Your Travel Guide To Having The Best Time In Shanghai
Updated On: September 07, 2023
China is already synonymous with adventure, curiosity, and exoticism for any Westerner. When we have to talk about the great cities of this huge country, we, of course, talk about Beijing but also about Shanghai.
Fifteen or twenty years ago, Shanghai seemed almost abandoned, stuck in a past and outdated century, but today, it is a city in full expansion and in a full explosion where buildings and skyscrapers seem to rise from the ground day after day.
With its gigantic skyscrapers, futuristic architecture, and pulsating nightlife, Shanghai is an ideal place for those who travel in search of spectacular views and unique shots. The panorama of the city is absolutely breathtaking.
With almost 15 million inhabitants, Shanghai is not only one of the world’s most important metropolises, but also a city of contrasts. In no other city does new meet old, modern meet tradition, and rich meet poor in such an impressive way.
Shanghai is one of the most exciting places in the world. The city’s charm lies in the streets, where the daily life of Shanghai residents takes place. Helping you have the best time in the city, here is our list of the best places to visit and the best things to do in Shanghai.
The Bund: The landmark of Shanghai
The picture of the Bund appears in almost all articles reporting about Shanghai. It is the number one landmark and also the first thing you should see in the city. The Bund is the waterfront on the western side of the Huangpu River (Puxi), from where you can see the skyline on the eastern side (Pudong). A beautiful sight by day and night.
Many historical, European colonial buildings, such as the Customs House, which was modeled on Big Ben, adorn the promenade and are eye-catching, especially at night. It is worth mentioning that all the night lighting on the Bund and Pudong is switched off at 10:00 pm sharp. So be sure to be there before that.
In addition, it is also worth taking a boat ride in the evening to observe the Bund in all its colorful glory. If you prefer a view from the top, then you can get a perfect view of the Bund and the opposite side from the 420 m high Jin Mao Tower, right next to the Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC), which looks like a bottle opener. It’s definitely worth the view.
Visit Shanghai Tower
The Shanghai Tower is the most vantage point for panoramic photography, not only in Shanghai, but perhaps in all of China. This gigantic 632-meter structure with 121 floors is second in height only to the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai! A unique feature of this architectural marvel is the spiral design.
At the tower, a high-speed elevator will take you to the world’s tallest observation deck in the blink of an eye, where you can admire panoramic views of the river and the Bund (Waitan) waterfront and take stunning photos!
Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC)
At 492 meters, the Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC) is the second-tallest building in Shanghai. The Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC) has a unique shape; it resembles an oversized bottle opener, making it very easy to spot in Pudong.
Instead of the touristy popular Observation Deck on the 94th, 97th and 100th floor (entrance fee up to 180 RMB), we recommend visiting the 100 Century Avenue Bar on the 91st floor. This not only saves you the entrance fee, but you can also sip a cocktail at your leisure and enjoy the magnificent view down to the 468-meter-high Oriental Pearl Tower or the 420-meter-high Jin Mao Tower.
Jin Mao Tower
The Jin Mao Tower is surely one of the most impressive skyscrapers in Shanghai. With its 88 floors a height of 420 meters (higher than the Eiffel Tower), it was ranked sixth in the world ranking of skyscrapers when it opened in 1999. You will indeed have one of the best viewpoints and a fantastic panorama of the whole city. Note its art deco facade and its elevators that are ultra-fast… Simply breathtaking!
The Magnificent Park of Yu Garden
Located in the heart of Shanghai, the Yu Garden is the oldest garden in the city. The Yu Garden, AKA Yuyuan Garden, is a typical Chinese garden where everything is in its place; the arrangement in the garden is faithful to the rules of Chinese geomancy.
When you enter this garden, you will have a clear impression of how nature has taken back its rights and evolved as it wished. If possible, try to discover the garden early enough in the day for a peaceful stroll because this garden is quickly taken over.
This 400+-year-old garden was originally built for a Ming Dynasty officer. It is located in the middle of the Old Quarter, and it is perfect for escaping the hustle and bustle of the metropolis for a while.
The Yuyuan Garden has beautiful parks, a tea house in the middle of a lake, and nice little alleys for shopping or dining. There are also traditional buildings, small pavilions, flowers, and ponds on the nearly 2-hectare magnificent site. The garden is a must-visit for anyone coming to Shanghai!
The Jade Buddha Temple houses three imposing statues that were carved from jade that was brought from Burma. This temple has been around since the end of the 19th century. The original temple was destroyed during the Chinese revolution at the time of the fall of the dynasty of Qing, and a new temple was built in 1928 with the two statues of Buddha of jade.
The roofs of the temple are richly decorated with sculptures and bells to scare away evil spirits. The interior is lavishly decorated in shades of red and yellow, and the silk strips hanging from the ceiling represent prayers. Visiting the Buddha Temple is one of the best things to do in Shanghai.
The Maglev is a must-try if you come to visit Shanghai! The unique Maglev is a magnetic levitation train, which means that it does not touch the rails as if it levitates. It is an incredible experience to travel, almost flying at ground level.
There is currently only one trip, but considering that it can have a top speed of 430 km/h, the trip takes only 7 minutes to get from Longyang bus station to Pudong International Airport. Once you are settled, watch the cars driving at 120 km/h next to you, you will have the impression that they are moving very slowly. It is such a fun experience!
Tianzi Fang or Tianzifang is the artistic district of Shanghai. In all the district’s small streets, you will travel in time and see houses from the 30s and art stores that seem to come out of a photo album.
Tianzifang is very famous for its small winding streets with countless small cafes, restaurants, and small studios. Here, you can get handmade artworks or souvenirs, which have become increasingly rare in times of mass production. It can get very crowded on weekends, so try to go on weekdays instead.
Looking at today’s skyline of Pudong, it is hard to believe that 25 years ago, this place was still a swamp area. Now, Pudong is the well-known cityscape of Shanghai with many skyscrapers and is considered the symbol of the emerging economic power of China.
The entire district is newly built, and when you walk among the skyscrapers, you will feel the incredible progress of Asia. New York may have its charms, but Pudong is just a touch more modern, expensive, and even cleaner.
Pudong is without a doubt the liveliest district in Shanghai with its buldings, luxury hotels, shopping malls, and restaurants of high standing. Resembling the American or Australian big cities, everything in this district is impressive, and it would be a shame not to visit it.
A fascinating view of Pudong can be seen from the roof terrace of the Vue Bar. The Vue Bar is located on the 33rd floor of the Hyatt Hotel and is directly on the Bund. The entrance fee is around $16, and a free drink is already included. If you want something more exciting, you can also bring your swimsuit and have a cocktail in the hot tub.
Walk on East Nanjing Road at Night
Nanjing Road is the most famous shopping street in Shanghai. It is divided into West Nanjing Road (west of People’s Square) and East Nanjing Road, which leads from People’s Square to the Bund. The latter section is especially worth a stroll at night when the lights are on, people are dancing in the streets, and there are local specialties to eat everywhere.
Nanjing Road has countless stores and boutiques of top designers and world-famous brands. In the immediate vicinity is also the People’s Square, which is considered the center of Shanghai.
The People’s Square is located west of the Huangpu River; and you can see restaurants, fashion stores, skyscrapers but also a park, the urban planning museum, the great theater, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai (MoCA Shanghai). A huge place, far from the hubbub of the city, which does not leave indifferent.
Shanghai Museum in People’s Square
If you still have some time left for culture and history, then the Shanghai Museum (Shanghai Bowuguan), which you will find in the southern part of People’s Square, is worth a visit. On four floors, cultural treasures of the past dynasties are exhibited.
The entrance is free, but you should be there first thing in the morning at 9 am because the waiting time at the door increases significantly during the day. If you want to learn more about the history, you can do so on a guided tour.
If you happen to be in Shanghai on the weekend, then you must definitely check out the Shanghai Marriage Market. It is located just a few minutes’ walk from the museum in the north of People’s Square. This is a market where parents of unmarried adults come to exchange information about their sons and daughters.
The French Concession
The former French Concession is also a must-see place to truly understand Shanghai’s past. It covers an area of about 10 square kilometers, so you will need more than a day if you want to visit it in its entirety. But to be honest, the best way to visit the French Concession is to stroll under the tall sycamores and drink a good coffee while reading a book.
If you are a history and culture buff, we recommend that you have a guide accompany you on a tour of the French Concession and help you understand the lives of its inhabitants. You will also learn about the history of the Concession’s development and the influence of the celebrities who once lived there, as well as the political structure and status of the French Concession. Being accompanied by a guide is also the best way to find unique and authentic souvenir stores.
There are different types of parks in Shanghai, and each park has its own charm; one of the most charming of them all is Fuxing Park. At the park, in the morning and afternoon, you can meet many locals playing cards, chess, dancing, or writing calligraphy. The park is an excellent place to get a glimpse of the locals’ hobbies and to better understand their daily life!
In Point Puzzle Shop
This strange store is specialized in puzzles; it is located in the Point Wujiang shopping center, in the heart of downtown. Most of the themes represented in their puzzles are of western origin, and we can notice their affection for van Gogh’s paintings, Picasso’s, etc. This unique store also offers giant 3D puzzles representing the main buildings of Shanghai.
Water Town Zhujiajiao (Little Venice)
Around Shanghai, there are a lot of so-called “Water Towns.” These water towns are immensely popular with the Chinese for weekend excursions. The most accessible water town to reach is Zhujiajiao, also known as Shanghai’s Venice. You can reach it by bus from People’s Square in about 1.5 hours, or by taking a guided tour of Shanghai’s highlights.
Shanghai Circus World
The world-famous acrobatic show with dancing, singing, and tricks is a must-see. It is performed daily at the Shanghai Circus at the metro station of the same name. You should book tickets in advance or buy them directly at the Circus.
Taste the Specialties of Shanghai
Dinner, in particular, is a matter of the heart for the Chinese. People exchange ideas, celebrate, and linger for hours. Only those who have eaten in an authentic Chinese restaurant can immerse themselves in the culture.
First of all, don’t be put off by the eating habits; like burping, which is seen as a sign of satisfaction with the meal. Also, chopsticks are not supposed to be placed upright in a rice bowl, and tipping can be seen as offensive. Additionally, it is important to know that there is not one Chinese cuisine, but each of the 23 provinces has its own specialties.
In Shanghai, people generally eat a lot of fish and shellfish. Dishes are often cooked in soy sauce and (unlike in southern China) tend to be sweet and sour rather than very spicy. The best restaurants are in the French Concession and Jing’An districts. What you can’t miss are dumplings and meat skewers, which you can get everywhere on the street.
Shanghai is also a snack paradise with many streets full of food stores. A must-try is the famous Xiao Long Bao, which is a steamed ravioli filled with stuffing and juice. They are small and look like pagodas. Tasting Xiao Long Bao is an art; you have to bite the top to open the skin and drink the juice, then dip the ravioli in vinegar before eating it.
Another must-try snack in Shanghai is the Shengjian. It is a steamed bun (mantou) filled with meat and juice and fried and finally sprinkled with onion and sesame. The bun is crispy, the skin is thin, and the meat is fragrant…. So delicious!
The old town of Qibao is located a little outside the city center but is very easy to reach by metro. Here, beautiful old alleys meet waterways. Qibao has still kept all its charm of the past with traditional Chinese houses.
Two things characterize this city: one of its canals where it is possible to rent a boat to sail around the city; but also, the opportunity to shop quietly to find typical products such as textiles, tea, handicrafts, or food. Don’t forget to bargain!
You can’t go to Shanghai and not go shopping! There is a lot of stuff in Shanghai, many brands, and therefore a lot of sales! There are expensive shopping malls, boutiques, and cheap wholesale markets. Do you want to refurbish your wardrobe at unbeatable prices? You can do that, but you will need to be patient.
Even though the wholesale clothing market on Qibao Street is always crowded, you’ll find many surprises. It requires a bit of stamina and a good eye. Shanghai also has a variety of large shopping malls with luxury brands, such as the “New World” in People’s Square.
Buying technology products in Shanghai is also a good choice. For example,” Bainaohui Xujiahui” is a great place for that. It is a chain of stores selling high-quality high-tech equipment. Among others, you can find famous brands such as Lenovo, Sony, Dell, and IBM.
You will also find drones, the latest phones and computers, and virtual reality glasses! If you like photography, then the “Starlight Photography Equipment City” is the place to be. If you want to buy some nice trinkets or decorations, you can go to Fuyou Street, near Yu Garden. You will find all kinds of beautiful souvenirs there.
When you go shopping in Shanghai, you must buy silk. Shanghai was an important port for silk exports in ancient times. If you don’t have time to go to Suzhou city, famous for its silk, you can also buy silk at a reasonable price in Shanghai.
Due to its size, population, urbanism, economic capacity, and numerous tourist sites, Shanghai is without a doubt a unique city without an equal. This city is still on the move and continues to grow. Don’t miss the chance to immerse yourself in this fascinating megacity between skyscrapers, culture, tradition, and great nightlife!