Shanghai’s skyline may not be as famous as that of Hong Kong, but I think it’s almost as striking. The tallest, at least for the moment, is the Shanghai World Financial Center, but the most easily identifiable building is Oriental Pearl Tower, the city’s 468 meter TV tower. It’s punctuated with purple globes of varying sizes that are said to represent pearls. There are observation decks inside the globes, with the main one providing panoramic views from 263 meters.
Another observatory a few levels down boasts a transparent floor so visitors can see all the way to the ground. Its location along the outer edge of the globe and open seams that allow wind to whip through create the perfect atmosphere for thrill seekers. I’m not bothered by heights and, having previously jumped out of a plane, was familiar with how wind behaves at that altitude. But my more timid friends were reluctant to venture onto the glass. It’s worth the risk just to see the crazy lengths people will go to for the perfect photo.
Occupying an entire floor of the tower’s ground level is the Shanghai History Museum, which was much larger than I anticipated. The museum opens with fascinating black and white photos of early 20th century Shanghai, then moves into a display of the city’s transportation over the years. The antique cars, buses and sedan chairs are interspersed with mannequins in period dress, some with strange Sasquatchesque facial hair.
Speed through this section and head up the faux-colonial staircase to enter the world of Ming Dynasty farmers, who, according to the explanatory signs, allegedly had great fun milling grain.
The rest of the exhibits were surprisingly informative. Realistic displays (some more so than others) take visitors through early 20th century Shanghai, when international settlements had been established in the port city. Much like at the Hong Kong Museum of History, the past comes to life before your eyes.
Pearl Tower is easily reached via Metro line 2, but if you are planning to visit the Bund before or after, consider using the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, if only for convenience’s sake. Electric tram cars whisk you under the river in about five minutes, making the trip faster than a taxi. It’s also more entertaining, with light displays meant to emulate a trip through the earth’s center (or a trippy rave – your pick). The tunnel is not worth seeking out on its own and one ride is enough.