Shanghai’s done a fine job with checking all the boxes of what a perfect city should constitute, and making sure it surprises every visitor with the odd curveball. A glance across the fabulous skyline will bedazzle you, with high-rises and restored traditional dwellings. The thoroughfares are speckled with curious shoppers, street-side hair groomers, ballroom dancers and vendors with their fascinating wares. But it’s here where you could also spend hours watching a panda chomping down a bamboo shoot, or get lost in the mesmerising cabaret at The Pearl. It’s really everything that you did and did not expect in a Chinese city. The fine equilibrium between tradition and modern living is so finely balanced that one would believe they’ve coexisted for centuries here.
A lot of this manifested itself to me in the two days I spent in Shanghai. One would argue that the colour and vigour of this bustling hotbed of opportunity and enhanced lifestyle is well captured in other cities of the world. For me, though, what really set Shanghai apart was its indomitable spirit to keep moving forward – and its evident soul. My 48 hours in China’s business capital starts at the magnificent Amanyangyun, the luxurious Aman resort in downtown Shanghai where I am staying. Located in a camphor forest, it is made up of 50-Ming and Qingdynasty villas that were restored and relocated, along with thousands of trees from rural Fuzhou province, 700 kms away.
A walk along the Bund
I’d heard a lot being said about a walk around the Bund, but just having things said would never cut it. So I set off along this enchanting mile, touted to be the best that Asia has to offer. The Pudong skyline here greets you from a distance, while the joggers and tai chi practitioners keep you company throughout your walk. The Waibaidu Bridge is over a century old and offers a glimpse of the classically styled buildings along the perimeter. If a walk doesn’t really do it for you, you could head for a cruise along the Huangpu River. I did come to learn that the walk along the Bund when the streetlights come on is another experience altogether.
Lunch by the ripples
A couple of hours along the Bund works up an appetite. I settled down at Lost Heaven, merely because I was curious to see where the little doorway led to. It opened up to a beautifully designed restaurant with ample Chinese influences in design. It serves great Chinese food, though the ambience seems to be more suited to the photophobic kinds. A walk along the Bund is a true gastronomic blessing, with the number of restaurants that cook up a storm there. The Yi Long at the Peninsula Hotel can rustle up quick Asian fare. However, if you want to go for more than just the usual Chinese and Asian cuisine, you could try the Wei Jing Ge, located in the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai. The WUJIE Shanghai offers a less cluttered setup to enjoy the usual Asian as well as international cuisine, and has been recommended for its vegetarian delicacies.
A stroll in a park
With a belly full of good food, you’d like a peaceful stroll. The Yuyuan Garden, located a few hours away from the Bund, offers a great excuse for a walk. It’s dotted with culturally influenced structures that are intricately carved and designed. Once the novelty wears off, you could happily stroll into the idle marketplace that’s just a stone’s throw away. The souvenirs available here are probably some of the best you can find on your trip to the city.
Taking in the history
If the architecture and cultural marvels in the Yuyuan Gardens haven’t satiated the anthropologist in you, then you could head right into the Shanghai Museum. It’s a great place for those who fancy the arts. From paintings to jade and ivory creations, this fascinating time capsule transports you right back to the dynasties of yesteryear. A word of caution to history snobs, though – the museum is so vast that you may well end up spending hours here before you realize you’re running your 48 hours rather thin.
Walking in the air
As dusk sets in and the lights of the city begin to glisten over the horizon, you would love to find yourself around the stunningly picturesque skywalk that’s all those feet into the air at the Jin Mao Tower. When you’re on the 88th storey, staring down at the astoundingly beautiful city, you’ll feel like a demigod. That’s not all. If you aren’t too afraid of heights and have an appetite for an adrenaline rush, then the skywalk, supported with transparent illusionary handrails, is something you may fancy. Or, you could simply sit back at the Observation Deck and enjoy the 360-degree aerial views.
Calling it a day
Dinner’s always got to be special, in a special city. Shanghai pampers you with the beautiful Park Hyatt. The Dining Room was my restaurant of choice here. It’s open till 10 pm and offers European cuisine with some of Shanghai’s best wine collections. Chef Gerhard Passrugger has wowed many palates with his magical touch. The smoked salmon served here is incredibly good. If you’re more comfortable with a familiar name, then the Ritz-Carlton could serve you a grand dinner. For a more experiential dining experience, the Flair Rooftop would make for a fine dinner. The Japanese food and the bar here are popular. If you’re in the mood for some mean Italian delicacies, then the Kitchen Salvatore Cuomo is where you should head to.
A day in the life of Shanghai
Waking up and taking a stroll in a park isn’t a bad idea, ever. So, I welcomed my second day with open arms and an inhalation of fresh air at the People’s Park. It’s a fantastic venue to discover how the residents of the great city deal with life. If you’re here on a weekend, you can be treated to the marriage market, where parents advertise their eligible young in an open fair.
You can shift into shopping gear next, at Xintiandi. Several boutiques and shopping attractions (as well as malls) reside here. It’s a great place to be for its performing arts and historically influenced architecture. It’s said that some of the most expensive residential areas in all of China can be found here. Xintiandi is also a haven for luxury seekers.
Packing the delicious greens in
Being a vegetarian, I decided to explore the more vegetarian-friendly eateries out here. Jean-Georges was an obvious choice, as it offered some of the best French and European cuisine, with ample options for vegetarians. It is located around the Gothic, art-fuelled area around the Bund, and helps you soak in some colonial-era vibes. Known to maintain excellent consistency in the quality of their food, this luxury haunt for tourists and affluent residents makes it one of the must-visit restaurants in Shanghai. In addition to a meticulously designed interior is the enchanting view of the Bund. Not too far away is the Haihai Vegetarian Lifestyle restaurant. Another great choice for exploratory vegetarians is the Shanghai Tang, known for its ample menu and scrumptious dimsums. The Tang Court is yet another highly regarded option, especially for their incredible knack of making food look good.
A mark of history
Shanghai has its very own Confucian Temple, resembling the original Confucian Temple in Qufu, for which you’d have to travel to Wenmiao Road in Huangpu District. The Yuan Dynasty was responsible for the construction of this masterpiece. It was occupied by the Small Swords Society in the 19th century, and was nearly completely destroyed during a battle. The government decided to restore the temple to its final glory, where it stands proud and spectacular today. It is also known to host one of the biggest book markets in Shanghai.
To splurge or not to splurge
Nanjing Road is known to be one of the best shopping havens that Shanghai has to offer. For some reason, many people recommended it to be a great observatory for people-watching – a concept I was gradually coming to terms with. Nanjing Road gives shoppers a fair breadth of options, be it roadside trinkets or luxury boutiques. The best part about shopping along this road is that it offers opportunities to pick a snack up, as soon as you’re hungry.
A different world
If the Chinese culture has overwhelmed you, you teleport into a European paradise at the French Concession. It’s a residential area within Shanghai that was once designated for French occupants. This area treats you with roadside cafés, tree-lined avenues and beautiful Tudor houses. It is reminiscent of pre-World War II era architecture, and makes for a picture-worthy trip.
A sensorial revision
Having taken in nearly all the key aspects of the city, it’s time to retire to a night of merriment. The Peninsula in Shanghai hosts Sir Elly’s Terrace restaurant, that serves drinks till midnight on weekdays and up to 1:00 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. It overlooks the Bund, and gives you the opportunity to take in all the spectacular views and memories you’ve had on a rather fruitful outing. Or you could indulge in socializing at The Nest, a European bar that’s neatly spread out. For an open-air experience, you could settle down at The Captain, or indulge in some clubbing at the Bar Rouge.