In an ancient land five millennia old, Shanghai feels like it was born yesterday. There are few age-old temples and monuments here, instead you’ll discover an extreme blend of art deco architecture, high-speed Maglevs, skyrocketing buildings, European colonial neighbourhoods and charming 19th-century alleys.
The Shanghai Museum resembles an ancient Chinese ding vessel. See fantastic bronze and ceramic treasures as well as beautiful paintings and Chinese calligraphy. The audioguide is well worth the extra £4 (00 86 21 6372 3500; shanghaimuseum.net/en; 201 Renmin Ave; 9am-5pm Mon-Fri, 9am-8pm Sat; free).
Symbolic of old Shanghai, the Bund was the city’s Wall St, a place of fortunes made and lost. The area remains at the heart of the city. Amble along the waterfront and compare the bones of the past with the fast emerging geometry of Pudong's skyline across the Huangpu river.
The French Concession is a residential, retail, restaurant and bar district with tree-lined streets. It spreads from Huangpu District, through Luwan and Xuhui and slices of Changning and Jing’an Districts. It’s excellent for random exploration, on foot or by bike.
With carp-filled pools, pavilions and whispering bamboo, the Yuyuan Gardens are popular at weekends. A fine example of Ming landscaping, the gardens come into bloom in spring. The heavy petalled Magnolia grandiflora – Shanghai’s flower – is particularly pretty (00 86 21 6326 0830; Yuyuan; 8.30am-5.30pm; £3).
The 492 metre-high Shanghai World Financial Centre is the world’s third-tallest building, with the world’s highest observation decks on the 94th, 97th and 100th floors (swfc-shanghai.com; 100 Century Ave; 8am-11pm; £14).
Eat and drink
The city’s most famous sesameseed- coated fried dumplings unquestionably belong to Yang’s Fry-Dumpling . Queues can stretch for miles as eager diners wait for them to be dished out onto communist-era enamel dishes. Order at the left counter then join the queue on the right to pick up your order (54-60 Wujiang Rd; lunch; 4 dumplings 50p).
Dishuidong is the locals' choice for spicy Hunanese cooking in unpretentious surroundings. Its greatest claim to fame are the cumin ribs, but there’s no excuse not to try the chicken and chilli clay pot or even the classic boiled frog (00 86 21 6253 2689; 2nd Fl, 56 South Maoming Road; lunch and dinner; mains £2-£8).
Factory is all about creativity, with a recording studio, exhibition space and retail shop. But it’s also a restaurant serving delicious kung pao chicken salad and peppercorn scallops (00 86 21 6563 3393; Bldg 4, 29 Shajing Rd; lunch and dinner; mains £2.50-£18).
Set in a three-storey 1913 villa, Fu 1039 is a must. Try the smoked fish starter and stewed pork in soy sauce or the sweetand- sour Mandarin fish. The entrance is unmarked and the staff speak little English (00 86 21 6288 1179; 1039 Yuyuan Road; lunch and dinner; dishes £4-£27).
High end Jean Georges has a fusion menu featuring crab with mango, and beef tenderloin in a miso red-wine sauce. It’s divided into casual and formal (jean-georges.com; 4th Floor, 3 The Bund, Zhongshan Dong Yi Rd; lunch and dinner; set dinner £50).
Quintet is an intimate b&b with just six rooms in a 1930s townhouse. Some rooms are small but each is decorated with stylish art deco furniture, silk furnishings and deep bathtubs. Sometimes the friendly staff members organise a BBQ on the roof terrace (00 86 21 6249 9088; quintet-shanghai.com; 808 Changle Road; from £75).
The 1930s red-brick building of Old House Inn has been lovingly restored to create an exclusive yet affordable place to stay. All 12 rooms are decorated with care and attention and have wooden floorboards, traditional Chinese furniture, stylish artwork and antiques (00 86 21 6248 6118; oldhouse.cn; Lane 351, No 16 Huashan Rd; from £85).
Hidden down an alleyway, Number 9 has no sign and is hard to find. But once inside the large wooden gate you'll see a gorgeous art deco mansion with a pretty garden. Family-owned, the house is decorated with a mix of antiques and Chinese objets d’art (00 86 21 6471 9950; 355 West Jianguo Road; from £100).
Astor House Hotel is situated near the Bund. Its pedigree reaches back to the early days of Concession-era Shanghai. Rooms are colossal with wooden floorboards. For an extra cost you can stay in rooms once used by Einstein and Charlie Chaplin (astorhousehotel.com; 15 Huangpu Road; from £125).
Combining historic charm and luxury, Mansion Hotel was originally the residence of Jin Ting Sun, a business partner of two of Shanghai’s gangsters. It has antiques, plush carpets, double showers and upholstered wooden furniture (00 86 21 5403 9888; chinamansionhotel.com; 82 Xinle Road; from £275).
The Shanghai metro currently runs eight lines, with No 1 and No 2 being the principal lines (tickets from 50p). Taxis are cheap and hassle-free (from £1). Whatever mode of transport you use, try to avoid rush hours between 8am and 9am and 4.30pm and 6pm.
Air China and British Airways fly to Shanghai Pudong International Airport from London Heathrow (£425; ba.com). The Maglev runs from the airport to Pudong, where you can transfer to the metro (£4.50; smtdc.com). A taxi into central Shanghai will cost around £15.
The article 'Mini guide to Shanghai, China' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.