Culture and shopping in Shanghai and Hong Kong

When Michelle Filmer went to China, she split her time between its two most vibrant cities. From luxury to history, she selects the top ten highlights of her visit

The waterfront area in central Shanghai that runs along the west bank of the Huangpu river is known as The Bund. The west side showcases the essence of Shanghai, with beautiful art deco architecture (including the Fairmont Peace Hotel pictured) constructed in the first building boom of the 1920s and 30s during the city’s financial heyday.

Recent change in economic policy has seen some of the buildings return to their original use as the headquarters of financial institutions. They also now house a great number of designer shops and are part of the reason Shanghai is sometimes referred to as the “New York of the Orient” – it is a shopper’s paradise.

The beaux-arts architecture is home to Giorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Cartier, Patek Philippe, Breguet, Ermenegildo Zegna, Prada and Ralph Lauren.

Looking east across the river to the Pudong district, towering, brightly lit skyscrapers offer a glimpse of China’s prosperous future. Among them stands the Shanghai World Financial Centre, the tallest building in the country (1,614ft) and the second tallest in the world. Designed by American architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, it officially opened in 2008.

For 150RMB, (around £15) you can take the lift to the 100th floor for one of the best views in China. The faint at heart should beware; transparent glass walkways allow you to look straight down at the city from over 400m up. At night, you can watch Shanghai come to life as the lights turn on one by one.

Standing bold and retro-futuristic with its red and gold spheres and columns, the Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower was previously China’s tallest structure. Completed in 1994, the tower still broadcasts radio and television programmes. Like the Shanghai World Financial Centre, this tower has an impressive view of the city and the Huangpu River from hundreds of metres up, and there’s a glass walkway here too. Tickets range from 100RMB to 180RMB. There are many restaurants, shopping, and entertainment opportunities within the Tower.

At the north end of The Bund on the other side of The Garden Bridge stands the oldest hotel in Shanghai, the Astor House. It was established in 1858 by one of Shanghai’s first British residents Peter Felix Richards (who set up a chandler’s business providing goods for the expanding merchant population) following Shanghai’s opening as a treaty port in 1843.

The hotel has been expanded many times by its various owners and is well worth a visit. It retains some of the exquisite décor from times gone by and the list of people to have stayed is impressive, from members of the Japanese royal family, Tsar Nicolas II, the last Russian emperor and the Aga Khan to Charlie Chaplin, Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein.

Over-looking this slightly tired looking but rather grand old building is The Peninsula Hotel. Part of the well known Peninsula Hotel Group, it’s the first new building to be erected on The Bund in sixty years (the last one was the Bank of China in 1937).  It was built on the site of a “friendship store”. Friendship stores were state owned shops that first appeared in the 50s and sold Western imported goods and only accepted foreign exchange certificates as currency.

These days the building contains 270 luxurious rooms equipped with state-of–the-art technology and amazing views of the Pudong district, particularly at night. It houses designer stores like Chanel and Prada as well as restaurants such as Sir Elly’s (named after Sir Elly Kadoorie, founder of The Peninsula), which serves modern European food on the 13th floor.

The hotel also features an ‘‘academy” providing lessons for adults and children on subjects like preparing dim sum.

The rooftop bar is particularly enticing, with wonderful views across The Bund. In the unlikely event that you get bored of the view you can head down to the Salon De Ning basement bar. The long room resembles a Shanghai drawing room from the 30s with three differently decorated sections (one has furniture, ornaments and bookshelves upside down). You can sip cocktails while a band performs requests.

It’s worth braving the tourist hordes for Shanghai’s beautiful Old City. Yuyuan Bazaar runs through quaint streets lined with traditional buildings with shops and stalls selling antiques, fabrics, clothing and just about anything you can think of.   Chefs cook over open-fronted food stores in searing heat, producing smells unfamiliar to western nostrils.

Also in the Old City, the Yu Garden attracts flocks of culture-hungry tourists. Built during the Ming Dynasty in the 16th century, it took 18 years to construct. Pavilions and temples, gingko and cherry trees and pools bustling with koi carp, it makes for a pleasurable stroll (unless you go on the weekend when it can be heavily crowded).

Like Shanghai, Hong Kong’s Central District is a shopper’s dream. It houses Louis Vuitton’s Asia flagship store along with the likes of Chloe, Dior, Gucci, Chanel, Fendi, Celine, D&G, Balenciaga and Prada – the list goes on. Visit the nearby Christian Louboutin store for some of the most exquisitely crafted shoes you’re ever likely to see. This district features upmarket bars such as Sevva, a restaurant-bar with art-covered walls, a tasting bar and sweet counter as well as a beautiful terrace with spectacular views over the harbour. From here the city is breath-taking – the perfect place to lounge with an ice cold drink. The Tazmania Ballroom’s shiny black staircase and heavy black drapes evoke the feeling of walking onto a film set. A pool hall and nightclub with people smoking and dancing around the tables while games are being played makes for an excellent atmosphere.

The Landmark Mandarin Oriental is a contemporary-style luxury hotel in the heart of the Hong Kong’s Central District. Each of the 113 rooms are styled in cutting edge design with a mood of “discrete serenity”. Measuring 21,000 square feet, the hotel features an Oriental Spa which provides luxurious treatments such as amethyst crystal steam rooms, Turkish Hammam baths, Asia’s first authentic Rasul and a Roman Laconium. The hotel bar and Amber restaurant serve up cuisine from international chef Richard Ekkebus from Holland.

Cathay Pacific flies five times daily between London Heathrow and Hong Kong, with interconnecting flights to 140 worldwide destinations, including 40 in China.

To book visit or ring the Cathay Pacific Sales team on 020 834 8888.

Flight prices:
■ Shanghai from £539 in Economy

■ Shanghai from £899 in Premium Economy/Economy

■ Shanghai from £1909 in Business Special

■ Hong Kong from £559 in Economy

■ Hong Kong from £1029 in Premium Economy/Economy

■ Hong Kong from £3179 in Business Special

A stay at The Peninsula Hong Kong starts from HK$4,080 excluding taxes for a Superior room. Please see for further details and bookings.

A stay at The Peninsula Shanghai starts from 2,900RMB excluding taxes for a Deluxe room. Please see for further details and bookings.