Set on the estuary of the Yangtze River, the exciting and diverse city of Shanghai was still a fishing village until the mid-19th century. Thanks to its current position as the country's banking hub, it's now one of China’s most Westernized, modern, and crowded metropolis. Still, among all the construction and glittering new neighborhoods, there are pockets of the past, such as the charming former French Concession, with tree-lined streets and gorgeous colonial mansions.
What We Love
Water Villages: On the outskirts of the city are Venice-like communities built atop the water. Spots like Zhujiajiao have canals for roads and lots of bridges; the best way to have a look is on a boat excursion.
Eating: Set lunches are great deals for sampling the local fare such as dumplings and soups, steamed crab and fish, pepper duck, and beggar's chicken, a lotus-wrapped, stuffed poultry dish.
Best Known For
The Bund: This colonial-era waterfront street along the southern bank of the Huangpu River is definitely worth a stroll. Not only is it lined with an array of architectural styles, but the promenade is a pretty perch from which to view the city's modern skyscrapers.
French Concession: The neighborhood, built for the French and attracting other well-to-do expats, thrived between the mid-1800s and the mid-1900s — and its art deco architecture is gorgeous. Wukang Road is especially striking.
Yuyuan Gardens: The city’s only surviving Ming dynasty garden features traditional rock formations, pagodas, rustic bridges, carp-filled ponds, flowering walls, and dragon motifs.
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Who It's Best For
History Buffs: If you’re into 19th- and 20th-century European and Asian history, the two realms collide in Shanghai.
People-Watchers: The city of Shanghai is a conflux of fashionable locals, chic expats, traditionally garbed workers, and visitors from all over the world.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Cranes: Shanghai is one of China’s most modern cities and it's still being built. Construction abounds.
Bad Traffic: Welcome to China, where traffic is congested and chaotic no matter where you go — and Shanghai is particularly bad.
Language Difficulties: If you’re on a guided excursion, you’ll be fine, but if you venture off on your own, be prepared to use sign language.
Heidi Sarna is a Singapore-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Condé Nast Traveler and USA Today.