The Tall Towers of Shanghai
Shanghai is full of tall buildings, but even there some tower above the rest. The Oriental Pearl Tower, Jin Mao Tower, and the Shanghai World Financial Center that looks like a bottle opener tower over much of the Pudong district where the city’s tallest buildings are located. Taller even than those, the Shanghai Tower rises above them all. It’s the tallest building in China and the second tallest building in the world. It has the world’s fastest elevator and an observation deck 120 stories up. The other 3 very tall towers also have observation decks. All of them are open to the public for a price, which is pretty close to the same for each tower. Currently the world’s tallest building is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, though there are buildings under construction that will move both it and the Shanghai Tower farther down the list of the world’s tallest buildings once they are completed.
Jin Mao Tower | 420.5 m | 1,380 ft | 88 floors
This building contains offices and a hotel as well as exhibition and banquet halls and entertainment facilities. It’s the only one of the the Pudong area’s skyscrapers that has any sort of traditional architectural appearance. The observation deck is located on the 88th floor and offers a 60-meter-long glass skywalk without rails for a clear view of the scenery on the Huangpu River. Although how clear the view is in Shanghai on any given day depends on smog levels as well as weather. It’s probably a lot clearer now with the city on Covid lockdown, but nobody can enjoy the view when everything is closed.
Oriental Pearl Tower 468 m (1,535 feet)
This tower is a radio and TV antenna tower rather than a regular building with normal floors. It has 11 spheres and is supported by 3 giant columns. It has 15 observation levels ranging from the lowest at 295 feet (89 meters) to the highest at 351 meters (1151 feet). There’s a revolving restaurant at the 267 m (876 foot) level. What gives this tower its overall height is the antenna, which extends another 118 m (387 ft) above the rest of the building. In the evenings this tower lights up in ever changing colors. It’s definitely the most distinctive of Shanghai’s tall towers.
Shanghai World Financial Center 492 m (1,614 ft) 101 floors
From the outside this building somewhat resembles a giant bottle opener. In addition to the sight-seeing floors near the top, this building also houses a hotel, offices and meeting facilities, and a shopping mall and restaurants. There are sightseeing areas on the 94th and 97th floors and a glass skywalk on the 100th floor. You can also get a view from the lobby and bar of the Park Hyatt Hotel on the 87th floor. The hotel elevators are not in the same location as the observatory elevators.
Shanghai Tower | 632 m | 2,073 ft | 128 floors
This building shares the world record for the highest observation deck within a building with the Ping An Financial Center in Shenzen. It has the one of the fastest elevators in the world, which races at a speed of 20.5 meters per second, reaching the observation deck on the 118th floor in a mere 55 seconds. So fast it will make your ears pop like during take-off on an airplane.
The exterior of this buildings twists toward the sky in spiral fashion. In addition to the observation deck, the building houses 5-star hotels, high end retail shops, offices and financial services, a recreation zone, conference and banquet facilities, and indoor gardens.
We chose to visit the Shanghai Tower because if you’re going to go up a tall tower might as well go up the tallest one available. We went up in the afternoon on a weekday and it wasn’t very busy, though judging from all the line dividers they had both at the ticket window and inside the building it must get pretty crowded sometimes. From the ticket window you go down a nearby escalator to get to the entrance for the observation deck. Once in the building you pass several exhibits before reaching the elevator.
One exhibit shows the world’s tallest buildings from over 100 years ago when the tallest one would be dwarfed by ordinary apartments of today up to the Burj Khalifa at 828 m (2,717 ft) and 163 floors. It also showed each building that was tallest at the time it was built in between. Some are highlighted in individual cases, but all are posted along the backwall.
Another display has information about building the Shanghai Tower. There’s also one that shows proposed tall towers for the near future including several that will be taller than the Shanghai Tower and one to be even taller than Dubai’s Burj Khalfa.
The view from the tower is quite impressive, though it would be far more so in daylight if not marred by smog which gives a clear view only of the buildings pretty much directly below it while everything else is in a brownish haze that gets thicker and more occlusive the farther away you look.
We decided we might as well stay up there and wait for the sun to set to get the nighttime view as well. The closer it got to sunset the more people came into the tower, most flocking to the windows on the west side, probably in hopes of a sunset view. Though the sky got darker there were no brilliant colors of sunset, probably due to the fact that the sun had never actually been visible that day through the smog. Once it got too dark to see smog the distance we could see actually got farther since everything is lit up at night.
The nightly light show of buildings on the Bund and around Pudong is brilliant from up in the tower. We waited for the Pearl tower to turn its lights on so we could have that in our photos before going down. Many of the other buildings light up before it gets quite all the way dark, but the Pearl Tower is not so quick to turn theirs on. The bottle opener looking one was even later to turn on its shiny blue lights. The boats that do river cruises in the evenings put on their own light shows as they float by.
We were going to take the subway back to the other side of the river, but seemed to have left the tower at the same time as thousands of people got off work because there were throngs of people headed for the subway station at the same time. When we got there both the line to get tickets and the line to go down to the platform were so long we decided to take the sightseeing tunnel instead even though we had already rode on it once. I was glad we did because the first time we were behind other people in the car, whereas that night when we got to the front of the line we asked to wait for the next car so we could stand at the front window. From the front of the car I saw how much we had missed in the light show the first time through. Standing behind people the first time we just saw the sides of the tunnel and missed things directly in front like where a screen rose up or a curtain opened to reveal more beyond.
Walking around China or riding on the subways I felt like a tall person with big feet even though I’m just under 5’4” and most of my shoes are size 4. They may not bind their feet anymore, but a lot of them wear very tiny shoes.
Tourist attractions throughout the world exit through the gift shop, and the tower had one at the top as well as one at the bottom. You can walk from the tower through a tunnel leading to a subway station. The tunnel has an opening with a view up to the tall towers before winding through an upscale underground mall on the way to the subway. A lot of the subway stations in Shanghai have underground shops or malls around them.