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Shanghai: what to see on The Bund | Insight Guides Blog

Shanghai: what to see on The Bund

The Bund is the perfect introduction to Shanghai’s glorious past – and its even more glittering present. Shanghai in the 21st century may be a city defined by a spectacular warp-speed journey into the future, but the Bund (Waitan) remains one of its signature sights.
Shanghai's Bund in the morning. Photo: Shutterstock
Shanghai's Bund in the morning. Photo: Shutterstock

Today, Shanghai's Bund is firmly back in the limelight – brimming with fine-dining establishments, nightclubs and luxury brand boutiques along the entire stretch, while spiffy refurbishments have brought the glamour back to the Fairmont Peace and Waldorf Astoria hotels.

Like the buildings that line it, the word “bund” is itself a legacy of the colonial era. Old Shanghai’s maritime soul determined the strategic location of the Bund – on the shore of the Huangpu River where great trading ships sailed in from the Yangtze. Originally a muddy mess with sewage and refuse strewn on its banks, the strip was filled and “bunded” in the late 1880s. Only then did the classic Bund, lined by jetties, with trading houses and financial institutions just behind them, begin to take shape. These are the main attractions and sites on the Bund, perfect to discover on your Insight Guides' Complete China trip

River cruises

In the pre-aeroplane age, the first sight that greeted vessels approaching Shanghai on the Huangpu River was the Bund. Visitors today can replicate that vision on river cruises from the Shiliupu Wharf (ranging from 1-3.5 hours long). The cruise boats slide past an eye-popping array of freighters, ships and barges – a sign of the vibrant activity in China's largest port – and give you panoramic riverside views of the Bund and Pudong.

At Shiliupu Wharf, there are several booths (and some of the signage is in Chinese), so it can be quite confusing. Look out for the Shanghai Huangpu River Cruise Company. Evening cruises run nightly between 6.30pm and 9.30pm, departing at 30-minute intervals and taking approximately 45 minutes. Tickets can be bought at the terminal. It’s recommended to purchase them before 5pm during high season.

The main Bund buildings

Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund

The old boys’ club that controlled Shanghai ran it from the leather-and-whisky-soaked confines of the former Shanghai Club, now part of the Waldorf Astoria, which is spread across two buildings. The famous Long Bar, where seating was subject to a strict hierarchy – bank managers and tai-pans at the prime Bund-facing end of the L-shaped bar, with the social scale falling as one moved further away – has been recreated and the colonnaded Grand Hall and the caged lifts remain. The heritage building is now decorated in period style while a new tower rises behind, all glitz and gloss to match the new Shanghai.

Customs House on the BundCustoms House on the Bund. Photo: Shutterstock

Customs House

A castle-like Gothic brick building took its place before this neoclassical Palmer & Turner building and its distinctive clock tower was built in 1925. Fondly referred to as the 'Big Ching', the clock tower sounded every 15 minutes until the 1960s. The clock chimes were restored in 1986 and both clock and chimes were overhauled later. The Communist People’s Peace Preservation Corps once holed up in the Customs House to fight for the liberation of Shanghai, and a carving in the entrance lobby commemorates its contribution. Inside, strips of jarring neon outline the low ceiling, while an interior dome mimics the grander one in the Pudong Development Bank next door. 

China Merchants Bank

Like the other banks along the Bund, the China Merchants Bank can be visited during working hours. Built as the Bank of Taiwan in 1924 during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, the bank’s main gallery features blossoms on the tops of the columns, original alabaster lamps and a second-floor gallery from which bank managers still carry out their supervisory duties. Take in the architecture and history on Insight Guides' Cultural China and Majestic Yangtze River Cruise trip

Fairmont Peace Hotel

The star of the Bund is the fabulous Art Deco Fairmont Peace Hotel, reopened in 2010 after a much-needed renovation. Built in 1929 as the luxurious Cathay Hotel, and originally located on the fourth to seventh floors of Sassoon House, the hotel was considered Shanghai’s finest – and tycoon Victor Sassoon’s showpiece. Scion of the great opium-trading firm E.D. Sassoon, Victor Sassoon’s domination of the city’s property market defined the skyline at the time. 

Shanghai's Pudong seen from the Bund at nightShanghai's Pudong seen from the Bund at night. Photo: Shutterstock

West of the Bund

The area west of the Bund, part of the old International Settlement, is dotted with an impressive collection of old buildings. The grid of narrow streets, occasionally interrupted by landmark new high-rises such as the 50-storey Bund Centre on Guangdong Road and the 66-storey Le Royal Meridien on Nanjing Road, still manages to create a retro aura. The work of the International Settlement surveyors is still evident in the logical grid behind the Bund; streets running north to south bear the names of Chinese provinces while those going east to west are named after China's cities.

Just behind the British Consulate is known as the Rockbund, an emerging cultural and entertainment hub. The grand edifices – many of which can rival their more famous neighbours along the Bund – were once home to Old Shanghai's social institutions, such as the YWCA, the Royal Asiatic Society and the Rotary Club.

The Rockbund Museum is set in the former Royal Asiatic Society Building, which was completed in 1932 and designed by British architect George L. Wilson with an Art Deco exterior combining elements of Western and Chinese architecture. British architect David Chipperfield’s 2007 renovation has created a pleasant juxtaposition between the historical architecture and the superbly curated current exhibits of modern art, spread across the four floors. Don’t miss the rooftop terrace.

South Bund

Following the makeover of the iconic British-built Bund in 2010, attention has shifted to redeveloping the area south of Yan’an Road. Now known as South Bund, the riverfront is the focus of a massive 'urban revitalisation project' designed to 'grow the Bund' by 2.6 sq km (1 sq mile) and add 35 new skyscrapers by 2020.

Hip hotels in the area include Wanda Reign on the Bund, opened in 2016, with towering views of the Bund and Pudong from its ultra-luxe, Deco-styled rooms and suites.

The new development extends westwards into the Old City area, with more than 100 historic buildings earmarked for conversion into offices, shops and luxury apartments. In its wake, atmospheric old neighbourhoods have been demolished.

Ready to explore Shanghai?

Our local experts can plan fascinating trips to Shanghai for you. Simply get in touch, telling us when you'd like to travel, and your ideas for the trip. We will then create an itinerary for you, which you can amend until you're totally happy with every detail before booking. Our existing itineraries can offer inspiration, and remember that all of our planned itineraries can be tailored to suit your needs.