Go now: Shanghai
As China Eastern launches new direct flights from London Gatwick to Shanghai, take time to explore the ‘Paris of the Orient’ – where old and modern China still battle it out on the streets…
Old and new collide as new flights reveal a city with a foot in the past
Don’t be fooled by the bright lights and skyscrapers. Beneath Shanghai’s gilded exterior, the ‘Paris of the Orient’ is an old rogue. It could spin you tales of its 1930s Sin City days; of opium wars and imperialists, but that’s in the past.
No other city has embraced the glamour of reform-era China like Shanghai, even if some relics of the old days still hold out. On its iconic waterfront (known as The Bund), art deco colonial architecture rises proudly over the ancient Huangpu River, while Yuyuan Garden goes back even further. It was founded during the Ming Dynasty and is still a haven of traditional design.
It’s not just places, either. The French-style Fuxing Park is a mere baby at just over 100 years old, but every day it is home to tai chi and qi gong practitioners, carrying on traditions older than the city itself, alongside elderly fitness groups tangoing or jiggling to K-pop.
Public and private; old and new, both rub shoulders in the streets. How else do you explain the busy marriage market on Saturdays in People’s Square, as parents play a kind of ‘top trumps’ with their kids’ degrees in order to marry them off.
For many visitors, Shanghai is just the starting point – a place to sleep off the jet lag and explore for a few hours before hopping on its new high-speed Maglev trains. But a million stories are to be found here.
Get your bearings at the world’s second-tallest skyscraper, then savour the few old parts of the city to be spared progress, from cycling the old Jewish Quarter of Hongkou to escaping to the quiet, little-seen Fuxing Island – this is where China’s leader, Chiang Kai-shek, holed up in the late 1940s as the Communists picked off the dying Republic.
Explore the French Concession next, an immaculate suburb of colonial mansions that still has the glamour of its 1930s heyday. Pause by Longhua Temple’s centuries-old pagoda as the rest of the city strides on, then fast-forward to modernity.
By The Bund’s weird, Technicolor sightseeing tunnel (worth a ride) is Ultraviolet, a hip 4D eatery where videos play on its walls as scents are pumped into the air. Mop up your plate in the Shanghai of the future.
City of the future? Shanghai’s skyscrapers and its neon waterfront belie a city where snatches of the past can still be found