1 - The Bund
Once a muddy riverbank where boats unloaded and took on heavy bales of merchandise via rickety wooden planking, this 1.5-kilometre stretch of the Huangpu River has morphed into one of the most visited of China’s many tourist sites – in fact, foreigners will feel distinctly outnumbered as they wander down the broad pedestrian promenade that fronts onto the river, dodging hawkers and snapping photos of groups of Chinese ballroom dancing or doing the fan dance.
Starting at Suzhou Creek and the iron arcs of Garden Bridge, you’ll pass through Huangpu Park – originally open to foreigners only – and its Monument to the People’s Heroes, a concrete pyramid that seems more suited to the modern architectural jungle of the Pudong district on the river’s far side. Lining the Bund’s length is a procession of grand buildings created by the foreign banks and great trading houses of Shanghai’s early 20th-century heyday. Neoclassical edifices stand shoulder to shoulder – a reminder of the pomp and splendour of that exciting time.
Standouts include the Peace Hotel (formerly Sassoon House), whose art-deco lobby and stained glass is worth checking out; the Shanghai Customs House with its distinctive clock tower; and the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank (formerly the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation building), in front of which a huge bronze bull apes New York’s Wall Street icon. Bund 18 should be explored, as the renovation of its interior is exquisite – it now houses top-end retail and dining/drinking establishments (as does Three on the Bund farther down).
2 - Peace Hotel, Nanjing Road East
The Peace Hotel stands on the corner of one of old Shanghai’s main thoroughfares: Nanjing Road. The stretch from the Bund up to People’s Park is two kilometres of chaotic shopping mania. Expensive brand names jostle for space with mainstream high-street stores, souvenir shops and eateries of every description. It claims to be the busiest shopping street in the world – and if the crowds I’ve had to deal with are anything to go by, that’s a fair bet. Whether you’re a shopaholic or not, a stroll up this street is an experience.
3 - M on the Bund
Before reaching the southern end of the Bund, head into the former Nissin Shipping building at No 5 for lunch at M on the Bund. Located on the seventh floor and boasting a rooftop terrace with tremendous views up the curving Bund, this was one of the first Western restaurants to open in the city. Its menu is rooted in classical European cuisine but
with novel twists thrown in, and Middle Eastern and North African dishes also feature. The décor is warm and refined, referencing Shanghai’s glamorous past with some style. Lunch 11.30am-2.30pm (Mon-Fri), dinner 6-10.30pm; 7/F No 5 The Bund (corner of Guangdong Lu); tel +86 21 6350 9988; m-restaurantgroup.com/mbund
4 - Yuyuan Garden Station, Shanghai, China
Where the Bund ends, at Yanan Road East, turn “inland” for a block then south (left) – you’ll soon be part of a stream of people heading into the old Chinese quarter, a rambling network of streets and alleys whose focal point is the Yuyuan Garden. This restored classical 16th-century Chinese garden, built by government official Pan Yunduan for his parents, is a beautiful example of Ming-era landscaping that covers more than two hectares filled with pavilions linked by covered corridors and bridges, open courtyards, streams, ponds, ancient trees and stands of bamboo.
Sadly you’re unlikely to find the peace and tranquillity it was designed to inspire, since you’ll be sharing it with hordes of mostly Chinese tourists, but nevertheless, wandering its winding walkways, pausing in ornate pavilions with curving eaves, and gazing into carp-filled pools by weeping willows is a wonderful antidote to the city strife outside. The Wall of Cloud-piercing Dragon, Exquisite Jade Rock, Inner Garden and Hall of Heralding Spring are all highlights.
Next to the garden’s entrance is the famous Mid-lake Pavilion Teahouse with its zigzag bridge – a cultural must-do if you’re willing to fight the crush – and after that it’s time to work your way back through the kitsch of the bazaar to the Huangpu River. Yuyuan Garden is open 8.30am-5.30pm; entry RMB40 (US$6); 218 Anren Jie (Street).
5 - Huanghu River Cruise
Back at the southern end of the Bund’s pedestrian promenade, a fleet of riverboats line the riverside, all touting sunset cruises ranging from 30 minutes to three hours plus, depending on how far up or down the river you’d like to float. The shorter sunset cruises are a great way of finishing your day. As night falls, the old colonial edifices of the Bund light up like Xmas decorations on one side, while on the other, in Pudong’s Lujiazui district, the 21st century stands brash and vertiginously tall, with skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower, Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai Financial Center and the latest – and tallest– Shanghai Tower piercing the sky in a neon show that matches any metropolis for architectural swagger. Many companies along the river wharves offer cruises; prices generally range from RMB60-150 (US$9-23) with a one-hour cruise costing around RMB100 (US$15).