London. Paris. New York. Shanghai.
Yes, Shanghai. I was only there for a couple of days but I already have plans to return in the next few months.
I was instantly comfortable in Shanghai. After only a few hours I felt like I had a basic understanding of the layout and could get around the center of the city. The metro is probably the easiest in the world. There was much more English than I expected. In fact the only thing transaction that required Mandarin were the taxis. The city was a good balance of traditional and modern. There are lots of parks, art and green space. There is attention to detail and beauty everywhere.
Here is how I spent my two very full days in the city:
Early morning walk through People’s Park. The park was full with people enjoying the day, doing Tai Chi and setting up for the marriage market. We joined in on some Tai Chi and I found the marriage market fascinating. The marriage market is a continuation of the tradition of arranged marriages where parents come to the park and advertise their children’s details on an umbrella. Fortunately, the “children” were older than I expected and most were in their late 20s and 30s.
Continued walking to the Sculpture Park. This is another beautiful park filled with locals just enjoying the day.
Took the metro out to Qibao Ancient Town. I highly recommend Qibao whether in Shanghai for just a couple of days or a couple of weeks. It is a beautifully preserved Chinese town now used for eating and shopping. Most of the visitors were local and we only saw one other Western couple.
I took the metro back into the center of the city to visit the Propaganda Poster Art Center. This is somewhere you will not accidently find. It is a bit of walk from the nearest metro and not well labeled. Ironically, it is where I saw the most Westerner’s my entire trip. The museum was interesting but if not specifically fascinated about 20th century war, communism, culture and history like I am (or specifically propaganda art like my traveling companion), and if you are limited on time, you can probably skip it.
Jade Buddha temple was our next stop. And this is a must do. I was surprised I didn’t read anything about it before my trip and only found out about it once in Shanghai. The temple was founded recently in 1882 and is a fairly large complex. You actually have to walk through the complex to the last building to see the Jade Buddha.
M50 was our last stop for the day before dinner. Built in the 40s it is now more a gentrified neighborhood of shops, cafes and street art. It is not a 5 minute stop. Plan on at least an hour to meander through the streets. I was very disappointed when we “arrived” but very glad we took the extra time to walk around. You need a minute for the areas to sink in and grow on you…
We had dinner at Garlic which was out of the way if you are following the above route. However, it is well worth the extra travel time. The food was authentic and unbelievably good. My friends got in the day after I went, and were in Shanghai an extra few days after I left. I told them they had to go the following night so they would have time to go a second time. They did!!
On our way home we walked back through People’s Park and Nanjing Pedestrian Street. As much as we loved seeing the city wake up and enjoy the park in the early morning, it was equally great at night. There was music and dancing everywhere. Nanjing was the perfect end to our day. It is the Times Square and Piccadilly Circus of Shanghai filled with lights, food and people.
Note: I should probably warn you that a less aggressive traveler with more time may split this into two days. We are in the park by 6 am, didn’t make it home until around 10pm and walked 16.5 miles. But it was well worth it!
On our second day in the city we focused on the Old City. Nanshi is the preserved old city, some of which was built as early as the 1550’s to protect the population from Japanese invasion. Today the city is a cute historic walking area filled with temples, souvenir shops, food and tea houses. I would recommend spending 2-3 hours wandering around the streets and temples of this area. It was pouring rain while we were there and we still spent a couple of hours. Yu garden was by far our favorite stop in the area and well worth the entrance fee. Our most debated stop of the entire trip was Huxinting Tea House. The Tea House is over 300 years old and has hosted the Queen. It is a beautiful building with a great view. That said, everything was very expensive, the staff was not kind, you felt rushed and the tea was not particularly good.
The nearby Songjiang Mosque was our next stop. It is the oldest mosque in Shanghai built in the 14th century. I was intrigued by the descriptions of the combination of Arabic and Chinese architecture. This was a huge disappointment and I am glad we did not invest much time in this side trip.
The Shanghai Museum is on every list for the city. The museum is right in People’s Park and free. It has several floors of art and artifacts from China. We were selective in what we saw and there and stayed about an hour, but if interested you could probably spend up to two or three hours exploring every exhibit. For us, it was a great opportunity to get out of the downpour.
Shanghai has a proud and unique legacy as a refugee for European Jews during WWII. I wanted to learn more about this first hand while visiting and so we went to the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum. It is a bit out of the way and not very large but I still thought it was worth the trip. Our trip was dampened by both the weather and an unruly school group but I would still recommend it and maybe even go again. However, I definitely do not recommend the associated White Horse Inn across the street!
We then headed over to the Oriental Pearl Tower. Let me tell you, there is a lot going on here and I didn’t not leave nearly enough time to explore! The weather wasn’t good enough to go to the top of the tower but I wanted to come here for the Shanghai History Museum. It was a bit hard to find as it is at the very end of the first floor. (Note, you buy your tickets as you walk in the tower, so I had to back track). The museum was bigger and more extensive than I hoped and was definitely worth it!
We then took the Bund sightseeing tunnel back to the other side of the river to the Bund. This was unusual, cheesy and fun! We had no wait and it was faster than taking the subway so I thought it was totally worth it as a unique form of travel from point A to point B.
Walking along the bund and the water was a beautiful way to end my first visit to Shanghai. I wish we’d had more time but we were hungry.
There are a ton of great places to choose from in this area and we ended up at Goodfella’s. We were not disappointed. The food was amazing. We sat next to two people who are frequently in town on business and Goodfella’s was one of their favorite spots.
I am already looking forward to my next trip to Shanghai when I hope to explore Zhujiajiao Water Town, Power Station of Art, China Art Museum, spend more time at the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Bund and of course find more time for eating. I want to return to both Garlic and Goodfella’s but also have some other places to try including the nearby Tajine and The Nest.
So many places, so little time….