It’s hard to fathom the scale and influence of Shanghai, or the breathtaking speed of its growth: from 13.3 million residents in 1990, the city now has 24 million people; it’s the most developed city on the Chinese mainland and the largest city proper in the world (which makes its #43 ranking in our Place category, driven by a lack of crime, rather impressive).
This powerhouse of finance, international trade, culture, science and technology ranks #15 for the number of Global 500 cities headquartered here—there are nine in all. Yet Shanghai is made of more than money, and the city is lauded for its exhilarating blend of past and present, industry and leisure. It ranks #6 globally for shopping globally and its food scene is #14, part of a #26 ranking for Programming, which also includes culture and the arts. Speaking of which, you can get an eyeful at Power Station of Art, Shanghai’s 450,000-square-foot center for contemporary art and “generator for Shanghai’s new urban culture” according to local literature.
This eminently walkable city and its personality are split by the Huangpu River: Pudong (east bank) is the city’s financial district, fringed with towers and dominated by the landmark spike of the retro-futuristic Oriental Pearl Television Tower. Puxi (west bank) is home to the Bund, lined with the neo-Renaissance that were home to Western businesses in the 1930s, and to the wonderfully layered, leafy French Concession.
Shanghai ranks #29 for Neighborhoods and Landmarks, and from Luwan (part of the French quarter) to Xujiahui (its Metro City is a shopping landmark), exploration is endlessly rewarding.
More shopping? Nanjing Road welcomes a million shoppers daily; there’s the antiques of Dongtai Road; and at Dong Liang Studio, you’ll find the best homegrown fashion design talent—Fan Bing Bing shops there. Eating, like shopping, is a national obsession, and the soup dumpling, or xiaolong bao, is the dish to seek out. Plugged in expats insist the best are at Din Tai Fung.