When your MSC cruise brings you to Shanghai it is easy to understand that after years of stagnation, this great metropolis is undergoing one of the fastest economic expansions the world has ever seen.
As Shanghai begins to recapture its position as East Asia’s leading business city, a status it last held before World War II, the skyline is filling with high-rises – there are well over a thousand now.
Gleaming shopping malls, luxurious hotels and prestigious arts centres are rising alongside, while underneath everything snakes the world’s longest subway system. Shanghai’s 23 million residents enjoy the highest incomes on the mainland, and there’s plenty for them to splash out on; witness the rash of celebrity restaurants and designer flagship stores. MSC Grand Voyages cruises also offer excursions to the Bund – Shanghai’s original signature skyline –, a strip of grand Neoclassical colonial edifices on the west bank of the Huangpu River Pudong on the opposite shore – a backdrop domestic visitors queue up against to have their picture taken.
Named after an old Anglo-Indian term, “bunding” (the embanking of a muddy foreshore), the Bund’s official name is Zhongshan Lu but it’s better known among locals as Wai Tan (literally “Outside Beach”).
By whatever name, this was old Shanghai’s commercial heart, with the river on one side and the offices of the leading bank and trading houses on the other. Jinmao Tower is a beautiful building, an elegant tapering postmodern take on Art Deco, has an observation deck on the 88th floor. An ear-popping lift whisks you up 340m to the top in a matter of seconds. The spectacle of the city spread out before you is of course sublime, but turn round for a giddying view down the building’s glorious galleried atrium. Shanghai Museum is one of the city’s highlights, with a fantastic, well-presented collection.