China Shanghai

25 spots Public

Oscar Tarneberg

Shanghai, home to more than 24 million people, is the world’s largest city proper. Initially born of the opium trade, it later emerged as a freewheeling trading port for the major imperial powers of late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The city’s colourful and decadent past, which reached its peak in the 1930s, can still be discerned in both the physical and spiritual makeup of today’s metropolis. It remains a brash, confident, international and open-minded city. And beyond the garish neon-lit skyscrapers and rampant construction, the city has retained many of its art deco buildings, shikumen lane houses, as well as the elegant tree-lined lanes of the Former French Concession.

Shanghai is a relatively easy city to travel in by Chinese standards. After decades of slumber following the end of the civil war, it has quickly regained its status as the country’s financial hub and its most international city. The foreign traveller generally does not get as much as a second glance. Take the metro in the morning and you will find westerners in suits going to work alongside the locals. And home comforts are never far away: international food is ubiquitous, and the high streets are lined with household names. Signs and maps are in English, and there’s a reasonable chance of encountering English speakers in most situations.

For photographers, the city offers the ultimate range of subject matter and juxtapositions. Beneath the space age skyline lies a vast warren of crumbling lane houses and tree-lined streets littered with art deco buildings, all in various states of repair. As with many cities, it is the human element which is most fascinating, and this is particularly true in Shanghai. The rapid pace of development has left stark contrasts: between rich and poor, old and young, old and new. Shanghai was thankfully among the first cities in China to start taking preservation of its historical buildings seriously, leaving it full of architectural gems. It also retains much of its former European street layout, including tree lined avenues, making it as quaint in some parts as it is garish in others.

Anyone with a bit more time on their hands may also want to venture out of town. The Yangtze Delta region is scattered with so-called “water towns” built around canal networks. These offer a picturesque and slower-paced view into ancient China, though many are now flooded with tourists and neon signage. Finding a quiet spot requires getting a bit off the beaten track, which is thankfully not too difficult to do. A handy guide can be found here:

Alternatively, those looking for a slice of the bizarre might want to look at one of the nine faux European towns surrounding Songjiang University Town. Take a walk down “Oxford Street” in the almost entirely abandoned (but recently built) “Thames Town”, a “British-themed” village complete with a Winston Churchill statue. Further afield, a two-to-three day round trip from Shanghai takes you out to the Yellow Mountain, which offers something totally different for the photographer: landscapes which look as if they’ve jumped out of the mural at your local Chinese restaurant. The nearby picturesque historical villages and bamboo groves formed the setting of the famous film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

While Shanghai and the surrounding areas contain a number of “must see” destinations and “set piece” shots, part of the joy of photographing Shanghai is in the ever-changing and random nature of the city. So while this guide offers a good starting point for planning the main attractions, as well as - hopefully! - some lesser-known ones, make sure to allow some time to wander freely around the streets and take in the atmosphere. Be prepared for anything. There is never a dull moment for the photographer.

And be warned: any skyline photo has a lifespan of only a few years, before a new skyscraper shoots up and renders it history. So while the best effort has been made to keep this up-to-date, doing so is all but impossible for one person in a city this size. So if you arrive at one of the locations in this and find it has been bulldozed to make way for a new mall or elevated road, please let me know!

Please note: You may find the occasional discrepancy between co-ordinates provided and how they appear on maps. This is an issue with the map providers and unfortunately SNAPP Guides has no control over it. We have found that using Google maps in Terrain mode seems to work best and you can be assured that the co-ordinates provided by the author photographer are accurate. To use maps in Terrain mode; select a spot, scroll down to the location map, click on the co-ordinates and select Open in Google Maps. Tap the map layer icon (a diamond tile) and choose Terrain view. We will continue working with the map providers to find a better solution for this issue and will update the app accordingly when we can. If you are familiar with Baidu Maps, this also seems to work well if you are ok with all street names and locations appearing in Chinese!

Please refer to the FAQ's on our website for a more detailed explanation of how best to use map technology for this guide.

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