Shanghai Travel Guide: Places to Explore and Food to Try

Shanghai: few cities invoke so much excess, history, mystique, glamour, and fascinating promise in name alone. 

With more than 23 million, Shanghai is the biggest and traditionally the most advanced city in Mainland China.

Shanghai was the most populous and most flourishing city in the Far East during the 1930s. In the past 15 years, it has again become a winning city for tourists worldwide. Once again, the world had its eyes on the city when it hosted the World Expo, recording the highest number of visitors in the event’s history until today.

Top Places to Explore in Shanghai

The Yu Garden

The Yu Yuan is a traditional Chinese garden constructed between 1559 and 1577 and is regarded as one of the oldest surviving classical gardens in the present world.

Now, the Yu Garden is a honeypot for guests to the city. This should come as no surprise, with its stunning pavilions, beautiful rockeries, goldfish ponds, picturesque arched bridges, and dragon wall making it a picture-perfect backdrop.

The garden is nearly six acres in size means that travelers will undoubtedly be able to stretch their arms and legs and explore the full extent of its beauty, and unwind.

Shanghai People’s Square

Another iconic attraction and a popular landmark is the People’s Square in Shanghai. Situated in the city’s center, Shanghai’s biggest public square is home to the grand Municipal Government Mansion.

Another favorite destination within the 140,000 square meter area is the Shanghai Museum, designed to portray a Chinese cooking pot. The Shanghai Grand Theatre is another enormous structure situated within the People’s Square and is absolutely worth a look.

Shanghai Tower

Unlike the brave (stupid) building climbers, you may not be able to scale to the top of this skyscraper, but just seeing this gigantic building is definitely worthwhile.

If this building were a comic book character, it most unquestionably would be the Hulk, as it stands at 650 meters high. It rises well above all the other neighboring skyscrapers, and its glass façade adds a bit of beauty as well.

Jade Buddha Temple

China is famous for its stunning temples, and the Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai is one of my personal favorites.

Initially built in 1882 and then restored in 1928 after most of it was destroyed when the revolution toppled the Qing Dynasty, the temple houses two old Jade Buddha statues brought to the city by a monk named Huigen.

The temple’s central figures are the Jade Buddhas, which are seen as cultural relics but are considered as porcelain artworks in their own right.

What to eat while in Shanghai?

Like its culture and people, Shanghai’s cuisine is essentially a fusion of the forms of the neighboring Jiangnan region, with influences spattered in more recently from the more distant reaches of China and elsewhere. Characterized by some as oily and sweet, Shanghai’s preparation method emphasizes balance and freshness, with special attention to the richness that sour and sweet flavors can often bring to otherwise usually savory dishes.

Sea Food: The name “Shanghai” suggests “above the sea”, but ironically, the local inclination for fish often tends toward the freshwater kind due to the city’s position at the opening of China’s longest river. However, seafood retains radiant popularity and is usually braised (fish), steamed (shellfish and fish), or stir-fried. Watch out for fried seafood, as these dishes depend far less on freshness and are often the remains of days’ old waste.

Meat: Shanghai’s choice for meat is pork. Pork is universal in Chinese cooking, and in general, if a mention points to something as “meat” without any modifiers, the safe theory is that it is usually pork. Minced pork is used for bun and dumpling fillings, whereas slices and strips of pork are proclaimed in various soups. The old favorite of Shanghainese cooking is “red-cooked [stewed/braised] pork,” a traditional dish throughout China with the added flair of sweetness and anise provided by Shanghai’s friendly chefs.

Some of the Shanghai Dishes to look out for:

  • Xiǎo​lóng​bāo​ (steamed dumpling variety): Probably the most famous Shanghai dish: small steamed buns – often confused for dumplings – come full of tasty (and boiling!) broth inside with a dab of meat to boot. The gourmet bites a little hole into them first, sips the broth, then dips them in vinegar to season the delicious meat inside. 
  • Shàng​hǎi​ máo​ xiè​: Best eaten in the winter month and paired with Shaoxing wine to settle out your yin and yang.
  • Shēng​ jiān​ bāo​ (freshly grilled buns): Unlike steamed dumplings, these larger buns come with clean dough from freshly raised flour, are pan-fried until the white bottoms reach a crispy brown, and have not made their way to Chinese menus around the world (or even around Mainland China). Still famous with Shanghainese for breakfast and best parallelled by vinegar, eat these with special care, as the broth inside will squirt out just as quickly as their steamed cousins.

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