Shanghai in 24 hours - Emirates24|7

Shanghai in 24 hours

The Nanjing Road with its designer boutique hotels and swish buildings make it the ideal place to wake up in and explore the city from. (SUPPLIED)

In some ways, Shanghai is Dubai's older and more experienced cousin. This vast metropolis, like Dubai the most important port in its region, pursued a breakneck curve of development similar to the emirate's between 1842 and 1949 – the period between British ships first arriving off China's eastern seaboard and the Communist Party of China taking charge.

In her book, Shanghai: Rise and Fall of a Decadent City, author Stella Dong describes the city thus: "At the peak of its spectacular career the swamp-ridden metropolis surely ranked as the most pleasure-mad, rapacious, corrupt, strife-ridden, licentious, squalid and decadent city in the world."

Indeed, Dubai can be thankful that it is not developing under the yolk of foreign exploitation and against a background of chronic internal instability.

Today, Shanghai has risen again to become China's economic powerhouse and trendsetter. Due to host an Expo in 2010, the city is safe and international, at the cutting edge of Asian design and dining.

But the good old, bad old days are what gave Shanghai its energy and zest for life. The city lives at 100mph – and perhaps the only way to approach it is at the same speed.

With this in mind, we have sampled some of the city's top hospitality and ploughed through its history to come up with the ultimate 24 hours in Shanghai – a whirlwind tour through a whirlwind city.

8:00 Wake up in your designer suite replete with works of contemporary art in the Jia Shanghai boutique hotel, located in a 1920s building in swish West Nanjing Road, and take breakfast in the hotel's deeply stylish Italian restaurant Issimo on the second floor.

9:00 Jump in a taxi and head for Renmin – People's – Square, where you'll find the Shanghai Museum, one of the two to get out of the way before lunch. The building was designed to recall an ancient Chinese Ding boat and contains an impressive collection, including some fine examples of Chinese calligraphy, a fascinating counterpoint to the fine Arabic calligraphy that can be seen in the UAE.

11:00 Stroll through People's Park to the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, worth a visit for its astonishing scale model of the city. Even Dubai residents hardened by incessant models of ambitious future UAE developments will reel at the sheer scale of what is planned for this megalopolis.

12:00 Tell the taxi driver you want to go to the north end of Zhong Shan Dong Yi Lu, otherwise known as the Bund. This riverside promenade is Shanghai's Sheikh Zayed Road, its looming art-deco piles testament to the huge fortunes made at lightning speed during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Stroll down the riverside promenade and note No27, the former headquarters of Jardine Matheson, the biggest importer of opium to China. At No22 is the Peace Hotel, formerly the Cathay and once the byword for luxury in the Far East. Charlie Chaplin stayed at the hotel, as did Noel Coward, who wrote his classic book Private Lives there. At No12 you will find the former headquarters of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, now known as HSBC. The building is the seat of the Pudong Development Bank and its marble and leather interior continues to offer the ultimate banking experience.

13:00 It's lunchtime. Walk down to No3 and take the elevator up to Laris, currently Shanghai's top restaurant. The creation of Australian-Greek chef David Laris, this high-end restaurant, with a cool white and marble interior and stunning views of the Huangpu River, serves up modern, globally influenced cuisine. Today, I'm lunching with the man himself, sampling a menu full of treats such as Japanese kumamoto oysters and curried frogs legs.

"This city has huge energy when it's at full throttle and it's where I became an entrepreneur," says Laris, a rangy and energetic man.

"Shanghai is the entry point into China for lifestyle brands and that has an effect on the atmosphere. Things are changing – the Shanghainese are no longer happy with copies. They want the real thing."

14:00 Jump into the next city cab and drive south to Old Town, where the original Chinese walled city of Shanghai stood. The main attraction here is the Yuyuan gardens, a wonderfully landscaped garden built during the Ming Dynasty, including huge rocks, glades, pools full of golden carp and dotted with traditional houses designed with classic Chinese fittings. The overall effect resembles a classical Chinese painting and it's not hard to imagine scenes of promenading pigtailed Confucian scholars and willowy girls with fans.

This major draw is surrounded by teahouses and a vast tourist-oriented bazaar, a kind of Chinese version of Madinat Jumeirah. But for a taste of what urban life is still like for many Shanghai residents, head east from Anren Jie on the garden's east side into Wutong Lu, a densely populated area of communal housing, where laundered clothes hang on lines strung over the street and residents wash in communal sinks. It's off the beaten track, but it's safe.

16:00 The Shanghainese like nothing more than to shop. Before the rush hour kicks in, take a cab to the Huaihai Road at its intersection with Yandang Road in what was formerly the French Concession area and stroll the attractive streets with their well-preserved art deco architecture checking out the boutiques. The area also has many a café to drop into for a break.

18:00 Rush hour in Shanghai is no time to be on the move – mainly because everyone else is. It's gridlock on the streets, but below the tarmac, the city's efficient metro system is running, a glimpse of what Dubai will hope from its soon-to-be-completed transit system. Take the number 2 line east to Lujiazui on the other side of the Huangpu River. Look around you for the two biggest towers in China. One, resembling nothing more than a giant bottle-opener, will, when complete, trump the nearby Jinmao Tower by a few metres. But it won't beat the Jinmao for architectural cool, its ultramodern many-layered metal structure referencing Chinese pagoda design. Take the elevator up to the 87th floor and sip a cold drink in the Cloud 9 bar as day turns to night outside and the city lights up.

20:00 Take a cab back across the river to Xintiandi, previously an area of dense Shikumen-style housing that has been redeveloped into a complex of restaurants and cafes, attracting a cosmopolitan crowd. For dinner, try Le Platane, a brasserie run by French-trained Singaporean chef Justin Quek, serving up French cuisine with an Asian twist, with dishes such as asparagus with foie gras and a truffle sauce.

22:00 If after dinner you still have an appetite for culture, why not drop into the nearby Shikumen Open House museum, a replica Shikumen house as lived in during the turmoil of the early 1900s, characterised in China by warlordism and failed revolutions. Chinese fleeing the conflict mixed Chinese courtyard architecture and Western townhouse design to create a style emphasising communal living and mutual reliance. Otherwise kick back in one of the many nearby street cafes or head to the Glamour Bar at the Bund's corner with Guangdong Lu, one of the top places to see and be seen, before returning to the comfort of Jia Shanghai. It's been a long day.

Shanghai bound

Flights: Emirates airlines has direct flights to Shanghai. For more information see

Where to stay: Jia Shanghai,, 931 West Nanjing Road, tel: +86 21 6217 9000

Where to eat: Laris (, 6th Floor, 3 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, +86 21 6321 9922

Le Platane, (, 373 Huangpi Nan Lu, +86 21 5383 2998

Best time to go: Shanghai freezes in winter and swelters in summer.

Spring and autumn are the most pleasant times to visit, but if you are travelling on business you probably won't have a choice.

Travellers' tips: Visitors from most countries require a visa to visit China. In the run-up to the Olympic Games, the rules surrounding visas are constantly changing. The best advice is to contact the Chinese Consulate in Dubai (

Learn the lingo: The local dialect Shanghainese is from the Wu family of languages and is distinct from Mandarin Chinese.

Despite the long history of foreign involvement in Shanghai, very few foreigners learn to speak Shanghainese, so locals will be astounded to hear you say these phrases:

Wo zao Ren Ming guang chang – I'm looking for People's Square.

Bi jio ji di? – How much is that?

Shanghai wa bi Beijing you du hao ging! – Shanghai is better than Beijing.

Shanghai links: Shanghai Museum (

Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall (

Jinmao Tower (