Shanghai has always been China’s capital of all things cosmopolitan. At the turn of the 20th century, it was a thriving metropolis to rival Paris, with vibrant nightlife, couture houses, and posh private clubs. One hundred years later—following war, destruction, and redevelopment—it’s once again at the top. Shanghai is a city of stunning contrasts, with regal heritage buildings and the world’s second-tallest skyscraper.
There’s so much to see in this city of 23 million, so to help you make the most of your time in Shanghai, we’ve rounded up its best sites. Some are ancient, some are new, but all with leave you with a better understanding of one of Asia’s most dynamic cities.
A labyrinth of alleyways run between the red brick lanehouses of the former residential district that makes up Tianzifang. The narrow alleyways are packed with restaurants, cafés, galleries, and shops. You’ll find everything from the ubiquitous Obamao T-shirts to leather journals and shoes, tea, and vintage photographs of Shanghai. Tianzifang has a much more traditional feel than Xintiandi, though like Xintiandi it is packed on weekends. You can enter Tianzifang from the front, on Taikang Lu.
HUXINTING TEA HOUSE
The Huxinting Tea House is the place to get away from the crowds in the Old City. The interior is a sea of dark wood and traditional-style carved furniture, but wraparound windows let light in and allow for great people-watching. Tea is expensive here, you’re paying for the ambiance and location. Tea options are myriad, and include Chinese favorites like Oolong, jasmine, and longjing green tea from nearby Hangzhou. Tea orders come with a few snacks, including boiled quail’s eggs, marinated tofu, and sweets, but Huxinting is best for taking tea, not dining.
While the area around Yu Garden is commercialized and the garden itself not as impressive as the classical gardens of Suzhou, it’s one of the few old sights left in Shanghai, and a valuable piece of the city’s rapidly disappearing past. Commissioned in 1559 by Ming Dynasty official Pan Yunduan, the garden was built over nearly two decades by the renowned architect Zhang Nanyang.
In the mid-1800s, it was here that the Society of Small Swords planned their uprising against the French colonists, who then destroyed the garden during the first Opium War. After you walk around carp-filled ponds and through the rock gardens and bamboo groves, visit the small museum dedicated to the Society of Small Swords rebellion.
SHANGHAI EXPO SITE
Shanghai went big when it hosted the World Expo in 2010, turning enormous swaths of pavement over to pavilions from 192 countries. But after it was over and most pavilions dismantled, the site became a barren wasteland. That changed in late 2012 with the opening of the Power Station of Art, a contemporary art museum housed in a former power plant. The museum has no permanent collection, instead hosting large-scale exhibitions, such as works from top Chinese artist Cai Guoqiang or a Warhol retrospective.