ancient bronze artifacts, calligraphy, porcelain, and ethnic costumes. The museum is open daily from 9am-5pm.
Like many of the world’s big cities, Shanghai is best explored on foot. There are plenty of tour companies that will guide you through the backstreets for a price, but it’s easy to do it on your own if you know where to start. The Old City section is one of the city’s last remaining traditional neighborhoods, where you can wander through twisting residential alleyways and see the locals going about their daily life. For a different perspective take a stroll through the French Concession, the area of Shanghai once designated for the French. The tree-lined boulevards, grand mansions and pavement cafes will transport you straight to Europe.
M50 Contemporary Art Galleries
The Moganshan Road Art District, otherwise known as M50, has become the hub of China’s modern art movement. Rundown industrial warehouses in north Shanghai have been transformed into a set of funky modern galleries and studios, where you can see China’s best contemporary art. If you’re lucky, you may even meet some of the artists at work. Art lovers should also check out the Hongfang Creative Industrial Zone, another modern art centre which focuses more heavily on sculpture.
Renowned as the Wall Street of the Far East during the 1920s and 30s, the Bund is a riverfront avenue lined with beautiful art deco buildings. If you’ve seen the classic night skyline photographs of Shanghai and want to take some of your own, the Bund is the place to go. At the north end you will find one of Shanghai’s most famous buildings, the Peace Hotel, where celebrities including Cole Porter stayed in the 1930s.
Shanghai’s public parks are always full of activity, and if you’re keen to observe Chinese culture and daily life, this is the place to start. At dawn, people gather en masse to practice tai chi or sometimes even ballroom dancing. During the day, the parks are popular with picnickers, badminton players, couples lazing on the grass, and grandparents minding children. Entry to most parks is free.