A few posts ago, we announced the opening of the commercial high-speed rail that connects passengers between Beijing and Shanghai in less than 5 hours: a remarkable feat. Before the high-speed rail opened on July 1, 2011, the fastest journey via train took 9 hours and 49 minutes. Now, due to trains which travel at an average speed close to 200 mph, the time it takes to travel to Shanghai has been cut in half.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of exploring Shanghai for the first time. Of course, I packed a long to-do list from WildChina’s China Classics Shanghai itineraries, but I had to try to condense everything I wanted to do into a single weekend adventure. I took the high-speed rail from Beijing to Shanghai on a Friday morning, then hopped on the train and rode it back to Beijing on Sunday afternoon. I knew I wouldn’t want to deal with the hassle of flying, which made the rail an attractive alternative.
My experience was fantastic. The seats are comfortable and there’s much more legroom than a plane offers. The attendants were helpful, and everything was very clean. All in all, this train makes travel to Shanghai a piece of cake.
If you’re looking to take a weekend journey to Shanghai, but not sure what to do once you arrive, here are some suggestions.
1) Yu Garden
Visit this site in the morning to avoid crowds. After a little searching for its entrance in the bustling bazaar outside the garden walls, you will find paradise on Earth in this classical Chinese garden. Commissioned in 1559 by Pan Yunduan of the Ming Dynasty (1368AD-1644AD), the gardens were meant to be a gift to his father for him to spend his old age in peace. Yu Gardens showcase the Southern Chinese garden style: carp-filled ponds, dragon statues, lucky stone mosaics, and bridges are tucked away in the luscious greenery of this famous garden.
Afterwards, stop and grab some snacks and milk tea from the vendors in the bazaar and visit the local artisans hard at work in their stalls.
The site of the first Communist Party meeting, Xintiandi’s historical significance blends gracefully with its modern development into upscale shopping and dining. This modernized area is composed of renovated shikumen, or “stone gate” houses located in narrow alleys. The numerous cafés and the wide range of dining options make Xintiandi an ideal spot for lunch, dinner, or drinks. Most restaurants have outdoor and indoor seating which makes people-watching easy while you relax. Stop by the Museum of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party to learn more about the first Communist Party meeting.
3) Pudong: Jin Mao Tower or the World Financial Center
Head across the Huangpu River to Pudong, China’s emerging financial center. Though most tourists head to the Oriental Pearl Tower for a view of The Bund and Shanghai, Jin Mao Tower and the World Financial Center offer incredible observation decks and a dramatically thinner crowd. Jaws drop as soon as the elevator doors opened on the observation deck on the 88th floor of Jin Mao Tower (also home of the Grand Hyatt Shanghai, one of the highest hotels in the world which occupies the tower from the 53rd-87th floor).
4) Fuxing Park
Hidden among the charming, tree-lined streets in the French Concession district, Fuxing Park exudes a lively aura thanks to the locals who sing, play board games, dance, practice tai-chi, and relax in the park. Immediately upon entering the park, Fuxing’s I passed an older Mao-suited gentleman carrying his lucky cricket in its cage as he ambled on his way through the fragrant rose garden.
5) Urban Planning Exhibition Center
The six-story Shanghai Urban Planning exhibition Centre includes archived photos, information on proposed forms of future transportations, and a computer-generated flyover of the city projected onto a 360-degree movie screen. The most incredible part of the museum, though, is the centerpiece of the entire exhibition center: an expansive scale model of what urban Shanghai is predicted to resemble in 2020.
6) Nanjing Road
If you’re looking for shopping, Nanjing Road, one of the world’s busiest shopping streets, has it all. Renovated in 2000 by the Chinese government in an effort to pedestrianize the street, Nanjing is very easy and accessible to navigate.
7) Din Tai Fung Restaurant
Though this chain is actually of Taiwanese origin, Din Tai Fung in Shanghai promises incredible xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings, a local favorite. Din Tai Fung’s excellent service, fantastic prices, and, of course, delicious cuisine have all contributed to its immense popularity. There are numerous locations throughout the city.
8) Walk Along The Bund at night (before 11pm!)
The Bund, with its European-style Neoclassical and Art Deco buildings, portray the beginning of Shanghai’s financial prowess that began during the British concession in 1842. Commercial houses and banks line the Western edge of the Huangpu River, giving Shanghai the nickname “Paris of the East.” After the sun sets, the lights from the buildings drench the walkway on the bank of the river in a warm glow.
The lights from Pudong across the Huangpu River are dazzling and bright, and represent Shanghai’s constant development and urban renewal. Arrive before 11 pm to make sure you catch a glimpse of the city lights before they’re shut off for the night.
To prepare for the ride back to Beijing, Purchase some food from the Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station before you head back; you can pay for a meal or snacks on the train, but the cuisine isn’t always very appetizing and prices are high. Relax! After a busy weekend, you can lean back your chair and sleep comfortably in the well-cushioned chairs.
To see more activities in Shanghai, check out the itinerary for our four-day journey to the city, here.