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Beijing may be the capital of the People's Republic of China, but Shanghai is bigger by population and one of the largest cities in the world. Perhaps, given that China is the fastest growing country in the world, this dynamic city could be considered the world’s most cutting edge city. It certainly acts like it, with a global outlook, and innovative in areas from fashion to finance, technology to transport. It’s only real counterpart in China is Hong Kong and while Shanghai operates on a much grander scale, it has a contemporary Asian city feel like its sibling.
Strategically located on the Huangpu River near where the mighty mouth of the Yangtze River meets the East China Sea, Shanghai has one of the busiest ports in the world. Opened to foreign trade in the 19th century, the 1842 Treaty of Nanking saw the establishment of the Shanghai International Settlement, effectively making Shanghai an international hub. While this changed after the Communist takeover in 1949, today the city is once again a global city.Read more
The Bund is where the golden years of old Shanghai are kept alive. A section of the Shanghai International Settlement, it’s located on a stretch of the west bank of the Huangpu River, which was where the foreigners trading here disembarked. Shanghai being a port town, it was chaotic and frenetic, in stark contrast to its appearance today. Banks and trading companies flush with cash left a legacy here that is elegant and delightfully eclectic, resulting in a handsome set of buildings that now dominate the waterfront. Of particular note are the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank buildings, as well as the Shanghai Custom House. Today it’s as flashy with its cash as ever, brimming with luxury brands and gastronomic restaurants.
Directly across from the Bund on the opposite bank of the Huangpu River is the much-photographed Pudong area, with the 1960s sci-fi looking (despite it being built in the 1990s) Oriental Pearl TV Tower, which gives the skyline a futuristic movie-set feel. Further back on the bank is the sleek Shanghai World Financial Centre, one of the tallest buildings in the world, as well as the elegant, postmodern Jin Mao Tower. Ironically, one of the most popular activities to do here is look across the river from the buildings back to the Bund and beyond.
While the bustle of the Old City is engaging, it’s perhaps the former nineteenth-century French Concession that helps ground the city in the past. The ‘Paris of the East’ cliché comes alive here, with grand old mansions, some crumbling, their paint peeling, others prettily renovated and converted into boutiques, bars and restaurants. The area has a relaxed feel, leaving the rest of the city to race ahead at supersonic speeds.