19 Exciting Things To Do In Shanghai, China

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Shanghai is China’s biggest and richest city, and is where ancient traditions and modernity collide in a seamless way.

Needless to say, there are many things to do in Shanghai, from strolling along the iconic Bund to immersing yourself in the rich heritage of the Shanghai Museum, this city has something for everyone.

If you’re not sure what to do in Shanghai, then you’ve come to the right place.

In this guide, we’ve shared our top tips for attractions to visit in Shanghai, plus advice on where to eat, sleep, drink, shop and explore.

Is Shanghai Worth Visiting?

shanghai's skyline lit up at night
Shanghai’s unusual skyscrapers are dramatically lit up at night

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? If you can’t answer that question, then we’re agreed that Shanghai is definitely worth a visit.

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 attractions in Shanghai I highly recommend for soaking up the city’s culture and atmosphere.

1. Walk Along The Bund

shanghai skyline with unusual building shapes

The Bund is an iconic waterfront promenade that offers a fusion of history and modernity.

Nestled on the banks of the Huangpu River, this is the perfect place to capture the mesmerizing skyline featuring both colonial-era and contemporary architectural marvels.

It’s lined with trendy restaurants and bars, and when nighttime hits, the skyline turns into a dazzling spectacle of illuminated skyscrapers reflected on the tranquil waters.

2. Visit The Shanghai Museum & People’s Square

The Shanghai Museum shaped like an ancient cooking pot
The Shanghai Museum, located in People’s Square, is shaped like an ancient cooking pot

Located in People’s Square, The Shanghai Museum is an excellent attraction if you want to learn about traditional ceramics, furniture, jade, coins, paintings and so on.

Marvel at the impressive Chinese art collections, calligraphy, ancient artifacts, and intriguing exhibitions that offer a glimpse into China’s rich heritage.

People’s Square itself is worth a visit, since it serves as a bustling hub that combines historical significance with modern vibrancy.

3. Check Out The Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center

This museum is 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.

As you step inside this six-story building, you’ll be amazed by the city’s remarkable transformation. Learn about the innovative urban development strategies, witness the grandeur of Shanghai’s skyline, and gain a deeper understanding of its rich history.

4. Observe the Marriage Market

peopl reading signs at the marriage market wall
Marriage Market

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.

5. Admire The City Views at Night

View of downtown Shanghai skyline at twilight in China
Shanghai skyline at twilight

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of a visit to 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.

6. Take the Kids to Disneyland Park

castle turrets

One of the top things to do in Shanghai with kids is to visit Shanghai Disneyland, which is a magical experience for the whole family.

It boasts unique and innovative rides, such as Tron, one of the world’s coolest coasters, and the all-new Pirates attraction, plus a chance to walk down Mickey Avenue and meet the characters.

Marvel at the spectacular shows and parades that bring beloved Disney characters to life in dazzling performances, as well as experience a fusion of Disney magic and Chinese culture, as Shanghai Disneyland incorporates elements of Chinese tradition and folklore into its attractions and design.

Planning to visit Shanghai with kids? Here are some great Shanghai Disneyland tips. And get your transfer to Disneyland here.

7. Explore the Neighborhoods in Shanghai

traditional french buildings on street
French District

A great way to get to know a city is to wander around the neighborhoods.

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).

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!

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.

8. Eat The Local Cuisine in Shanghai

table filled with dumplings and steamer
traditional chinese street food cuisine 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.

Be sure to try Xiao Long Bao, which are soup dumplings with pork 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.

table full of ingredients for chinese hot pot
A meal of Chinese hot pot with the works at Haidi Lao

There are some great restaurants in Shanghai if you know where to look. Here are some of my favourites:

  • 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 Haidilao Hot Pot, 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.
  • Jia Jia Tang Bao is one of the oldest restaurants in the city and is a great place to try authentic Chinese street food.

9. Hit the Bars in Shanghai

people sitting at rooftop bar with views of shanghai skyline
Outdoor bar in Shanghai,china

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!

If you’re looking for more places to spend a night out, then here are some great bars 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.
  • 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.

10. Explore the Bustling Markets in Shanghai

people at shanghai markets
A traditional meat and produce market located in the backstreets near the Yuyuan Gardens

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

Nanjing Road is the main shopping street, and Huahai Middle Road is 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.

11. Take a Day Trip to Smaller Towns

small chinese town on river

Shanghai can get overwhelming, so be sure to visit the small towns outside the city.

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.

Or alternatively, you can visit Zhujiajiao, also known as water town, and where you can ride a gondola along the canals as though you’re in Venice.

12. Visit The Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center

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.

13. Get a Foot Massage

It may seem slightly random, but 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!

14. Visit the Observation Deck of the Oriental Pearl Tower

looking up at the pearl tower

For breathtaking vistas, head to the Observation Deck of the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai.

Standing at an impressive height of 263 meters, this iconic observation deck offers a mesmerizing vantage point to admire the city’s skyline.

Take in the urban sprawl, marvel at the Huangpu River, and witness the vibrant cityscape come to life.

With its glass-bottomed observation deck and alluring transparent sightseeing corridor, the Oriental Pearl Tower is not for the faint-hearted!

15. Sky Walk Jin Mao Tower

two skyrises next to each other

Another exhilarating adventure to be had in Shanghai is on the skywalk at Jin Mao Tower.

Located on the 88th floor of this iconic skyscraper, it offers a one-of-a-kind experience. Step onto the 1.2-meter-wide glass platform, strap in, and marvel at the awe-inspiring views below.

With no rails to obstruct your sight, you’ll feel a rush of adrenaline as you walk along the 60-meter-long skywalk, suspended 340.6 meters above the ground.

This is the world’s highest outdoor glass skywalk, presenting an unmatched opportunity to witness the cityscape from a breathtaking perspective.

16. Watch A Performance at Shanghai Circus World

man doing handstand on box
Shanghai circus

If you’re looking for things to do in Shanghai at night, be sure to check out a mesmerizing performance at Shanghai Circus World.

Find yourself immersed in a spectacle that combines acrobatics, live music, stunning visuals, and elaborate costumes.

Witness the perfect blend of traditional Chinese artistry and modern innovation as performers defy gravity with breathtaking feats and daring stunts.

17. Relax in Yu Garden

people walking on boardwalk beside ancient temples in garden

Step into a realm of tranquility at the Yu Garden, the largest urban park in Shanghai.

This gem, nestled in the heart of the Old City, offers a breathtaking escape from the bustling streets.

As you wander through its intricately designed landscapes, you’ll be transported to a bygone era of emperors and dynasties.

Marvel at the elegant pavilions, meandering bridges, and serene ponds adorned with vibrant lily pads.

Uncover the secrets of this 500-year-old garden, steeped in tradition and artistry.

18. Head Up The Second Tallest Building in the World: Shanghai Tower

shanghai tower rising above other skyscrapers

Another pinnacle of modern architecture in Shanghai is the Shanghai Tower.

This vertical marvel pierces the sky, standing at a staggering height of 632 meters, making it the second tallest building in the world.

As you ascend through its sleek and futuristic interior, prepare to be awestruck by the panoramic views that unfold before your eyes.

The observation deck on the 118th floor offers an unparalleled vantage point, allowing you to witness the vibrant cityscape in all its glory.

19. Visit The Longhua Temple

roof of temple

With a legacy spanning over 1700 years, this ancient temple stands as a testament to China’s vibrant cultural heritage.

As you explore the temple grounds, you’ll be captivated by its serene atmosphere and exquisite architecture.

Marvel at the towering Longhua Pagoda and immerse yourself in the rituals and traditions of Buddhism.

Feel a sense of tranquility wash over you as you witness devotees offering their prayers and lighting incense.

Finding WiFi in Shanghai China

When you’re in need of internet, staying connected in China is not as easy as it is most countries.

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

You can also get really cheap eSims from Airalo. You can set it up so it’s ready to go as soon as you arrive. That way you don’t have to worry about finding a local sim card. See prices and availability here.

Getting To And Around Shanghai

aerial view of roads filled with cars crisscrossing each other

Shanghai has two airports, and if you’re traveling to or from Pudong International 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.

When it comes to getting around, 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.

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.

Where to Stay in Shanghai

Shanghai Tower, JinMao Tower from Yuyuan Garden, Old Town, Shanghai China
Shanghai Tower, Second Tallest Building in World, Jin Mao Tower from Yuyuan Garden, Old Town, Shanghai China

If you’re on a budget, I recommend the Shanghai Hidden Garden Hostel. The location in Pudong is right where everything is happening, as well as being opposite the Bund.

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.

For more places to stay in Shanghai choose from the largest range of hotels, apartments, and guesthouses check the map below

Final Thoughts

woman holding red umbrella walking through narrow alleyways of shanghai

I love Shanghai because the city is constantly growing and evolving so there’s always something new and exciting to discover.

Shanghai is China’s largest and richest city and has a captivating blend of Eastern and Western cultures, which makes it really easy to travel to as a Westerner.

With its innovative architecture, rich history, and lush nature, Shanghai has become one of China’s most vibrant metropolis.

We hope this guide gave you some ideas for what to do in Shanghai and inspired your trip.

Bio: Reena Ganga decided to start her 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.

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