Urban adventures in modern Shanghai

China's largest city has a glittering skyline, sophisticated shopping culture and glamorous nightlife. Expected to be wowed!

With a population of around 24 million, Shanghai is one of the world's biggest boom towns. Its iconic skyline changes daily, as the city's development surges ahead. The planners masterminding the future of Shanghai have been widely praised for their vision and commitment to making the city a fantastic place to live (and visit!). Here we talk about some of the new architecture and contemporary places you can discover in this scintillating metropolis.

Called 'the bottle opener' by locals, Shanghai Tower's spiral shape is said to represent a dragon emerging from the earth.

Shanghai shopping sprees

America might have invented the shopping mall, but China perfected it. And there's no better place to study the leading edge of shopping mall architecture than at Nanjing East Road. Take your pick from the Purple Peak of Greenland Center Shopping Plaza, Techi Plaza, Wanda Shopping Plaza, Fashion Lady Mall, Golden Eagle International Shopping Centre, Deji Plaza…the list goes on. Each of them is a fully-encapsulated, controlled-climate wonderland for shopping, eating and getting stuff done.

A mind-blowing street-based shopping experience can also be found in Huaihai Middle Road, considered the most beautiful road in Shanghai. This 'Oriental Champs-Élysées', which is more than five kilometres long, is home to all the big international fashionwear such as Zara, Uni Qlo, H&M plus designer brands.

People's Square

You could easily spend a day exploring People's Square, also known as Renmin Square. It covers 140,000 square metres and ties together multiple museums, exhibition halls, green spaces and water features. Previously a race course, the square was transformed into its current form in the 1990s.

Things to do in People's Square:

  • Appreciate the square's beautiful park areas and music fountain
  • Visit the Shanghai Museum to see an amazing collection of ancient Chinese bronze, ceramics, paintings and furniture - admission's free
  • Understand the growth and urbanisation of Shanghai by visiting the Urban Planning Exhibition Centre (sometimes called the Shanghai Architecture Museum); a highlight is the exhibit of approved buildings - a glimpse of Shanghai's future skyline
  • If it's the weekend, look for the 'marriage market' area of the square, where parents put up signs advertising their eligible children for marriage
  • See a performance at the Shanghai Grand Theatre, which has multiple stages for opera, ballet and orchestral music productions

Towering above Shanghai

The star of every recent Shanghai cityscape image, Shanghai Tower is a massive 562 metres high and has 128 floors. It has the world's fastest elevators, which zoom you up to the world's highest observation deck. Your head might well be in the clouds up here. Called 'the bottle opener' by locals, the tower's spiral shape is said to represent a dragon emerging from the earth.

Another high-rise that demonstrates the modernisation of China is Dongfang Mingzhu (Oriental Pearl Tower), which is the most distinctive building in the city - it looks like a retro spaceship ready for launch. Dongfang Mingzhu is 468 metres high and has a revolving restaurant and a massive indoor recreational area that includes the Municipal History Museum and a science fantasy city. There's also a hotel split into five spheres. If you want memorable accommodation that reflects Shanghai modern architecture, this is your place!

TaiKang Road and Xintiandi

Also called Tianzi Fang, TaiKang Road (or TaiKang Lu) is an area of old factory buildings that have transformed into arty laneways. As you wind through the labyrinth, you'll find fascinating shops for interesting art, design, jewellery and fashion purchases. If you're hungry after the hunting, there's a delectable range of casual cafes and restaurants here, offering everything from tapas and Thai curry to traditional Chinese cuisine.

The area of Shanghai known as Xintiandi (pronounced Shin Tian Di) puts a contemporary spin on architecture that dates back to the 1870s. At the start of the new millennium, the area went through a significant transformation - run down laneways, falling-down gates and shabby brick buildings were renovated and refreshed to create a super-stylish precinct of eateries, galleries, shops and bars.

M50 Art district

M50 is the nickname for Moganshan 50, Shanghai's hippest neighbourhood and the home of Shanghai's contemporary art scene. Sometimes compared to New York's Soho district, M50 is where you'll find galleries and exhibition spaces, street art and graffiti, creative studios and stand-out sculptures. Its edgy industrial chic style is about as far as you can imagine from the historic architecture of Shanghai Old Town.

To navigate your way around M50, call into any gallery and pick up an M50 map. Highlights include the Chronos Art Centre, infamous for its 'Smell Dating' installation event of 2016; Island6, a digital art centre; Vanguard Gallery, for contemporary wall art; art with a brownie and coffee at UNDEF/NE; and the graffiti wall, for the obligatory selfie to prove you were there.

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