Home > Destinations > Shanghai
Search China Travel guide
China overview Destination overview

China's economic showpiece never fails to surprise and rarely fails to delight. Walking Shanghai (Shànghǎi, 上海) streets can give you glimpses into a unique and layered past that includes foreign settlements, jazz-age decadence, political intrigue and, more recently, an entrepreneurial spirit that's returning this legendary port to the ranks of the world's great metropolises.

Discover the Art Deco architecture of the Bund and the charm of the former French Concession, take in Pudong's futuristic skyline from a sophisticated Bund restaurant with a cool drink in hand, sample tasty local specialties, dance till dawn, shop till you drop and mingle with the intrepid and forward-thinking Shanghainese. The city's energy is contagious and there's something in Shanghai for everyone.

Shanghai guide | Shanghai attractions | Shanghai flights
Shanghai hotels | Shanghai tours & activities
Shanghai on the China Travel Blog


Established as a tiny fishing community in the Warring States Period (453-221 BC), Shanghai slowly grew into a regional trade center, taking advantage of its access to the Yangzte River and nearby canals. The city stepped onto the global stage in 1842 when the British established a settlement just outside the walled Old City after defeating the Qing in the First Opium War. Concessions to the French, American, and Japanese soon followed, and Shanghai's economy began to boom as foreign investment poured in.

As the city grew in importance and wealth during the 1920s and '30s, it gave rise to an often disreputable mix of gangs, corrupt concession cops, fat-cat factory owners, sailors and rich expatriate families. It was during this period that most of the Bund's signature buildings were constructed and when Nanjing Lu, Huaihai Lu and the French Concession took the shapes that they largely retain today.

Political intrigue ran high, as the ruling Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) struggled to maintain control in a city full of Japanese spies, Western agents and Communist organizers. In 1922, the Chinese Communist Party held its first meeting in a French Concession lane house. It continued to organize meetings in the city thereafter, briefly allying itself with the Nationalists against Japan, but the alliance was short lived. The Nationalists, working with Shanghai gangster Du Yuesheng and his Green Gang, massacred Communists and striking workers in 1927, driving opposition underground. Despite such turmoil, Shanghai continued to thrive economically, solidifying its reputation as one of the world's most exciting, prosperous and decadent cities.

That all ended in 1937, when Japan seized the city, taking control of the foreign concessions in 1941 on the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor. Following the end of World War II in 1945, Nationalist rule returned to Shanghai. It wasn't long, however, before the Communists ousted the Kuomintang in 1949.

During the Mao years, Shanghai's role as a center of global finance and trade was displaced by the need to serve as a source of industrial production and revenue in support of national revolutionary development schemes. Despite the sometimes violent tumult of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution (the latter saw many urban Shanghainese subjected to various reeducation and self-criticism programs), Shanghai remained a vital economic center, though the glamor was gone—for a while, at least.

Since the economic reforms initiated in the 1990s under Mao's successor Deng Xiaoping, the city has reappeared on the world stage—in a big way. The government's decision to open and develop Shanghai has helped fuel China's recent breakneck growth and has brought streams of foreigners back—for both business and pleasure—to a city that once again commands global attention.


Weather-wise, the best times to visit Shanghai are between March and early June and from September to November. Frequent rain interrupts the days from mid-June to early July. July and August bring hot and humid weather, with daily temperatures regularly soaring well above 30°C (86°F). The warm days continue through September, sometimes as late as November, as the nights begin to cool. December through to February is damp and chill, with average temperatures lingering around 0°C (32°F), though it rarely snows or freezes. Spring and fall see a number of blue-sky days, but air pollution in Shanghai can be a problem. It's not as bad as some other cities in China, but those with sensitive lungs should take appropriate precautions, especially in the summer when the smog is at its worst.

Shanghai guide | Shanghai attractions | Shanghai flights
Shanghai hotels | Shanghai tours & activities
Shanghai on the China Travel Blog