Shanghai is a city of complications and successes. It’s one of the most modern cities in China, yet still holds sacred its roots in China’s history. It’s lived in the shadows of Beijing and Hong Kong for centuries but today offers travelers a new experience, thanks in part to its hosting the World Expo Shanghai. Shanghai is a juxtaposition of old and new on every street. A five minute walk from the world’s largest Louis Vuitton store is one of Shanghai’s oldest parks, where locals converge to practice the art of Tai Chi and take part in morning dance rituals as a form of expression and exercise.
Imagine you have exactly 24 hours to explore one of the world’s most historical and modernized cities. What do you do first? Whether you’re heading to Shanghai as a stopover to somewhere else in China, or your spending your vacation in the Expo City, make sure to save a day for the following:
Early morning in Renmin Park 7 – 8 a.m.
Only a short walk from The Portman Ritz-Carlton at Shanghai Center (where I stayed during my trip to Shanghai), Renmin Park at People’s Square of Puxi offers a unique glance at the life of old Shanghainese. Early Sunday mornings are filled with generations of Shanghainese taking part in familiar rituals including Tai Chi and ‘disco’ – their version of what Americans would consider “line dancing.” Join the dance or just stop and take it all in. Everyone is wonderfully friendly in the park and welcome tourists to join the dance or take part in Tai Chi.
No trip to Shanghai would be complete without a visit to the World Expo. The “Better Life, Better City” motto is felt through all the pavilions, but beware: you’ll stand in line for a while. Choose one or two pavilions you want to see before you go and head straight there. A few things to note before you arrive:
- No outside food or drink will be permitted into the Expo
- You can buy your tickets at any of the booths outside the Expo when you arrive, but you’ll save time if you buy ahead and pick up your tickets at one of the “will-call” windows
- The Expo is mapped out by zones – A, B, C, D, and E. It’s wise to choose the pavilions you want to see in the same zone, but if you must travel to different zones there is a shuttle bus that will take you around.
- Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll do a lot of walking at the World Expo, and a lot of standing around in line, so make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes.
- If you’re in Shanghai for longer than one day, buy a 7-day pass to the Expo and map out a few other pavilions you want to see during the remainder of your visit.
- The China pavilion is the most popular pavilion, and unless you’ve got a VIP pass you’d better get in line early. Only 1000 passes are handed out on a first-come-first-service basis daily to the China pavilion.
- Forget the gift shops and take photos instead. Cameras are allowed in each of the pavilions and you can take photos of any and all exhibits.
Afternoon visit to Zhu Jia Jiao, renowned water village in Puxi 2 – 4 p.m.
Located about a 45-minute drive from Shanghai is Zhu Jia Jiao, the renowned water village in Puxi. The traditional water canal town dates back to the Ming and Qing dynasties and has some of the best market shopping and authentic Shanghai food in the city. Take a walk through the markets and purchase a few souvenirs before boarding a water taxi to visit the Taoist Temple, the great Qing Post Office and the old Chinese Pharmacy. The markets sell local produce and traditional Chinese gifts including jewelry, fans and silk.
Candle lighting ceremony at The Portman Ritz-Carlton
The Portman Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai, was the first luxury hotel in Shanghai, but still retains the values of old Shanghai. After a day out exploring, spend a few moments in the lobby watching the traditional Chinese candle lighting ceremony. The ceremony takes place in the lobby and lasts only a few minutes, allowing plenty of time for you to relax in the lobby bar for a before heading out to the famous Bund for the evening.
Evening on the Bund 8 p.m.
Shanghai’s Bund is one of the most areas of the city. With spectacular views of the city and surrounded by restaurants and bars, the Bund is always lively on any night of the week. Start with a walk along the bridge by the river to capture photos of the city skyline on one side, and the old buildings on the other. Dine at Lost Heaven, a traditional Yunnan Chinese restaurant that serves family-style entrees for every taste and palette. After dinner, head to New Heights, located at Three on the Bund. The restaurant has an outdoor terrace that offers spectacular views of the Bund and the Shanghai skyline.
It’s a packed day in Shanghai, but with a little planning and a lot of energy, you’ll see the beauty of old and new in 24 hours.
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*The Portman Ritz-Carlton sponsored my trip to Shanghai, but the opinions expressed in this post are strictly my own.