Renmin Da Dao (Avenue), by Xizang Zhong Lu
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What we know today as People’s Square began as, of all things, a horse racing track. When the Communist Party came into power in 1949, it sought to rid China of all perceived forms of Western decadence, like gambling. What eventually emerged in its place is now the heart of Shanghai’s downtown. In addition to being the seat of Shanghai’s municipal government, some of the city’s most popular attractions are all clustered here as well, like the Shanghai Museum, the Grand Theatre and the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall. There is also People’s Park, where, in addition to great opportunities for people watching, you’ll find the Shanghai Art Museum and M.O.C.A. (Museum of Contemporary Art). Lining the perimeter of the Square is a host of hotels, restaurants and shopping malls.
If you were to take a postcard snapshot of Shanghai, The Bund is where you'd go. Stately and taciturn, it comprises more than ten blocks of architectural relics from Shanghai’s days as a treaty port. In its heyday, this riverside district was the city’s commercial and financial center, home to foreign-owned banks, trading houses, luxury hotels and gentlemen’s clubs. For nearly four decades, much of it lay dormant as state-owned properties until 1999, when the opening of the restaurant M on the Bund sparked a real estate development renaissance. Today, The Bund is home to some of Shanghai’s poshest restaurants and nightclubs as well as some of its swankest hotels. The waterfront promenade is also a perennial favorite for casual strolls and photo opps.
Across the Huangpu River, Lujiazui thrusts brazenly up to the heavens. 30 years ago, this district was nothing more than marshes and rice paddies. Today, it’s home to one of Asia’s most audacious skylines. Here you’ll find three of the city’s most distinctive structures: The 468 meter-high spire of spheres and cylinders known as Oriental Pearl Tower, the 88-floor pagoda-themed Jinmao Tower and the bottle opener-shaped Shanghai World Financial Center, the world’s fourth tallest building. Soon to join them is a third skyscraper, the Shanghai Tower, which, when completed in 2014, will be second in height only to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.
Once a colorful, cacophonous warren of lane houses, Shanghai’s old quarter has largely fallen victim to the wrecking ball. But the heart of it, the Yu Garden Bazaar, still remains largely intact. This is your go-to place for Shanghai souvenirs – everything from jade bangles to dragon kites to ornamental chopsticks. It’s also a convenient place to tick a few boxes on your “Must Eat” list. You can sample Shanghai’s signature soup dumplings at Nanxiang Mantou or eat at Lu Bo Lang, where Shanghai's leaders treat foreign dignitaries like Bill Clinton to dinner. Of course, if that sounds too exotic, the place is dotted with familiar Western chains like Starbucks, KFC and McDonald‘s as well. Be sure to take a stroll through the elegant Ming Dynasty-era garden in the center of the bazaar.