Trees glinting with festive lights, store assistants wearing Santa
hats and carols sung in Mandarin weren’t what I had expected of
Christmas in Shanghai. Cantonese restaurants offering Yuletide menu
specials never even figured. People had told me it would be a
non-event, falling as it does between the Chinese Mid-Autumn and
New Year festivals. But I should have known better if Shanghai
teaches you one lesson, it’s not to make summary judgments.
Shanghai had good reason to celebrate Christmas 2004, the
figurative ending of the year in which it re-emerged as a white-hot
urban destination. Champagne flowed in the new Tongren Lu bar
street and fireworks fizzed in the skies above Xintiandi. Another
thing Shanghai teaches you: It loves to party.
For clients in search of a pulsing city experience 48 hours that
transport you from the past to the future and back to the present
few places currently match Shanghai. Time recently named it “the
world’s most happening city” and 4 million overseas visitors came
to experience China’s 21st-century city last year.
What they discovered was a futuristic skyline, world-class
hotels, bustling convention centers and varied tourism sites. The
world’s first magnetic levitation passenger train (running at 260
mph!) runs between the airport and the outskirts of town, and a
major new cruise port, the world’s longest bridge and largest
Ferris wheel are all coming soon. All that and its fashionable
restaurants and nightlife are the hottest in Asia. Clients new to
Shanghai will find its fascination framed by its rich history,
fast-paced present and white-knuckle ride into the future
48 Hours to the Future
There’s a lot to pack in during 48 hours, so clients should be
prepared for a tight schedule. Making the most of Shanghai means
plenty of street time and very little downtime.
Many visitors (not unreasonably) make straight for the Bund. But
why not soak up some classic Old Shanghai first?
Famous in the go-go 1920s and ’30s as Asia’s capital of
hedonism, Shanghai thrived as the “Paris of the Orient.” During
this time, its hotels were centerpieces of high society, and you
can still visit some of them. Standing in the lobbies of the Peace,
Metropole and Pujiang hotels, the time-warp ambience makes it easy
to imagine oneself as a cigar-chewing gangster or martini-sipping
movie star of yore. This era was the inspiration for
Merchant/Ivory’s latest period film “The White Countess,” shot
around Shanghai’s historic back streets this fall.
During that colonial period, Shanghai was carved into
self-governed settlements by the British, French and American
powers. The French created the most architecturally alluring
“concession” and today the atmospheric streets in the former French
Concession, such as Shaanxi Lu, Gao’an Lu, Yongjia Lu, Changle Lu,
Huangpi Nan Lu and Fuxing Lu, are brimming with life and photo
There is no end to the entertaining cityscapes found here.
Tricycle delivery riders and taxis compete for road space, as
motorcyclists revert to the sidewalks. All day, people congregate
around glass cabinets nailed to the walls to read the posted daily
newspaper, while fruit sellers slouch in deckchairs in front of
their kiosks. On seemingly every corner there is a card or domino
Pajamas and Dumplings
While exploring this area, it’s worth looking out for Shanghai’s
daytime “pajama culture” a fallback to a more communal-based living
environment whereby elder citizens wear their night clothes while
going about their daily shopping, porch sweeping and, sometimes,
Returning from past to present, midday means one thing:
lunchtime. This is my favorite time of the Shanghai day, as its
culinary street theater is an absorbing, and zealously guarded,
ritual. Clients should grab their camera and hit the labyrinthine
streets behind the Bund, a mile-long strip of 23 colonial-era
mansions (note the Chinese flag atop each one). Time it right, and
long lines will be forming outside the steamed bun and dumpling
stalls, noodle stands and food kiosks. Braver clients might want to
join in and sample the local specialties, such as xiaolongbao
steamed dumplings filled with pork and scalding soup or stinky
tofu, whose name really is no mistake.
Fully refreshed, the afternoon should begin with a stroll along
the famous Bund, which faces off against the space-age skyline of
Pudong on the opposite bank of the Huangpu, home to the world’s
highest hotel and hotel bar (both at the Grand Hyatt in the Jinmao
Tower) and the emblematic Oriental Pearl Tower. Clearly visible
also is the construction site of the world’s tallest building, due
for completion by the end of 2007.
An elevated pedestrian walkway offers good photo angles and the
Bund Museum at the north end provides some photographic history. A
ferry traverses the Huangpu in summer or you can take a metro or
cab to the other side.
Clients should explore the Bund both by day and at night, when
the contrast between the old (Bund) and new (Pudong) Shanghai is
exaggerated by the nighttime lighting. Several inexpensive cruise
boats offer short river trips until mid-evening.
Dine in Style
Visitors can finish up the day by experiencing Shanghai’s
restaurant scene, which is attracting global acclaim backed up by
the new Zagat’s Survey, its first publication in China.
Three Michelin-starred chefs opened stylish restaurants in 2004:
Jean Georges at Three on the Bund, the Pourcel brothers’ Sens et
Bund at Bund 18 and Stefan Stiller’s Club Shanghai at the Shanghai
Concert Hall. Elsewhere, esteemed eateries M on the Bund, T8,
Whampoa Club and classy newcomers Casanova (Italian) and Thai
Gallery offer world-class dining experiences.
Xintiandi, a restaurant and bar district housed in renovated
shikumen (stone gate) houses remains Shanghai’s most popular night
out, particularly during summer for al fresco eating. The
waterfront Bund is fast transforming itself into Shanghai’s most
chic nightlife and entertainment district. As well as Shanghai’s
best international food, it is home to Club Rouge, Shanghai’s
hottest cocktail lounge. Glamour Bar, an adjunct to M on the Bund
restaurant, retains its pre-eminent status for pre-dinner
For after-dinner drinks, the choice is vast. In late December, a
glitzy new strip of late-night bars and clubs was opened on Tongren
Lu. New wine lounges, such as Senses and Zin, reveal a previously
dormant passion for the vine, while Face and Sasha’s are smart
lounge bars in restored mansions.
Several new clubs opened in 2004, many attracting guest spots
from international superstar DJs. Hot spots include La Fabrique,
Mint, Madame Zung and Guandii local hero Yao Ming’s favored spot
for a hometown night out.
Day Two: Model City
Perhaps, the Urban Planning Museum wouldn’t be the first Day Two
stop on many tourists’ itineraries, but trust me, it’s the best
place to grasp modern Shanghai’s sheer vastness. And clients will
adore its gigantic scale model of Shanghai circa 2010. A laser show
pinpoints Shanghai’s architectural highlights and ongoing city
landscaping due for completion before Shanghai hosts World Expo
2010 (note the countdown clock at the museum’s entrance).
A short hop away is the idiosyncratic Shanghai Museum, housing
China’s finest collection of historical treasures, paintings,
ceramics and traditional clothing, plus a fine souvenir and
bookshop. Both museums sit in the middle of People’s Park,
originally created as a crescent-shaped horse racetrack in the
early 20th century.
Take time here to contrast Shanghai’s classic and modernist
architectural mix in the buildings ringing the square the brooding
art deco masterpiece of the Park Hotel (officially the geographic
center of Shanghai), the brash futurism of the JW Marriott hotel,
the neo-classical Shanghai Art Museum (previously the Shanghai
Jockey Club), and the updated classic style of the Shanghai Grand
Theatre. Across the park, technical ingenuity was at play during
2004, when the Shanghai Concert Hall was physically lifted about 10
feet up and moved 218 feet southeast, to its new location.
Taking a different historical turn, the Propaganda Poster Art
Center offers a fascinating insight to life in post-WWII Shanghai.
This tiny basement gallery exhibits hundreds of colorful and,
occasionally, bizarre posters and street paintings utilized by Mao
Zedong’s government to cajole national pride and allegiance to the
The next stop takes you further back to gain some understanding
of Maoism’s Shanghai roots. The place where Mao and China’s
Communist Party first secretly convened in July 1921 is now a
museum at 321 Huangpi Nan Lu (next to Xintiandi).
Hit the Shops
With the history, culture, architecture and urban planning boxes
neatly ticked, I suggest a grand finale of offloading some Chinese
currency on gifts and souvenirs.
Shanghai can rate against most world cities when it comes to
shopping. Nanjing Lu and Huaihai Lu are the central shopping
thoroughfares, both featuring national and international stores and
malls. The pedestrianized eastern end of Nanjing Lu is most
atmospheric in early evening, when locals come out to shop beneath
the neon lights after work.
Brand devotees should head to the Plaza 66 mall, where, among
others, Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Cartier and
Ermenegildo Zegna lie in wait. Other up-market plazas include Three
on the Bund, Bund 18 and Lane Crawford.
If handcrafted products are your clients’ thing, direct them to
the former artists’ colony of Taikang Lu, whose boutiques and
workshops now sell Shanghai’s most inventive range of jewelry,
fashions and household accessories. Changle Lu, Fuxing Lu, Hunan Lu
and Xinle Lu also have neat clothing and accessory boutiques owned
by local designers. Clients seeking something to adorn the
fireplace back home might try Spin, an innovative pottery studio on
Julu Lu, or the Yu Yuan Bazaar in old Shanghai, where traditional
tea sets and textiles are a good value. Xiangyang Market is the
place to bargain for fake designer goods (and even golf
After 48 hours of bargain hunting and fine dining, historic
hotels and futuristic skyscrapers, river cruises, street food,
double-taking cyclists and pajama-wearing market vendors, I’m sure
your clients will agree: Shanghai is a city of the future and the
future looks quite wild indeed.
China Travel Service
|EXPERT ADVICE: TOUR OPERATORS|
Nearly every tour to China stops in Shanghai, which is just as it
should be according to Steve Xu, president of Champion Holidays.
“A tour is not complete if it doesn’t stop in Shanghai,” he
said. “Most of our tours spend at least two nights in Shanghai. A
lot of other tour companies only spend one night, but we believe
you really need two nights.”
Christina Liadis, sales and marketing manager for San
Francisco-based China Travel Service, agreed.
“The good thing is that Shanghai often is the last stop on a set
itinerary, so it’s easy to add on nights there,” Liadis said.
In fact, there’s plenty to see even for clients who have been
there before, as the city is constantly evolving.
“We have repeat visitors that go back after a year or even
less,” Xu said, “and they can’t believe how much the city has
changed. It feels like skyscrapers go up every day.” Both operators
said Shanghai can look forward to even more growth.
“The expectation is that it will rival Hong Kong for business
travel before too long,” Liadis said. “And we do a lot of FIT
business there also with personal guides, drivers and
Xu agreed that Shanghai is a good destination for FIT
“Shanghai is an easy-going and convenient city, many of the
street signs are in English and the local people are often well
educated and speak English,” he said. “Therefore it’s a good choice
When asked, Xu had many must-see attractions in the city
including the Shanghai Museum, which he described as “probably the
best in all of China” but Yu Gardens is one of his favorite
“Yu Gardens is fascinating for visitors,” he said. “They are not
like the Imperial-style gardens in Beijing. They are delicately
designed and good for wandering.”
Liadis also mentioned Yu Gardens, along with strolling along the
Bund and taking an evening cruise on the Huangpu. She suggested
Shanghai’s world-famous acrobatic troupe as well.
“The acrobats do all sorts of incredible things,” she said. “The
show is 80 minutes long and it takes place every night. It’s
perfect when combined with a dinner out.” Kenneth Shapiro
It was a good year for Shanghai: Convention centers were booked
months in advance and hotel rooms were full. In addition,
Shanghai’s emergence as the darling of the glossy travel magazines
reaped a new harvest of leisure travelers. Sustained demand for
rooms also pushed up rates, with hikes of 20 percent not uncommon.
Most international hotel brands are here, and Ritz-Carlton
recently became Shanghai’s first upscale hotel to manage a luxury
cruise boat on the Huangpu River. (All hotels listed here offer
agent commission, and add on a 15 percent service charge to room
JW Marriott Tomorrow Square (Puxi): Now into
its second year, this iconic 60-floor skyscraper is Marriott’s
China flagship. Centrally located on People’s Park, it combines 342
rooms and suites with 255 serviced apartments. The 360-degree city
views from the 38th floor lobby are unbeatable and the Mandara Spa
Rates run from $144 per night.
Portman Ritz-Carlton (Puxi): Established luxury
favorite at the Shanghai Center restaurant and shopping complex on
busy Nanjing Road. Impeccable service and attention to detail have
garnered several awards. The 578 rooms are divided into several
categories. Elton John, Luciano Pavarotti and Bill Clinton have
tested out the suites. Rates range from $370 per night.
Pudong Shangri-La: Riverfront location in
Pudong with great views of the Bund. A major player in the
corporate meetings market, the 606 rooms, including 31 suites, will
be bolstered in mid-2005 by the addition of a second tower. The
resulting 981-room hotel will be Shanghai’s largest. A new
signature Fook Lam Moon Cantonese restaurant opened in October
From $168 per night.
Grand Hyatt (Pudong): Located on the 53rd to
87th floors of Pudong’s emblematic 88-story Jin Mao Tower, the
Grand Hyatt’s rooms are among Shanghai’s most coveted. Several bars
and restaurants are topped off by the 87th-floor Cloud 9 lounge
bar, the highest bar in the world.
Rates vary depending on time of year.
St. Regis (Pudong): Mainland China’s only
entrant on the 2004 Travel + Leisure Best Hotels in the World list.
It offers 318 rooms, including 48 suites, each with complimentary
broadband Internet access, BOSE music system and rainforest shower.
The lobby area is designed to replicate an opera, and two floors
have dedicated ladies’ guestrooms.
From $190 per night.