Nanjing Road is Shanghai’s busiest street. It stretches from the Bund on the east, all the way to Renmin Park (People’s park) in the center of the Western half of the city and beyond, to Jing’ an Temple to the west. Nanjing Road is arguably Shanghai’s most important place to see and be seen. The pedestrian walkway that stretches along the eastern end of the street is packed with brand-name and designer shopping as well as some of the fanciest restaurants in the city. Clubs and bars are sprinkled throughout the street, and you’ll find some of Shanghai’s most infamous KTV (karaoke) bars on Nanjing Road. The street is a delight to stroll down, and after years of living in Shanghai, I never tire of it. You’ll always find something new, from street vendors to hawkers to performances– there is always something about the street that never sleeps.
But the street has not always been so popular. In the 1800s it was part of the International Settlement of delegations from all over the world who lived and worked in Shanghai. The eastern part of the street was called ‘Nanking Road’ by the international residents, and Main Street by the locals. The western part was called Bubbling Well Road, and is famous because many high-profile expatriates lived in the mansions along this section of road. It was not until after WWII and the Chinese Revolution that the streets were joined and named collectively Nanjing Road. In early 2000 the eastern part of the street was made into a pedestrian walkway, which has enhanced the popularity of the street and made possible the addition of sight-seeing trams as well as outdoor vendors and performers. Upcoming plans include extending the pedestrian part of the walkway, thus opening new real estate to commercial development.
The best way to experience Nanjing Road is to walk north along the Bund until you reach Nanjing Road, and then head west. You’ll soon come to the pedestrian walkway, which will undoubtedly be covered in more people than you’ve ever seen in one place. Hold on to your purse or wallet and relax as the wave of humanity carries you into the heart of modernity. If you take this stroll in the afternoon, you’ll be amazed at the lights on Nanjing Road, which offers a particularly breathtaking look at the architecture and parkways.
Be aware that it is nearly impossible to walk the entire length of the road in one take. You should walk the eastern half, and take a taxi along the western portion, stopping at Jing’an Temple to pay your respects as well as marvel at the reconstruction of this ancient Temple next to a giant shopping mall. Indeed, many visitors are shocked to discover that the outside walls of the temple is comprised of small shops! Yes, commercialism is everywhere in China, and nowhere more so than Nanjing Road.