Throughout Shanghai’s short history, People’s Square has been a nucleus of culture and activity. Due to its centrality and proximity to the Bund, the area draws tourists from all over the world to its hectic streets. And for the discerning tourist, People’s Square can truly be worth the hype. If you know where to find them, People’s Square is packed with amazing and cheap local restaurants and street food stalls, parks, museums, and more.
Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street is about as touristy as tourist attractions come in Shanghai. Built up during the city’s colonial days, the street is now a major shopping and dining area that leads to the Bund. It is absolutely worth seeing for the neon lights alone, but be on guard against scammers and petty thieves. For RMB5 ($0.73), you can take a little train down the street, in case you want to take photos without a walking incident!
Urban planning doesn’t whip most people into a frenzy, but the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center consistently draws a large crowd due to its large scale model of the entirety of Shanghai that shows all planned and recent developments. This six story building located on People’s Avenue provides visitors a detailed look at the evolution of one of the world’s most dynamic cities. It’s hard to predict what Shanghai will do next, but perhaps this museum will give you a clue.
The first non-profit contemporary art gallery in Shanghai, MOCA is located in a large glass building in the center of People’s Park and features a restaurant equipped with a rooftop patio and bar on the third floor. It offers sweeping views of People’s Square, which may be the best exhibition of all. Visiting contemporary artists from all over the world are featured in MOCA, so there’s always something new. Entrance is free.
Looking for ancient Chinese artifacts and cultural relics? Shanghai Museum is for you. The museum, renowned as one of the first world-class modern museums in China, has a collection of over 120,000 pieces, from bronze and ceramics to jade and calligraphy. One of the highlights is a series of ancient coins from the Silk Road, which contains 1783 pieces from the Greeks to the Mongols. The museum itself can also be said to be part of the collection. Designed by architect Xing Tonghe, it mimics the shape of an ancient bronze cooking vessel.
Not long ago in China, all marriages were arranged. Although the country has mostly discarded such traditions in the race towards modernity, this one keeps hanging on, if only by a thread. One of the last remaining vestiges of arranged marriage in Shanghai can be witnessed every weekend from 12-5pm at the People’s Square Marriage Market located right in People’s Park. Parents line up marriage resumes of their children attached to umbrellas. Big ticket items include salary and property ownership. You can go to the market to simply observe the goings-on, or take part in it yourself as long as you are respectful of the fact that for many of the families involved, this is the children’s last chance at marriage before being written off as “leftover” men and women.
From 1917 until 2003, Shanghai Great World, or Da Shi Jie, was known as the “No. 1 Entertainment Venue in the Far East.” Sadly, it closed due to an outbreak of the SARS epidemic, resigned to be the name of the nearby metro stop and little more. Then, on March 31, 2017, it reopened to the public for the first time in 14 years. It’s still finding its footing, but it is once again a great amusement arcade and entertainment center worthy of its name. It is part theater, part cultural center: a family friendly one-stop-shop that can fill a whole afternoon.
Often completely off the radar of tourists, Yunnan Rd. food street does not get enough credit for its seemingly endless local restaurants and street snacks. Pop into any of the restaurants here for delicious treats like Xiao Long Bao, glutinous rice balls called Tang Yuan filled with a sweet sesame paste, Shanghainese noodles, halal kebabs, and more. Although Yunnan Rd. crosses a great distance, the bulk of restaurants are located at the southern end near Shanghai Great World Entertainment Center. Ask anyone who’s had the pleasure of eating on Yunnan Rd, you’ll want to come hungry.