The metro system is good, but crowded and, unless your Mandarin is first class, you'll get lost. Luckily, taxis are cheap. (So, you might think, are the lives of taxi drivers, the way they drive.) Get the invaluable Shanghai taxi app to translate destinations into Mandarin characters.
But start with a stroll down the Bund. There are more beautiful and peaceful riverside city walks in the world, but rarely do you feel the past and future jostling each other so excitingly. And walk after dark, when the dowdy ferries suddenly become neon skeletons cruising the Huangpu and the air is racing with electricity and light.
Begin on the south — with dinner at Jason Atherton's Table No 1 in the Waterhouse complex (tableno-1.com) or a drink at the rooftop bar at Hotel Indigo (hotelindigo.com). Beyond the Indigo, you reach the Bund proper. To your left is Puxi, fronted by the pale mercantile palaces of the colonial era. On the opposite bank is the new city of Pudong, a place where, in writer Colin Thubron's words, the future can't wait. Venture into Puxi for dinner at Xibo, a restaurant dedicated to the fascinating food of a small minority people in China's northeast (3/F, 83 Changshu Lu, near Julu Lu).
Back to the Bund, where the Huangpu River curves towards the distant sea, and you can finish the evening in the Vue Bar on the 32nd floor of the Grand Hyatt on Huang Pu Road. Puxi and Pudong rise in a glittering forest beneath you and the Huangpu is all diamonds and gold.
Time to get down to street level. Start your day just beyond the Bund in People's Square, which is amorphous, leafy and bland. Visit the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall. Don't be put off by the name: its galleries and vast 3D model offer the quickest way to get acquainted with the city's past, present and future.
Beneath the towers, pick out a low-lying area of houses opposite. This is Nanshi, the old town, where stallholders sell various reptiles, fowl and their inner parts outside rickety houses in packed and shady lanes. It's also the place to haggle for jewellery and antiques and be offered rip-off iPhones.
Be brave and wander into an upstairs café. With some judicious pointing and miming you'll get a filling, savoury meal for under £10. Then visit the pagodas and perfumed paths of the Yuyuan Gardens.
Dinner has to be in the French concession: tree-lined streets, malls, buzz and a hundred varieties of cuisine. And that's just the Chinese restaurants. Lost Heaven has a deserved reputation among expats and blow-ins alike (38 Gao You Road, by Fuxing Xi Road).
The airport is on Pudong, so finish your stay here — and try to end up close to the Maglev train station for the fastest trip to check-in you've ever experienced. Pudong is also good for winding down after the chaos and adrenaline of Puxi. The streets are wide, the houses empty, the malls near-silent.
Pudong was swampland not so long ago. It sprouted up quickly, and is still sprouting now. Soon it will have the world's highest hotel, the Shanghai Tower J-Hotel, to go with the world's highest bar and pool, in the Jin Mao tower. From here you can gaze down at the world's biggest bottle opener — the distinctively shaped World Financial Centre - and the world's tallest hubbly bubbly, the Oriental Pearl Tower).
For lunch, don't feel ashamed at sticking to the Shangri-La's thriving buffet where you can get the world's cuisines on one plate for a great price. Then take a cab ride out to Century Park and the vast Science and Technology museum. Down in the metro station you can bargain for pearls, football shirts and quilted pyjamas to your heart's delight. It's Shanghai: you can't leave without making a deal.
Need to know
Read… Will Hutton's China: The Writing on the Wall (£9.99) for the up-to-date economic and social picture, and Jonathan Fenby's A History of Modern China (£12.99) for context.
Don't…go to the mall. All the big Western brands are there, and none is cheaper than back home. If you're buying pearls, go with someone who knows their stuff.
Staying for more than 72 hours? Visit the Suzhou and Zhouzhuang water villages – but beware of crowds at the weekend.
Where to stay
The Shangri-La Pudong has two towers and an amazing bar. British Airways offers five nights from £1,159 pp B&B including flights.
Hotel Indigo is a new boutique place stuffed with local art and international vim. £376 a night for a de luxe Old City view room. hotelindigo.com
The Rendezvous Merry in the commercial district is ideal for business or leisure travellers. BA offers five nights from £889pp including flights. ba.com/shanghai