Lay of the land
Shanghai is divided into east and west by the Huangpu River, which curls through the city on its way north to the Yangtze. The landmark Bund forms a crescent of riverfront grandness on the west bank; the most interesting neighborhoods, including the French Concession (Luwan), radiate west and south from here. On the east side of the river, skyscrapers define the ultramodern Pudong district.
WHEN TO GO
While Shanghai is a year-round destination, summer is peak travel season, although temperatures can reach 90°F and humidity is high. To avoid the tourist rush, visit in late spring (55–68°F) or early autumn (55–73°F), when the weather is warm and humidity low. Don't plan a trip in the days around Chinese New Year (late January through February), Labor Day (May 1), or National Day (October 1)—many businesses close for the surrounding week, and vacationing Chinese crowd the sightseeing spots and airports.
HOW TO GET THERE
Most international flights arrive at the modern Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG), which is located across the Yangtze River, about 28 miles east of the city (86-21-5055-4618; www.shanghaiairport.com/en). Many carriers—including United, American, Air China, and China Eastern—have nonstop flights to Shanghai. United has flights from San Francisco and Chicago; American also flies from Chicago; Air China has flights from LAX, and China Eastern flies from JFK. Northwest connects through Tokyo. Domestic flights arrive at closer-in Hongqiao Airport (86-21-6268-8918, ext. 2).
Taxi queues at both airports' arrival halls can be long—spend the extra cash and book a car through your hotel, particularly if your plane lands in the evening (it will only set you back about $6.50). Never take one of the gypsy cabs whose drivers linger outside the terminal. Speed demons can hop on the Maglev train, which covers 18 miles in a breezy eight minutes. At the airport, follow signs to the atrium-style terminal; trains run every 20 minutes and tickets cost $6.25. Unfortunately, the Maglev line ends on the Pudong side of the river; if your hotel is across the Huangpu, you'll have to transfer to the metro.
Taxis are cheap, but few drivers speak English. Make sure your destination is written down in Chinese, and don't worry about leaving a tip—it's not expected.
The metro remains efficient and convenient, though it suffers from overcrowding during rush hour. There are only five lines—with two more set to open in fall 2007—and the bilingual Chinese-English system is easy to navigate. Tickets range from $0.38 to $0.88 depending on distance traveled.