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One-Day Walking Tour

Shanghai Municipality -- that's Shanghai proper and all of its satellite townships and districts -- covers a land area of about 6,340 square kilometers. Suffice it to say, you would have a hard time covering all of it in a year, much less a day. Fortunately, many of the city's most interesting bits are concentrated near the center of town. With a little bit of drive and determination, you can get the shorthand version of Shanghai in well under 24 hours. The following is our basic one-day walking tour of Shanghai.

Station 1: People's Square 人民广场

People's Square

  • Address: Renmin Avenue, by Middle Xizang Road
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9am. We begin at People’s Park, the main entrance is on Nanjing Lu near its intersection with Huangpi Bei Lu. Pathways wind through beautifully manicured gardens, lotus ponds and pavilions. It's a place where locals go to unwind over a game of chess, practice their English at the weekly "English corner", or get centered with tai chi, a slow and graceful form of shadow boxing. On the weekends don't miss the marriage market, where parents seek out suitors for their sons and daughters -- quite a fascinating social spectacle. There are also a few carnival rides if you're keen. A brisk stroll through the park and you can be out in about 30 minutes.

Exit the park from where you entered, and across the street you can catch a glimpse of some stunning architectural landmarks by modernist Hungarian Architect Lazslo Hudec, The Grand Cinema and The Park Hotel. Follow Nanjing Lu eastward, and on the north side of the road you’ll eventually encounter Shanghai New World Department Store. On the tenth floor is the Shanghai Branch of the world famous wax museum Madame Tussaud’s. Inside you’ll find a host of celebrities past and present that have passed the Tussaud test of popularity – everyone from a life-size likeness of Yao Ming to U.S. President Barack Obama. Fair warning: On the weekends Madame Tussaud’s is jam-packed with shutter bugs seeking photo ops with their favorite movie stars, so be prepared to negotiate with dense crowds.

Moving on, follow Nanjing Lu further eastward to Xizang Lu. Turn right and follow Xizang Lu until you get to Renmin Da Dao. At that corner, you'll see the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall. Here there are several interactive displays charting the evolution of Shanghai from its early days as a fishing village to the megalopolis it is today. The exhibit culminates on the sixth floor with a remarkable scale model of the city. Time permitting there is also the Shanghai Museum kitty corner across the street. It's the distinctive building that looks like a gigantic bronze kettle. Inside are 11 galleries of archaeological artifacts and other artwork from China's long and rich history. A thorough visit will take the better part of the day, but you can easily catch a couple of exhibits within an hour or two.

Station 2: Yu Garden 豫园

Yu Garden

  • Address: Fuyou Road, by South Henan Road
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12pm. Hail a taxi to the Yuyuan Bazaar. This is a cluster of shops selling all manner of souvenirs like tea, chopsticks, Chinese boxes, dragon kites, Mao memorabilia, jade bangles. It’s directed primarily at tourists, but it's fun for China first-timers and definitely warrants a visit. If you're feeling peckish, you can grab a basket of xiaolongbao, Shanghai's signature dumplings, at Nanxiang Mantou. This restaurant is a popular stop on the tourist circuit and draws huge crowds. If you’re put off by the long queue outside Din Tai Fung in nearby Dragon Gate Mall is worthwhile alternative for these dumplings. For a more comprehensive Shanghai-style lunch, there is Lü Bo Lang. Located next to the zig-zagged Jiuqu Bridge in the center of the bazaar, Lü Bo Lang serves a wide variety of classic Shanghai dishes and assorted dim sum. It’s also a popular dinner spot for visiting foreign dignitaries. Both Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro have graced its halls when on official visits.

Culture vultures can be sated with a walk through the area's namesake Yu Garden. Completed in 1577 at the behest of a Ming-era administrator named Pan Duanyuan, this two-hectare plot offers picturesque pavilions with elegant Suzhou-style flourish as well as serene koi ponds and rockeries. Just south of the bazaar you can pay your respects and make incense offerings at the Temple of the City Gods. Built in 1403, it houses images of three deified historical personages. The oldest is Huo Guang, a famed Chancellor of the Han Dynasty who is venerated for deposing a corrupt emperor for the good of the state rather than his own gain. The second is Qin Yubo, a public administrator in Shanghai during the late Yuan Dynasty who resisted a summons to serve in the court of the nascent Ming dynasty. Finally, there is Chen Huacheng, a Qing Dynasty General who died in battle in 1842 defending Shanghai against the British during the First Opium Wars.

Station 3: The Bund 外滩

The Bund

  • Address: East Zhongshan No.1, by East Nanjing Road
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2pm. The less-developed areas immediately surrounding the bazaar feature scores of colorful and crowded streets and alleyways. If time permits, it's good fun to wander around and get lost. Failing that, follow Anren Lu north to Renmin Lu. Turn right, and take it to the Bund. If your legs need a rest, you can find a bench in Gucheng Park off to the right. Once you're on the Bund go north. Once you pass Yan'an Lu, look for Bund No. 2. Once upon a time, this was the Shanghai Club, an exclusive Victorian-era gentlemen’s club for Shanghai's well-heeled British contingent. In 2010 the building was restored to its original splendor and is now a hotel under the management of the famed luxury hotel brand The Waldorf-Astoria. It’s an ideal place to stop for a spot of afternoon tea. For around 350rmb per person you’ll be treated to an array of finger sandwiches, sweet treats, and a selection of artisan teas in their quaint tea room Salon DeVille. Or perhaps you prefer more potent refreshment. For that, head across the lobby to Long Bar. In the 1910s it actually was home to the longest bar in Asia. English playwright Noel Coward is said to have laid his cheek on the 34-meter-long mahogany slab and declared that he could see the curvature of the earth on it. The bar is fully restored and serves some superb single malts and fresh oysters.

Another option for some mid-afternoon refreshment is Three on the Bund next door. This neo-Renaissance-style building was completed in 1916 and was the first in Shanghai to use a steel structure. It’s home to some of Shanghai’s premier dining destinations like Jean Georges and Mercato. On the roof is New Heights, an ideal place to stop for a quick drink and some sweeping views from its outdoor terrace.

Making your way north, you can take in some of the remarkable architectural specimens that line the Bund. Bund No.12 is a highlight. When HSBC (Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation) moved its offices here it was widely regarded as “the most luxurious building from the Suez Canal to the Bering Strait.” Done up in stately neo-classical style by architecture firm Palmer & Turner, No. 12 was built with fine bronze work, Italian marble and ornate inlays. Shanghai Pudong Development Bank now occupies the building, and when the company funded a renovation in 1997, several intricate dome mosaics were uncovered. They can be seen in the building’s entrance hall.

The Customs House at No. 13 is Shanghai’s answer to Big Ben. Completed by Palmer & Turner in 1927, its clock tower used to toll every hour. During the Cultural Revolution the bell was decommissioned. A set of speakers has replaced it. Now every hour recorded bells play a verse of the Chinese patriotic anthem “The East is Red”. No. 13 isn’t opened to the public, so you’ll have to admire this one from the outside.

No. 18, with its Grecian columns and pediment, was first built in 1847 and has been a headquarters to a host of banks, most notably British Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China. After 1949, however it served as an office for China’s Bureau of Land Resources and Housing Management as well as Shanghai’s Air Defense command post. In 2002 a Taiwanese developer purchased it and dropped about 110 million rmb on a restoration project headed by architect Fillipo Gabiani. It re-opened in 2005 as a luxury lifestyle hub featuring Zegna and Cartier flagship stores and several fine food and beverage venues. Today it’s home to Bar Rouge, one of Shanghai’s hottest nightclubs, and Mr & Mrs Bund, one of the city’s most critically acclaimed restaurants.

Crossing Nanjing Dong Lu brings you to The Peace Hotel. Built by famed hotelier and businessman Victor Sassoon in 1929, it was originally named The Cathay Hotel and was the epicenter of all that was glamorous in the swinging Shanghai of the 30s. In 1952, however, the property was appropriated by the municipal government, who reopened it in 1956 and gave it its current name. In 2007 it closed down for a three-year renovation. The results are nothing short of spectacular. The interiors are some of the most stunning examples of art deco architecture in the city. The lobby is open to the public (only paying guests are permitted on any of the floors). Every night from 7:30 to 9:45pm and old time jazz band plays in the hotel’s jazz lounge.

Station 4: East Nanjing Road (Nanjing Dong Lu) 南京东路

East Nanjing Road

  • Address: East Nanjing Road, by Mddile Xizang Road (West end), by East Zhongshan No.1 Road (East end)
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4:30pm. After that, make your way eastward down Nanjing Dong Lu. When the Cathay Hotel was host to the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks this thoroughfare was Shanghai’s Fifth Avenue. It was the first street in Shanghai to introduce Western-style department stores and was the place to get fitted with the most fashionable threads. After the 1950s, Nanjing Dong Lu lost some of its luster. There was an effort to revitalize the street as a center for luxury retail, but Nanjing Xi Lu has largely assumed this role now. Still it’s a popular spot for a stroll for both locals and tourists alike, especially in the evening when the stores and restaurants turn on their neon signs.

Station 5: Lujiazui 陆家嘴


  • Address: Shiji Avenue, by Lujiazui Ring Road
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Once you cross Henan Lu, you’ll see an entrance to Nanjing Dong Lu Metro Station. It’s time to cross over to Pudong. Metro Tickets are quite easy to buy. All stations are equipped with touch-screen dispensers that operate in both English and Chinese. Just tap your destination and how many tickets you want to purchase, insert your money and grab your ticket. Lujiazui on the other side of the river is one stop away from Nanjing Dong Lu Station. There are a number of attractions all within walking distance of Lujiazui station. You can view Shanghai's endless skyline from the observation decks of the Pearl Tower for RMB 180, meanwhile, in the basement of the tower is the Shanghai Municipal History Museum. Here you'll find a collection of artifacts from the city's past. The collection features about 30,000 items -- half of them from the city's modern history, the rest unearthed from before its days as a treaty port. Follow Shiji Dadao (Century Avenue) south toward the Shanghai World Financial Center. At the moment, it's the tallest building in China, but will soon to be superseded by The Shanghai Tower nearby. At the time of writing, 150rmb gets you express access to the observation decks on the SWFC's 94th, 97th and 100th floors. Northward on Yincheng Bei Lu you can walk to the Shanghai Aquarium, where you can view a collection of over 10,000 varieties of sea creatures. At the time of writing, adults get in for 160rmb, kids for 110rmb. Or you can simply take a scenic stroll along the riverside promenade of Binjiang Da Dao. Maybe grab a beer at Paulaner Brauhaus. If you feel like staying on the east side for dinner, the riverfront is flush with options. The Kitchen Salvatore Cuomo and Tavola at the northern end of the promenade both do fantastic Italian food. For some contemporary French fine dining, there is no better choice than Jade on 36 in the Pudong Shangri-La hotel. Reservations and appropriate attire are essential.

6pm. After that it’s time to head back to the Bund for Dinner. The reason for coming back here is the stunning night view of both the bund and the Lujiazui. You have several options at your disposal. Mr & Mrs Bund does very creative modern French cuisine. For Mediterranean cuisine with Australian attitude there is M on the Bund. Celebrity chef Jean Georges has his namesake restaurant in Three on the Bund, and, more recently, he has opened a superb Italian restaurant called Mercato as well. Or there is House of Roosevelt's Roosevelt Sky Restaurant in 27 on the Bund. Reservations are highly recommended for all of them.

Station 6: Xintiandi 新天地


  • Address: Taicang Road, by South Huangpi Road
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8pm. Finally, when dinner is done hail a cab to Xintiandi for an after-dinner drink at KABB, Paulaner, DR Bar, or CJW. For disco fans, Club Fusion is the best choice in this fashionable area.