With the Hotel Indigo Shanghai on the Bund as my home base, my first stop was a walk along The Bund. There's a nice high paved boardwalk, which affords you great views of The Bund's striking architecture, the Huangpu River and Pudong across the water. However it's almost as interesting to just people watch!
I was struck by how new everyone's clothes were, and by how few Western tourists there were.
It seems that Chinese tourists from other parts of China mostly frequent The Bund river walk, and they're there to be seen - dressed in their best outfits.
A brief word of warning: there is a scam operating on The Bund where Chinese students ask you to take a photo with their camera, and then ask you to have tea with them so they can practice their English.
Their English is in fact very good – they seize upon you with such a wall of words and questions, it’s hard to get a word in edgewise.
They are very particular about the tea house they insist you will have tea in with them (they get a cut) so if you do get there, expect to be paying for everyone (somewhere in the vicinity of a hundred bucks).
They exploit our Western discomfort with seeming rude. A firm ‘no thank you’ and walking away is your best strategy.
By day the only downside is the poor air quality, which adds a hazy quality to the sights. By night however things crisp up, so do book in some time on the Huangpu River.
The best way to do this is on a boat, and despite the cold, I enjoyed every minute of it! It’s a little like New Year’s Eve here every night of the year!
The hotel is also well placed to visit the beautiful Yu Garden (also known as Yu Yuan Garden). A walk through the ornate gardens (designed in 1559 the Ming Dynasty and constructed in 1577) should end you up at the traditional Bridge of Nine Turnings. It's designed so evil spirits can't follow you, apparently they're not excellent with corners...
Taking the crazy path along the edge of the pretty artificial lake will get you to the Yu Yuan Tourist Mart.
This is an ornate bazaar filled with small streets and lanes, where all sorts of vendors sell everything from souvenirs to gold to jade to food stuffs. It's the home to the much touted dumpling house called Nanxiang Mantou Dian, and is frequented by locals and tourists alike.
Of course you should expect the hard sell as you walk through this market (a firm no is your friend) but it's worth it to admire the heart of Shanghai's Old City. While you're in the neighbourhood, take a stroll down one of the laneways to get a real look at traditional Shanghai life. You'll see tiny low-rise rambling houses with washing hung out on poles and people preparing food and going about their daily lives. It's one of the only remaining areas in the city where people live communally like this - most have made the move to high-rise living.
You might even stumble upon this food stall street. It's a riot of colour, smell and movement, with motorbikes and bicycles weaving down it between the crowds here to get their lunch.
They're eating everything from noodles and rice dishes prepared at tiny little outlets, to cold shellfish, to brightly coloured skewers of fruit.
It's not just this area that's teaming with street food. You'll find all sorts of street food vendors selling off bicycles and carts wherever you go in Shanghai.
Some of the best sights I found were just walking around and taking it all in - including a man shaving fresh noodles off a large block with a potato peeler, each noodle arcing out the window and landing into a steaming pot of water.
In the streetside fresh produce stakes you'll find everything, including live fish. While these ones are made for super fresh eating, you can also find ones meant for keeping at the Flower and Bird Market (sometimes called the Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market).
Before you enter, prepare yourself for a cacophony of sound - chirping crickets and many different bird calls.
The rambling market will give you a look at the types of pets the Shanghainese people keep in those towering apartment blocks. You'll find hundreds of goldfish (sadly with too many in the same tank), turtles, albino frogs and really cute chinchilla.
In case you're scratching your head, they're South American rodents, a little bigger than squirrels.
For a whackier animal-related spot, jump a cab to Miao Club in the former French Concession. It's a cafe (not sure I'm keen on eating in it though) where you get to interact with a house full of cats. They also do cat adoptions.
While you're walking and driving around town, make sure you check out the architecture. In every direction you'll find a wide range of architectural styles, from the early 20th-century buildings on The Bund in neoclassical and art deco styles, to all sorts of eccentric high rise towers.
Some of my favourites included the golden 'robot', the pyramid trapping a smoking ball, and this brutalist looking tower.
As Shanghai has more buildings taller than 400 meters than any other city in the world, there's certainly lots to look at as you cruise this mega city!
You'll also see whole groups of the same building design repeated - it's enough to make you feel like the architecture is closing in!
If you want a smaller scale way to understand the city, you might also like to check out the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall. It's got a truly amazing scale model of Shanghai that rotates through daytime and nighttime. It's about the only way to see it all at once!
Keep your eyes peeled for the final part of my Shanghai adventure, which also talks about attractions you might like to visit during your stay. This trip was only made possible by the kindness of New Shanghai who provided my airfares.
Please also see: Shanghai, Shanghai Eats, Shanghai Bars & Shanghai Attractions.