Shanghai is a city of almost 30 million inhabitants that is still expanding. About one-fourth of all the world’s construction cranes are at work, night and day, in the city. Therefore, the landscape changes constantly. It’s not an ancient Chinese city of city walls, temples, and historical sites – it is more akin to Hong Kong than it is to Beijing. Visitors will see European-style city-scapes and French-style, tree-lined neighborhoods contrasting with the futuristic skyline of Pudong.
Shanghai is often described as a seaport, which it is, but the city’s residents hardly ever get close to the sea. The bulk of the city occupies space about 20-30 kilometers from the open sea. However, a large river, the Huangpu (a tributary of the Yangtze), curls its way through the center of the city, effectively dividing it into two major areas: Pudong (east of the river) and Puxi (west of the river). Meanwhile the Suzhou Creek, a smaller river that flows into the Huangpu at the Bund, runs from west to east.
There are three bridges, three tunnels, six subway lines, and many ferries for crossing the Huangpu River. Restaurants, hotels, and other venues of entertainment are located by the river on both sides in the downtown area. At night, the city comes alive with its lights and nightlife.
Visitors to the city will find out that most of the attractions (and people) are in the downtown areas. These areas still carry the flavor of the history of the city being divided into four concessions: for the French, Germans, British, and the Americans. The French area, for example, still has tree-lined streets, similar to the streets in Paris.
Pudong was greatly modernized beginning in 1990. Therefore, it is here that you will see the impressive skyscrapers, from the Oriental Pearl TV Tower (tallest in Asia), to the JinMao Tower and the World Financial Centre (the third tallest building in the world). Along the river lies the world-famous Bund, Shanghai’s version of a boardwalk for about 3 kilometers. About a mile west, you will see the mammoth People’s Square, the most important plaza outside of Beijing.
South of the Bund is Shanghai’s Old City, which contains old temples, gardens, and even the old city wall. About a mile west from there is the Xintiandi area of posh nightclubs and restaurants that have become a favorite area for expats. When you continue further west, you will encounter extensive business development and eventually the Hongqiao airport.
The major business area of Shanghai is the Lujiazui area of Pudong. This is home to the stock exchange, the large banks, the huge skyscrapers, and other institutions of commerce. Other areas of the city that have concentrated zones of business are Jing’an, Luwan, and Minhang.
The Puxi side of the river has the largest concentrations of residences in Shanghai. Most people live in the Huangpu, Luwan, Xuhui, Jing’an, Zhabei, and Hongkou districts. The residents of Pudong, across the river, live in less crowded neighborhoods.
Major Roads and Highways
The most famous shopping streets in China are Nanjing Road and Huaihai Road, both west of the river in Puxi. Yan’an Road is an elevated highway that carries most of the east-west traffic from the river to Hongqiao airport. Zhongshan Road is another elevated highway that handles north-south traffic in Puxi. There are two ring roads that crisscross Puxi and Pudong and take traffic out of the city.
Other famous shopping streets that begin in the French Concession and fan west are Fuxing Road, Maoming Road, Hengshan Road, and Ruijin Road.
Shanghai has two airports that are located at opposite ends of the city limits:
- Pudong Airport: Used primarily for international flights, this airport is about 45 minutes drive from the downtown area. It is located northeast of the city center, at the edge of the China Sea and the mouth of the Yangtze River. The land around the airport is largely undeveloped.
- Hongqiao Airport: On the other hand, this airport, used for most domestic flights, is located in the middle of the western urban area. It takes a taxi about 20 minutes to reach the airport from the Huangpu River.