Shanghai Travel Guide

Municipality

Shanghai

Location

East China

Population

27 million

w

Language

Shanghainese

Welcome to Shanghai!

Shanghai is one of the most popular entry points into China. It’s a big, international city that retains its colonial past as well as a uniquely Chinese feel and way of doing things. It’s a wonderful city for tourists with lots to see and do.

High-tech and fast moving, Shanghai is a fascinating city to explore. It’s filled with ancient sites, modern wonders, simply amazing food, and a mix of cultures that’s hard to find anywhere else.

And if you’re planning to travel to other regions in China, Shanghai’s transport systems are hard to beat!

For international tourists, Shanghai is a great first city to explore in China. You’ll find people speak English in all the tourist areas, food is modern and fresh, and getting around is easy.

Once you’ve built up your confidence in the ‘Paris of the East’, you can then venture out to other cities which are not as modern and where people may not speak much English.

 
Tourist on Huangpu River Shanghai

Shanghai is popular with tourists. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Jade Buddha Temple Courtyard

The Jade Buddha Temple Courtyard. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Eastern and western culture in Shanghai

 

Shanghai is strongly influenced by traditional Chinese culture with influences from all over China and from overseas as well.

In fact, Shanghai is known for its ability to absorb and adapt foreign cultures, creating what’s known as an ‘ocean culture’ (haipai) or even an ‘overseas culture’ (yangpai).

This openness to outside influence has meant the city has received some criticism, but it makes Shanghai very welcoming and even familiar for tourists and travelers. You’ll find an openness to foreign attitudes and opinions in Shanghai that manifests as an intense creativity and cosmopolitanism.

This unique approach to life doesn’t make Shanghai like other cities in the world though. Although it does feel familiar to western travelers, it’s still uniquely Chinese and that’s part of its appeal.

The tourist experience in Shanghai

Traveling to Shanghai is an exciting, immersive experience and it makes for a great introduction to the rest of China.

There’s also a lot to do and see in this city, so make sure that you give yourself at least a few days to see the highlights.

And of course, don’t forget that it also has some of the most amazing food you will ever eat (like the dumplings!).

1. The Bund and Pudong waterfront area

The Bund

The Bund is picturesque. Image by CocoColin on Pixabay.

You can’t go to Shanghai and not visit the Bund.

The Bund is a waterfront area that curls along part of the Huangpu River in the heart of Shanghai. Along the way, you’ll see beautiful, historic buildings from Shanghai’s colonial past.

Across the river is Pudong, the ‘new’ side of Shanghai. Here you’ll see some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world bunched together in an amazing display.

You can cross the river using the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel. It’s a little touristy and expensive, but the flashing lights and colors in the tunnel make for a psychedelic and exciting ride.

Or, jump on the subway and you’ll be in Pudong in a few minutes.

2. Shop on Nanjing Road

Cheongsam dress

You can find beautiful clothes on Nanjing Road. Image by Wxmwxm0612 on Pixabay.

Shopping is one of the best things to do in Shanghai, and one of the best places to shop in the city is on Nanjing Road.

This is the city’s version of New York’s Fifth Avenue, with shopping malls and high-end brands from all over the world.

If you have a little money to spend, need some souvenirs, or just want to do some people watching, then spend an afternoon on Nanjing Road.

You won’t regret it, though your credit card might!

3. Shanghai Museum

China’s culture is one of the oldest in the world and stretches back over thousands of years. And you can’t visit Shanghai without learning just a little bit more about that history at the Shanghai Museum.

Located in the People’s Square near Nanjing Road, the museum has more than 120,000 rare, cultural relics. There are also English descriptions on the pieces to help you understand what you’re looking at.

When you’re done, grab a drink and relax in the square before you hit your next attraction.

4. Disneyland

Pluto at Shanghai Disneyland

The Chinese love Disneyland. Image by Yuantunan on Pixabay.

Disneyland is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Shanghai. Accessible via the city’s metro system, the park blends the iconic magic of Disney with a uniquely Chinese feel that makes this park a must-see, even if you’ve been to Disneyland in other countries.

Shanghai’s Disneyland has six themed lands and enough attractions, rides and restaurants to keep you occupied for days. Just be prepared for long lines, particularly if you’re visiting in peak season.

5. The French Concession

The French Concession is slightly west of the Bund and is a huge area characterized by wide, leafy streets that wouldn’t look out of place in a European city.

Built as a foreign concession after the Opium Wars, it’s popular among tourists and expats alike, some parts more than others.

The French Concession is known for its shopping and you’ll find everything from antiques to souvenirs, funky clothes stores, and probably everything else in this area.

It also offers some of the best restaurants, cafes, and wine bars in the city, so make sure you’re hungry – and have your wallet ready – when you arrive!

6. Yuyuan Garden

Yuyuan Gardens

Shanghai’s famous Yu Gardens. Image by Laurette Chapuis on Pixabay.

Shanghai is a huge, amazing city, but sometimes you just want to get out of the concrete jungle and into a more peaceful setting.

The Yuyuan Garden is the perfect place to do that. But beware – like most touristy places in China, the gardens can get really busy!

Located close to the Bund and beside the City God Temple in the city’s northeast, it’s the only surviving Ming Dynasty Garden in the city. And it’s absolutely beautiful.

The gardens stretch over five acres and have six scenic areas, amazing sculptures, and some of the best examples of classical Chinese architecture in the city. And when you get hungry, head next door to the Yuyuan Bazaar for tiny streets filled with shops, restaurants, and tea houses.

7. Zhujiajiao Water Town

This cute town is just an hour from the center of Shanghai and is accessible by train, bus, and car. It dates back around 1,700 years and is filled with rivers, stone bridges and ancient buildings.

Wander through Zhujiajiao Water Town on foot or take a ferry or boat ride to see it from the water.

The town is full of modern restaurants and cafes now, but you’ll still get a better understanding of a more traditional way of life in China.

8. Eat Xiaolongbao (soup dumplings)

Xiaolongbao soup dumplings

The city’s famous dumplings are divine! Image by Natural_p on Shutterstock.

Soup dumplings are a treat like no other. Served in bamboo baskets all over Shanghai, they have thin skin that holds back the filling and a delicious mouthful of broth.

Just be careful when you eat them, as the insides can be hot, and you don’t want to miss out on the flavor because you burn your tongue.

While you’re in town, you should also try the fried Shanghai dumplings. They’re to die for!

Where to eat in Shanghai

Like many Chinese cities, Shanghai has a strong food culture and some absolutely incredible food.

Best of all, the food is influenced by cultures all around China and the world, so if you choose your restaurants carefully, you’ll get the chance to try some international delicacies.

Lost Heaven 花马天堂云南餐厅

This is a staple restaurant among expats and locals. It offers a modern take on traditional Yunnan food and is located near the Bund, so it’s convenient.

The food at this restaurant is tailored towards western tastes, so it’s a good choice if you’re having a little trouble with how different authentic Chinese food is to the options back home.

Address: 17 Yan’an East Road, Shanghai

Yang’s Fry Dumplings

Even with branches all over the city, this chain restaurant usually has long lines, so you know that the dumplings must be good! They’re cheap but delicious, and well worth the wait time.

Address: 97 Huanghe Rd 黄河路97号

Jian Guo 328 建国328小官

This is another really busy restaurant, so make sure you reserve a seat if you don’t want to line up. It’s known for not adding MSG to its food, which is good if you’re sensitive to it.

Jian Guo 328 serves Shanghainese cuisine in a narrow, noisy atmosphere that’s almost as good as the food.

Address: 328 West Jianguo Rd 建国西路328号

Wèixiāng Zhāi 味香斋

The best part about visiting Shanghai is finding a place to eat among the locals, who are the best judges of what’s good and what’s not when it comes to food.

And the delicious and budget-friendly sesame noodles at this restaurant attracts crowds of locals. So, make sure that you try a bowl and see if you agree about how good the noodles are.

Address: 14 Yandang Rd 雁荡路14号

Vegetarian Lifestyle 枣子树

If you’re looking for a meat-free meal in China, then try some of the organic veggie dishes at the Vegetarian Lifestyle. The dishes use a range of mock-meats like veggie sausage and fish, so you can bring along your meat-eating friends with you.

Address:258 Fengxian Rd 奉贤路258号

Chinese noodles

You can find all kinds of food in Shanghai. Image supplied by Christian Wilmsen.

The best food markets in Shanghai

Eating from food stalls is one of the great pleasures of spending time in Asian cities. And Shanghai is no exception.

The food at Shanghai markets is usually cheap and absolutely delicious. In fact, you might actually prefer it to anything you can get in the restaurants!

Fangbang Xi Lu

This is one of the most popular food markets in the city. Located in the old town section, it sprawls all the way along the narrow road and is popular among locals and tourists.

Offering everything from fried dumplings to lobsters and stinky tofu, you’re sure to find something delicious or just exotic to eat at this market.

Tianshan Tea Market

This is an unusual entry, but tea is incredibly important in China and must be a part of this list.

Located on Zhongshan Road, this is three stories of tea sellers offering options from different provinces. You never know, you might find a new favorite while you’re there!

Muslim Street Market

If you’re traveling in China, then you obviously like to experience new and different things. And what’s more different than a Muslim market in the center of Shanhai?

Located outside the Huxi Mosque, the city’s Muslim population cooks up their best Middle Eastern dishes for this market and tourists are very welcome to try the food and wander around the mosque afterward.

Where to stay in Shanghai

As a big modern city, Shanghai has a huge range of accommodation options to suit every taste and budget.

All you have to do is decide where you want to be and how much you want to spend during your stay!

Budget

The Soho Garden Hostel is located within walking distance of Nanjing Road and the People’s Square, so it’s a great choice if you want to be close to popular attractions and transport systems.

With a relaxed, bohemian vibe, it has modern private and dorm rooms and shared spaces where you can relax and make new friends.

Mid range

When you travel, location is one of the most important factors in choosing a hotel. And the Seventh Heaven Hotel’s location is one of the best out there. Located on Nanjing Road and close to all the shopping, it has modern décor with lots of local touches.

The hotel is surrounded by shops and restaurants, but there’s also a bar and restaurant on-site in case you feel like a night in during your stay.

High end

If you have a little extra money to spend, why not stay at The Langham, close to the retail heaven of Huaihai Road.

Boasting large rooms with modern décor, the hotel also has a spa, several restaurants, and an indoor pool where you can soak away the remains of long sightseeing days.

Transport in Shanghai

Transport in and around Shanghai is absolutely first rate.

It’s fast, modern, and easy to use, even if you don’t speak any Mandarin (there are lots of signs in English).

Air transport

Shanghai is a popular arrival point in China. It has two international airports.

Pudong International Airport and Hongqiao International Airport see around 1,000 flights a day from all over the world. Both airports are incredibly modern, probably more so than the airports you’re used to back home.

You can also find flights from Shanghai to other major cities around China.

High speed rail

Shanghai has one of the fastest, most affordable, and most comfortable train systems around. If you’re looking to explore the rest of China, then the high-speed railways is definitely the way to do it. It links most major cities and runs, quite literally, like clockwork.

Shanghai also boasts special tourist and holiday trains to scenic areas in other provinces, so make sure you see what’s on offer if you want to travel somewhere a little different.

Long distance bus

If you prefer buses over trains, then you can explore China on the long-distance bus system. It’s efficient and serves over 4,000 routes from bus stations throughout the city.

Maglev train

When you arrive in Shanghai, the easiest way to get from the airport to the city is on the Maglev (magnetic levitation train).

Shanghai’s Maglev train is the oldest commercial maglev still in operation and connects Pudong Airport to Longyang Road. Ticket prices are reasonable, and the trains run regularly.

The best thing about the train is how fast it travels! It can clock speeds of over 400 km (250 mi) per hour.

Maglev train Shanghai

Shanghai’s Maglev train gets you to Pudong airport in a flash. Image by Moerschy on Pixabay.

Subway

Shanghai’s subway system links most of the big attractions in the city. The trains are cheap, fast and reliable.

However, in peak hour the trains can get crowded – so try to avoid traveling between 7 am and 9:30 am, and 4:30 pm and 7:30 pm.

Taxis

There are a huge number of taxis in Shanghai in every color. Taxi drivers must use the meter in China, and if they refuse then just get out of the taxi and find another one.

You’ll need to have cash unless you use a Chinese mobile payment option and bring small bills to make it easy for your driver to make change.

Also, make sure you have your destination name written down in Chinese characters or on your phone because your driver may not speak much English.

You’ll also see ‘black taxis’ while you’re in Shanghai, which aren’t as scary as they sound.

These are usually everyday people who pick up fares for extra cash and they’re especially welcome during peak hours when official taxis are booked out. You will have to negotiate the fare with black taxis, so make sure you know where you’re going and how much it should cost.

Alternatively, you can use Didi – China’s equivalent to Uber. Just note though, if your driver can’t find you, they may call you and only speak Chinese!

The Big Bus Tour

If it’s your first time in the city, then why not take the Big Bus Tour? These open-top buses run regular hop-on, hop-off tours around the best sites in the city.

They’re a great way to tick attractions off your list and get to know the layout of the city a little better.

Traveling outside Shanghai

Shanghai has enough attractions and restaurants to keep you busy and happy for days.

But if you like to take day trips out of the city, there are several places close by that are worth seeing.

Hangzhou

Just under two hours out of Shanghai by bullet train, Hangzhou is often referred to as heaven on earth.

Filled with traditional bridges and pavilions, and West Lake, one of the most famous attractions in China, it’s incredibly picturesque.

Green Hangzhou

Hangzhou is a lush, green city. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

And it’s surrounded by miles of untouched natural landscapes, bamboo groves, and tea terraces that are just begging to be explored.

Suzhou

Another town that packs a punch, Suzhou is only half an hour from Shanghai on the train.

It’s an ancient city settled around a canal and offers a slower feel, a glimpse of traditional Chinese culture, and stunning Chinese gardens that are a balm after the busyness of the city.

Changshu

If you want to enjoy a day trip that’s a little off the tourist trail, then head an hour and a half by bus from Shanghai to Changshu.

Filled with ancient houses, canals, and beautiful natural scenery, it offers hiking, stunning views from the top of Mount Yu, and a vibrant, traditional square pagoda.

Suzhou and Changshu are fairly close to each other, so if you were out of Shanghai for a few days, you could visit both places on the same mini-getaway.

Videos about Shanghai

Get a visual taste of Beijing before you visit!

Here’s a video of some of the things you can do in Shanghai (the first is unusual; the other two are actually mainstream).

And here’s a video showing how the city has grown into what it is today, with lovely aerial views.

Don’t forget…

 

It’s easy to forget a thing or two before you head to China.

So, here are a few reminders for you:

  • The right visa – if you’re only staying for a quick trip, you may be eligible for visa-free travel.
  • Alipay – Shanghai is a digital city, so use an app like Alipay (instructions here) and have yuan (cash) as a backup.
  • A VPN app – if you want access to all your favorite websites and apps in China, you’ll need to download a VPN before you leave your country. Get a VPN that works in China.

Have a great time in Shanghai. And remember to get your VPN so you can stay connected!

Questions and comments

Let’s chat about Shanghai!

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Page last updated 22 September 2021. Main image credit: Kuloser from Pixabay. Commercial relationship disclosure: The Helpful Panda has commercial arrangements with organizations that may appear on this page, such as affiliate links. See our terms for more info.

 

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