Shanghai is unique in its cultural division between Pudong and Puxi, the city's two main neighborhoods. These opposing parts of town—named after their location in relation to the Huangpu River, with "dong" meaning east and "xi" meaning west—are completely different culturally as well as geographically, so it's crucial that you pick the one that best suits your trip.
Pronounced "poo shee," Puxi is the historical heart of the city. In former foreign concession times, this was the area that hosted the multitude of foreign nationals from the mid-19th century to the World War II. The area had a French Concession and an International Concession as well as a walled Chinese area. It is in this area that the historical houses and buildings (or what's left of them), the Bund, and the famous Art Deco heritage architecture are found.
The landscape here is almost infinite. Stretching from the eastern banks of the Huangpu River, Puxi blossoms outward in all directions. If you're driving from Shanghai to Suzhou (in Jiangsu Province) or Hangzhou (in Zhejiang Province), you may even feel like you never left the city.
As you move west along the Yan'an Elevated Highway, you'll pass by the clusters of skyscrapers around People's Square, along Nanjing Road, and then further out toward Hong Qiao. Puxi is a never-ending mass of office towers and residential compounds. It's also where the Hong Qiao International Airport (SHA) is located as well as the two train stations and the long-distance bus terminals.
Just a few decades ago, Pudong was home to a slew of warehouses as well as farming and fishing communities. Now, it is home to some of the tallest buildings in China, such as the Shanghai Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center.
Whereas Puxi is somewhat of a blast of Shanghai's past, Pudong is a glimpse into its future. The distinction between the two cities is almost alarming as you look out across the Huangpu River at the opposing skyline.
Pudong's landscape differs from Puxi's in that it's more compact. The river actually cuts it into a virtual island so that if you keep driving, you'll eventually end up at the sea. There aren't any beaches to speak of so no need to bring your swimmers along. Pudong's tall buildings are clustered around the financial center in Lujiazui and it's here that you'll find many of Shanghai's most luxurious residences and hotels. Farther out, you can still find some small farm operations that haven't been bulldozed into residential compounds, but these sights are scarce in the 21st century.
Pudong is home to Shanghai's biggest and main airport, the Pudong International Airport (PVG). It is connected to the rest of the city via a number of tunnels, bridges, metro lines, and ferries. You'll want to concentrate your trip on this side of the river if you're interested in having a big city vacation while in Shanghai.