You'll have to be quick to keep up with China's fast-changing capital of capitalism. Kate Simon takes a whistlestop tour

Day 1, Friday

Your body thinks it's the small hours, but your watch says otherwise: it is 8am Friday and you have just landed in Shanghai. Hop in a cab to the centre (about an hour, seething traffic allowing). Or catch the Maglev, the world's fastest operational train, which covers 20 miles in just eight minutes - take a snap of the speedometer above the carriage doorway when it hits the top speed of 431kmph/268mph (50 yuan/£3 one way; 8.30am-5.30pm; every 20 minutes). Unfortunately, this magnetic levitation marvel (or expensive white elephant) terminates at the Longyang Lu metro station on the eastern edge of the city, leaving baggage-laden passengers to negotiate an arm-stretching network of corridors and escalators. Take it easy, catch a cab instead for the final 25-minute leg downtown.

You're heading to the Portman Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai Centre, 1376 Nanjing Xilu (00 86 21 6279 8888; www.ritzcarlton.com), where British Airways Holidays (0870-2433 406; www.baholidays.com) is offering b&b from £96 per person per night. Good choice, because Nanjing Xilu is Shanghai's main shopping drag, whereas most of the big international hotels are in Pudong, a schlep away from the action. Boutique hotel fans should check into pioneering 88 Xintiandi, 380 Huangpi Nanlu (00 86 21 5383 8833; www.88xintiandi.com), where double rooms cost from $297 (£165) per night with breakfast.

No time to unpack, jet lag threatens. So hail another cab and head straight for the Banyan Tree Spa, Level 3, Westin, 88 Henan Zhonglu (00 86 21 6335 1888; www.banyantreespa.com/shanghai), the Thai group's first in China, and refresh yourself with an apple and green tea polisher and a Balinese massage. Expect to pay around £84.

Forget lunch, order a snack from room service and unpack, ready to hit the road again by 2.30pm for some sightseeing. You could take the metro, which has English signs and bilingual announcements and costs no more than 30p per trip. But with time against you, cabs are most convenient and at just £1 a ride in the centre, it's hard not to add to the smog that hangs over the city. Just remember to ask the concierge to write down your destinations in Chinese for the largely non-English-speaking cabbies. (Don't tip; it offends.)

Head for The Bund, the embankment of the Huangpu river, for a visual history lesson of this young city, which only came into its own in the early 1800s. The wide esplanade permanently bustles, with tourists and Chinese alike enjoying the views of the river that made Shanghai one of Asia's major ports. The grand buildings behind you were built by the banks and companies of foreign powers that muscled their way into the city after the Opium Wars. But your eye will be ultimately drawn to sci-fi Pudong, the business district across the river, a city of skyscrapers that has sprung up in just the past 15 years, featuring the world's highest hotel - the Grand Hyatt, on floors 54 to 87 of high-rise beauty the Jinmao Tower - and Asia's tallest TV tower - the downright ugly Pearl Tower. Jump in a cab, or take a ride in a glass capsule down the psychedelic Bund Tourist Tunnel (30 yuan/£2; 9am-9.30pm daily) and cross to Pudong to look back the other way for a view of the past.

Back to the hotel to put on your gladrags because you're off for cocktails at Face Bar at Ruijin Guest House, Building 4, 118 Ruijin Erlu (00 86 21 6466 4328). Eschew an alcove in the neo-colonial-style bar for a seat by the lawn at this 1930s compound - just don't forget the mozzie spray. Then move on to Ye Shanghai, 338 Huangpi Nanlu (00 86 21 6311 2323) for classy Shanghainese cuisine and a nostalgic trip to decadent pre-Communist times (around 200 yuan/£13 per head). Eyelids drooping, it's time to head home via a swift nightcap at the Portman's Bar, which features live jazz most nights.

Day 2, Saturday

Slept well? Rise early and stretch your legs with a walk around Jingan Park, west along Nanjing Xilu. It's a pretty green lung in a city of steel, but the real attraction is watching the locals, young and old, practising tai chi, tap-dancing, group singing and ballroom dancing - tango is the latest craze. That's what a public park should be about.

Cross the road to the Jingan Temple (entrance 5 yuan/33p; 7.30am-5pm daily), a place of worship since the 3rd century. Looks shiny and new? That's because it's a copy of the original, built in the 1990s. But the devout still pay their respects to Buddha there, lighting incense sticks. For something more authentic, head east to see the shikumen houses at 200-303 Maoming Beilu. Rows of semi-communal two-storey tenements like these, dating from the Thirties, once housed much of Shanghai's population.

By now you'll be feeling peckish. Join the expats on the terrace at M on the Bund, 7th Floor, 5 The Bund (00 86 21 6350 9988; www.m-onthebund.com) tucking into its fabled weekend brunch menu - from eggs Benedict to an Iranian platter - with great views of that river, again (around 218 yuan/£14.50 per head).

Onwards. There's serious shopping to do, one of the main attractions of Shanghai today. Only a fool would exercise their wallet in one of the Western designer-label stores that are springing up around town - strictly for wealthy expats. Instead, get ready to haggle in the markets, and pick up designer fakes at Xiangyang Market at Xiangyang Nanlu, between Huaihai Zhonglu and Nanchang Lu (8am-8pm daily), fabrics from Dongjiadu Lu Fabric Market at Dongjiadu Lu (8am-5pm daily), antiques at Dongtai Lu Antiques Market at Dongtai Lu and Liuhekou Lu (9am-6pm daily) and kitsch souvenirs from Yu Bazaar at Fuyou Lu and Jiujiachang Lu (8.30am-8.30pm). Shanghai is famous for its silk, cashmere and pearls - beware of polyester, wool blends and plastic.

Drinks tonight are at New Heights on the seventh-floor terrace of Three on the Bund, 3 Zhong Shan Dong Yilu (00 86 21 6323 3355; www.threeonthebund.com). Yep, more views of that river, but this time by neon, the best light by which to see this city. This multi-storey "lifestyle and entertainment" complex is leading the regeneration of the Bund. It not only features well-appointed eateries, but also gallery spaces, Giorgio Armani's first boutique in China and an Evian spa.

But you're here for dinner. So after cocktails choose from Laris on the sixth floor for contemporary cuisine (don't miss the spectacular seafood bar) by David Laris, previously of London's Mezzo (around 480 yuan/£32 per head); or the Whampoa Club on the fifth, where Jereme Leung gives Shanghai food a contemporary twist (around 400 yuan/£27 per head); or try the modern French menu at Jean Georges on the fourth by Jean-Georges Vongerichten of New York's Trump Tower (around 550 yuan/£37). Whichever you choose, make sure you've booked a table - these are among the hottest in town.

You'll need some stamina tonight, because you're off for a nightcap at Bar Rouge, just down the road, at 18 on the Bund, 1 East Zhongshan Lu, the latest lifestyle emporium and the place to see and be seen.

Day 3, Sunday

Okay, culture. You're off to the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall on Renmin - or People's - Square (00 86 21 6372 2077; 9am-5pm daily; entrance 20 yuan/£1.30). This vast model city may be pure propaganda but it's fascinating - apparently, the Shanghai smart set take photos of the area where they live in this miniaturised city and use them as their party invitations. Outside, the square, which sits on Shanghai's old racecourse, is a rather manicured and dull green space. But it's also home to the Shanghai Art Museum (00 86 21 6327 3642; 9am-4pm daily; entrance 20 yuan/£1.30) in the former race club building, and the Shanghai Museum (00 86 21 6372 3500; 9am-4pm daily; entrance 20 yuan/£1.30).

Lunch is takeaway dumplings at the Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant in the Yu Garden at Yuyuan Laolu. Expect to queue, but it's worth it. These steamed morsels of crab are very tasty - okay, so I thought they were sausagemeat, whatever, they tasted good and at 16 yuan (£1) for eight they're a bargain (watch them being freshly made through the window). Yu Garden is an odd place. You'd expect a serene green space, but instead you'll find a sort of olde-China, theme-park-style bazaar featuring global stars such as Starbucks beside lots of shops selling tat. The best bargain here is the 30 yuan (£2) entrance to the garden itself, a compound of temples built in the 16th century with mountainous rockeries and bonsais. Afterwards, take tea at the Huxinting Tea House, 257 Yuyuan Lu (00 86 21 635 8270) in the middle of the lake, said to be the inspiration for the tea house on the Willow Pattern. Wander beyond the confines of the garden into the streets of the Old City for a true glimpse of Shanghai life.

Back in the 21st century, move on to Xiantiandi. Shanghai's answer to Covent Garden is a pedestrianised area crowded with boutiques and cafés in the heart of the former French Concession. Pop into Annabel Lee, Unit 3, House 3, North Block, Lane 181 (00 86 21 6320 0045; www.annabel-lee.com) for some affordable silk gifts for the folks back home. Just around the corner from this homage to Mammon is the site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China, 374 Huangpi Nanlu (00 86 21 5283 2171; 8am-4pm daily; entrance 3yuan/20p) where Mao Tse-tung and his comrades first met. Continue wandering around the surrounding plane tree-lined streets to admire the elegant French villas and mansions that now house boutiques and restaurants, and offer a trendy address for wealthy expats and Chinese.

Cocktails tonight are a cheap Chinese beer on an hour-long cruise along the Huangpu river, 219-239 Zhongsan Dong Erlu (00 86 21 6374 4461; around £3). The best time to board is at 6.30pm, to watch the sun go down and the neon light up the sky.

For dinner, join the throng for hot Szechuan fare at laid-back Pin Chuan, 47 Tao Jinglu (00 86 21 6437 9361). Then round off your last night with the ultimate drink-with-a-view at Cloud 9 on the 87th floor of the Grand Hyatt, 88 Century Boulevard, Pudong (00 86 21 5049 1234).

Day 4, Monday

The flight doesn't leave till 5.30pm, so you've time to do some sightseeing or shopping before heading for the airport. The Ritz-Carlton will let you keep your room till 6pm for no extra charge if it hasn't been booked, otherwise, the concierge will hold your bags till it's time to go.

Order breakfast in your room and pack, then head for the Shanghai Silk Museum, 289 Aomen Lu (00 86 21 6266 0378; 9am-6pm daily). Is it a shop, is it a museum? It's both. You'll be taken through a short display showing you how silk is manufactured, from the cocoon to the final product, before ending up in a shop where you can buy everything that is silk, from bedding to clothes. The best bargains are the silk duvets: a king-size that would cost you £250 in the UK costs just £40 here - and they'll vacuum-pack it for easy transportation. Covers are more expensive (around £100 for a double), but will make an exquisite souvenir of your trip.

Sick of shopping? Take a quick trip round the Jade Buddha Temple, 170 Anyuan Lu (8am-5pm daily; 10 yuan/66p). Built around the two-metre high, white, (fake) jade buddha, it's one of Shanghai's few Buddhist temples.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure you're back at the hotel in time for a snack and then it's off to the airport in good time to ensure you arrive at least two hours before you fly - check-in closes an hour before departure and the queues are notorious. Ah well, back to reality.

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