Shanghai’s original signature skyline, and the first stop for any visitor, is the Bund (外滩, wàitān), a strip of grand colonial edifices on the west bank of the Huangpu River, facing the flashy skyscrapers of Pudong on the opposite shore. Since 1949, it’s been known officially as Zhongshan Lu, but it’s better known among locals as Wai Tan (literally “Outside Beach”). Named after an old Anglo-Indian term, “bunding” (the embanking of a muddy foreshore), the Bund was old Shanghai’s commercial heart, with the river on one side, the offices of the leading banks and trading houses on the other. During Shanghai’s riotous heyday it was also a hectic working harbour, where anything from tiny sailing junks to ocean-going freighters unloaded under the watch of British – and later American and Japanese – warships. Everything arrived here, from silk and tea to heavy industrial machinery. Amid it all, wealthy foreigners disembarked to pick their way to one of the grand hotels through crowds of beggars, hawkers, black marketeers, shoeshine boys, overladen coolies and even funeral parties – Chinese too poor to pay for the burial of relatives would launch the bodies into the river in boxes decked in paper flowers.
Today, it’s the most exclusive chunk of real estate in China, with pretensions to becoming the nation’s Champs-Elysées; the world’s most luxurious brands have set up shop here and there are a clutch of ritzy hotels and celebrity restaurants (though if you just want to eat, rather than have a gourmet experience, choice is rather limited).