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Shanghai's best attraction is the Bund, a mile-long promenade that's as synonymous with Shanghai as the Great Wall is to Beijing or the Terracotta Warriors are to Xi'an. Come in the early-morning hours to see groups of locals performing the ancient art of tai chi, or follow the other tourists and pose for a picture with the large, dark reddish Bund bull, sculpted by Arturo Di Modica to mimic his Charging Bull on Wall Street. The main reason to stroll the Bund, though, is to admire the historic buildings on the Puxi side of the Huangpu River, including the 1927 Shanghai Custom House's clock tower, and the futuristic skyscrapers on the Pudong side, like the barbell-shaped Oriental Pearl Tower. At night, both halves light up, making the skyline even more striking.
The former French Concession neighborhood is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. Colonial mansions are quietly tucked away down leafy lanes, but you'll also find noodle shops and cute boutiques. Directly east is Xintiandi, a pedestrian-only area with narrow stone paths lined with traditional shikumen (stone gate) houses that now are filled with upscale shops and restaurants.
M50, so named for its address 50 Moganshan Road, is a complex of dozens of galleries and personal studios housed in converted factories and warehouses. For more historical art, check out the Shanghai Museum, located in the southern most corner of People's Square. It is home to an impressive collection of ancient Chinese art, including furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties and a range of elegant jade pieces. The Power Station of Art, all the way east at the former 2010 World Expo site, offers visitors world-class contemporary art; the museum's opening shows were this year's Biennale and a surrealist exhibition on loan from Paris's Centre Pompidou. Also on the former world expo site is the China Art Palace, inside the former China pavilion. It's an enormous space with five floors of work, including one floor devoted entirely to animation.
Another one of the city's best attractions is Yu Garden. Inside the classic Chinese garden's stone walls, stroll through five acres of plants, ponds and ancient bridges dating back to the 16th century. Keep an eye out for details like the massive black dragon whose body curves along the top of a wavy white wall. The bazaar surrounding the gardens is a tourist trap, but it's worth braving the crowds to see the traditional red, black and gold buildings with upturned roofs; stand on the packed bridge at the Huxingting Tea House and peer at the schools of koi. Queue up for a taste of the xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) at Nanxiang Dumplings — just be prepared for a long wait, and be sure to bring cash. The best time to come is on a weekday; avoid during national holidays.