Last week, on my way back from Australia, I headed to Shanghai for the first time. I had always wanted to go but never had the opportunity. This time, I decided to take the long road back to Europe and stop there for three days to discover this city everybody’s heard of. First impressions as I get ready to board the plane heading home.
The world’s largest city, Shanghai is home to 24 million people. It is also the world’s largest port, and indeed the wide Huangpu river which cuts the city in half sees an endless flow of little ferries, long barges carrying minerals and materials, and even massive high-sea boats and cruise ferries. Every now and then, one of them would signal his presence with a loud horn resonating through the city to warn incoming barges of its imposing presence. Even after the sunset and in the dark, the flow continued, only slowing down after 11pm.
Shanghai’s famous skyline sits in Pudong, on the eastern side of the Huangpu river, it is home to some truly impressive towers, with the Grand Hyatt sitting on top of the 490m Shanghai World Financial tower. An even bigger tower is being built next to it, to culminate at maybe 600m.
From there, a unique view over the city and river, and over the iconic Pearl Tower, the symbol of Shanghai.
No visit to this busy city is complete without a stroll on the Bund, the riverside walk, where at anytime of the day and particularly around sunset you are walking shoulder to shoulder, and fighting for space to take pictures of the last rays of sunlight reflected in the windows of the skyline on the other side of the river. Old grand buildings from the time of the European presence in Shanghai’s past line up the Bund, with on top of most of them, rooftop bars with a fantastic view of the skyline at night. I tried the House of Roosevelt Skybar and loved it. Great beats, comfortable seats and a lounge bar overlooking the river and city, with some pretty good cocktails at decent prices given the incredible view.
For those in search of something more local , Shanghai’s Tianzifang area is a labyrinth of small old pedestrian streets, adorned with countless little shops, bars, and art galleries in what is arguably one of Shanghai’s most alternative and trendy artistic areas. You can spend an afternoon exploring the little streets (and buying countless things).
A completely different atmosphere awaits the traveller in the French concession, where European style buildings are found in quiet streets adorned with Platane trees giving a certain stately impression. At night, there’s hardly any traffic, and you can enjoy a glass of wine in a quiet bar located in an old house with high wooden ceilings and floors, sitting at a little balcony overlooking the street, and one could almost believe they are in any French town. The calm is an incredible contrast to the frenzy and bright lights of the Bund and Pudong area.
Finally, don’t miss Shanghai’s Yu Gardens, a massive traditional Chinese shopping area set in beautiful traditional Chinese buildings where you can find all sorts of typical Chinese products. The massive crowds are likely to exhaust you quickly though, so head to the Yu Garden hidden in its centre to seek refuge. this ancient noble’s house is a maze of courtyards, shaded walks and ponds filled with lazy red carps. There you can sit in the shade of Chinese pine trees and enjoy a rest, right in the centre of the city and enjoying a centuries-old garden.
To finish, if you’re flying out of Pudong Airport, use the Maglev train, the world’s only commercial magnetic levitation train and the world’s fastest public ground transportation, which will take you to the airport in about 8 minutes at a speed of 430 km/h.
Just when you think you’ve figured it out, Shanghai surprises you and indeed, never ceases to amaze the traveller day after day, offering a wide range of unique and sometimes opposite experiences. A true megalopolis, confident in its power and filled with energy, culture and refinement, it is one of the jewels in Asia’s crown.