THE skyline is pure science fiction - glinting spires, brash neon, vast skyscrapers, monuments which look as if they are about to take off and advertising dominating whole sides of buildings in blinding light.

It is hard not to think of Ridley Scott's cityscapes in Blade Runner.

Sipping a cocktail on the top floor of a hotel and looking down upon the bright lights, you might think you are watching a movie.

But it is real.

This is Shanghai; the vibrant powerhouse of new China, dazzling, ultra-modern and super-slick.

It is difficult to believe that much of what you see in the Pudong area was built within the last 20 years.

The jewel in the crown of the high-rise city is the Oriental Pearl Tower. Its 'moon-base' spheres and javelin spire were created back in 1994, and it is the most arresting sight, but by no means the only sight in the city.

Everywhere are symbols of design ingenuity and daring, making Shanghai one of the most architecturally innovative cities in the world.

A flavour of this taste for the new and bold can be gained from a ride on the MagLev (or magnetically levitating) train, the first such commercial line in the world.

Running from Pudong International Airport to the centre of the city, it reaches a mind-boggling 431kmph (268mph), turning the scenery into a blur.

The Pudong area is filled with hotels from which to explore the city and one of the best is the Shangri-La.

Try some Chinese dumplings

Boasting widescreen views of the Huangpu River from the elegant rooms, the hotel has a number of high-end leisure facilities under its own roof, such as the Yi Cafe, with its 10 chef stations.

Although this dining area has an international flavour, it is the ideal place for your first sample of real Chinese dumplings, soups, roasts and other regional dishes.

A cruise down the Huangpu gives you the best of both worlds in Shanghai, taking in the lights and modernity of Pudong on the east side and the grandeur of The Bund district in the west. At night the city comes alive, its glaring lights best savoured before 10pm on the top deck of the boat.

The Bund features traditional architectural glories from a pre-revolution, colonial era.

Although neglected in some cases, buildings are being restored to their former splendour and the interiors can be stunning, such as HSBC Bank's opulent marble-floored main chamber.

These buildings offer a fascinating insight into the history of the city; fine details are still there to see, but there are gaping holes in ornate iron gates where images of Japanese warriors were cut out long in the past.

A different view of Shanghai

In and around The Bund are other insights into street-level Shanghai, from quaint bric-a-brac shops and open-air exercise apparatus in the streets (apparently, to keep the population healthy and out of hospitals), to the rows of laundry festooning beautiful facades.

Guided walking tours, including one hosted by academic and author Peter Hibbard (see, are recommended for those keen to find a Shanghai beyond the opulence and regeneration.

Good food

The city's renaissance means you can sample some of the finest haute cuisine the whole country has to offer.

At the leisure complex Three on the Bund (, and under the aegis of Jereme Leung, long recognised as one of the world's best chefs, the Whampoa Club offers new takes on traditional recipes.

With a perfect view of the river below, the tasting menu is the best way to sample a number of delicacies, including mung bean noodles and braised pork knuckle.

Laris, another restaurant at Three on the Bund, boasts one of Shanghai's coolest bars, The Vault. This flagship eatery of celebrity chef David Laris has won several awards since its opening in 2004 and offers a number of beautiful seafood dishes, including seared scallops on parsnip mash with oyster lemon foam.

Shanghai is a city which showcases innovative thinking and real design daring, and this sentiment extends to its cooking.

Nowhere is this more apparent than at Jade on 36, at the Pudong Shangri-La. It boasts of an avant garde menu by Paul Pairet and it is not joking.

The tastes and textures are as unforgettable as the presentation; sardines placed back in a special tin; cuttlefish fashioned into a single spiral like a dessert; a monster prawn prepared and served in a mason jar with citrus and vanilla beans; and last, but not least, the lemon tart.

No ordinary dessert, it appears to be a whole lemon, but the skin' is a confit.

Breaking into the skin and tasting the tart is a taste detonation - perhaps the nicest punch in the face you have ever had.

Shop till you drop

Foodies are not the only ones well catered for, for shopaholics, Xintiandi has a cosmopolitan but relaxed feel, and houses several boutiques.

This pedestrianised area - a favourite spot for affluent young people - is a haven for shoppers, with big names such as French Connection, Mango, Benetton and Hugo Boss, as well as indigenous chains.

Shoppers can take a load off their feet in excellent indoor and outdoor pubs and restaurants. (See

With Expo 2010 bound for Shanghai following the Beijing Olympics this year, the city's evolution is set to continue. There is little doubt it is one of the fastest-growing, most exciting cities on Earth.

Beyond the city

There is much to explore beyond the city too, if your visit is long enough.

Barely 40 minutes away by high-speed train, the city of Suzhou on the lower reaches of the Yangtse River has two must-sees: the Suzhou Museum and The Humble Administrator's Garden.

The museum (, designed by the renowned Ieoh Ming Pei, has such large spaces and restful lines that its splendour comes close to eclipsing the art treasures within.

In The Humble Administrator's Garden, a project of local official Wang Xianchen in 1513, almost every view looks as if it could be framed on a wall. At dusk, walkways, ponds and greenery become almost ethereal - a garden of dreams.