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Monday, March 3, 2014

Is Shanghai a romantic city? An itinerary already made to visit Shanghai in China

Nothing is more iconic and more symbolic than the tall Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai.

Some cities in the world are huge, famous but soulless.

Shanghai has this bad name too, but I believe the second City in China doesn't deserve this adjective.

At the opposite I think Shanghai is an extremely charming and romantic city.

Start your walk from The Bund, without any doubt the most famous area of Shanghai.

The Bund.

Walk along the Bund at night and you may agree with me that Shanghai is a very romantic city.

The Bund in Shanghai is the long avenue running along the river Huangpu, where now an elegant and long pedestrianized promenade has been built making the walk extremely enjoyable at night.

On one side of the River Hangpu in Shanghai are the modern skyscrapers shining with thousands of lights and adds, but on the other side are the beautiful 20th century buildings in Western Style of the Bund.


Although Shanghai is very hot an humid, the banks of the river Hangpu seem to be one of the few places blessed by a fresh breeze in the city, if not in all the region.


The Bund in Shanghai offers a wonderful mix of various architectural styles, generally Eclecticism, but also Romanesque Revival, Gothic Revival, Renaissance Revival, Baroque Revival, Neo-Classical or Beaux-Arts styles, and a number in Art Deco style.

The Customs House, with its neoclassical design and the huge clock, stands proud and immortal along The Bund facing the futuristic skyscrapers on the other side of the river Hangpu where the area of New Pudong recently developed.

Although Shanghai is very hot an humid, the banks of the river Hangpu seem to be one of the few places blessed by a fresh breeze in the city, if not in all the region.

It easy to fall back with the mind in the past and imagine how the life of the Westerners was before World War II in Shanghai.

Shanghai from the middle of the Nineteen Century till nearly the end of the Second World War was divided in Concessions.

The Concessions in Shanghai are a result of the Opium War that the Chinese lost in the middle of the Nineteen Century.

Chinese concessions were made in favour of European and American desires for visitation and trade on Chinese soil. Britain, France, and the United States all carved out concessions outside the walled city of Shanghai, which was still ruled by the Chinese.

The Concessions make of Shanghai a wonderful and multinational city with a great and unique cosmopolitan outlook that it is still possible to feel today.

When you are visiting the Bund in Shanghai or the French Concession area you feel back in the Twenty Century Britain or France (see below about the French Concession). It is an incredible and unique feeling.




The best building of Shanghai is for me The Oriental Pearl Tower

Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower 

The best building of Shanghai is for me The Oriental Pearl Tower and Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower is with The Bund the symbol of the most futuristic city in China.

The huge Tower with its unique design, shaped like a rocket read to be launched, is probably too big and too heavy to match the skyline of Shanghai, but it also incredibly daring.

Nothing is more iconic and more symbolic than the tall Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai.

You can probably say Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower looks a bit tacky, but in a way The Oriental Pearl Tower represents so well modern China that fully deserve to take the stage along the river Hangpu in Shanghai, in front of the Bund.


When the sun sets The Oriental Pearl Tower is wonderful to be admired.


Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower  is a futuristic building and futuristic is certainly the approach China is giving to its own development.

The huge spheres of the Tower are like planets in the universe, one connected to the others.

When the sun sets The Oriental Pearl Tower is wonderful to be admired.

First Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower  reflects the last rays of the sun shining like gold than, when the sky is finally dark, the two huge spheres colour of pink and then in emerald green when at the other side of the river in the Bund the relatively old neo classical and art deco buildings are illuminated from the bottom to the top in Batman's Gotham City style.

Along the river, between Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower on one side and the old elegant buildings of the Bund, the lights along the pedestrianized promenade along the river make for a wonderful atmosphere just in front of the Art Deco Peace Hotel, one of the most romantic and exclusive hotels in Shanghai and in the whole China.

At every hour the old bell rings again beating an immortal and endless time all along the magic Bund.


This traditional Chinese buildings, partly recently rebuilt or heavily refurbished in the original style are elegant and full of life at any time of the day.

Shanghai Old Town

Shanghai Old Town is in complete contrast with the Bund.

If the Bund represents the Westernized side of the town, the Old Town of Shanghai is a symbol of what Shanghai was before the European and American powers took over in the city.

Shanghai Old Town is a large maze of narrow lanes, with beautiful red wooden balconies overlooking the streets from white washed facades of traditional Chinese Nineteen Century buildings. The Old Town of Shanghai is extremely interesting because it offers a great insight of how the large metropolis was in the Nineteen Century.
Shanghai Old Town is in complete contrast with the Bund.

This traditional Chinese buildings, partly recently rebuilt or heavily refurbished in the original style are elegant and full of life at any time of the day.

Tea houses, restaurants and huge bazaar have colonized the ground floor of most of The Old Town of Shanghai.

Most of the shops are especially made for tourists. Nothing of particular interest is sold here, just cheap souvenirs to make lighter the pockets of Westerns tourists.

Still the buildings are beautiful to see and although heavily restored and modernized they offer a good idea (may be a bit cartoon-style) of how The Old Town of Shanghai should have looked more than a Century ago.  

A visit to Shanghai Old Town will not be completed without visiting the famous Yunnan Gardens.


The Yunnan Gardens in The Old Town of Shanghai were built to offer a quiet corner in the bustling city to rest and meditate.


The Yunnan Gardens

The Yunnan Gardens in The Old Town of Shanghai are a fantastic gem that, overlooked by the Western guides and highly celebrated by the locals, you should absolutely make sure not to miss.

The Yunnan Gardens in The Old Town of Shanghai were built to offer a quiet corner in the bustling city to rest and meditate.


The Yunnan Gardens in The Old Town of Shanghai are a magic place that will make you feel miles away from the traffic and the noise of the city.


Today The Yunnan Gardens in The Old Town of Shanghai are unfortunately constantly invaded and savaged by hordes of tourists in groups filling every single square meter available of the small pagoda and the surrounding gardens.

The Yunnan Gardens in The Old Town of Shanghai are a masterpiece of Feng Shui art and design.

If you have visited the House and the gardens of the Master of the Nets in Suzhou (click here to read the post about The House and the Gardens of the Master of the Nets in Suzhou) you will immediately notice an affinity between this two great masterpieces of Feng Shui.

The Yunnan Gardens in The Old Town of Shanghai are the product of 18 years of work of a Shanghai rich man, looking to make a monument with the highest spirit of beauty, harmony and proportion.

Although heavily damaged during the worse events of the city history, The Yunnan Gardens in The Old Town of Shanghai are beautifully kept today and it seems that the restoration here had been taken with much more care than in Shanghai Old Town.

If only for a moment you can imagine yourself alone, wondering in The Yunnan Gardens in The Old Town of Shanghai, walking through the many little bridges and looking at the ponds literally bursting of golden fishes (even the fishes are bursting so much they look overfed) you can immediately feel all the calm and the inspiration the gardens can offer.

Bonsai trees and Typical Chinese Carsick stones (known as Lake Stones) shade and decorate the garden and the beautiful pagodas offer shelter from the sun or from the rain, while old jade shops offer distraction and beauty.

The Yunnan Gardens in The Old Town of Shanghai are a magic place that will make you feel miles away from the traffic and the noise of the city.




The area of New Pudong in Shanghai

Usually visitors of Shanghai observe in amazement the skyscrapers and the Oriental Pearl Tower on the bank of the Hangpu River.

The best views of this wonderful giants of glass and cement can be enjoyed from the other side of Hangpu  river along the art deco Bund.

You probably don't think is worth to cross the river and walk at the feet of this giants. 

You think on the other side of the river, like in other great cities of the world, there would be not much more than eight lanes roads and small pavements to walk around anonymous street where the sun hardly can be perceived sheltered by the huge mass of the skyscrapers all around.

You are wrong, cross the river and absolutely don't miss the chance to visit New Pudong area in Shanghai.

The area of New Pudong in Shanghai is the name of the area where Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower and the other modern skyscrapers are situated.

The area of New Pudong in Shanghai is the non plus ultra of modernity.

Where only thirty years ago it was just large marshland facing the rich and elegant Bund, today the most amazing and expensive buildings of Shanghai are standing.

One time in The area of New Pudong in Shanghai where only some huts built by the poor people living on this side of the city and living of what the Hangpu River could offer.


cross the river and absolutely don't miss the chance to visit New Pudong area in Shanghai.

The area of New Pudong in Shanghai is where the poor and the emigrated lived longing for a future of prosperity like the one they can see on  the other side of the Hangpu River along the Bund, like a dream they would probably never be able to make true.

Today in The area of New Pudong in Shanghai the skyscrapers are facing one another in a never ending competition of beauty and magnificence.



It is like if the skyscrapers can almost know already than eventually all of them will loose their competition (even Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower), because a new investor will come with new money and new architects to built a new marvel that will shade all the other in The area of New Pudong in Shanghai.


The area of New Pudong in Shanghai is the non plus ultra of modernity.

If you want to leave a futuristic experience go the Circular pass built in front of the Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower.

From there, at the heart of The area of New Pudong in Shanghai, you will have a wonderful and privileged viewpoint to enjoy the skyscrapers all around.

The World Financial Center with its unique "handle" and the martian "Oriental Pearl Tower" are the most amazing buildings in The area of New Pudong in Shanghai, but the green elegant Gardens of Lujiazuj Park are certainly worth your time.

The Gardens of Lujiazuj Park in The area of New Pudong in Shanghai are a beautiful green oasis in a jungle of cement, with the two beautiful statues of Angels just in front of the Jimao Tower.

The huge glass windows of the skyscraper make a wonderful mirroring game. 

Walking around The Gardens of Lujiazuj Park in The area of New Pudong in Shanghai with an attentive eye you will enjoy thousand of different prospectives, reflections and lights and then walk back to the Circular Pass built in front of Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower and wait the sunset, it will be a wonderful experience, less usual but certainly not less fascinating than watching the sunset from the other side of the river, along the Bund, where thousands of tourists will gather at  night.


The best are maybe the old bridges reflecting in the water and surrounded by the always present willow trees.


The Trendy Quarter of Qibao in Shanghai 

The area of Qibao in Shanghai is supposed to be an old canal quarter  dating back to the Ming Dynasty.

Truly The area of Qibao in Shanghai is not much more than few old whitewashed houses with wood roofs and little shops transformed in a brick-a-brack bazaar.

The best are maybe the old bridges reflecting in the water and surrounded by the always present willow trees.

The rest are modern houses, expensive, with huge swimming pools in the courtyards, brand new stylish homes just waiting to be sold.

The area of Qibao is away from the centre of the town, around 20 minutes by tube from the centre of Shanghai.


I think despite what I wrote above, Qibao should be visited if you are in Shanghai for at least three reasons.


The expensive buildings of The area of Qibao in Shanghai are somehow mocking the buildings of the Ming Dynasty: wonderful houses, only with much more cement and an incredible profusion of automatic stairs in supermarket style and (would you believe) made just to move from ground level to the first and last level of these two stories buildings!

I think despite what I wrote above, Qibao should be visited if you are in Shanghai for at least three reasons.

First, although it has been heavily refurbished and without much attention to preserve  the original beauty of the place, The area of Qibao in Shanghai still show you how this quarter was designed in Ming Dynasty, which in itself a very interesting thing.

On a more light note, The area of Qibao in Shanghai is a nice place to walk around if you are looking for a more modern and vibrant area (a kind of Notting Hill in Chinese style) and with its excesses will probably help you to understand what the rich Chinese are looking for as their new style of life (I would say a kind of Las Vegas villas watching back to the highest moments of Chinese history).

The third reason is that is important in every city of the world you are going to visit to find a place where you can feel relaxed and comfortable, I think The area of Qibao in Shanghai could have this special characteristic: you can feel immediately comfortable, you can enjoy the local movida, people walking along the canals, chatting or listening music or just enjoying their time off.

If you visit The area of Qibao in Shanghai in the evening when the sun sets, you can enjoy the vibe and what more important I think you can eat in the best little and inexpensive restaurants in the city.

Along the canals of The area of Qibao in Shanghai many little restaurants, with just few tables, steam shrimp dumpling in the traditional bamboo baskets, many locals make the relative short journey with the tube to spend the evening here.

Qibao is known for its speciality in cuisine: the hong shao rou ("Red Braised Pork"), a wonderful dish using a combination of ginger, garlic, aromatic spices, chili peppers, sugar, light and dark soy and sometimes rice wine.


Shanghai Museum in People Square is probably the one  that you should visit if you have an interest in China and in Chinese culture.

Shanghai Museum

What are the best Museums in Shanghai?

Shanghai offers a big choice of museums.


In perfect Chinese style, Chinese cities are usually extremely rich in museums, some times this is not even a great thing as some of the museums doesn't have much to exhibit, but still museums in China are a huge population and Shanghai is not exception to the rule.

Shanghai Museum in People Square is certainly the most famous museum in Shanghai.

Shanghai Museum in People Square is probably the one  that you should visit if you have an interest in China and in Chinese culture.

Shanghai Museum in People Square is a kind of comprehensive museum exhibiting about the most famous and amazing sides of Chinese culture.

Shanghai Museum in People Square has a wonderful collection of Chinese porcelain (here you may discover why we Westerns use the name china bones, for porcelain in these days).

Shanghai Museum in People Square has also an interesting galley of Chinese coins and currencies (another highlight of Chinese history) and an interesting section of painting and calligraphy.

But if what you want to see is the soul of Shanghai it is not much point to spend much time at Shanghai Museum in People Square.

Head instead for the most amazing giant of Shanghai, the famous Oriental Pearl Tower in New Pudong and visit Shanghai History Museum.


Shanghai History Museum

You can probably object that the Shanghai History Museum hosted in The Oriental Pearl Tower in New Pudong is a Disneyland-style museum having not relics to exhibit, but just plastic reconstructions of the life in Shanghai trough the different centuries of the life of the city.

You are probably right, but when I visited the Shanghai History Museum hosted in The Oriental Pearl Tower in New Pudong I felt that at least this exhibition gave me a good grasp of the history of Shanghai. And the history of Shanghai, you will see yourself when you will visit the Shanghai History Museum hosted in The Oriental Pearl Tower in New Pudong, is extremely fascinating.

The British influence on the development of Shanghai is the most evident sign of the influence of the Western countries in China.

British and Western countries are seen in the Shanghai History Museum as exploiters of China and Chinese labour force, but the biggest accusation from the Chinese prospective is the way the Western countries invading Shanghai corrupted the traditional Chinese customs.

Drinking and gambling are seen in the reconstruction offered by the Shanghai History Museum hosted in The Oriental Pearl Tower in New Pudong as the two epidemic ills brought by the Westerners.

The historic reconstruction offered by Shanghai History Museum hosted in The Oriental Pearl Tower in New Pudong certainly helps to explain why the actual People's Square in Shanghai is built when one time was the racecourse built bu the British.

The destruction of the racecourse built by the British and the construction of a square on its ruin built for the use and the enjoyment of the Chinese is seen as a sign of liberation and freedom from then British tyranny and a way to mark the return of Shanghai under Chinese control.

Still, in the first half of the Twenty Century Shanghai developed as a unique international community where the Chinese  culture and the traditions mixed with the ones of the Western Countries forming a mosaic that no where else ever was created.

Shanghai through the eyes of The Shanghai History Museum hosted in The Oriental Pearl Tower in New Pudong looks like an adventurous and vibrant city where the new and the unexpected was a constant presence in the daily life of the city.




"Welcome in the French Concession!"

The French Concession in Shanghai

Inevitably, visiting the Shanghai History Museum hosted in The Oriental Pearl Tower in New Pudong make you immediately feel to visit the French Concession (one of the best preserved Foreign Concessions in Shanghai)

A Concession was an area assigned on a Western foreign power at the end of the Opium War in the middle of the Nineteen Century.

If the English Concession is concentrated in the area along the Bund, the French Quarter is in the old town and it is literally a corner of Paris in China.

Not only the buildings, but also the bars and the restaurants are reminiscent of Paris. Although the French character is sometimes over emphasised and results a bit tacky, the French Concession is fascinating.

Take time to walk around the French Concession. Walk through the leafy streets, as you will probably immediately notice, this is the only area of Shanghai where beautiful trees are shading the streets.

The atmosphere in the French Concession is much more relaxed 
than in any other area of Shanghai. Here some of the streets are pedestrianised offering a rare area where to walk in peace and relatively away from the traffic.


A Concession was an area assigned on a Western foreign power at t
he end of the Opium War in the middle of the Nineteen Century.
The French Concession is also the area where the most expensive shops in town are concentrated: Dior, Cartier, Bulgari, Channel and many other great names are situated here in Shanghai and the boutiques are if possible even more rich and opulent that the ones of the most famous European Capitals.

If you have time you should absolutely dine in the French Concession if you are looking for a romantic night.

If instead you are all for discos Shanghai is definitely your town.

Going to some of the many discos in Shanghai is like to enter in underground  world, that although formally legal feels some how clandestine and forbidden.

Young Chinese all speaking perfectly English and dressed exactly like their brothers and sisters in London or New York smoke and drink practically non stop till they fall on the dance floor.

The discos are, with some exception, just bare and large rooms with not much style but rich in beers and spirits from the West: if you are looking for a pint of Guinness or a glass of Jack Daniels you are in the right place.

Apart for this bonanza of Western labels, what really amazed me is the monstrous effort those young Chinese are making to live in Western Style. It is like if these young Chinese are playing their role in a movie and they are so friendly and happy to meet Westerns that you will immediately feel welcomed by them.



Tianzifang or Tian Zi Fang is an arts and crafts enclave that has developed from a renovated residential area in the French Concession area of Shanghai


Tianzifang in Taikang Road

If you are visiting Shanghai don't miss for anything on Earth or Sky the chance to experience the vibe of a Disco in Shanghai!

If there is another area not to miss, apart for the more traditional tourist sights, is certainly  

Tianzifang or Tian Zi Fang is an arts and crafts enclave that has developed from a renovated residential area in the French Concession area of Shanghai

Tianzifang is also named Taikang Road, from the name of the road.

In Tianzifang you will find a wonderful mix of small craft stores, coffee shops, trendy art studios, mainly the best of new fashion and design in Shanghai and if there is a particular studio that I would absolutely recommend this is Ren Weiyin Gallery in Taikang Road




Ren Weiyin Gallery is an impressionist painter and a cobbler, but more than everything he is a hero and example of endurance, faith and belief in himself.


Ren Weiyin Gallery in Taikang Road


Finally a little gem in the heart of Shanghai: Ren Weiyin Gallery in Taikang Road in the trendy area of the French Concession in Shanghai.

Ren Weiyin Gallery is an impressionist painter and a cobbler, but more than everything he is a hero and example of endurance, faith and belief in himself.

In 1961 Ren Weiyin is arrested and moved to a labour camp from where he managed to escape after nine months.

He was then allowed to return to Shanghai but he was forbidden to paint instead forced to sustain his family repairing shoes for 17 years.

At the beginning I sat on the shop sadly, but gradually I felt repairing shoes wasn't such a despicable job.

Shoes have been the foundation upon which men and women stood.

after a while I thought about Dr Manette of Dicken's "A tale of Two Cities", who had repaired shoes for ten years.

In those days I was often denounced in public, so that someone remembered to beat me up.

Apart for his story, is for his paintings that Ren Weiyin Gallery in Taikang Road in the trendy area of the French Concession in Shanghai.


The old courtyards of Shanghai and the people in the street 
are extremely well painted and realistic in Ren Weiyin art.

Ren Weiyin is melancholic. Most of his paintings are made hidden behind a curtain or a window: they are clandestine paintings, made at risk to be deported again.

The subject of Ren Weiyin's paintings are always limited to a view from a window, never big wild landscapes, always courtyards, streets and squares of his beloved Shanghai.

His subject are simple picture of daily life but what Ren Weiyin's paintings so special is the constant research and desire of freedom that you can almost feel admiring Ren Weiyin's in his Gallery in Taikang road.


I love the fact that the through his intellect and his undestroyable love of life, Ren Weiyin manage to resist the pressure and never gave up.

Ren Weiyin resisted everything in the name of art and of freedom and finally today he got the deserved recognition.

Absolutely take time to visit Ren Weiyin Gallery in Taikang Road in the trendy area of the French Concession in Shanghai. It is free and you will enjoy a wonderful and romantic view of Shanghai and of China on a whole.

Are you planning to travel to China?




Read my page My China Project where you can find the list of all of my posts and the destinations covered in this blog in China.




Read also the page Visit China and the page What to know before to travel to China.





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