While the modern city is home to the world's second-tallest tower and a host of other skyscrapers, below them is a treasure chest of heritage landmarks from art deco beauties to cathedrals, synagogues and temples and traditional lanes and houses. Restaurants are mouth-watering – Shanghai has its own Michelin dining guide – and retail therapy runs from luxury-goods labels like Prada and Gucci to pop-up boutiques, markets and vintage stores, as well as art and craft. Nightlife leaps from dazzling acrobatics shows to a vibrant music and club scene. For visitors, Shanghai is part of the 144-hour Visa-free Transit Programme, meaning tourists from New Zealand and 52 other countries can include a lengthy and luxurious stopover on the way to their next destination.
WHERE ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
Shanghai lies on China's central coast and is the world's largest city by population, with a recent head count of 26.3 million. It's considered the nation's showpiece of a booming economy, a global financial centre and transport hub with the world's busiest container port.
WHY GO THERE?
Shanghai radiates an atmosphere of age-old self-assurance and contemporary energy yet remains faithful to its traditions. As well as that stunning architecture, you'll find a super-efficient metro system and leafy lanes for cycling, fun knock-offs and exquisite handicrafts, addictive food, and yes, China's first Disneyland.
WHAT'S THERE TO SEE AND DO?
At every turn is a reminder of Shanghai's pace and size. Board the world's fastest train, the Maglev, from Pudong Airport to the city centre and you won't even realise you're travelling at 430km/h. Then crane your neck up for the skyscrapers. The big three in Pudong, on the eastern bank of the Huangpu River, provide the ultimate bird's-eye view; Jin Mao Tower's Buddhist pagoda-design, the Shanghai World Financial Center "bottle opener", and the twisting Shanghai Tower - the world's second tallest building.
There's also the distinctive pink-sphered Oriental Pearl TV Tower. From the ground, the best place to view these cloud-piercers is the Bund, Shanghai's famed waterfront promenade along the river's western side, in Puxi, a contrast with its charming colonial-era buildings.
Bustling from dawn to dusk, the Bund at sunset is truly magical with countless lights reflected across the water. Enjoy the scenery without the bustle on board a riverboat cruise. Another iconic spot is Nanjing Road East, a pedestrian street that buzzes with activity 24/7. It's quite the tourist mecca showing Chinese consumerism at its best; bright lights, wall-to-wall people and shopping! Continuing with modern culture, there are countless galleries and contemporary art museums exhibiting both local and international artists like Power Station of Art and Rockbund Art Museum. Or visit one of the quirky museums dedicated to the likes of Jackie Chan, antique music boxes or public security (law enforcement).
For more traditional culture, Shanghai Museum has a vast collection of rare treasures - over 120,000 relics. Residents of Zhujiajiao, a 1700-year-old water village, also strive to keep their traditions and heritage alive. Located on the outskirts of town, you'll get a real sense of dynasty-life in this ancient community with its canals, stone bridges, crumbling buildings, alleyways, temples and street food. The City God Temple in the Old City is also a must. Commemorating Shanghai's municipal status and the three men honoured as city gods, you'll feel you're in olden times, among shops selling handicrafts and traditional art, restaurants and teahouses. Wander Shanghai's entertainment districts built around lanes, or longtangs, which house restaurants, cafes, galleries, and shops.
There's upscale Xintiandi, set within traditional shikumen or stone-gate houses, the labyrinths of Tianzifang running between redbrick houses, and the leafy boulevards of the elegant French Concession. Download apps Mobike or Ofo to explore these laneways by cycle.
WHAT'S THE FOOD LIKE?
Shanghai's distinctive cuisine is certainly influenced by its river location, and neighbours, with carp, vinegar, and warmed rice wine on the menu. Around 1800 snack houses and stalls offer 300 kinds of dumplings and pastries, rice balls, noodles, steamed buns and soups. Other must-tries include soup dumplings, filled with delicious, piping-hot broth and dunked in soy and vinegar 'baths' before eating; steamed crab; beggar's chicken dating from the Qing Dynasty and two authentic local soups.
WHAT'S THE WEATHER LIKE?
Shanghai has four distinct seasons. The best time to visit is during its short autumn, October to November, when temperatures are comfortable and there are fewer crowds and rain showers. Avoid winter, unless you like temperatures below zero!
WHAT SHOULD I BUY?
Something handmade - a custommade qipao (traditional dress) or western suit from the South Bund Fabric Market, handpainted ceramics, a length of Blue Nankeen fabric (a 3000-year-old art similar to batik), silk fan, Shanghai-style paper cutting or beautiful Gu embroidery. TOP TIP? Discover Shanghai's future at the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall in People's Square. It really is staggering how China plans a mega-city.
MOST INSTAGRAMMABLE PLACE?
In Shanghai's Old Town, the Pavilion of Listening to Billows in the Yu, or Yuyuan Garden is picture-perfect; sweeping eaves, delicate willows trees, and ponds surrounded by decorated bridges and statuary.
HOW DO I GET THERE?
China Eastern Airlines will get you there in no time and, as mentioned, Shanghai's 144-hour visa-free transit makes for a super-simple stopover. The airline has come to the party with free accommodation.
See your travel agent or visit China Eastern's website here. .
T & C applies