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Shanghai is the face of modern China. A buzzing, vibrant high-rise metropolis, it is the New York of the Middle Kingdom, to which people from all over the vast nation flock in search of roads paved with gold, to mix with the great and the good, to see and be seen. The centre of this is the historic Bund, a long wide avenue bordering the Huangpu river. As part of a deal struck between China and Britain during the Opium Wars, the British opened their first concession here in 1842. This has shaped much of the architecture that adorns the area. Grand historical buildings line the street, intended by the British to make a statement, looking over the Huangpu river and out to Pudong and that iconic skyline. Once banks and trade headquarters, some have been converted to opulent restaurants and hotels, others are still functioning banks and it’s possible to enter the buildings and study the wonderful interiors. The sprawling district on the other side of the Pu river known as Pudong, meaning ‘east of the Pu’ was until relatively recently undeveloped, and the famous skyline as we see it today is as much a showcase of modern China’s ambition, as it is an indication of how quickly urban China is developing.

Britain was not the only foreign nation to occupy a part of Shanghai. In the mid-1800s, the French also claimed their bit and by the 1930s, Shanghai had achieved international status as Asia's foremost commercial centre and became known as the colonial 'Paris of the East.' Shanghai retains some of those former charms in the tree-lined streets of the former French Concession, a very charming area to spend time exploring.

Now the financial capital of China, Shanghai is the perfect place to see the old, the new and the foreign in this worldly economic and cultural centre. Places of interest include the vast Temple of Heaven where you will often see locals practising their Tai Chi, The Shanghai Museum, which houses one of the world's finest collections of Chinese artefacts, the beautiful and classically designed Yu Gardens. A walk along the Bund is also a must, in order to learn about Shanghai’s colonial past, whilst looking over the river to its very modern and futuristic skyline.

Shanghai is also a marvellous base for exploring further afield. Near Shanghai are numerous ancient water towns that make wonderful day excursions. These towns, many of which can trace their routes back over a millennium and a half, are in perfect contrast to the bustle of the city. Historic and characterful traditional Chinese houses line intricate canal networks, much of transportation is conducted by boat, and the pace of life remains slow. The area is known for its wet climate, and the often foggy skies really add to the atmosphere that the towns project.

The best time for a tailor-made tour incorporating Shanghai is during the spring or autumn when the weather should be dry and warm.

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