China's most cosmopolitan city is best visited in spring, before the heat and humidity of summer sets in.
Shanghai is split in half by the Huangpu River, with Puxi (meaning west bank) on one side and Pudong (east bank) on the other.
Pudong is the city's financial district. Its burgeoning skyline of skyscrapers, dominated by the spike of the Oriental Pearl Television Tower, is one of Shanghai's landmarks.
Puxi remains the city's historic centre, home to the Bund – the embankment lined with grand neo-Renaissance buildings that served as the headquarters for big Western businesses in Shanghai's 1930s heyday – and the French Concession, the leafy residential district that is easily the most charming part of the city.
In the absence of a useful tourist offices, the best source of information is the official tourism website: meet-in-shanghai.net.
Take a hike
Start at Fuxing Park, a rare burst of greenery, and walk amid the fountains and pavilions, passing men playing cards and couples ballroom dancing. Exit by the west gate on to Gaolan Road and turn left on to Sinan Road, where you'll find the former residence (now a museum) of the founder of the Republic of China, Sun Yat-sen at 7 Xiangshan Road (open 9am-5pm; free guided tours every weekday at 10.30am, 2pm and 3pm).
Continue down Sinan Road, popping into the delightful antiques emporium-cum-café Antique Garden on the way, until you get to Taikang Road. Turn right and you'll see the entrance to Tianzifang (10) on your right, a labyrinth of small lanes that house little cafés, boutiques and art galleries (open 10am-11pm).
Lunch on the run
In Tianzifang, Bali Bali at No 18 Lane 274 is a big local hit. Join the queue at the soup window for a bowl of tofu broth for RMB8 and eat it at one of the wooden tables outside. Back on the main road is Tsui Wah, a Cantonese restaurant at 618 Xu Jia Hui Road (tsuiwahrestaurant.com). Order a delicious barbecue pork bun the size of a hamburger from the counter.
For a characterful experience away from the malls, head to Xintiandi, a pedestrianised enclave of boutiques in traditional shikumen houses with beautiful stone doorways.
Head to Shanghai Trio at unit 129, 245 Madang Road for colourful bags, scarves and wallets. Four blocks east along Xintiandi Park is Dongtai Road and its renowned antiques market. Avoid the Buddha replicas and statues of Mao and seek out old leather suitcases, vintage lamps and curios. But remember to bargain hard.
Take a view
The Park Hyatt hotel at 100 Century Avenue in Pudong (shanghai.park.hyatt.com) is situated at the top of the Shanghai World Financial Centre.
One of the highest hotels in the world, it boasts spectacular views of the Bund and Puxi beyond. The bar on the 91st floor is fun and thumping; the elegant Living Room next to the hotel lobby is quieter and more refined.
Dining with the locals
No trip to Shanghai is complete without an evening on the Bund, the riverside strip of grand buildings that's home to swanky restaurants. Rub shoulders with Shanghai's glitterati at the smart Italian restaurant Mercato at 3 on the Bund (jean-georges.com), the latest from Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
For a more low-key choice, Lost Heaven at 17 Yanan Dong Lu (lostheaven.com.cn) is just round the corner and serves Yunnanese food to a mix of Shanghainese and foreigners. The jin bo ghost chicken and spicy Burmese tea leaf salad are the dishes to go for. Expect to pay RMB250 per person without wine.
A walk in the park
Get up early enough (between 7am and 9am) and you will see locals of all ages practising t'ai chi in any open space available. Jingan Park is no exception, plus here you'll find a group of women doing a sort of Chinese line dance to music while having a good old gossip. The benches around the pond are a particularly nice place to pause.
Go to temple
Across the road from the park is Jingan Temple at 1686 Nanjing Xi Lu (open 7am-5pm). The original AD247 building has been pulled down and rebuilt so many times that what's left is little more than a replica, but it is still one of China's most significant temples. The dishevelled central hall on the ground floor is disappointing – and in a seemingly permanent state of renovation – but the Precious Hall of the Great Hero, supported by 46 columns of Burmese teak, is much more impressive and home to a 15-ton silver Buddha almost 9m high.
Out to brunch
For dim sum, head to Din Tai Fung in the South Block Plaza in Xintiandi, 123 Xingye Road (open 11am-3pm and 5pm-10pm). This Shanghai institution (actually a Taiwanese chain) is renowned for its dumplings. The xiaolongbao, Shanghai's famous crab soup dumplings, are exceptional.
The Shanghai Museum at 201 Renmin Dadao on People's Square (shanghaimuseum.net; 9am-5pm daily; free) offers four floors of ancient Chinese artefacts which are revealing and beautiful in equal measure. The audio guide is well worth the RMB40 (£4), though you'll need a passport or driving licence as a deposit.
Across the square is the inauspicious sounding but rewarding Urban Planning Centre (22) at 100 Renmin Dadao (supec.org; open 9am-5pm; closed Mondays). Highlights include an exhibition revealing how the Bund has developed over the past century.
Icing on the cake
Head, back and foot massages are daily pastimes in China and massage parlours are both plentiful and cheap. Zen Massage at 210 Wuyuan Road in the French Concession, has private treatment rooms as well as the usual row of beds where everyone is massaged next to one another. Be warned: a typical Chinese massage errs towards the painful side but the effect is worthwhile.