Back in the roaring twenties, Shanghai doubled as Asia's commercial center and a playground for swashbuckling entrepreneurs from around the globe. Nightclubs like the Art Deco Ciro's and elegant hotels like the Cathay earned the city its nickname: the Paris of the Orient. And today, after decades in eclipse, Shanghai is once again red hot and swinging. As CEOs and heads of state gather there in October for conferences prior to the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, they will find plenty to do in their leisure time. Crumbling colonial villas have been converted into funky bars and eateries, and grand theaters and museums now ring the once uninviting People's Square.
If you have half a day or so to see the city, start by taking a taxi to the Shanghai Museum, at 201 Renmin Avenue, which features China's finest ceremonial bronzes, ceramics and calligraphy. A walk across the People's Square, past waltzing couples and kite-flying youngsters, will take you to the equally impressive Shanghai Art Museum, housed in the carefully renovated Shanghai Race Club at 325 Nanjing Xi Road, which boasts China's top collection of contemporary paintings.
If you're now in the mood to bargain for your own Chinese art, take a 10-minute taxi ride to the Dongtai Road antiques market, where crowded stalls offer everything from kitschy Mao memorabilia to exquisitely carved Qing dynasty wooden doors hauled from nearby mountain villages. For more modern fare, hail another taxi for a five-minute ride west to the small, sleek ShanghART Gallery, where avant-garde artists show off their best work. The gallery is nestled in Fuxing Park, a secluded green space where pensioners go through the dreamlike motions of Tai Chi or hone their falsettos to traditional Shanghai opera.
The park is located at the fringe of a majestic legacy of Shanghai's colonial past: the former French Concession, a great place for wandering along treelined avenues past graceful villas. Next, walk back toward Fuxing Park to pamper yourself at the Kang Ning Point Pressure Massage Center (597 Fuxing Zhong Road), where an hour with one of the expert blind masseurs will set you back only $8.
Thus rejuvenated, head west for 10 minutes in a taxi for a bite to eat at Le Garcon Chinois (Lane 9 off Hengshan Road). Its Chinese-French menu offers dishes like spicy duck-breast salad. Or head back on Lane 9 toward Yang's Kitchen for traditional Shanghai dishes like braised meatballs and drunken chicken. End your day with a drink at M on the Bund, a sumptuous bar and Mediterranean eatery on the Huangpu River. From the seventh-floor balcony overlooking the splendid stretch of Old World colonial trading houses, you can look across at the gleaming, futuristic towers of the Pudong financial district. The view doesn't get any better.