Your essential guide to Shanghai

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By Charlotte Middlehurst

Charlotte Middlehurst is a British journalist with a special focus on China. She is the former features editor of Time Out Shanghai and has contributed to titles including The Telegraph and New Statesman.

Find your bearings

With its glittering skyscrapers and breathtaking views over the Huangpu River, Shanghai is home to one of the world’s most incredible skylines. Survey the city from above the clouds by taking a trip up to the viewing deck of the 128-storey Shanghai Tower, the world’s tallest building – which is also just a short walk away from the Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai. The hotel’s location is particularly exciting because of its proximity to Harbour City, a cutting-edge new arts district, making what was once a purely financial area into a stimulating, fast-evolving hub.

Feed your mind

For a cultural fix, it’s worth hopping over the river to the west bank, where you’ll find the historic Bund, central Shanghai’s gleaming waterfront. Known locally as Waitan (translated as ‘outer beach’), today the busy parade is packed with luxury shops, restaurants and art galleries. Yet it retains its historic roots as the heart of Shanghai’s old International Settlement, built by the British in the early 20th century. Spot the diverse architectural styles on display including Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance revival and Art Deco. At number 13 is the Customs House. It was built in 1927 to replace the traditional Chinese-style Customs House and remains an architectural highlight. Fun fact: its clock and bell were made in England in imitation of Big Ben.

The Bund

The Bund is a stretch of Shanghai’s historic waterfront and a major visitor attraction, home to numerous galleries, restaurants and shops. Photo: Adobe Stock

Shop like a local

Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai, is located in Lujiazui, the heart of Pudong’s central financial district, surrounded by some of Asia’s finest malls and shopping centres. Shanghai International Finance Center (IFC), has a dazzling array of top Eastern and Western fashion brands (Hermès, Chanel, Burberry, Philip Lim, and more). Across the road is another of China’s most prestigious shopping destinations – the Super Brand Mall. With 13 floors and taking up 250,000sq m, this mega-mall packs in a host of family-oriented entertainment attractions, from cinemas to restaurants.

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Only in Shanghai...

“A cruise along the Huangpu River is popular for a reason: it’s the most spellbinding way to take in Shanghai, from its historic architecture to the futuristic skyscrapers on the Bund and Pudong riverbanks. Whether it’s a private experience on a luxury yacht or a big group outing, speak to us in advance and we can arrange it for you.”

Charles Tong, Chief Concierge at Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai

See some sights

Discover some of China’s most iconic buildings right on your doorstep. Within walking distance is the record-breaking 468m-tall Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower – which had the honour of being China’s tallest building when it was completed in 1994. And despite having its crown stolen by the even-taller Shanghai World Financial Center 14 years later, it still offers impressive views. In addition to housing a TV and radio station, there are 15 observatory levels open to the public – the highest of which is a dizzying 350m above ground. To relax and get your bearings, grab a bite at the 267m-high revolving restaurant. You’ll need to make a reservation if you want to guarantee a coveted window seat. To soak up some Chinese history, take a stroll around Huangpu Park – it’s the triangular stretch of green at the northern end of the Bund, and the oldest and smallest park in the city. This is the site of the large Monument to the People's Heroes, commemorating those who helped to free China from foreign occupation, and of the Bund Historical Museum, which documents the history of the Bund in old photographs.

Toast your arrival

Shanghai is famous for its world-class, cosmopolitan bar scene – and deservedly so. Try the creative cocktails at Qi Bar, which offers stunning design, top mixologists and some of the city’s best DJs. Across the river is Unïco, the pan-American cocktail bar featured in the 2017 World’s Best Bars Guide. This new addition to Mauro Colagreco's fine-dining restaurant, Colagreco, serves up spicy Latin flavours. A must-try drink is the Absolut Elyx (Beefeater gin, Lillet vermouth and orange bitters). There’s also an intriguing range of rum and pisco drinks that are always exquisitely presented in an eclectic mix of glassware.

Make time to unwind

Make time to unwind

Spa & Wellness

Conjuring modernity and classical elegance, The Spa at Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai is the city’s premier escape route to relaxation. Unwind with the Chinese Meridian massage, a treatment that focuses on acupressure points and the flow of qi in the body (qi being the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine). The spa also hosts various educational workshops in practices such as Chinese astrology, and palm and face reading.

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Dine in style 

Chinese restaurant, Yong Yi Ting has been awarded one Michelin star by the inaugural Michelin Guide 2017 for Shanghai, the first-ever Michelin Restaurant Guide in mainland China. The restaurant stands out for its regional Jiang Nan cuisine (from the area south of the Yangtze River), reflecting the diverse gastronomy of Shanghai and its neighbouring Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. Consultant chef Tony Lu, regularly adapts the menu to reflect seasonal flavours. If you’re all about prime cuts, head for a steak dinner at Fifty 8º Grill. Beyond Pudong, try the Michelin-starred Fu He Hui, helmed by renowned chef Tong Lu. It’s a tasting-menu only, vegetarian restaurant that even meat-eaters love, offering innovative takes on high quality produce. 

Fu He Hui

The Michelin-starred Fu He Hui is spread across three floors and multiple rooms, making it a notably serene restaurant space in buzzing Shanghai.

Fu He Hui

Fu He Hui is a vegetarian restaurant blending Chinese and Western techniques.

Fifty 8° Grill

Indulge in quality steaks and the best of traditional French cooking at Fifty 8° Grill at Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai.

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Fifty 8° Grill

Celebrate a special occasion at Fifty 8° Grill at Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai

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Time travel

Shanghai used to be a humble fishing village and only grew in importance in the 19th century as its role as a trade port gave it international recognition. In the 1930s it was labelled the ‘Paris of the Orient’ and rose as a global centre of Art Deco, high fashion, art and wealth.

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And finally

While Shanghai is a bustling megalopolis busting with vitality, one of the best ways to get to know the city is to slow right down. Join the locals for their daily t’ai chi practise in the park. Rise with the birds at 6am and you’ll find scores of older residents moving in mesmerising synchronicity as they exercise in the early morning light.

Gallery

Shanghai Expo

The Shanghai Expo building has the world's largest 'membrane' roof. Photo: Gallery Stock

Shanghai

Spectacular Shanghai is truly a 21st-century city. Photo: Martin Puddy, Getty Images

Waibaidu Bridge

The Waibaidu Bridge was the first all-steel bridge in China. Photo: Martin Puddy, Getty Images

Yuyuan Garden

Yuyuan Garden was built in 1577 during the Ming Dynasty. Photo: Getty Images

Shanghai

Shanghai is one of the world's most vertical cities. Photo: Wangwukong, Getty Images