Located at the mouth of the Yangtze River Shanghai, China, is the world’s third largest port. The name literally means “above the sea”. Shanghai is the city at the forefront of China’s movement towards a bright economic and cultural future. Most of the popular sights and attractions are in Puxi which is the cultural and commercial centre of Shanghai but across the Huangpu River, directly opposite Puxi, is the world famous skyline of Pudong. This impressive, almost space age, development is the new financial centre of Shanghai and a global symbol of China’s development as an economic power. Beijing is the capital and political centre of China but Shanghai is the largest city and the financial centre.

Shanghai museum

This blend of past and future is what makes visiting Shanghai such a unique and distinctive experience.


There are six major Chinese languages. The official national language of China and the official language of Shanghai is Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua), also called modern, standard Chinese. The vernacular language of Shanghai is Shanghainese (a dialect of Wu Chinese) which is spoken by the locals and forms part of their identity and culture. The Shanghainese all speak Mandarin Chinese so you will be understood when you use this language. Traders in popular tourist spots are likely to understand a little English as will most young people in their twenties or younger who are taught English a mandatory part of their school curriculum.

The following are useful Mandarin Chinese words which you may see on signs. Pronunciation guide is to the right.

Metro di tie

Line 1 yi hao xian

Line 2 er hao xian

Taxi    di shi

Entrance ru kou

Exit chu kou

Toilet  ce suo

Men nan (sometimes paired with characters for toilet)

Women nu (sometimes paired with characters for toilet)

Below are some useful spoken phrases. English is the left and the pinyin or Romanization on the right.

Hello   Ni hao

How are you?   Ni hao ma?

Yes    Dui

No    Bu

Excuse me    Qing wenyixia

I’m sorry    Duibuqi

Thank you    Xie Xie (pronounced shay shay)

Where is the Bathroom?    Xi shou jian?

How much does it cost?    duo shao qian

Do you speak English?    Ni Jiang Ying Yu Ma?

The Bund, Shanghai

Receipt     Fa Piao

Turn right     you zhuan

Turn left          zuo zhuan

Straight on     zhi zou

Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal is in central Shanghai, ideally placed for you to get started on your sight seeing and fun. The Terminal is in the Hongkou district right next to the North Bund.

If your cruise ship is very large it may have to dock further out of Shanghai since large vessels have trouble getting underneath the Yangpu Bridge. If you are docked a bit further out of the action the easiest way to get to central Shanghai is by taxi or bus.

When hailing a taxi the best firm to use is Dazhong which operates using sky blue cars. Qiangsheng with orange cars is also good. If neither of these are available give preference to green and white cars. Once in the car you will need to know the name of your destination in Chinese or be able to point to it on a map. Make sure you ask for a receipt as without one you cannot reclaim items accidentally left in the taxi.

The metro stations are well signposted from the street. You can buy tickets at a booth or via automatic machine. The system is easy to navigate and announcements for upcoming stations are read out in English after the Chinese announcement. As you exit the station your ticket will be checked, you should have your ticket in your right hand.

Sightseeing buses in Shanghai operate along two routes, one from People’s Square in Puxi and one from the Oriental Pearl Tower area in Pudong. Multilanguage headsets are available on the buses. You can get on and off these sightseeing buses at will or buy a round ticket valid for 24 hours at a price of CNY 300. When you purchase the full day pass you are given a set of tickets to other attractions worth approximately CYN 200 so it is well worth considering.


Now the world’s busiest seaport Shanghai started out as a small fishing village. The area officially became a city in 1297 and in 1602 it received a City God Temple, a sign of the city’s economic prosperity as a trading port. Later this prosperity was solidly reinforced when Shanghai became established as a center for the manufacture of cotton and milling of textiles. During the Qing Dynasty this trade boomed as silk became a primary export.

With the 19th Century advent of the Opium Wars foreign concessions were established within China and the French Concession, south from the International Settlement, is still a popular tourist attraction in modern day Shanghai. Concessions brought in a stream of Western influence and immigrants to the city and during the thirties many Jews fled the Nazi threat by immigrating to Shanghai. This influx of immigration is where a great deal of the breadth of Shanghai’s religious geography comes from.

The concession era officially ended in 1943 during the Second World War and the Republic of China municipality now controlled all Chinese territories. The communist state took control of Shanghai in 1949. Industry then waned and many people left Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). In 1976 Deng Xiaoping instituted an open door policy and commercial regeneration took place in Shanghai. In 1990 planning was begun on turning East Huangpu into Pudong. The future was underway with a vengeance and since then the rest of the world has been in awe of the rapid progress China has been making.

An important cultural difference to be aware of concerns cafes and restaurants. When food or drink is brought to the table you should help yourself out of the central dishes that are intended for sharing. If you are at a table with strangers remember that what is brought to the table is for everyone to share.

Shanghai is one of the world’s most populous cities and with the World Expo occurring in 2010 the footfall will only be greater. Like with any busy city the public transport facilities can be densely packed and if this concerns you then avoid using the metro during the rush hour or if it seems particularly busy.

Currency in Shanghai is the Chinese Renminbi sometimes shortened to RMB or CNY. The basic unit is a yuan or kuai which equals 10 jiao or mao which in turn contains ten fen. The symbol for the currency is ¥ not to be confused with the Japanese Yen. Notes come mainly in  1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 although some other types in circulation for example .5 and 2.

1 Euro is 8.7 CNY

1 USD is 6.8 CNY

1 GBP is 10.4 CNY

1 Euro is 8.7 CNY

Rates fluctuate so be sure to check the exact conversions before your trip. As a survival guide a good rule of thumb is to round the rates off to five, ten or a number which is easily calculable.

Nanjing Rd at night

The predominant style of toilet in China is a squat down toilet, basically a hole in the ground. It’s helpful to carry some tissue with you in your back pack because many public toilets will not provide this. With Shanghai hosting the 2010 World Expo many public toilets have been cleaned up and renovated but if you can’t face the culture shock of this difference then find a fast food outlet such as Mc Donald’s or KFC, these chains usually have western style toilets.

Many souvenirs are available in Shanghai from jade and ivory carvings to silk, porcelains or embroidery. Shanghai is a booming commercial centre and tourists are well provided for!

China is one of the world’s oldest continuous civilizations. For the majority of its history China has been under Dynastic rule and various eras are know by the name of the Dynasty then in power. The first Dynasty said to have existed was the Xia Dynasty but the first to leave written records was the Shang Dynasty of 1700- 1027 BC. This leads some experts to believe that the Xia Dynasty is actually a myth.

A Dynasty was headed by an emperor and one Dynasty would rule until they were perceived to have lost the Mandate of Heaven due to problems such as invasion or poor crops and then another “New” Dynasty would replace the old.

Imperial control was overthrown in the 19th Century and after the Chinese Civil War most of mainland China was controlled by the Communist Party of China led by Chairman Mao Zedong. After Zedong’s death a number of reforms were instigated by Deng Xiaoping which led the way for many of the modern developments and economic pace gathering which has brought China and specifically Shanghai to the forefront of Global attention.

The religious history of Shanghai is varied and this is evident in the different religious monuments and buildings around the city. The popular attraction, the City God Temple, is an example of Taoism whereas the largest temple in Shanghai is the Buddhist Longhua Temple. The Wen Miao or Confucian Temple is dedicated to the worship of Confucius and his writings and is a popular visitor attraction. There are also many modern temples in the city a well as churches of various Christian and Catholic denominations.

General interest

Traditional events to look out for include the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival which takes place in June. In the 3rd Century a poet named Qu Yuan killed himself by ritual suicide in the Mi Lo River as a political protest. Legend states that his supporters jumped into boats and threw rice cakes into the water to distract fish away from his body. The Duanwu Festival recreates this race to find Qu Yuan’s body by racing Dragon boats.

Another festival is the Chinese Moon festival, a rough equivalent of Valentines’ Day which takes place in September or early October.

The pedestrian mall Nanjing Road is one of the most famous streets in the world. As a centre of commerce Nanjing Road is extremely busy and at six kilometers long it is the world’s longest shopping district. You will see Chinese department stores and retail outlets as well as a large electronics market nearby.

For a more cultural shopping experience the stores around Old Shanghai will serve you better. Remember that haggling is an important aspect of buying from markets or street vendors with a rough guide being that you should ultimately pay around a quarter of the asking price.

For high powered designer shops, beauty treatment and massage salons or super stylish eateries you need to get the ferry across to Pudong.

If you want to take a break from all that shopping you could visit the café on the rooftop of the Peace Hotel and enjoy the scenery as you have a refreshing cup of coffee.

Shanghai Museum has a range of artistic and historical exhibitions and is a prefect port of call for those interested in history. For a more specific history of architectural planning and development in Shanghai visit the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center.

The Shanghai Oriental Arts Centre near Yingchun Lu is not only an extremely attractive building but offers the opportunity to see a wide range of performances and artists.

If your timing is fortuitous you might be able to see a football game at the Shanghai indoor stadium. Cycling, walking and boat tours are also abundantly available.

Key attractions

Pudong area

The Bund is a mile long stretch of waterfront alongside the Huangpu River. This is a very famous and symbolic part of China, the buildings once functioned as banks and trading houses for a global selection of countries. There are various architectural styles but the most beautiful building is considered to be the Art Deco style Peace Hotel.

Walking along the Bund you will be able to have your picture taken with the Huangpu River and the skyline of futuristic Pudong behind you, a popular activity!

Another must do activity in Shanghai is a trip along the Huangpu River. Huangpu River (Huangpu Jiang) is a shipping artery which symbolically divides Old Shanghai (Puxi) and New Shanghai (Pudong). This is a division between East and West, past and future. Look out for the green roof of the Peace Hotel and the Customs House clock tower in the Bund. Over in Pudong you can’t miss the Oriental Pearl TV Tower.

You can take a 1-2 hour cruise up and down main waterfront or a longer 3 hour cruise which goes to the mouth of Yangzi River and back. You can also take a short half hour cruise from Pudong.

Shanghai Huangpu River Cruise Company (Shanghai Pujiang Youlan) is the main boat company for Huangpu river cruises. They have two offices on the Bund, one at Zhongshan Dong Er Lu 219, the southern end, and one further north at Zhongshan Dong Er Lu 153.

Tours run daily from 2-5pm. In summer morning tours are also possible. Price is 150 yen, around $20 or £10. There are hour long cruises available as well, their running times vary so check ahead via the website. Short tour cost is 50 yen, $7 or £3.50.

Jade Buddha Temple. This Buddhist temple gets its name from two jade states of Buddha which are kept inside it. The statues were brought to Shanghai from Burma in the 19th century. There is now also a large marble statue in the temple as well. In an increasingly modern Shanghai the Jade Buddha Temple is a beautiful contrast with its upturned eaves and decorative architectural design.

Visit the French Concession to see the tree lined streets of the area once known as “the Paris of the East”. In Anren Jie you can visit Yu Yuan Garden, or Yu Gardens, which is extremely attractive classical garden now over four hundred years old.

People’s Square or Renmin Guangchang is a central point in Shanghai and if you are visiting other attractions you will likely pass through it. When the Communist government banned gambling this public square was built where the Shanghai Racecourse had once been. Adjacent to Nanjing Road the square is home to Shanghai’s government headquarters.

In Old Shanghai you can find an exotic pavilion in the middle of an artificial lake. Originally part of the Yu Garden this is Huxingting Teahouse (Huxingting Chashe). This famous teahouse has been visited by heads of state from all of he world and to visit it is an integral part of the Shanghai experience.

The historical, commercial and scenic centre of Shanghai is Puxi but it is worth a trip to Pudong and certainly to the iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower. Here you can take a tour and see Shanghai from 1148 feet up on the so called Space Module observatory level.

Quirky facts

Shanghai is the largest city in China and the eighth largest city in the world.

There is a saying that there is more sugar used in Shanghai than in the rest of China put together. Look out for sweet treats when you visit!

The Shanghai city flower is a white magnolia which is one of the few spring flowers to appear in Shanghai each year.

In 2002, Shanghai won the bid to host the 2010 Expo or World’s Fair, also sometimes known as “The Great Exhibition.”

Author: Stefanina Hill