Shanghai is an extraordinary city by just about any metric, and one every person with a skerrick of adventure in them should visit.
Maybe you don’t believe me, or maybe you do, but want to know more. Or maybe you just love Shanghai and are all about that Shanghai content. Whatever your reason to be here, we’ve got you covered. Here’s some cool stuff everyone should know about Shanghai!
Like so much of China, Shanghai is old. And just like so many other ancient cities—it’s gone through a bunch of different iterations. Founded around 770 B.C., Shanghai has been occupied continually for nearly 3000 years. It wasn’t until around 1172 A.D. that Shanghai truly became a significant-sized town on the back of the amount of trade coming through its port.
1732 was the year when Shanghai became a true trading hub and one of the greatest trading ports in the world. The Qianlong Emperor moved the customs office for the Jiangsu province to Shanghai, giving Shanghai exclusive control over the regions international trade.
With its new hub status came international attention, specifically from the world’s most powerful navy—Britain. Shanghai was occupied by the British during the First Opium War (1839 to 1842) and was then opened up to foreign trade officially in the Treaty of Nanking (1842). Soon other international powers—the U.S.A. and the French for example—forced the Chinese to give them trade concessions as well. These concessions are what you see today as the various “quarters” around old Shanghai.
After the first Sino-Japanese War (1930), Japan took a slice of the city and built the first factories in Shanghai, ushering in the industrial age in China. Japan then occupied the city fully in 1937 before it was won back by Mao and the People’s Liberation Army in 1948.
Today, Shanghai is an industrial and commercial hub and one of the most powerful cities in the worl.
The world’s biggest…
Shanghai is the world’s biggest city by population, with a population of 26.3 million registered in 2019. It has the world’s busiest container port, with over 41,000,000 containers being handled a year. That’s almost 20% more than the next busiest port in Singapore.
Despite being under the strict control of the central Chinese government, Shanghai is the rated as the fifth most competitive financial market in the world and the third in Asia. The local stock exchange is ranked third in the world in pure trading volume with over US$5.5 trillion of capitalisation. Shanghai is also home to the mainland China’s biggest free-trade zone.
Shanghai is home to the longest metro system in the world, with some 644km of tunnels and track spread out across 393 stations. It’s also home to the world’s fastest train, with the Shanghai Maglev connecting Pudong International Airport with downtown Shanghai.
What to see…
One of the great things about the world’s largest city with the world’s longest metro is there’s a heap to see and it’s easy to get around.
From some of the best shopping in the world to extraordinary, food, nightlife and architecture there’s something for everyone – including a Disneyland!
China’s number 1 commercial centre, Nanjing road is 5.5 km of pure retail heaven. With more than 360 malls, department stores, luxury brands, restaurants and every other service under the sun, there’s little wonder more than 1.5 million consumers a day(!) make their way down this stretch of street. It’s a must for those with some extra yuan burning a hole in their pocket.
A car-free shopping centre of restored shikumen—stone gate—houses, you can happily wander the ancient alleys for hours. You’ll find a cinema, book shops, great local retailers and heaps of restaurants and cafes so you can refuel after a hard day of shopping.
It’s a fantastic spot to head on the weekend if you’re looking for a romantic dinner or a quiet bar to reflect in.
Built in 1901, this 6km stretch of shops is another wonderful example of capitalism in China. Stick to Middle Huaihai Road for the best shops and restaurants.
Yu Yuan Market
A bit more of a traditional feel, the stores at Yu Yuan are a weird blend of your usual tourist-trap style souvenirs mixed with traditional Chinese medicines, goldfish and even some furniture. There’s also some fantastic hawker stalls selling xiao long bao, pigeon egg dumplings and noodles.
The international concessions are home to some of the most beautiful examples of colonial era and art deco buildings anywhere in the world. The French concession is the most well preserved, but all the concessions are worth a look.
The Bund is a mile-long stretch of waterfront along the Huangpu River. There are 52 buildings of various architectural styles, including Gothic, Baroque and neoclassical, which are best observed while strolling slowly along the promenade. Often referred to as “the museum of buildings”, you can also take a river cruise with a guide or a bus if your legs are tired.
The Oriental Pearl TV Tower
This iconic building is pictured in just about every panoramic photo ever taken of Shanghai’s skyline. It’s incredibly distinctive design and sweeping views of the city make it a must visit for any discerning tourist.
Located about an hour outside of central Shanghai—don’t worry, it has it’s own train station—Shanghai Disneyland is an escape from the mundane, and a beacon of joy and excitement for big and little kids alike. It’s a pretty big place however, so make sure you dedicate a full day so you can explore it properly.
Hengshan Road is the largest strip of bars in Shanghai. Built by the French in the 1920s, it’s wide and tree lined and distinctly European in feel. You’ll find something for every adult to enjoy here, as well as a tonne of expats.
Right in the centre of town, Tongren Road is full of pubs in the classic British style.
Tucked into all those fantastic buildings are some truly excellent bars and restaurants. Take a trip to the waterside and enjoy a cocktail or two in a setting that is truly unique to Shanghai.