by Chris Moss, The Telegraph, August 2, 2019
China’s biggest and most glamorous metropolis is one of its cultural capitals and also the best place to shop, dine and drink. With a long history linked to the sea and a recent architectural makeover that has been fast and frenzied, Shanghai is a beguiling place to disembark for a day of sightseeing or a longer stay.
Cruise port location
The centre of Shanghai is around 20 miles inland from the Pacific. Most of the large (70,000ft-plus) vessels on Asia Pacific cruise itineraries are moored at Baoshan Cruise Terminal (four berths) aka Wusongkou Port – which is located at Paotaiwan Bay, where the Yangtze meets the Huangpu, 15 miles from the centre. Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal, less than a mile from the famous Bund in the city centre, has space for three smaller vessels (a low bridge impedes very tall ships from progressing upriver). Waigaoqiao Port Cruise Terminal (five berths), in Pudong New Area, 16 miles from the centre, is also available though currently receives few cruise ships. Shanghai is also used for river cruises.
Can I walk to any places of interest?
In theory, you could walk out of the International Terminal right into central Shanghai, but paperwork and practicalities probably mean you’ll be taking a coach or mini bus. From Baoshan, expect an hour’s ride to get anywhere interesting.
Shanghai is huge, having grown exponentially in the past two decades. It’s divided in two by the Huangpu River: to the west is Puxi, the city’s downtown and historic centre; east is Pudong (aka Pudong New Area), where the central business district (CBD) and some of the city’s impressive skyscrapers are found (the main international airport is here too). Taxis and the metro are best if you’re travelling independently; organised coach-based excursions will help you see a lot in a limited time.
This Asian economic powerhouse has many business-oriented five-star hotels that also receive plenty of visitors. Among the smartest are The Peninsula, with its modern take on art deco; the Mandarin Oriental in the Lujiazui business district; the Ritz-Carlton, in Pudong; and the sometime thirties hedonistic hub, the Fairmont Peace Hotel. The Middle House is arguably more fashionable than any of these, and is handy for some of the city’s best dining, while Wanda Reign on the Bund (opened 2016), the plaything of Wang Sicong, the son of China’s richest man, is one of Shanghai’s newest luxury hotels.
What to see and do
You could spend a week in Shanghai just eating out and gawping at tall buildings – the spectacle on the riverbank is awesome, and when night falls and the city is turned on it gets even better. Shanghai also has a few remaining colonial and heritage areas, as well as excellent museums – notably the Shanghai Museum, with 120,000 items in its antiquities collection.
What can I do in four hours or less?
Almost all visiting cruise day-trip menus feature an "old and new" Shanghai excursion by coach. Holland America’s (four hours 15 mins from Baoshan port) is typical, starting with a ride along the Bund. Extending between the Woosung River and the Old Town on Shanghai’s waterfront, this was colonial Shanghai’s financial hub and a showcase for some fine examples of foreign buildings from the pre-1950s.
Pudong New Area is 21st century Shanghai and home to the imposing 1,535-foot Oriental Pearl Radio and TV Tower. Nearby stands the 88-story Jin Mao building, the third tallest building in Shanghai; the observation deck on the top floor is a great place to take in the many other soaring skyscrapers hereabouts. Outstanding recent erections include the twisting 2,073-foot Shanghai Tower and much-photographed Shanghai World Financial Center, the tallest tower with a hole in it.
A rather different vibe is felt around the wide-open People’s Square, which occupies the former site of a colonial British racecourse. Perhaps the loveliest district, though, is the French Concession; originally the French expatriate quarter, it still has a charm of its own and of the city’s lawless, artistic past.
P&O Cruises offers its guests a four hour "Futuristic Shanghai" tour, with plenty of skyscraping architecture and a ride on Shanghai's super-fast Maglev train.
What can I do in eight hours or less?
A longer visit allows time to do a themed and more in-depth excursion. Typical ones for Shanghai focus on food, arts and crafts, an acrobat show, or a trip to Suzhou – founded in the fifth century BC and is known for its Edenic gardens.
Cunard, knowing some passengers would prefer to explore on their own, offers a tour of around nine hours combining highlights, including a visit to the 88th floor of the Jin Mao building for a "dazzling panoramic view from one of the tallest skyscrapers in China" and a guided walk through the Old Town and a Chinese lunch, with free time to visit the likes of the Shanghai Museum, Shanghai Art Gallery, People’s Square and Nanjing Road Shopping Street.
Note that some cruise lines offer passengers disembarking here following a cruise tours onward to Beijing and/or Xian, famous for its Terracotta Warriors. Another popular pre/post cruise excursion is a night cruise on the Huangpu River.
Eat and drink
Shanghai is the only city in Mainland China entries on the popular Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list. Whether you want homely dumplings (Xiaolongbao, a regional classic), the finest Chinese haute cuisine, European dishes or street food, the city abounds in options. As a melting pot, it’s also great for trying food from China’s many regions. Some of the bars along the Bund are very sophisticated – when it opened back in September 2004, Three on the Bund ushered in a new gastronomic era for Shanghai and is still a place to be seen with a martini.
Don’t leave the city without…
Among the most popular take-home gifts here are silks, fashion, ceramics and antiques, which can be found in Shanghai’s markets, as well as at souvenir stalls. The city also has all the big designer shops and malls.
Need to know
British Airways, China Eastern and Virgin fly nonstop to Shanghai from London Heathrow – the flight duration is from around 11h 10m (eastbound) and 12h 05m (westbound)
The FCO notes that "Over 595,000 British nationals visited mainland China in 2017" and that most visits were trouble free. Avoid unmetered taxis as disputes can occur, and don’t presume locals will speak English.
Best time to go
Cruises operate year round. The best time to visit Shanghai is October to November, a rather short autumn season when temperatures are comfortable and there are neither the crowds nor the rain showers of summer (the peak tourism season). Winter travellers may encounter chilly weather. The typhoon season in China normally runs from May to November.
Major museums, most shops and all the shopping malls are open every day of the week; shops are often open till 9pm. Check the diary for Chinese New Year and other festivals as these can interrupt business and clog the transport systems.
The contactless Shanghai Public Transportation Card provides discounts on the Metro and city buses.