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Shanghai: The Best of The Bund

by andrew March 2011 - last edited November by Community Manager

Running along the west bank of the Huangpu River, The Bund is a short strip of land with a long history. Its stately architecture and incredible views make it the undisputed symbol of the city and the place to start any exploration of Shanghai, when visiting China.

Since its beginnings as an international settlement in the late 19th Century, the area has been through a lot of changes, but The Bund has recently recovered its former glory in full. When Shanghai hosted World EXPO in 2010, the spotlight on the city prompted extensive renovations, making it a world class destination once again.

Look!

Peace Hotel Shanghai

Peace Hotel © Fairmont Hotels

Essentially, The Bund is all about the buildings: Neo-Classical, Gothic and Art Deco structures that transport you to another era, to days of decadence. Now that traffic lanes have been reduced out front and the promenade has been widened, you can really take the in the whole scene. However, some structures definitely warrant a closer look:

Peace Hotel (20, The Bund)

An Art Deco marvel, the newly reopened Peace Hotel was the toast of the town and the high societyhangout in the 1930s during its first life as the Cathay Hotel. It's impressive enough from the outside, but whether you're staying or not, don't miss out on the lavishly refurbished interior. Treat yourself to dinner at The Cathay Room and soak up some of that old world grandeur and an unparalleled view over The Bund. And don't miss out on the classic stylings of the septuagenarian six-piece Old Jazz Band in the Jazz Bar.

HSBC Building (12, The Bund)

This magnificent neo-classical structure, built in 1923 and now home to the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, held a secret for many years. During the Cultural Revolution, the original mural mosaics that decorated its domed ceiling disappeared. Cannily preserved under stucco, they avoided destruction, but weren't restored until 1997. Returned to their former splendour, the mosaics serve as a great reminder of The Bund's (first) glory years. Well worth a peek inside.

HSBC Building Mural by Bryce Edwards on Flickr

HSBC Building Mural by Bryce Edwards on Flickr

Astor House Hotel (15 Huangpu Road)

Not actually on The Bund but just across the landmark Garden Bridge, the Astor House Hotel is nevertheless evocative of the same era. The first ever Western-style hotel in China, its story, which begins in 1846, is long and convoluted; it has served as the Shanghai Stock Exchange and more recently as cheap, backpacker-friendly accommodation. Now owned and protected by the government, the building retains tons of original features. Sneak a look at the ballroom and galleries and have a nose through the plaques and photos of the many famous and noble guests the hotel has, or,  in the case of Charlie Chaplin, hasn't hosted over the years.

If you want easy, all-in-one sightseeing, a one to three-hour Huangpu River Cruise is the way to go and definitely more illuminating than the Bund Tourist Tunnel.

Wine and dine

In keeping with its roots as an international settlement, the area around The Bund has some of Shanghai’s best European and global cuisine.

M on The Bund by jwalsh on Flickr

M on The Bund by jwalsh on Flickr

Mr & Mrs Bund is the home of French "culinary egalitarian" chef Paul Pairet, whose extensive mix-and-match style menu has earned him a great reputation. The place for something unique.

For amazing views of the street and across the river to the skyscrapers of Pudong, the terrace at M on The Bund can’t be beaten. The delicious upscale European cuisine brings in the crowd to match, so you may even spot international celebs at adjacent tables.

If you want a break from the high life and fancy something more down to earth, The Bund Brewery, just off the main strip on Hankou Road, is the place to head. Opened in 1998, it’s Shanghai's oldest brewery and the aroma of its own wheat beers and dark lagers welcomes you as soon as you walk in. Unpretentious international platters make up the food menu.

Hong shao rou at Jesse by Gary Soup on Flickr

Hong shao rou at Jesse by Gary Soup on Flickr

For the finest in authentic Shanghainese food, you'll have to go further afield. The Xuhui district's (original) Jesse is first choice and according to many serves the city's best Hong Shao Rou (red braised pork).

Alternatively, you can step back in time at Fu 1039, which is housed in a quaint 1930s villa off Yu Yuan Road. Again the menu offers the sweet, unique flavours of Shanghai coupled with an amazing ambience.

Shop!

The Bund itself is not noted for its shopping, though one of its Neo-Renaissance classics, Three On The Bund (formerly the Union Building) now houses some upscale boutiques.

Embroidered card holder from Annabel Lee

Embroidered card holder from Annabel Lee

The best bits are tucked away though. Just off The Bund, Annabel Lee has an amazing range of colourful household wares, bags, purses and more -  all truly contemporary in design while paying homage to a rich tradition of Chinese silk embroidery. Perfect for gifts and souvenirs.

Also specialising in silk and just behind the main street in Fuzhou Road is Suzhou Cobblers, the proud creation of Huang Mengqi ("Denise") and her small team of dedicated craftsmen and women. Though the shop has branched out into bags and accessories the main draw are the exquisite 100% hand-sewn Chinese slippers. The real deal.

For the full Shanghai shopping experience simply head West of The Bund, down the car-free central section of Nanjing Road, where the real China takes over.

Nanjing Road by khalid Albaih on Flickr

Nanjing Road by khalid Albaih on Flickr

Photos courtesy of Flickr photographers jwalsh, Gary Soup, Bryce Edwards and Khalid Albaih. Header image of The Bund by tan ah beng.

Looking for some luxury? Check out our inside story on The Bund's newest building The Peninsula Shanghai.

Virgin Atlantic operate direct flights from London Heathrow to China.

Been to the reinvigorated Bund? Got any of your own tips? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.


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About the author: andrew

Andrew Bowman

Andrew is an occasional contributor to the Virgin Atlantic blog. He lived in the Japanese countryside for two years until he could no longer resist the pull of London's galleries, pubs and clubs. He likes to pretend he can speak Japanese and also sometimes writes about music.