Shanghai's most famous thoroughfare, Nanjing Road spills from its eastern terminus on the Bund and past the People's Square to its western extreme by the newly remodelled Jing'an Temple. Divided into East, Middle and West sections, it's at times a pedestrian shopping street, a winding tree-lined road, and a modern thoroughfare cutting between some of Shanghai's most posh hotels.
Once known as the premier shopping street in China and Asia, colonial Nanjing Road stood in stark contrast to the rest of agrarian China. The hottest fashions from Italy were imported regularly and the road was full of shops selling some of China's finest silks. Massive department stores were built, the most famous being the Great World and Wing-On, where shopping was only one of the activities enjoyed amongst gambling and sing-song halls, game parlors, bars and freak shows.
Originally named Bubbling Well Road after a small stream that once ran beneath it, Nanjing Road became China's most famous strip and has recently regained this crown. Modern department stores still line the street and exert a tremendous tourist draw over Chinese and foreign visitors alike. During holidays, it's common to see people jostling to have their photo taken in front of the Nanjing Road sculpture at the two ends of the pedestrian street.
Beginning at the Jing'an Temple metro station, the redesigned Jing'an Park features upscale restaurants and charming teahouses. By morning, Shanghai's elderly flock there to practice Tai Chi and the young stumble home from the bars. People spend most of their time by taking in the scenery or chatting away on the city's numerous benches.
Directly across the street stands the Jing'an Temple. Dating back to the 19th century, it was once one of Shanghai's richest and most frequently visited temples. Located on the busy intersection of Huashan Road and Nanjing West Road, this small temple manages to filter out the cacophony of the street and creates a small niche of tranquility.
Continuing west is the Shanghai Center, home to the Portman Ritz-Carlton, and one of Shanghai's masterpieces of modern architecture. Featuring three towers, it fully utilizes its space and provides numerous vistas that dramatically change with your line of sight. Home to numerous upscale shops and restaurants, it has one of Shanghai's first Western-style supermarkets, a Western medical clinic and a branch of the HSBC Bank.
Built in 1955 with help from the Soviet Union, the Shanghai Exhibition Center received a facelift over the past few years and now stands as an ornate monument to symbolise the Sino-Soviet friendship. Once home to the HardoonGardens, which was built by a Persian millionaire, the Shanghai Exhibition Center is as prime as Shanghai real estate gets.
Continuing east, the shopping malls and hotels of modern Shanghai's commercial greatness arise. Plaza 66, CITIC Center, Meilong Zhen, the Hilton Hotel, and the J.W. Marriot provide numerous choices for dining and shopping for those who do not struggle with budget problems - look for big names like Louis Vuitton to Kenny Roger's Roasters. For a taste of traditional China, try the Shanghai Jingdezhen Porcelain Artware store on the corner of Nanjing and Shaanxi Road. A wide array of pottery and porcelain are for sale, much of it originating in Jingdezhen, one of China's traditional pottery centres.
Stretching from Maoming Road to the Shanghai Television Station, slightly south of Nanjing Road is the Wujiang Food Street, a nighttime hotspot filled with shops, food stalls, trinket stands and restaurants. The Shanghai Broadcasting and Television International News Exchange Center stands at the street's eastern terminus.
At this point Nanjing West Road becomes Nanjing Middle Road and skirts the northern perimeter of People's Square and People's Park. Under the square is Shanghai's largest metro station, it's also the transfer station between metro lines 1 and 2. Across the park and square is the Shanghai Art sand Crafts Shopping Center, a fascinating market is filled with small shops selling everything from birdcages and picture frames to strangely shaped rocks and plants.
From the Tibet Road overpass to the Henan Road metro station, a sprawling walking street closed to vehicular traffic, winds between numerous shops, restaurants, hotels and department stores. The Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall, while usually flush with tourists and shoppers, makes for easy walking and provides numerous places to sit down and people watch.
On the eastern end of the pedestrian mall is the east building of the Number 1 Department Store. Formerly known as the Sun, it was one of Nanjing Road's four anchor department stores. Opening its doors back in 1934, it was designed by Chinese architects and was the first building in China to use an escalator. At its pre-liberation peak, it attracted more than 150,000 daily shoppers.
Another of Nanjing Road's shopping anchors was the world famous Wing-On. Along with the Great World, old descriptions of these shopping centres call up images closer to three-ring circuses than modern department stores. The former Wing-On stands at the southwest corner of an expansive square now replete with a giant television monitor and numerous vendors. This square, at the mid-point of the walking street, occasionally has weekend performances and during the early morning it's used by seniors practicing Tai Chi or women doing traditional dances for exercise.
Before reaching the Henan Middle Road metro station, you'll pass by Shanghai's City of Books and the old Sincere Department Store, another of the famed "big four" department stores. Past the metro station, the walking street ends and Nanjing Road resumes its bustling traffic of cars, trucks and buses heading towards or away from the Bund. Two blocks further east and the road ends by the riverside. If your legs are tired, the metro station is your best option for a quick escape.