Port of Shanghai
Sophisticated, cosmopolitan and dynamic, Shanghai is a memorable destination. China's largest city by population -- more than 24 million -- features an ever-changing skyline full of massive skyscrapers. As you stroll along the landmark Bund, it's difficult to imagine that, 5,000 years ago, Shanghai was little more than a tiny fishing village and textile-producing town.
Shanghai, which means "city on the sea," grew because of its strategic position on the Huangpu River, a tributary of the mighty Yangtze River that flows into the East China Sea. With its advantageous port location and economic potential, the city opened to the outside world and foreign trade following the 1842 Treaty of Nanking, which marked the end of the First Opium War between the British and Chinese.
European, American and Russian traders were granted "concessions" and moved in to build banks, embassies and offices -- most notably characterized in The Bund, the sweeping waterfront mile that's lined with Gothic, Art Deco and other historic buildings. Today, the 19th-century architecture vies for attention with the sleek, space-age towers in Pudong, on the opposite side of the Huangpu River, which puts on a nighttime light show.
Shanghai's history tends to be eclipsed by its modern-day magnetism, but you don't need to scratch far beneath the surface of the designer shopping streets and glitzy malls to find some traditional treasures. Ancient pagodas, temples and gardens provide an oasis of calm in the 24/7 metropolis that makes up China's most contemporary city.
A day is not enough to see all of Shanghai, and typical ocean cruise itineraries begin or end in the city, with the opportunity for extensions, while river cruise operators offer a two-day land-based stay before a flight to commence a Yangtze River cruise.
Although the sheer size of Shanghai can appear overwhelming, the top sights are divided into a handful of areas that are covered on full- and half-day excursions.
The port has its own transport hub to whisk visitors in and around this cosmopolitan city
The high pollution levels in this incredibly busy port make sightseeing overwhelming for some
Normally the start or end point of cruises, with opportunities to explore more of the city
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One of the world's busiest commercial ports, Shanghai is China's largest port and the only one connecting the country's sea and river shipping systems. Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal, located in the North Bund area close to downtown, can accommodate three midsize cruise ships. The distinctive, sparkling glass structure of the main building is shaped like a drop of water.
The international port is situated in an attractive landscaped park with great views across to The Bund and Pudong (be sure to check out the nighttime views, too). It offers an ATM, a tourist information center, a grocery store, a hip coffee shop and several places to eat. Once everyone on our ship had cleared customs and immigration, the main hall of the port building was closed. To access the services when the main hall is closed, head away from the river and look to your right, for a driveway and underground parking garage. Turn into the driveway and walk straight ahead; the services will be on your right as you walk along.
To leave the port complex, walk directly away from the river, just a couple of blocks, until you reach the main artery, Dongdaming Road. Here, you'll find banks with ATMs, restaurants and a few shops.
For people who prefer to walk, rather than take a shuttle bus or organized tour, The Bund is about 15 minutes away, and the main Nanjing Road shopping area can be reached in 30 minutes.
The more distant Shanghai Waigaoqiao Port features fewer facilities and no real reasons to hang around. Cruise ships that dock here offer shuttle buses that stop at The Bund and shopping districts.
Good to Know
Things change fast here, with old sectors continually being demolished to build massive new high-rise complexes. Chances are, if you visited a few years ago, many corners of the city will be unrecognizable. Be sure to confirm that your favorite spot is still there before heading off.
Traffic jams can clog main arteries and slow your progress to a crawl. Allow plenty of time if you're taking a taxi across town, particularly if you're trying to make an all-aboard deadline.
The Chinese government blocks many websites, including Google (and Gmail), Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Dropbox, The New York Times and many more on a constantly changing list. To get around the blockage, you can download a Virtual Private Network (VPN) app before entering China. This essentially makes it seem like you're connecting to the internet from outside China. Be wary of any unsecured internet connection in China; colleagues report that their email accounts have been compromised when online there.
Squat-style toilets are ubiquitous throughout China. If you're in a public restroom that appears to have only squat toilets, look for the disabled symbol on one door; that will likely be a Western-style toilet.
On Foot: Although Shanghai can seem intimidating at first glance, it's a very walkable city once you reach your neighborhood destination of choice: The Bund, Old City, the elegant French Concession area and the car-free Xintiandi district, for example. It's a very clean city, and there are plenty of pedestrian crossings on busy streets. Do beware of the ubiquitous electric scooters, which seem to appear silently out of nowhere.
By Taxi: Shanghai's taxis are reasonable, and a few dollars will get you a long way. The majority of drivers don't speak any English, so you'll need to have your destination written down in Chinese. This isn't as difficult as it sounds, as hotels provide cards with the names of all the main districts and attractions written in English on one side and Chinese on the other -- or the concierge will write down the place you want to go. Taxis are metered, and drivers don't expect tips, so you might find them trying to give back gratuities. If a taxi driver quotes a (usually outrageous) flat rate rather than using the meter, get out immediately -- these are rip-offs. Taxis are getting scarcer due to the proliferation of ride service apps, so you may need to have a hotel or restaurant call a cab for you. We didn't find any taxis at the port, and ended up walking a couple of blocks to the Hyatt hotel and joining the taxi queue. When leaving the port, we suggest you snap a photo of the port sign (in both Chinese and English) on the main road, which you can show to a taxi driver to make sure you get returned to the proper area of the port.
By Metro: Shanghai's rapidly expanding Metro system is a fast and user-friendly way to get around. Pick up a detailed map at stations or find the main lines listed on tourist information guides available at hotel reception and concierge desks. If this is a port call, your ship's destination staff will likely provide you with a map. Tickets are sold from bilingual vending machines, and signage is also bilingual, as are the station announcements onboard the trains. If you're taking several subway rides over multiple days, you can buy a preloaded transportation card (requiring a refundable deposit) to avoid standing in lines. One- and three-day subway cards are also available, but you'd have to take as many as six trips (one-day card) or five trips (three-day card) per day to make them pay off. Line 12 has a stop called International Cruise Terminal, but it's actually northeast of the port, on Changzhi Road. Line 1 runs through the French Concession and Line 8 will take you to the Old City. There are also subway connections to Shanghai's major train stations and airports.
By Bus: Although very cheap, the public bus network is best avoided because it can be very difficult to understand where buses are going, unless you can read Chinese characters. A far better bet is one of the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing tours with English-speaking commentary. Operators include buses bookable through Viator.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
China's currency is called the renminbi (RMB), which means "The People's Currency." RMB is legal tender throughout Beijing and mainland China. (Be mindful if you're also cruising to Hong Kong, as it operates on a different currency, the Hong Kong dollar.) For current currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com.
The RMB has a base unit called a yuan, which can be broken down into jiao and fen. (Fen are essentially out of existence.) Ten jiao equal 1 yuan. Commonly used denominations of RMB banknotes are 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 yuan. There is also a half-yuan note. Coins are in circulation, but most transactions will end in round numbers, and you will only need banknotes. RMB notes vary in size and color; the bigger it is, the more it is worth.
There is an ATM located in the services area of the cruise terminal complex (see Hanging Around, above), and banks near the main street, just outside the terminal. You'll also find banks with ATMs along The Bund and you can change money at hotels.
Mandarin, often referred to as Standard Chinese, is the official language. Shanghai also has its own traditional language called Shanghainese, and it's spoken by about 14 million people, mainly the older generation. At least some English is spoken in all large hotels, shops, restaurants and attractions catering to tourists.
Most establishments have their address in Chinese characters displayed on their website. It's a great idea to print this out in advance if you have a hotel reservation; otherwise, be sure to pick up an address card before leaving your hotel. With a kind smile and a pen in hand, don't be shy to ask hotel staff to write down the name and address of places you'd like to go so you can show a taxi driver.
Few Chinese outside of the tourism industry speak English. You'll have a higher chance of successfully communicating in English with a young person. At the least, they're more likely to have a translation app on their smartphones. Before entering China, you might want to consider downloading the Google Translate app, which includes Word Lens, to translate Chinese characters to English when you snap a photo of them using the app.
To say hello in Mandarin, say ni hao ("nee-how").
Thank you is xie xie ("shyay shyay").
You will see the word "Lu" as part of many street names; it simply means "road."
Beer is pijiu ("pee-jo").
Food and Drink
Shanghai cuisine reflects the cooking styles of the surrounding provinces of Jiangsu, Anhui, Zhejiang, Fujian and Jiangxi, which are characterized by a greater use of soy sauce, sugar, rice wine and rice vinegar than other regional cuisines. That said, Shanghai's 1,000-plus restaurants also serve every other style of Chinese food, such as spicy Sichuan, Cantonese dim sum and Peking, which are more familiar to Western palates. Add the food of virtually every other country you can imagine, and it all adds up to Shanghai being a truly international dining destination.
That being said, one of our favorite local treats is soup dumplings (xiao long bao). These steamed dumplings are filled with a rich broth and ground meat, fish or vegetables. Use chopsticks to gently place a dumpling in your spoon, add a little vinegar and a thread of ginger, then bite a tiny hole in the delicate dumpling skin and suck out the soup (after letting some steam escape). After that, pop the rest of the meaty dumpling into your mouth.
"Food streets," such as Huanghe Road and Wujiang Road near People's Square, serve everything from cheap local eats to Western-style meals. Just wander around to see what takes your fancy.
Din Tai Fung: This now-international chain has already has a few outlets in the U.S., so tends to be more foreigner-friendly. It serves thousands of soup dumplings per day, as well as other dishes. Shanghai has multiple Din Tai Fung locations; the two listed are closest to the port. ( 168 Lujiazui W Rd, LuJiaZui, Pudong; +86 21 5047 8882; open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and in the World Financial Center, 100 Century Ave.; Pudong; +86 21 6877 6886; open daily, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
Jia Jia Tang Bao: If you're the adventurous sort, head to one of these very local outlets for soup dumplings, which are contenders for the best in Shanghai. Little English is spoken, so you may end up ordering by pointing to what others or eating -- or just graze your way through the entire short menu, since prices are reasonable. Order your dumplings at the cash register, grab a table and pick up your steamed-to-order baskets of dumplings at the window when ready. Pork dumplings are the classic choice, but pork with mushroom are also delicious, and a (more pricy) specialty is dumplings with hairy crab. Go early in the day for the best selection; they close when they run out of dumplings. To avoid the People's Square location's mobs, head to the second location listed here. (90 Huanghe Road, near Fengyang Road, Huangpu District; +86 21 6327 6878; 6.30 a.m. to late afternoon/early evening; and 62 Liyuan Road; +86 21 6308 7139; 6.30 a.m. to late afternoon/early evening)
Songyuelou: Vegetarians can enjoy a tasty deal at this Old City restaurant. Popular with locals and visitors alike, it dates to 1910 and is Shanghai's oldest veggie restaurant. English menus can be found upstairs, and the vegetable-stuffed buns fill a lunchtime hole between sightseeing tours of the nearby City God Temple and Yuyuan Garden. (99 Jiu Jiaochang Road; open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
Old Jesse: Beloved by locals, this French Concession restaurant serves up Shanghainese cuisine, including a spectacular codfish head (not as creepy as it sounds, and very meaty; order in advance), braised pork belly and intriguing side-dishes, like red dates stuffed with sticky rice. Surroundings are basic; there are a few tables on the ground floor and a larger dining room on the second floor. (41 Tianping Rd, Xuhui Qu ; +86 21 6282 9260; open daily, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; reservations srongly recommended)
SML Center Food Court: Go down to level B2 of this shopping complex for a wonderland of different foods -- from Western burgers to regional specialties. Keep an eye out for the extra-large, extra-delicious pan-fried dumplings at Yang's, and the choose-your-own-ingredients Mala Xiang Guo stir-fry spots -- just look for the places with a huge array of ingredients on display, but beware, the sauce is a bit spicy. (618 Xujiahui Road, near Tianzifang; mall open daily, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; restaurant hours may vary)
Cuivre: Situated in the heart of the French Concession foodie district, Cuivre serves up a taste of southern France under the direction of Michael Wendling, who worked in Michelin-starred kitchens before going it alone. The decor is fun and quirky, with dissected bicycles acting as bar stools. Signature dishes include black pig (slow-cooked pork flavored with thyme), steak tartare, duck confit and tarte tatin for dessert. (1502 Huaihai Zhong Road; +86 21 6437 4219; open daily, 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., and also Saturday and Sunday, noon to 2 p.m.)
Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on The Bund: When it comes to drinks, pick your own poison (we suggest choosing from an extensive selection of Scotch) at the stylish and historic Long Bar in the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on The Bund. Originally the site of the Shanghai Club, a gentleman's club and watering hole for British nationals, the bar opened in 1911. (At the time, the 111-foot-long bar was reputed to be the longest in the world.) It has since been restored to its former glory, with cushy leather chairs, marble columns, stained glass and archive photos that show what it was like in its heyday. (2 Zhongshan East 1st Rd, WaiTan; +86 21 6322 9988.)
Known as the Paris of the Orient, Shanghai is a dream for fashionistas, with high-end shops selling an A-to-Z of designer names. Those seeking an authentic Chinese souvenir can find Shanghai lacquer items, jade and silk paintings. The best budget souvenirs are woodcarvings and Chinese calligraphy, where your name or the recipient's name is written in ink on scrolls, jewelry and other wares. Youngsters will love one of the omnipresent cuddly pandas that come in all sizes.
Flex the plastic along this main shopping street stretching more than 3 miles from The Bund to People's Square. East Nanjing Road, closest to The Bund, is home to some of Shanghai's grand old department stores and leads into West Nanjing Road with its upmarket malls, designer shops and five-star hotels. And when you've shopped until you've dropped, there are plenty of places to take a break, from familiar fast-food chains to authentic Chinese restaurants.
China is notorious for counterfeit goods, and Shanghai has whole markets dedicated to fakes. Street hawkers can be annoying when they start following you around with armfuls of knockoff watches, bags, jade jewelry and assorted items and pester you to buy. If you're tempted, don't be surprised if that "Rolex" has stopped ticking by the time you get home. While individuals will have personal views on the rights and wrongs of fake products, anyone who buys them should be aware of the legal issues. According to Customs Directive No. 2310-011A dated January 24, 2000, "Customs officers shall permit any person arriving in the United States to import one article, which must accompany the person, bearing a counterfeit, confusingly similar, or restricted gray market trademark, provided that the article is for personal use and not for sale." The Directive also states that, "Customs officers shall permit the arriving person to retain one article of each type accompanying the person." In other words, you can bring only one watch, one bag, etc., of any sort, provided they are for personal use and not for sale. It is illegal to sell counterfeit goods, and anyone caught bringing back several, or large numbers, of the same items will have them confiscated and could be subjected to a fine.
--By Jeannine Williamson, Cruise Critic contributor; updated by Gayle Keck, Cruise Critic contributor