For many, the Bund (Wàitān, 外滩) is the face of Shanghai. Even as the city transforms itself, growing upwards and outwards at a tremendous rate, the Bund‘s Art Deco and Neoclassical facades appear much as they did during Shanghai’s previous heyday as China’s most international city, way back in the 1920s and ’30s. Of course, the surroundings have changed radically since then.
There’s no better place to take in the spectacular Lujiazui skyline on the east bank of the Huangpu River than from the Bund’s river promenade or through a picture window in one of a growing number of luxury bars, restaurants and clubs occupying the upper floors of classic Bund buildings. At the north end of the Bund, Nanjing Dong Lu cuts west, a neon-lit paradise for shoppers and gawkers, flanked by a mix of colonial-era edifices and contemporary high rises.
The south end of the Bund terminates near Shanghai’s low-rise Old City, encircled by growing ranks of luxury residential towers. In between is rich evidence of Shanghai’s role as China’s key financial and business link to the West in the early 20th century: stately bank and embassy buildings, proud international hotels and business headquarters line Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu (Zhōngshān Yī Dōng Lù, 中山一东路).
If you’re serious about your architecture, you’ll want to pick up one of a number of guides that go into depth on the Bund’s fascinating history; otherwise, you can get by with a general guide or simply by reading plaques and perhaps popping into the Bund Historical Museum at the north end of the Bund beneath the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Huangpu Park (Huángpǔ Gōngyuán, 黄浦公园). Many of the historic buildings on the Bund feature plaques detailing their history. Buildings to note, running north to south, include:
• The Astor House Hotel, originally opened in 1846, was the first of Shanghai’s international hotels. It’s just across the Garden Bridge over Suzhou Creek.
• The former British Consulate at No. 33 Zhongshan Lu is one of the earliest Bund buildings, dating from 1847.
• The Bank of China Building (1937) combines Chicago and China styles of architecture.
• The Peace Hotel (1929) is perhaps the most famous Bund building, Deco all the way; it hosted luminaries from Charlie Chaplin to Noel Coward. Today, you can stay at the renovated Fairmont Peace Hotel for a taste of the ’30s.
• Bund 18 (1923) is packed with classy retailers like Cartier and Zegna; it also is home to Bar Rouge, a great spot for cocktails with a view.
• The Customs House (1925) with its Big Ben-inspired clock tower.
• The HSBC Building (1923) is worth stepping inside of for the mosaic zodiac ceiling.
• Three on the Bund challenges Bund 18 for the claim to the swankiest tenants and clientele (Jean Georges, Armani, Shanghai Gallery of Art and more).
• The Meteorological Signal Tower (1908) houses a collection of old Bund memorabilia and images.