Shanghai is one of the most popular tourist destinations in China. It’s a modern city, but it has a lot of history and many different architectural styles. While the city can be quite expensive, it doesn’t have to be. Whether you’re coming from another country or live in China, you can take a trip to this beautiful city without breaking the bank.
The Huangpu River splits Shanghai in half. Puxi is west of the river and also where the Old Town still stands, and 15-year-old Pudong is to the east. Upon arriving in Shanghai, you should take Metro Line 1 to the People’s Square.
This area is the center of all places worth seeing in Puxi. There are two notable sights here, one being the Urban Planning Exhibition Center. On the second floor, you can see pictures of Shanghai past and present. A 3D layout of Shanghai as well as plans for its future are on subsequent floors.
The Shanghai Museum is another great site for those interested in history. It’s free and open to the public with multilingual signs. The museum has galleries displaying collections of sculptures, bronze artifacts, and calligraphy, to name a few. At the time of my visit, two galleries were closed for renovation.
From here, you should walk south along Xizang Road to the Old Town. The actual Old Town is a very small part in the center, and it’s all that remains of the original village from the 1800s. The rest of the Old Town has been converted into the modern city that Shanghai has become, but it’s still worth a look. There are many temples, gardens, and ancient buildings here that are a good contrast to the modern city.
Also in this area, you’ll find the famous Yuyuan Gardens, which were originally created in 1559 by Pan Yunduan in honor of his father Pan En, a high-ranking official in the Ming Dynasty. As time went on, the gardens became dilapidated and were occupied and destroyed a few times. Finally in 1961, the Shanghai government repaired them and opened them up to the public.
To the west of the Old Town is the French Concession. Walking through this area feels like you’ve left China and entered Europe. This area used to be where the French used to live. Now, the area is a busy shopping street, but the tree-lined avenues and their many Tudor mansions still retain an air of the “Paris of the East.” It’s a great place to wander around and try some of the many good restaurants.
Shanghai has a lot of history to offer people, and sightseeing the Old Town and surrounding area gives you a chance to see much of that history and peek into the local culture without having to spend much money. Modern Shanghai may be expensive, but ancient Shanghai is great for budget travelers.
Sean Weisbrot lives and teaches English in Wuhan, China. When he’s not teaching, he writes about China and his travels on his website, Travel the World in Style.