48 hours in Shanghai

From backstreets with mah-jong players and communal cook-ins, to temples filled with incense and exquisite carvings, this vibrant city makes an exotic holiday, says Cathy Packe



China's liveliest city is a great place to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The Year of the Monkey, or, according to the Chinese calendar, the year 4701, begins on 22 January. The festival is celebrated with special meals and fireworks displays, and, with most people taking the week off work, the city is in holiday mood.


The only non-stop flights between the UK and Shanghai are operated from Heathrow by Virgin Atlantic (0870 380 2007, www.virgin-atlantic.com), which flies between the two cities four times a week. Expect to pay around £390 for a return flight in February. The airport is 30 miles east of the city centre, linked by an incredibly fast train service that operates several times a day between the airport and Pudong subway station and takes 10 minutes, at a cost of Yuan150 (£10). A cheaper, slower alternative is the airport shuttle bus, which takes 50 minutes to reach the railway station , for a fare of Y30 (£2). A taxi takes around 40 minutes; expect to pay around Y100 (£6.70).


Unlike many other Chinese cities, Shanghai manages to combine size with accessibility, and it is an easy place to explore. Old Shanghai is on the west bank of the Huangpu river; the new development on the other side is Pudong. Suzhou Creek, a tributary of the Huangpu, cuts across the north of the city centre. The road along the river is the best-known street in Shanghai; named on maps as Zhongshan Road, it is known universally as the Bund. The old city, shaped like a distorted square and enclosed by Renmin Road and Zhonghau Road, is just to the west of the river. For tourist information, you could try the main office of the China International Travel Service , at 1277 Beijing Road (00 86 21 6321 7200), although it may be easier to extract information from the London office at 71 Warwick Road, London SW5 9HB (020-7373 0888, www.cnta.gov.cn).


Most of Shanghai's business hotels are across the river in Pudong, while the accommodation in the downtown district is aimed at tourists. Very central, and with excellent facilities, is the Howard Johnson Plaza at 595 Ju Jiang Road (00 86 21 3313 4883, www.hojo.com). Double rooms here start at $264.50 (£165). The Ramada is even more conveniently located at 719 Nanjing Road (00 86 21 6350 0000, www.ramadainternational.com), occupying a whole block between two main thoroughfares. Rooms here start at $172.50 (£108). The Peace Hotel , at 20 Nanjing Road (00 86 21 6321 6888, www.shanghaipeacehotel.com), is a Shanghai landmark, although these days its elegant Art Deco interior hints at a standard of luxury that has long disappeared. Nevertheless, the location is hard to beat; double rooms here start at $184 (£115). None of these rates includes breakfast.


The tallest building in China is the Oriental Pearl TV tower , a tall, thin spire punctuated by two globes which is one of the city's best-known landmarks. The tower is open daily 8am-9pm and offers spectacular views from the top; entrance costs Y100 (£6.70). To reach the tower, you will first need to take a ride on the Pudong tunnel , which operates Monday-Thursday 8am-10.30pm, and Friday-Sunday 8am-11.30pm. Return tickets cost Y40 (£2.65), and the tower is a short walk from the station in Pudong .


To appreciate the city from a different perspective, take a trip on the Huangpu river (00 86 21 6374 4461, www.pjrivercruise.com). Several short trips depart daily for a cruise through the city; tickets cost Y70 (£4.70) per person and are available from the ticket office on the Bund. There is also a longer round-trip out of Shanghai to the mouth of the Yangtze river, departing every afternoon at 2pm; tickets for this cruise cost Y90 (£6).


The French concession is one of a number of enclaves set up by the foreign powers that came to Shanghai during the 19th century. Its northern boundary is Huaihai Road, and it is divided from the old Chinese city to the east by Xizang Road. Off the main streets is a series of alleys, usually strung with washing drying in the breeze. Most of the cooking is done communally in these areas, and groups of women can often be seen squatting on low stools, hunched over a wok. The streets are lined with reflexology parlours, and groups of neighbours can often be found playing mah-jong. Just south of Huaihai Road is the former residence of Dr Sun Yat Sen , first president of the Chinese Republic, at 7 Xiangshan Road (00 86 21 6437 2954, www.sh-sunyat-sen.com). It has been left as it was when he lived there, with heavy wood panelling and much of the original furniture; part of the building is devoted to an exhibition telling the story of his life. The house is open daily 9am-4.30pm, entrance Y8 (50p). Slightly further west, at 1843 Huaihai Road (00 86 21 6433 5033), is the villa that Sun Yat Sen's wife, Soong Qing-Ling, occupied during the latter part of her life. Turning east again, meander through the back streets and into the flea market , with its fascinating selection of bird cages, porcelain, clothing and other artefacts.


Some of the elegant two- and three-storey grey brick houses of the French concession have been gentrified to make an area of classy shops and restaurants, known as Xintiandi , which wouldn't be out of place in Europe or the US. Its main asset is a number of cafés that are suitable for a quick snack. There is everything here, from Starbucks for a quick coffee to Latina for grills, Luna for European dishes, and several restaurants serving local dishes.


The Shanghai Museum at 201 Renmin Da Dao (00 86 21 6372 3500, www.shanghaimuseum.net) is one of the great museums of the world, and is a rewarding place to spend some time. The collections of jade - considered more valuable than gold by the Chinese - furniture, costumes and calligraphy are beautifully displayed, and everything is clearly explained. The museum is open Sunday-Friday 9am-5pm, Saturday 9am-8pm, entrance Y60 (£4).


The main shopping street is Nanjing Road, a lively pedestrianised area where the stores stay open late and there is a wide choice of goods from trendy clothing to traditional silks and Chinese tea. The Friendship Store at 40 Beijing Road (00 86 21 5308 0600, open daily 9.30am-10pm) is a government-run department store, selling Chinese clothing, crafts and jewellery. Cheaper prices are available pretty much anywhere in the city, but the advantage of the Friendship Store is that the quality can be guaranteed, and there is less pressure to buy than in more traditional shops.


Pre-dinner drinks are not really a Chinese tradition: drinking alcohol is usually left to foreigners, although the Chinese drink local beers, such as Tsingtao, which restaurants tend to class as soft drinks. Ignore anyone who suggests that you might like a drink at the Peace Hotel , to the accompaniment of its famous jazz band: this is not an enjoyable evening. Instead, for an aperitif you will never forget, head to Cloud 9, the cocktail bar at the top of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Jin Mao Tower, 88 Century Boulevard in Pudong (00 86 21 5049 1234, www.shanghai.grand.hyatt.com). Situated at the top of the highest hotel in the world, the views are unbelievable. The bar is open 6pm-midnight from Monday to Thursday, 11am-1am at weekends.


One of the most consistently popular restaurants in the city is M on the Bund at 7F, 5 Zhongshan Dong Road (00 86 21 6350 9988, www.m-onthebund.com). The menu is European, although there is a nod towards to local cuisine in some of the ingredients. For a more authentic Chinese dinner, with a number of Shanghainese specialities, try Lao Fandian , on the edge of the old city at 242 Fuyou Road (00 86 21 6328 2782).


Shanghai has its own Catholic cathedral , founded by the Jesuits, at 158 Puxi Road (00 86 21 6438 2595). It is open regularly for services, although it was closed in the Seventies during the Cultural Revolution. More important for most of the city's population is the Temple of the Jade Buddah at 170 Anyuan Road (00 86 21 6258 0098, open daily 9am-5pm), a colourful, noisy complex, where people come to pray and burn incense, offering up fruit or cakes in memory of their dead ancestors. Entrance is Y20 (£1.35). The highlight is the chamber containing the reclining figure of the Buddha, exquisitely carved from a single piece of white jade; entrance to this chamber costs Y5 (35p).


The Chinese version of brunch is a feast of dim sum - tiny dumplings in different shapes and with a variety of stuffings, which are either steamed or fried. There are a number of places in the old city that serve dim sum, but one of the best selections is at Lu Bo Lang at 115 Yuyuan Road (00 86 21 6328 0602, www.LuBoLang.com), which opens 11am-10pm daily. For a more Western-style Sunday brunch, try the Atrium café in the Hilton Hotel at 250 Hua Shan Road (00 86 21 6248 0000, www.hilton.com).


Yuyuan Garden , in the middle of the old city, is a beautiful 400-year-old Ming dynasty garden, built originally as the private garden of the commissioner of Sichuan province. As is typical of traditional Chinese gardens, it contains a series of pavilions, many of them still furnished with carved furniture, calligraphy and lanterns, as well as man-made hills, water and fish. The crowds that flock to the garden can detract from its tranquillity, so aim to visit first thing in the morning (open daily 8.30am-5pm, entrance Y30/£2). Outside the garden is the Huxinting teahouse at 257 Yuyuan Road (00 86 21 6373 6950), the oldest in Shanghai.


... from the old city. Until less than 100 years ago, the oldest part of Shanghai was a walled enclave, and it still retains an atmosphere all its own. The central part has been pedestrianised, but venture off the beaten track into the back streets for a glimpse of how life has been lived in Shanghai for several hundred years.


Take a walk along the Shanghai river front, on the Bund, at night. Since 1989, the buildings on both sides of the water have been illuminated after dark, and the spectacle is breathtaking. Don't expect this to be a solitary stroll: the Bund is the most popular place for the residents of Shanghai to enjoy a nightly walk.

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