Things to Do in Shanghai

Things to do in Shanghai

Are you looking for tips on things to do in Shanghai?

As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Reena Ganga from Wanderplex who first traveled to Shanghai more than six years ago, and has been back many times since.

Reena shares with us her insider tips on the best things to do in Shanghai, plus advice on where to eat, sleep, drink, shop and explore.

Why Visit Shanghai?

It’s hard to explain the sense of optimism and excitement that you feel when you walk through Shanghai – it’s a city that is just alive and buzzing. I think this is because China is a country that is developing so quickly and playing an increasingly important role globally.

So for visitors, Shanghai is a great place to get an understanding of modern China’s role in our global future.

The city also offers a great mix of old and new – on the one hand you can see old-school produce markets in the streets, eat traditional cuisine, and witness time-honored customs, but on the other hand you can see a rapidly expanding skyline that is so gleaming and futuristic it almost looks like it was built by aliens.

Where else in the world can you experience such a contrast?

Things to Do in Shanghai

To me, a visit to Shanghai is more about people watching and observing what life is like in modern China, rather than hitting up a series of historic sites.

With that in mind, here are a couple of activities I highly recommend for soaking up the city’s culture and atmosphere.

  • The Shanghai Museum, located in People’s Square, is excellent if you want to learn about traditional ceramics, furniture, jade, coins, paintings and so on.
The Shanghai Museum, located in People’s Square, is shaped like an ancient cooking pot
The Shanghai Museum, located in People’s Square, is shaped like an ancient cooking pot
  • The Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center is also worth a visit, if only to see the enormous scale model of the city. You get to see what the city looks like now, as well as all the developments that are planned for the coming years.
  • If you’re in town on a weekend, you definitely shouldn’t miss the marriage market held at the north end of People’s Park. This is where parents gather and scour notices in the hopes of finding a suitable spouse for their adult children.
  • Without a doubt, one of the highlights of Shanghai is seeing the city skyline all lit up at night. There are lots of rooftop bars that offer great vantage points (see my tips below about where to drink for more on that) but a really enjoyable way to take it all in is to go on a cruise along the Huang Pu River and The Bund, which is the waterway that runs through the city.

The cruises are cheap (around $6 or so) and you can buy tickets from the booths at the southern end of the Bund promenade.

Things to Do in Shanghai
Marriage Market

Best Neighborhoods in Shanghai

The French Concession

The French Concession is a part of Shanghai that was once a French settlement, and it’s a lovely area to stroll through.

The streets are quiet and leafy – which is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city – and there’s lots of nice architecture. The area also has great shopping (see below for more specifics).

Tuyuan Gardens

If you want to see the more traditional side of Shanghai, the area surrounding the Yuyuan Gardens is full of little alleyways dotted with fishmongers and local markets, and consequently, not many tourists!

Pudong

And of course, to explore modern Shanghai, you can’t go past Pudong. This is the newer section of the city that stretches along the east side of the river, opposite the historic city center. The Lujiazui area is particularly dense with unusual and futuristic skyscrapers.

Things to do in Shanghai
Pudong’s interesting architecture as seen from across the Bund

Where to Eat in Shanghai

Let me start by warning you that Chinese food in China tastes nothing like the Chinese food we’re used to eating in the Western world.

A lot of the food is either really bland or really unusually spiced, or made with parts of animals we could never in a million years fathom eating, or the food is just so bizarre you don’t even know what it is.

With that said, there are still some great restaurants in Shanghai if you know where to look.

  • Xintiandi, which is an affluent pedestrian-only area of shops and restaurants, has lots of great food options including both Asian and Western fare.
  • Sinan Mansions, made up of a bunch of renovated villas, is also full of restaurants that appeal to Western palates.
  • For Yunan food and beautiful décor, I really enjoy Lost Heaven. It’s sister restaurant, Coconut Paradise, serves up really good Thai food.
  • For a splurge, M on the Bund offers great Bund views and mostly Western food (it’s run by some Aussies), while Mr and Mrs Bund serves fabulous French cuisine.
  • If you want a really fun meal, I recommend eating at Haidi Lao, which is a chain of hot pot restaurants that offers manicures and games while you wait for your table.
  • For budget eats, the Tokyo Food Court, which is under the HSBC and Cartier stores near Xintiandi, has lots of options like sushi, noodles, pizza, pasta etc.
    • If you’re craving western food, check out Wagas – the chain serves up wraps, sandwiches, soups etc, which are perfect if you don’t feel like a heavy, greasy lunch.
Things to do in Shanghai
A meal of Chinese hot pot with the works at Haidi Lao

You Can’t Visit Shanghai Without Eating?

Xiao Long Bao, which are dumplings with soup and meat in them.

What you do is bite a hole in one end of the pastry and slurp out all the liquid before eating the rest of the dumpling. This type of dumpling is a Shanghai specialty.

Where to Drink in Shanghai?

Well there’s definitely something for everyone when it comes to drinking in Shanghai.

  • Barbarossa is a Moroccan themed lounge in the middle of People’s Park.
  • If you like girly, pink places, you’ll enjoy Glamour Bar.
  • The Boxing Cat Brewery is great if you’re into micro brew beers.
  • People 7 is a nice bar, but you have to solve a puzzle to get in the door (and to use the bathrooms), so don’t go there drunk!
  • Sinan Mansions and Xintiandi are both full of great drinking spots including a wine bar and a German beerhouse.
  • Shanghai also has countless rooftop bars with stunning views – VUE Bar at Hyatt on the Bund even has rooftop Jacuzzi that you can enjoy while you drink.
Things to Do in Shanghai
The colorful bar at TMSK in Xintiandi

Best Places in Shanghai for a Night on the Town?

If you go to TMSK (a restaurant/bar located in Xintiandi) on a Friday or Saturday night, you’ll often be able to enjoy traditional music and singing. Ask to be seated upstairs where the stage is.

However, if you want to party, then you’ll want to hit up M1NT which is the hottest club in town. It’s set in a high-rise building and is so glamorous it even boasts a tank of baby sharks!

Where to Stay in Shanghai

Budget

If you’re on a budget, I recommend the Captain Hostel. The location right opposite the Bund is excellent and they have an amazing rooftop bar with views to kill for.

High End

On the high end, the Langham Hotel in Xintiandi is a great choice. Their service is great and they are right by all the nice shopping and dining venues.

Markets and Shopping in Shanghai

There’s no shortage of shopping to be had in Shanghai and you’ll see what I mean if you go.

Nanjing East Road, Nanjing West Road, and Huahai Middle Road are where you’ll find the big malls and flagship stores.

If you prefer markets, head to Tianzifang. This market has good prices on handicrafts, jewelry and other souvenirs. Tianzifang is a really cool area to wander around, but the narrow maze-like streets are really easy to get lost in.

There’s also a giant underground market below the Science and Technology Museum in Pudong (you’ll see it as soon as you walk out of the metro station). This is the place to go for fake designer stuff, as well as other random knick-knacks, but prices here are on the high side.

However, if you’re looking for something special, I recommend visiting the French Concession.

Changle Lu (“lu” means street in Chinese) near Ruijin Lu is where you’ll find good boutiques by emerging Chinese fashion designers.

The area where Xinle Lu, Donghu Lu, and Fumin Lu intersect is where you’ll find nice home-wares, fashion, and restaurants.

And Jinxian Lu is another area in the French Concession with emerging local designers. All of these spots are the cool shopping areas where people “in the know” go.

Things to Do in Shanghai
A traditional meat and produce market located in the backstreets near the Yuyuan Gardens

Getting Around Shanghai

Shanghai’s metro is fast, cheap, clean and really easy to use, with plenty of signage in English.

However, if you’ll have to make lots of transfers to get to your destination, a taxi can be a good option since they’re quite affordable (although you might have to contend with a bit of traffic).

Shanghai is a big city, so you’ll need to take some form of transport to get from point A to point B, but the city is quite walkable within the neighborhoods.

A lot of what there is to do in Shanghai is walk around and soak up the atmosphere.

Finding WiFi in Shanghai

Most hotels and hostels will provide wi-fi for guests, however if you’ll be staying for a while I recommend getting your own VPN.

This is because a lot of popular websites (like facebook) are blocked in China. 

The city does have a free public wi-fi service, but I would never consider connecting to it as there are a lot of scam-y, fake services in Shanghai and you don’t want anyone hacking into your computer or accounts.

Best Time of Year to Visit Shanghai

Shanghai gets crazy humid in the summer time – as in, you step out the front door and in about 30 seconds your clothes are soaked through with sweat. Ick.

So I would avoid summer, but any other time is good to visit.

Things to do in Shanghai
Shanghai’s unusual skyscrapers are dramatically lit up at night

Favorite Side Trip from Shanghai

If you want to see traditional Chinese gardens, Suzhou can be visited as a day trip. The train between Shanghai and Suzhou is really modern and fast, but be warned that getting around Suzhou itself can be a bit confusing and not many people there speak English.

Hangzhou is another popular side trip. The city is most famous for the pretty scenery and traditional buildings along its lake.

Getting There and Away?

Shanghai has two airports, and if you’re traveling to or from Pudong Airport, consider taking the high speed train.

The Maglev goes at up to 268 mph, making it one of the fastest trains in the world. It’s worth taking the train just for the experience.

Best “insiders” Tip

The Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center has a fabulous collection of posters that give you a visual history of the country and help you understand the ideas put forth during the Cultural Revolution. The museum is hidden away in the basement of an apartment building, so finding it is half the fun.

I recommend getting a foot massage in Shanghai. They’re really cheap and you can share the experience with a bunch of friends. Just be sure to learn the word for “softer” because Chinese massages can be kinda painful!

And finally, be sure to check out the shopping areas in the French Concession that I mentioned above. Most tourists stick to the big malls or markets, but this is where you’ll really find the up-and-coming fashions.

I love Shanghai because?

The city is constantly growing and evolving so there’s always something new and exciting to discover.

More Resources for Shanghai

Check out these helpful travel guides:

Author Bio

Reena Ganga decided to start her travel blog, Wanderplex, after spending a year traveling around the world and realizing there was no resource that provided the kind of insider information she was looking for. She harnesses her years of experience and knowledge traveling – including luxury travel, budget travel, studying abroad, and living as an expat – and brings it together on her site. Follow Reena’s travel tips and ask your own burning questions via facebook and twitter.

Craig
Craig Makepeace is the founder of yTravel Blog and has been traveling the world since 2002, first with his wife Caz, and now with his two daughters. Get his free email series on the 4 best ways to reduce travel costs. Follow him on Google+

12 Comments on “Things to Do in Shanghai”

  1. The hot pot from Shanghai street vendors is really great, but be careful because it can get very spicy! The Bundt is a must see and the night markets and line dancing are super fun! I only got to spend a few days there but I liked it.

    Reply
  2. The marriage market sounds fun…though deep down it makes me a bit sad, actually. Also, I would say that Suzhou is worthy of more than just a side-trip; I spent three or four days there a few years ago and could easily have spent a week – there are so many beautiful gardens to see and I found the people much friendlier than in Shanghai.

    One more tip (and I don’t know, perhaps this has changed since I was there in 2009), I flew in to Pudong airport and was really excited to take the highspeed maglev train into town (apparently the fastest in the world making the 30km journey in 7 minutes!), but discovered that it stops running after 11pm, so I had to take a taxi. That was disappointing.
    Sam recently posted..The Carretera Austral: A Road to Remember
    Sam recently posted..The Carretera Austral: A Road to Remember

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  3. The marriage market seems interesting! I also want to try Xiao Long Bao, felt delicious. Nice post, well noted.

    Regards.
    http://www.jakpost.travel/

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  4. This is informative blog. Shanghai is a great city of China.there are hotels and hostels will provide wi-fi for guests. We recommend to visit Shanghai in a year.
    http://www.carltonleisure.com/travel/flights/china/shanghai/

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  5. […] Y Travel Blog‘s What to Do in Beijing and Things to Do in Shanghai […]

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  6. […] fact, you should read the Y Travel Blog post about Shanghai, because it is absolutely fantastic.  Read it here. And it has a whole section on […]

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  7. Greetings from Shanghai! I love this city and always enjoy visiting. I must admit that I think Xintiandi is a bit of a tourist trap and incredibly over priced for what it is. If you want a good night out then you can’t go far wrong with the pedestrianised street at Hongmei Lu (Rd). Lots of places to eat and drink there.

    I do love YuYuan Gardens and can certainly vouch for Hangzhou as a worthwhile day trip.
    The Guy recently posted..Shanghai Must See – China Stopover Points Part 1
    The Guy recently posted..Shanghai Must See – China Stopover Points Part 1

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  8. If you’re ever in Shanghai, try waking up early (around 7am) and head to nearby university (there’s a lot of them, but Jiaotong, Fudan, Tongji and Donghua are all good ones). Outside there will be street food vendors selling all sorts of great stuff for breakfast. Try the Jianbing – it’s a spring onion pancake usually stuffed with an egg and a few tangy sauces. I studied in Shanghai for a year and ate one almost every morning. Breakfast of champions!

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  9. Next time take a look at Shanghai Pathways (http://www.shanghaipathways.com), they provide alternative Shanghai one day trips, offbeat walking tours and Chinese culture class, special travel experience for those who want to get off the beaten path and really connect with Shanghai. It was easy to book and the guide was great. We visited the major sites of Shanghai and also some off the beaten path locations. We enjoyed our guide’s company tremendously and she really enhanced our understanding and appreciation of Shanghai….

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  10. As an expat in Shanghai, i think your writing of food in this city is a bit harsh. There are plenty of restaurants where both locals and foreigners go for good food that has taste. The areas you suggest are super touristy and full of Western restaurants.

    Here are some great restaurants that have English menus and staff that can speak basic English, and serve amazing Chinese food at reasonable prices. You’ll find the clientele a good mix of locals and ex-pats, all in the central location. It’s where i take visitors to Shanghai!

    Sichuan Citizen – Specialising in spicy cooking from Sichuan region, but also has Chinese staples on the menu. Big selection of choices, and an even more impressive cocktail menu. Pretty packed any night of the week!

    Di Shui Dong – A trip to Shanghai is not complete without a visit here. One of the first places in Shanghai to draw in a regular expat crowd, they are famous for their spare ribs. Like Sichuan Citizen, they specialise in cuisine from one area – Hunan Province but also serve other Chinese classics you’ll recognise. Also recommend their boiled dumplings and bang bang chicken.

    Din Tai Fung – A Taiwanese chain of restaurants but selling Shanghai classics, famous for their XiaoLongBao. Branches all over the city, usually involving a wait to get seated. It’s a clean, well trained pricier version of street food but still cheap by foreign standards. The service is impeccable and chefs train for months in the art of making dumplings.

    Spice Bazaar – a good, friendly introduction to Xinjiang food, an area that covers 1/6 of the country. Muslim friendly and more middle eastern than Chinese, this is a cuisine you can’t miss out on. Spice Bazaar is a foreign friendly modern restaurant, but i also highly recommend Ye Li Xia Li chain, who have an more extensive menu also in English and more of an authentic feel. You have to try the naan bread and lamb skewers.

    For foriegn food – some great places only found in Shanghai are – Maya, KABB, Element Fresh, Mr Harry’s, Shanghai Brewery, New York Style Pizza, Simply Thai, Boxing Cat Brewery amongst others. Some of those are great drinks places as well. And if you do want “American style” Chinese food, there’s Fortune Cookies, opened by some ABC’s from Brooklyn. It’s doing surprsingly well, catering to the expats who miss the Chinese take out food from the US.

    All of the above are well priced, nothing will break the bank, just honest places that locals, both Chinese and expats will visit for a weekly dinner. Nothing fancy or fine dining, but definitely not “really bland or really unusually spiced“。 If anything you’ll probably return home and find the Chinese food you’ve been eating is anything but Chinese.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the tips HJT. We didn’t actually write the article so can’t comment. It was written by a guest poster!

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