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Shanghai Travel Guide

Shanghai, home to almost 12 million people, is China's largest city and is situated in the centre of the coastline where the Yangtze River flows through its delta into the East China Sea. The name of the city means 'on the sea', and most of the city (including Chongming Island) is only a few metres above sea level, criss-crossed by a maze of natural waterways of the Taihu drainage basin.

Shanghai is China's industrial and commercial capital. It is a busy seaport, and a science and technology centre, and has a vibrant business community. Visitors don't generally come to Shanghai for its scenic beauty or history (the city is too young to have cultivated a classical heritage), but those who arrive on business can find plenty of off-duty entertainment and relaxation. Just walking the busy streets and soaking up the vibrant atmosphere is worthwhile, and there are some temples and gardens to visit along with an excellent museum.

This great cosmopolitan metropolis has a colourful colonial background which has had the edge rubbed off of it during half a century of Communist rule. It was the first Chinese coastal port to be opened to Western trade in 1843, resulting in an influx of British, French and American diplomats and business interests, each of which established their own independent enclaves. In the 1920s and 30s Shanghai was regarded as a glamorous, decadent and fashionable place to visit. It all ended with World War II and the coming to power of the Communist party, but since the early 1990s a dramatic re-building programme has been underway which is aimed at putting Shanghai back on the map as a major international finance and trade centre. The World Financial Centre, completed in 2008, is one of the tallest buildings of them all and the world's tallest hotel.

Getting Around

Taxis are the preferred mode of transport for visitors in Shanghai. The metered Volkswagen cabs in primary colours are easy to identify and plentiful. The smaller, older cars are generally cheaper. All can be hailed on the street or booked by telephone.

Self-driving in a rental car is not a good option in the teeming tangle of streets, as it can be confusing and frustrating and there is always heavy traffic. Visitors are required to submit their driver's license in order to obtain a license, which will be given back on leaving the country.

To cover longer distances the Shanghai subway, costing just a few cents a ride, is the perfect solution, covering the downtown area. It is still being extended, ultimately to connect to the airports. Alternatively, public buses are common and extremely cheap, but very uncomfortable and inconvenient, being hot, crowded, unreliable and preyed on by pickpockets.

Many visitors opt to join the city's estimated seven million cyclists and rent bicycles from their hotels or one of the numerous hire shops in the city. Shanghai is also a good city to explore on foot and sometimes the best way to get around in the city is just to walk.

China Contacts

China National Tourism Administration (CNTA), Beijing: +86 (0)10 6520 1114
Chinese Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 495 2266.
Chinese Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7299 4049.
Chinese Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 789 3434.
Chinese Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6273 4780.
Chinese Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 431 6500.
Chinese Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 260 1119.
Chinese Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 474 9631.
United States Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 8531 3000.
British Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 5192 4000.
Canadian Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 5139 4000.
Australian Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 5140 4111.
South African Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 8532 0000.
Irish Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 6532 2691.
New Zealand Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 8532 7000.
Emergencies: 110 (police); 120 (ambulance - Beijing)


The Chinese have three names, the first of which is their surname, or family name. As a result visitors should be prepared for hotels mistakenly reserving rooms under their first names. For clarity, surnames may be underlined. When addressing Chinese people the surname should come first and official titles should be used. Chinese handshakes last longer than those in western countries, and in conversation it is customary to stand close together. Politeness in Western terms is foreign to them, and they rarely bother with pleasantries. All foreigners should carry ID at all times as spot checks are common and failure to show evidence of ID will result in a fine or detention.


A visa is not required if coming for a stay of six days only and arriving from Hong Kong or Macao in order to take a trip to Zhujian Delta in Guangdong Province. Persons holding an APEC Business Travel Card do not require a visa, provided that it is valid for travel to China. Travel to Tibet will also require a special Tibet Entry Permit. All documents necessary for further travel and sufficient funds to cover intended period of stay are required. Period of validity is stated on visas, and care should be taken when reading dates on visas for China as they are written in year/month/day format. We always recommend that passports be valid for six months after intended period of travel.

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