A beginner's guide to Shanghai

China's super-sized cities are worth exploring.

A beginner's guide to Shanghai

It’s estimated that by the year 2025, China will have 221 cities with over one million inhabitants and an urban population of one billion. Most of that urban population is going to be living in the city of Shanghai – there’s already more than 24 million living there now, making it the biggest city in China and one of the biggest in the world. But is it a city that you would want to visit on your travels? Absolutely, here’s why.

China’s gateway to the world

Shanghai is strategically situated at the mouth of the Yangtze River – throughout the centuries it has been a major centre for transport and trade. After the British defeated China in the Opium War of 1842, Shanghai was opened up to foreign trade.

While Shanghai’s global profile declined during the control of the Communist Party, with the economic reforms of recent years Shanghai is now booming and definitely worth exploring.

The Bund

This is the waterfront area of central Shanghai. The term “The Bund” refers to the buildings and wharves along Zhongshan Road — the site of the old international settlement of Shanghai.

This is there the banks and trading houses of China’s international trading partners – including the United Kingdom, France, the United States, and many others – established their banks and trading houses. Consulates were based here, as well as business clubs and an English-language newspaper.

The Bund grew to become a major financial centre for the region and the buildings were constructed in the “Beaux Arts” style. This is a great area just to wander around and enjoy — a fascinating glimpse into China’s colonial period.

City God Temple

Located within the old walled city of Shanghai, City God is a large temple complex that was originally dedicated to the spirit of Jinshan or Gold Mountain — an island just off the coast of Shanghai — but in 1403 it was converted into the Taoist City God Temple where people could pray for good fortune and peace.

The temple has recently been fully restored and is now a popular place of worship as well as a major attraction — with a large number of market stalls and businesses in the area.

Yu Garden

Just beside the City God Temple is the Yu Garden which was created during the Ming Dynasty in 1559. At the time, the garden was the largest and most prestigious in the region. Today the gardens cover an area of two hectares and there are six separate sections, laid out in the Suzhou style.

One of the key points of interest here is the Currow ancient stone — a 5-ton boulder. It’s believed that this was a stone that was intended to be used in the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing but that the boat that was carrying it sank off the coast from Shanghai, the stone was salvaged and placed here in the garden.