There’s something very different in the air of Shanghai compared to the rest of the country – and I’m pretty sure its residents notice it too. Bursting with skyscrapers and futuristic architecture that reaches for the clouds, Shanghai is very much in a league all of its own. It’s so easy to forget you’re in Asia here, especially when a Starbucks Coffee rounds out every other corner, and highways twist and turn sophisticatedly above the ground.
So what to see and do in this ultra-modern city? Here are my top three sights:
Picturesque, iconic and postcard perfect, the Bund is the symbol of Shanghai. Highlighting some of the most impressive financial towers along the waterfront, this boardwalk can be a lovely stroll – when it’s not overly crowded, which it nearly is all the time.
Luckily for me, I visited on a very rainy evening. It was wet, but that resulted in practically getting the entire boardwalk to myself. It was particularly peaceful when I wandered away from the main viewing point towards the Waibaidu Bridge.
Even during peak times, the Bund is still a fascinating and humbling experience, especially knowing none of the buildings would’ve been there 20 years ago. And if that doesn’t interest you, it’s also a fantastic place to people watch!
One of the most famous temples in Shanghai, the Jing’an Temple is situated right in the congested downtown area. It’s incredible the city decided to keep the temple in its original location, having the rest of Shanghai flourish around it instead.
The temple completely lives up to its name too, translating to “Temple of Peace and Tranquility”. Even though the rest of the city is rapidly growing all around it, the temple itself remains traditional and grounded. The second I went through the front gates, I was taken somewhere outside of the noisy and energetic city.
If you have time, make a quick visit across the street to the Jing’an Park. Another oasis in the city where you’ll find locals enjoying the peaceful gardens, playing Chinese chess or practicing Tai Chi.
Ancient Water Towns
Even though Shanghai makes a big effort to project it’s modernity, it also embraces it’s historical sides too. Not far from the outskirts of Shanghai are eight ancient water towns that’ll instantly transport you back several hundreds of years. It’s a bit touristy and many of the ground-level buildings have become shops and restaurants. But many of the traditional buildings, architectures and bridges are still beautifully intact and preserved.
On a time constraint, I was only able to visit the closest water town of Qibao. Easily accessible by the metro, Qibao is small, but gives a great taste as to what these traditional villages would’ve been like in their heydays.
Here are the 8 water villages and their distances from downtown Shanghai:
Qibao – 21km
Zhujiajiao – 50km
Luzhi – 73km
Zhouzhuang – 79km
Xitang – 82km (where Mission Impossible III was filmed!)
Tongli – 90km
Nanxun – 127km
Wuzhen – 130km (over 1000 years old)