Shanghai is one big impressive city and it’s hard to get bored when visiting one of China’s biggest towns. If you’re passing by and have a few days to spare we’ve put together a list of things to do in Shanghai, needless to say we couldn’t get them all there and some we skipped on purpose (Bund tunnel anyone?) but we believe that those ten will give you a great overview of the city and how it seems to bundle Eastern and Western culture, new and old so well.
1 / Visit the beautiful Yu Garden (Yuyuan)
These gardens have been here for 400 years and they have easily won their spot as one of the must visit sites in Shanghai. Very different from the neat and orderly Japanese gardens you might be used to seeing, Yuyuan instead lets nature handle the finer details, and allows the garden free rein to overgrow the beautiful ancient buildings. The place is popular with tourists and tours (we visited with Viking during our Summer cruise) so be aware that it might be very busy!
The ponds are still full of carp, the greenery is plentiful and half-wild, and the little pavilions are filled with Chinese visitors. There are many love stories and traditions centred around this place. The most popular one might be in the hall separated by a long stone wall with a few openings. Pass the corridor, men and the left, women on the right, and kiss the one you love, it is said that you will be together forever.
How long should you plan there: Around 2 hours.
Cost of a visit : 30 to 40RMB depending on the time of year.
2 / Walk around the Jewish Ghetto
Shanghai was a very important spot during World War 2 for the Jewish community before they fell in the hands of the Japanese. People took refuge in the city and were welcomed with open arms by the Chinese. The Jewish ghetto and its history remain. The houses now belong to different families and the Jewish community is gone, but the buildings are unchanged. A museum has been opened so that this part of history will never be forgotten. If you want to visit this area of Shanghai we highly recommend you to use a tour company who will be able to show and tell you a lot more about all that happened in the area.
How long should you plan there: Half a day, tours are usually in the morning.
Cost of a visit: If using a tour company count around 300RMB.
3 / Enter the legendary Peace Hotel
On the Bund you will quickly notice an old hotel with a very distinctive emerald dome in the shape of a triangle, this very fancy place is the Peace Hotel. Built by Victor Sassoon, the Peace Hotel remains an important piece of history and is well worth a quick visit.
The luxury and the old charm of this place will hit you as soon as you enter the room. If you’ve got time hit the bar and listen to some Jazz or simply enjoy the Art Deco of the place, it’s up to you but we’ve heard their pastries are to die for!
How long should you plan there: Not long, less than an hour, couple this with your visit of the Bund.
Cost of a visit: Free or the cost of a coffee if you’re staying for a while.
4 / Go on the hunt for Xiaolongbao
If you are visiting Shanghai this is clearly something you have to try! Many restaurants offer this delicacy that originates from the city. Of all the things to do in Shanghai, this might be one of the tastiest!
Xiaolongbao is a type of dumpling filled with pork and a hot soup. There are many ways to try out this treat, some eat it all at once, some bite straight into it, we don’t (just because it’s hot, very hot!), we like to put the dumpling in our spoon, pick a hole with our chopsticks, let the soup get in the spoon and wait a little before enjoying our Xiaolongbao.
It’s up to you how you prefer to try this out, you might even find some selling theirs with a straw, just give it a go, it doesn’t get more “Shanghai” than this!
How long should you plan there: It’s a quick eat, not very long.
Cost of a visit: For 6 or more, except to pay around 10 to 20RMB (or more if in a fancy area or restaurant).
5 / Enjoy fresh seafood on Shouning Lu.
You know us, we can’t resist good food… So when I heard Shanghai was famous with locals for some amazing crayfish I had to find out where I could get some. With everything seafood related, you can guess, my other half wasn’t very pleased. We got to Shouning Lu fairly quickly after coming out of the metro and it took us a good 10 minutes to pick a restaurant. Filled up with seafood restaurants, Shouning Lu has got a lot of choice and to add to the crayfish, they offer freshly brewed beer as well! How can you resist?
We picked a spot and ordered a plate of crayfish. Oh that crayfish… Fresh, tasty, cheap, you can order it cooked with different flavours or just get it cooked with a few spices, it’s hot, it’s amazing, just be aware that most menus might not include anything in English but you can always go by with a few pictures.
How long should you plan there: Go in the evening for an hour or two.
Cost of a visit: Around 60RMB for a plate that will easily be enough for two.
6 / Relax and try out the afternoon tea at the Four Seasons.
You’ve done the traditional food, why not move on to something a bit fancier and different? Go and enjoy an afternoon tea, just add a little bit of China in this very British tradition by picking a green tea or some Oolong.
Listening to some piano, relaxing in big chairs while enjoying a few delicacies, there’s nothing better to feel a little fancy and maybe get a bit of the chic that Shanghai seems to aspire to.
Afternoon tea is available in most hotels, we recommend the Four Seasons because we’ve tested it and loved it (as much as we enjoyed our stay). We also heard that the Peace hotel offers a great set but at a higher price, worth it though if you want a view on the Bund.
How long should you plan there: An hour break in your afternoon.
Cost of a visit: From 160RMB to 300RMB depending on your pick.
7 / Go up and high in the Oriental Pearl Tower (or get very high in the newest tower)
You’ve heard of the Oriental Pearl Tower and when in Shanghai you can’t miss it! Red and silver, this tower offers many levels for many different activities. Get to the Space module up top, the viewing platform (with a glass floor to avoid if you’re not a fan of heights) or join the Game centre and get on a ride (40RMB) of one of the world’s highest indoor rollercoasters.
The queue can be impressive, this is, after all, one very famous attraction in town. So if you want to avoid them head to the high towers nearby. The newest and tallest one offers a very fast elevator and an impressive view of Shanghai from 600m up!
How long should you plan there: Half day should have you covered.
Cost of a visit: The price depends on how high you want to go in the Oriental Pearl Tower. It goes from 160RMB to 220RMB
8/ Enjoy the promenade on the Bund.
From the French quarters to the Promenade, the Bund is the perfect place to go for a walk at night. The other side of town and its modern buildings suddenly light up and the cityscape is one of the most famous in the world. You could go during the day as well but we think the night brings out a lot more out of the view.
The promenade isn’t a very long walk but you’ll get plenty of occasion to stop and relax for a while. Enjoy the show of lights before heading to one of the many restaurants nearby. This is a pretty crowded area since it’s so popular but, like Victoria Harbour in Hong-Kong, it sure is worth your time.
How long should you plan there: An hour or less, the walk can be quite short.
Cost of a visit: This is free, no need to pay an entry.
9 / Jump on the Maglev for a fast ride!
The Maglev is the fastest train in the world, and has set records of more than 500km/h. It’s currently in use in only three countries: Japan, South Korea and China, and the only place where you can ride it at top speed ? Shanghai of course!
But the Maglev is no mere train, it actually floats above the rails by magnetic levitation, and the way it twists and banks around curves makes it feel more like a giant rollercoaster than the 12:07 to King’s Cross. Albeit, a rollercoaster that hurtles through a built-up metropolis faster than the top speed of any production car in the world.
Riding from the airport to the city centre, the Maglev starts in Pudong airport. Not every trip runs at top speed though (some are limited to a pedestrian 350kmh) so make sure you check the timetable and get your ticket for the 430kmh high speed run. But why not hop on this amazing piece of technology when landing in China? You’ll even get a discount when presenting your plane ticket!
How long should you plan there: Less than half an hour, remember, top speed…
Cost of a visit: 40RMB for a one way ticket plus a discount if presenting your plane ticket.
10 / Shop until you drop on Nanjing Lu.
Nanjing Lu is where you’ll find the best shops in Shanghai and there’s something for everyone. From the most famous K-Beauty brands (innisfree, Etude House) to the luxurious European brands (Chanel, Dior), passing by the famous American ones (M&Ms, Apple), there’s something for the entire family and if you’re not there to shop, just come to watch the flow of people passing constantly. The crossing of Nanjing Lu sure isn’t as busy as the one in Shibuya, Tokyo, but when the light turns green, it’s a sea of people that suddenly invades the street.
How long should you plan there: As long as you want or as long as you can handle it, it’s very busy…
Cost of the experience: An overpriced drink or a few items purchased in the shops.
We could have mentioned getting a drink on a rooftop bar (Shen, Bar rouge and Waterhouse are some good recommendations), trying the Bund tunnel (a very strange, psychedelic experience), visiting the Aquarium with the world’s longest underwater viewing tunnel (if you’re a family this might be worth a go) but to be honest there is so many things to do in Shanghai that we had to limit our picks.
We believe that, for a first visit, those few activities might give you a good idea of what this city is about. That it’s not all about the bright lights and the money, but that there is a history that is worth knowing and a culture that is worth experiencing. If you are visiting Shanghai we hope you’ll have a lovely time, we will, for sure, come back to discover more of the city and visit more in details the nearby water towns.
Have you been to Shanghai? Which attraction did you enjoy the most and would you come back? Which are the things to do in Shanghai? Let us know in the comments!
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