Travel writer Kaila Yu shares the very best things to do in Shanghai, China. One of the world's most exciting cities.
Things to do in Shanghai
Shanghai is the most populous cities in the world with a population of about 24.18 million as of 2017.
The city has been dubbed the “showpiece” of the ever-growing economy of mainland China and is most famous for its impressive Lujiazui skyline, historic buildings such as the City God Temple, and its epic museums.
Here are my top 10 things to do in Shanghai.
When to Visit Shanghai
Due to its picturesque skylines and breathtaking views, Shanghai has become a tourist hub from outside and within China.
The best times visit Shanghai are March, May, September and November when the weather is most pleasant. And here are the best things to do in Shanghai during those months!
We use Get Your Guide when booking city tours and day trips. They offer excellent guided tours that can easily be booked at the last minute or cancelled with advanced notice.
1. Visit the Bund
The Bund is symbolic of colonial Shanghai and visiting it is the number one things to do in Shanghai.
The Bund has dozens of buildings of various architectural styles including Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Neoclassical and the Renaissance.
Also known as Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu (East Zhongshan 1st Road), the Bund is famous for its waterfront and is located on the west bank of the Huangpu River.
Must-see sights at The Bund include:
- the Valentine wall or Lovers’ wall
- the beautiful mosaic ceiling of Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank,
- the movie poster gallery in Peace Hotel,
- the museum in Astor House Hotel.
The Bund also has an array of city sculptures.
A bronze statue of Chen Yi, who was the first Communist mayor of Shanghai, stands at the Nanjing Road intersection near the Bund.
Along the northern end of the riverfront is the Huangpu Park where the Monument to the People’s Heroes (a tall, abstract concrete tower and a memorial for those who lost their lives during the revolutionary struggle for Shanghai) is mounted.
2. Pudong Skyscrapers
Pudong is located across from the Huangpu River and can be seen from The Bund. It is filled with impressive and unique skyscrapers.
Just a few decades ago it was mostly farmland but is now the fastest growing city on earth.
Famous buildings to explore are:
- Oriental Perl Tower
- Shanghai Tower
- Shanghai Stock Exchange
- Jin Mao Tower
- World Financial Tower
3. Shanghai Maglev Train
The Shanghai Maglev Train (SMT) is the first commercial maglev line in the world.
What is the Maglev Train?
With technological assistance from Germany, the line was opened on April 1, 2003, and made it to the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest train in the world.
It travels at a maximum speed of 430km/h at near flight speed and the actual operating speed is 300km/h. A 30km (19 miles) trip will only take 8 minutes on this train.
The SMT operates between Shanghai Pudong International Airport and Longyang Road Metro Station.
The trains do not have wheels, consumes less energy than airplanes, are less noisy, run smoothly, and are environmentally friendly.
4. Shanghai Circus World
See Dave and Deb's Experience at the Shanghai Acrobats
Where is Shanghai Circus World?
Located in the Zhabei District, the Shanghai Circus World is regarded as the “number one Circus World”.
Designed in the form of a golden vault, the arena seats an audience of 1,638 people and boasts advanced, state-of-the-art stage facilities, lighting and sound equipment.
It holds both domestic and international circus shows, singing and dancing performances, acrobatics, and the Shanghai International Magic Festival and Competition.
Two popular shows that are performed here are “ERA: Intersection of Time” and “Happy Circus”.
The performers display stunning Chinese acrobatic displays, martial arts and dance in perfect harmony with the music, sound lighting and other special effects which also include a water screen.
See why you should visit the Great Wall of China, plus tips.
5. Ride a Gondola
A trip to Shanghai is incomplete without a gondola ride in the scenic and serene water town of Zhujiajiao.
A 90-minute private trip takes you through the ancient water village with its beautiful views and charismatic alleyways. You also get to see the Zhujiajiao inhabitants going about their daily business by the water.
The ancient town also has traditional buildings, old shops and handicraft stalls where you can buy unique souvenirs after your smooth gondola ride.
6. Shanghai Disney
The Shanghai Disney resort has a modern park for adults and children and includes two hotels.
The Toy Story Hotel has 2 restaurants and rooms with garden, courtyard or theme park views.
Get the Definitive Guide to Shanghai Disney on Amazon
The Shanghai Disneyland Hotel has 3 restaurants, one lounge, an indoor pool, rooms with access to Magic Kingdom Club, as well as rooms with lake, garden or theme park views.
You also get to meet Disney characters, visit the Wishing Star Park, go shopping or have a Disney Fairy Tale Wedding at the dreamy venue.
Like all the things to do in Shanghai? you may like My Love Hate Relationship with China
7. Slow Life District
The Jiading District is considered the slow life district of Shanghai because of its serene environment.
It is surrounded by Ming Dynasty Garden, the Jiading Museum, the Jiading Nanjing Confucian Temple, the Song Dynasty lotus tower and other impressive monuments.
Visitors can lodge at the Motel Shanghai that provides convenient transportation around the town.
8. Shanghai Museum
This large museum of ancient Chinese art is located in People’s Square in the heart of Shanghai.
Its exterior is designed in the form of a round dome and square base, which is symbolic of the ancient belief of a round heaven and square land.
The ambiance and style of the museum surround visitors with artifacts depicting ancient philosophy and wisdom.
The Shanghai Museum now shelters more than 120,000 precious historical relics and is divided into 12 galleries which cover most of the main categories of Chinese art.
The categories include Ancient Bronze, Calligraphy, Paintings, Ancient Ceramics, Ming and Qing Furniture, Ancient Sculpture, Coins, Seals, Ancient Jade, and Minority Nationalities.
Other items on display include wine, water vessels, musical instruments, and weapons from the Xia Dynasty in 2000 BC to the Warring States Era of 221 BC.
Shanghai Museum is a great place to learn about China’s history and culture.
Traveling to China? Buy the Lonely Planet China Guide on Amazon
9. Classical Gardens of Suzhou
Suzhou is located just west of Shanghai in the Jiangsu Province.
It is not only a city of gardens but also a city of rivers and canals. This is why it is also referred to as the “Venice of the Orient”.
The city has earned a worldwide reputation for its classical gardens, most of which were built for private use by aristocrats and wealthy businessmen as far back as the Sixth Century BC.
Many of these delicate classical gardens were built between the 14th and 20th centuries during the time of the Ming and Qing dynasties, and about 10 of them are still in good condition.
The largest of the gardens is the Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuo Zheng Yuan), which occupies four hectares.
It was built during the Ming Dynasty in 1522.
Part of the garden is covered by water, and at the center of the pool, bridges and corridors intricately link up isles, pavilions, rockeries and towers.
Like all the Things to do in Shanghai? Pin below it to save it!
The Lingering Garden (Liu Yuan), displays a delicate decorative art and compact layout.
It was also built in the Ming Dynasty, then later renovated and expanded in the early 19th century during the Qing Dynasty on an expanse of 3.3 hectares.
It is divided into four sections consisting of pastoral scenery in the north, pavilion structures in the east, artificial hills in the west, and hills and water at the center. They are all linked by a winding corridor of over 1,000 meters.
More Things to do in Shanghai Gardens
Other well-preserved gardens include:
- the Couple’s Retreat Garden (Ou Yuan),
- the Master of Nets Garden (Wang Shi Yuan),
- the Lion Grove Garden (Shizilin),
- the Villa with Embracing Beauty (Huanxiu Mountain Villa),
- the Garden of Pleasance (Yi Garden),
- the Canglang Pavilion (Blue Wave Pavilion)
The unique charm of these classical gardens led to their entry into the UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1997.
10. Silk Spinning Factory
China has become very famous over the years for its silk production.
You must put a silk spinning factory at the top of your list of things to do in Shanghai.
A tour to the No. 1 Silk Factory in Suzhou gives a firsthand view of how this delicate material is manufactured from the silkworm.
How Silk is Created
The silkworm cocoons are dipped in boiling water to kill the silkworm inside.
Then the clean silk cocoon is pulled and stretched out by hand to spread the fibers.
The silk spinning machines spin the filaments of the silk into the skeins.
A cocoon is attached to each spindle.
Here you get to see how silk is produced with the old style machine and the process of making handmade silk quilt, which is light and very warm when finished.
11. Zhouzhuang Water Village
Zhouzhuang, also known as the number one water village in China, consists of beautiful landscapes and interconnected waterways.
Most of the buildings in the town were erected during the Ming and Qing dynasties and have almost 100 classic courtyards and 60 carved-brick archways that are still in use.
The town is renowned for its simple and elegant architecture and has been well preserved after over 900 years.
Some of the things that make Zhouzhuang special are the crafts, old buildings, boat rides, ridges and the scenery in the quaint water town.
The town, which is built on ponds, canals, and lakes, is a popular tourist spot for visitors in Shanghai.
It has many canals crisscrossed by ancient stone bridges, some of which were built in the imperial era approximately 150 years ago.
Famous Ancient Stone Bridges
- The Zhenfeng Bridge
- Twin Bridges
- Fuhong Bridge
- Fu’an Bridge.
For more info on this interesting country, check out our China travel guide.
Kaila Yu is a top blogger based in Los Angeles. She also writes for self-named blog Kaila Yu and was the former lead singer of an all-girl rock band!
Many of the stamps that she earned on her passports were earned while touring with the band. She has a combined social media following of 580,000 and growing.
Kaila has been regularly featured in print and media publications around the world including The Rolling Stone, FHM, MTV, Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post and more. She is not at all afraid to speak her opinion whether it be a popular one or not.