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Shanghai’s photogenic skyline — which was captured so dazzlingly in the James Bond movie, “Skyfall” — is a visual manifestation of the city’s self-confidence. China’s boldest, most fashionable and most hedonistic city is also the nation’s financial and commercial center and its most architecturally alluring urban space.
The Huangpu River, which meanders through the heart of the city, provides the perfect focal point for clusters of statement architecture, from both Shanghai’s previous halcyon period, in the 1920s and ’30s, and its 21st-century reinvention as a global mega-city.
An evening stroll along the riverside boardwalk showcases Shanghai at its most impressive: the sky-puncturing, neon-lit towers of Pudong on the eastern riverbank contrast vividly with the neo-classical, granite mansions of The Bund, many of which are almost a century old. For an even more centered perspective, the Puxi-Pudong Ferry, which leaves from the south end of the Bund, offers waterborne photographic angles of old and new Shanghai.
From any vantage point, day or night, Shanghai’s cityscape is dominated by Pudong’s triptych of mega-towers. The oldest, and shortest, is the 1,115-foot-tall Jinmao Tower. Constructed in a modern Art Deco style, it is home to the Grand Hyatt Hotel, which celebrates its 15th birthday in 2014. The Lobby Lounge on the 54th floor affords magnificent bird’s-eye views of Shanghai, while Cloud 9, on the 87th floor, is the city’s original sky lounge — and still one of its classiest.
Directly behind the Jinmao Tower is an elevated walkway connecting to the Shanghai IFC Tower shopping mall. Visitors will notice that locals stop halfway across and point their smartphone cameras to the sky. There’s a good reason: this spot yields the best angle to shoot Shanghai’s sky-high triple towers.
Rising 1,614 feet into the air is the second tallest building, the Shanghai World Financial Centre, which is nicknamed the “bottle opener” because of its trapezoidal aperture at the top. On the 100th floor is the SkyWalk, a vertigo-inducing glass observation platform. Soaring even higher is China’s tallest building, still under construction. The 121-floor Shanghai Tower, which will stand 2,073 feet tall, is slated to open in 2014.
Guests seeking an alfresco view of Shanghai should continue to the Shanghai IFC Tower and take the elevator to the 58th floor of The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong. Upon arrival, order a glass of chilled bubbly and grab a table on the tiered open-air terrace at Flair, a hip cocktail lounge and Asian tapas restaurant. The panoramas of nighttime Shanghai are stunning, and the cranberry-colored spheres of the Oriental Pearl Tower feel close enough to touch.
Back across the river in Puxi, the vast People’s Square is the geographical center of Shanghai. Take the elevator to the lobby on the 38th floor of the rocket-shaped JW Marriott Shanghai. Located a handful of blocks inland from the Huangpu River, the hotel’s large windows present a wide-lens perspective of the Shanghai skyline. Directly below, the oval shape of People’s Square is clearly evident — a legacy of the original function; it was built by the British as a horse racetrack in the late 19th century.
On the north side of People’s Square is the handsome, dark brick Park Hotel. Completed in 1934, this was one of Shanghai’s first structures to be developed by Chinese investors, and its Art Deco design was created by legendary Czech architect Ladislaus Hudec. For decades, “The Park” was Shanghai’s most famous landmark, and its 14th-floor restaurant and bar overlooked the old Shanghai racecourse. Clients can head inside to the lobby and the second-floor history museum, which both feature fascinating sepia-tinted photos of the nascent Shanghai landscape during the 1930s — when the Park Hotel was Shanghai’s skyline superstar.
How times have changed.
Grand Hyatt Shanghaiwww.shanghai.grand.hyatt.com
JW Marriott Shanghaiwww.marriott.com
The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudongwww.ritzcarlton.com
Shanghai World Financial Center Observatorywww.swfc-observatory.com