If you are a history buff, like I am, then you’ll love Shanghai for all its vibrant and visible tracts of history that are right out in the open and ready to be enjoyed and studied. Here is the best way to enjoy Shanghai’s Old City on foot.
Start off at the Bund. This was the center of commerce and a main artery through the International Settlement when China had foreigners living in concessions throughout China. The International settlement was responsible for producing the large stone structures that cover the west bank of the river. You’ll find the old Cathay hotel here (mentioned in loads of literature from the era) as well as the banks and offices of some of the concession’s leaders. In addition, on the Bund itself, you’ll find the remnants of a small lighthouse now the Bund Museum. This guided in the concessions ships, as most passengers from Europe and America arrived by boat right at the Bund. The lighthouse has a tour available for a small fee, and you can dine or enjoy a nice drink there before you continue your tour.
Head South west towards Yu Gardens. This area was the hub of old Shanghai and was where the Chinese locals had their markets, their entertainment, their execution grounds, government offices, match-making grounds and much more. Today you’ll be able to see remnants of the religious nature of the old Shanghai people with a Buddhist temple that is active even today, and the gardens themselves amid the shopping stalls that includes and old tea house and a tranquil lake. The restoration of Yu Gardens was undertaken to maintain the character of Old Shanghai, and if you try to imagine what it was like then you wont be hard pressed with your imagination as modern Yu Gardens is strikingly similar.
Now head north towards renmin park. Nearby you’ll find the Shanghai Urban Planning and Exhibition Hall. The first and second floor of the hall hold pictures and artifacts from Old Shanghai, you’ll get a real taste of the area, the concessions and even images of the Bund before it was cleaned up. The top floors contain information on where the city is headed, green energy, and a floor-sized model of modern Shanghai that is beyond impressive.
Nearby, at Dagu Road, you’ll find a garden park that houses the site of the first People’s Communist Congress. A tour through the facility is a must to understand the importance of Shanghai in the movement to unite China under one government. Brush up on your pre-1949 history before you arrive so you can better follow the displays. The tour ends with an impressive wax model of Mao and his friends and then a stroll through the actual meeting rooms.
Finally, a stroll through the French Concession is in order. Tree-lined avenues designed by the French with Chinese characteristics creates a pleasant fusion of two cultures. You’ll find quaint old French row houses next to modern Chinese-style apartments. Old shoppes and restaurants with decisively European flare make this a bizarre assault on your senses, but one that is seeped in history. After you have soaked in the Western infusion, head to Taikang Road to see how the Chinese lived during the same era, before and even today. Taikang Road is a refurbished hutong (community of houses) that gives a hint of what Old Shanghai was like even before the International Settlement arrived. Though it was just a small fishing town on the Huangpu River at one point, it has since blossomed into one of China’s greatest cities and home of the 2010 Expo. History is all around the beautiful city and it isn’t at all hard to find.