A Quick Guide to Shanghai

Shanghai is one of China’s biggest metropolitan cities. Situated on the estuary of the Yangtze River, Shanghai serves as East China’s most influential financial, economic, and cultural center. For many international travelers, it also serves as the first port of entry due to its modernization and blend of eastern and western cultures. Here’s a quick guide to city more commonly known as the Paris of the East – Shanghai.

 

FAST FIVE FACTS

Population: 24.15 million

Climate: sub-tropical monsoon-like climate

Location: Situated to the east of China on the Yangtze River delta, Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces to the west and Hangzhou Bay to the south

Time Zone: GMT + 8

Local Currency: Chinese Yuan / Renminbi (RMB)

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BEFORE YOU ARRIVE

Shanghai was originally a small fishing and textile town. The city became more popularly known after the 1842 Treaty of Nanking in which British, French, American, German and Russian individuals moved in and set up a range of western style business buildings. This forged the way for Shanghai’s future, leading to the famous architecture, cosmopolitan vibe and thriving commercial hub that forms this metropolis today. Today Shanghai can be reached by air, rail, road or water. There are frequent flights landing at both Shanghai Pudong International Airport and Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport. Make sure you have all the documentation ready like visas and the addresses of where you will be staying.

 

WHEN TO VISIT

The best time for exploring Shanghai is during the autumn season between October to November. These months are often characterized by warm comfortable temperatures and less rainfall. Depending on your travel plans, different months have different festivals and things to see.

April – May

The spring season sees the start of the some of the most beautiful flowers in the city parks. Look out for the cherry blossoms as these trees bloom for a short period at the start of spring. Temperatures range between 15 – 21 C and are hotel prices start to increase around the end of April for the Labor Day and Youth Day celebrations.

June – September

Temperatures quickly reach 30 C during the summer months. This coupled with strong downpours makes for a very sticky Shanghai. If you are here during these months, be sure to stick around for the dragon boat festival in June.

December – March

While Shanghai doesn’t get as cold as Beijing, evening temperatures frequently drop to single digits so be sure to pack some warm clothes if you’re visiting during these months.

 

TOP THINGS TO SEE & DO

The Bund

Situated on the west bank of the Huangpu River is the symbol of Shanghai – the Bund. This waterfront promenade holds an array of grand financial and commercial buildings, many of which were initially built in the 1930’s using traditional European architectural styles. At night, the bright lights and cosmopolitan vibe sees many people strolling along the riverside promenade.

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Cruise along the Huangpu River

The Huangpu River forms part of the lower Yangtze River and divides the city into east and west. Taking a riverboat cruise along the 500 m wide river is one of the best ways to see the classic Shanghai skyline. Cruises run every day along the main waterfront area between Yangpu and Nanpu Bridge. The cruise starts from Shiliupu Wharf near the Bund and travels upstream to the Yangpu Bridge. The boat then turns around and heads to the south towards Nanpu Bridge.

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Yuyuan Gardens

Yuyuan Garden forms an ancient garden oasis in the center of Shanghai’s old city center. The garden has six main areas each with its own style of architecture from the Ming and Qing dynasties. This area is filled with classic Chinese architecture, intricately designed sculptures and a range of restaurants, tea houses and shops.

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The Former French Concession

The Shanghai French Concession was a foreign concession in Shanghai between 1849 to 1946. Now it forms the preferred residential and retail district for many of Shanghai’s expats. It’s known as one of the most beautiful areas in Shanghai with European style cafes, quiet, tree lined avenues and English-style houses nestled among beautiful gardens. There are a range of deli’s, restaurants and boutiques here.

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Shanghai Disneyland

Shanghai Disneyland is the first Disney theme park in mainland China which opened in 2016. It’s the only theme park in the world to blends the magic of Disney and unique cultural elements of China. Located in the Pudong new area, it is 21 km from the center of Shanghai and 12 km from the Pudong international airport. The best times for a visit are on weekdays when there are less crowds.

 

WHAT TO EAT & DRINK

Shanghai’s food scene is enough to overwhelm and draw in the senses of any passerby.

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Xiao long bao (soup dumplings)

Xiao long bao are soupy dumplings filled with seasoned ground pork, scallions, ginger and shaoxing wine mixed with gelatinized pork stock that melts upon cooking. This forms a rich sticky soup inside the dumpling.

 

Deep-Fried Dumplings (Zha Hun Tun)

Deep-fried wonton dumplings are a traditional snack commonly made from wheaty dough and filled with a combination of pork and prawns. The dumplings are fried till they are crisp and served with a splash of vinegar.

 

Sheng Jian Bao (Pan-Fried Soup Dumplings)

Similar to xiao long bao, these are pan-fried dumplings with a doughy skin and a pork or shrimp filling with soup. There is less soup than in xiao long bao, as much of it gets absorbed by the thick dough. Traditional sheng jian bao can be fried on any part of the bun and will be a light golden brown color and slightly sweet.

 

Cong You Bing (Shanghainese Green Onion Pancake)

These pancakes are a popular breakfast snack and are made from a dough containing shallots and pork that is pan-fried until crispy. They are sold by street vendors throughout the city so be sure to try then when exploring during the early hours of the morning.

 

Ci Fan Gao (Deep-Fried Glutinous Rice Cakes)

Glutinous rice cakes is another popular breakfast dish and is made glutinous rice, regular rice, salt, oil and small pieces of pork rolled into a patty. They are then deep-fried until crispy on the outside and still remain soft and chewy on the inside.

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EASY SHANGHAINESE PHRASES TO REMEMBER

Hello – Nóng hō!

Goodbye – Zä wēi!

Thank you – Yá yà!

My name is… – Wú jiō …

I’m from… – Wú zóng …

I don’t understand – Wú fé dōng

Do you speak English – Nóng gāng yīng vēn?

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Hi World! I'm Shal - an environmental microbiologist, writer, teacher and artist from Durban, South Africa. I've spent the last two years traveling and teaching Chemistry and English to young kids in Asia. Life of Shal was founded as a way to share travel experiences, tips and other worldly magic with you! Join me on my journey!

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