Shanghai City Culture

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Shanghai City Culture
Shanghai's unique identity reflects a combination of influences from the past and present and from the East and West, a complex cultural tapestry which manifests as an intoxicating juxtaposition of sights, sounds, and aromas.
By Emily Chu, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Axel Schmies/age fotostock
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    Lujiazui Supertalls
    Shanghai undoubtedly boasts one of the tallest skylines in the world. Pudong New District's Lujiazui is a concentrated cluster of "supertalls," including the landmark Oriental Pearl Tower, Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center, and the tallest of them all, 128-story Shanghai Tower, all adjacent to one another. For unparalleled views, visit Shanghai Grand Hyatt Hotel, in the Jin Mao, or enjoy cocktails at the top of Shanghai World Financial Center.
    Photo by Axel Schmies/age fotostock
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    City Temples
    Buddhism is the most influential religion in China, and even if you are not religious yourself, stunning architecture and relics make local temples worth a visit. The Longhua Temple in the Xuhui district is the largest temple in Shanghai and boasts a pagoda from the Song Dynasty, along with impressive golden statues of Buddhist figures. Locals also carry incense sticks and offerings to Jing'an Temple, located on Nanjing West Road, one of Shanghai’s most commercial streets. The striking contrast between it and its shiny-new neighbors makes for a distinct and unusual identity. Nevertheless, the three halls for prayer, the courtyard with its large incense burners, and the soothing koi pond all make this a popular place for worship.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Exploring Past, Present, and Future
    The most charming aspect of Shanghai's culture is how it embraces its past and present, and even the future. People's Square is one place where visitors can experience all three. Located on one side of the buzzing plaza is Shanghai Museum, where 10 galleries showcase the best of ancient Chinese artwork, including jade pieces, ceramics, and calligraphy. Admission is free. Once you have perused relics from the past, cross the square to the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center to see the intricate scale model of the modern city. You might just spot an employee placing a building on the model, the sign of a newcomer joining the city's skyline in the not-too-distant future.
    Photo by Karl Johaentges/age fotostock
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    Contemporary Art
    Shanghai's art milieu attracts powerhouse collectors and casual art lovers alike. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA), set between the trees in People's Park, is a favorite, its unique spiral walkway creating innovative displays for shows by the likes of Marimekko, Yayoi Kusama, and Christian Dior. Beneath the Puxi side of the Nanpu Bridge is the Power Station of Art, China's first state-run contemporary art museum. Formerly the Nanshi Power Plant, this space has brought in touring exhibitions such as Andy Warhol's 15 Minutes Eternal, which is an indication of the caliber of work presented here. Finally, don’t miss the Shanghai Museum of Glass, where you can see glass relics from the past as well as take workshops.
    Photo by Justin Ventura
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    Shanghai Tours
    Check online for discounted tickets for the Big Bus Shanghai Tour; it's your best option for seeing the most sights in the shortest amount of time. The bus cruises by the city’s main spots of interest, and as with any other hop-on-hop-off bus service, riders can jump off when a particular attraction is of interest. Another option is to experience the city close-up with UnTour Shanghai’s culinary tours, which promise tastes from the most delicious spots in town. Choose from tours focusing on dumplings or nighttime markets, or rise early to sample hand-pulled noodles for breakfast.
    Photo courtesy of UnTour Shanghai/Florian Ritter
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    Parks and Garden Escapes
    While it's easy to focus on all the skyscrapers, there are stunning gardens and relaxing green spaces around Shanghai. Yùyuán Garden, a private garden located a few minutes from the Bund, is considered one of the finest traditional gardens in China. It boasts Ming-style architecture along with a lotus pool and the impressive Ten Thousand Flower Tower; there are also dining outlets, souvenir shops, and markets on the outskirts. For a more modern stroll, Pudong's Century Park is Shanghai’s answer to Central Park. Here, you can have a picnic, rent tandem bikes, and even row a boat along the park’s river. Try to catch the Plum Blossom Festival each spring, when the park is a lovely shade of pink from the blooming flowers.
    Photo by José Fuste Raga/age fotostock
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    A Burgeoning Arts Scene
    As interest in the the arts continues to grow and homegrown talent develops further, creative spaces have become more common around town. One of them is 1933 Old Millfun in the Hongkou district. Built during turn-of-the-century Shanghai, this former abattoir has been restored to its former art deco glory and is now a creative industry park that houses shops, cafés, galleries, and offices. A guild of artists also calls this space home. 50 Moganshan Road sits by the meandering Suzhou River and is a large enclave for contemporary art. From original to derivative works, the many galleries here curate multimedia pieces from local and international artists. Over a hundred artists' studios are also open to the public, as are small cafés and shops.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Psychedelic and Scenic River Crossings
    Aside from taking the metro or hailing a taxi, there are two alternative ways to traverse the Huangpu River between Puxi and Pudong. The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, with entrances and exits near the Bund and Lujiazui, offers the more futuristic way of crossing the river. Take a seat inside your capsule-like automated car and enjoy a psychedelic light show as you journey across the water, underground. The other route is to take the ferry from various ports on either side of the river. Not only is this the most scenic way to get to the other side, but it’s also the most economical. Ferries run every 15–20 minutes throughout the day.
    Photo by Justin Ventura
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    Historic Buildings
    As you explore Shanghai, you may not realize you are standing in front of a structure that played a major role in the country's history. The site of the First National Congress of the CPC is located in a traditional shikumen house in Xintiandi. Its displays chronicle the beginning of communism in China, and there is a wax reenactment of a meeting between Mao Zedong and the 12 Chinese revolutionaries who founded the Chinese Communist Party on July 23, 1921. The former home of Sun Yat-Sen, founder of the Republic of China, is found at 7 Xiangshan Road, near Fuxing Park. The European-style house was donated to the city upon his death and remains decorated as it was when he and his wife lived there; it's open to the public.
    Photo by age fotostock
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