Our things to do in Shanghai post was originally written by Kaila Yu. We have added additional details and information from our experiences on two separate visits one of China's most exciting cities.
Updated May 2019
Things to do in Shanghai
Shanghai is one of the most populous cities in the world with a population of about 26.32 million as of 2019.
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.
If you want to skip directly to any Shanghai Attraction, click on the links below.
When to Visit Shanghai
- The best time visit Shanghai is March, May, September, or November when the weather is most pleasant.
- April and May will see higher prices as it is high season.
- June to September is the rainy season, so you will see more gray skies and hotter temperatures.
- You can expect crowds year round as Shanghai is popular for local tourists and foreigners alike.
- September to December has clearer skies and less smog pollution. We visited in December once before and it was beautiful. The sky was clear and the air was a comfortable temperature.
- December is also a good time to visit Shanghai to avoid the crowds.
- So, here are the best things to do in Shanghai during those months!
1. Walk Along the Bund
Also known as Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu (East Zhongshan 1st Road) the Bund is located on the west bank of the Huangpu River.
It is famous for its waterfront view of Pudong, the financial district across the river.
At night the lights go on showcasing an incredible view of the city skyline.
The Bund is a 1.5 km long stretch of colonial buildings lining the waterfront.
The walking path follows the river and is spacious and wide offering excellent views of Pudong on one side and the colonial buildings dating back to the early 1900s on the other.
Try to pop into one of the colonial buildings. Some are open to the public housing banks and hotels. It's worth checking out the lobbies of the buildings to see the intricated designs.
Must-see sights at The Bund
- the Valentine wall or Lovers’ wall
- the beautiful mosaic ceiling Pudong Development Bank. (pictured above)
- the movie poster gallery in the 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.
- The Bund has its own wall street bull just like New York City, boasting its leading standard in the world financial market.
- Along the northern end of the riverfront is the Huangpu Park where the Monument to the People’s Heroes is mounted. It's a tall, abstract concrete tower and a memorial for those who lost their lives during the revolutionary struggle for Shanghai.
2. Pudong Skyscrapers
Pudong is Shanghai's financial district located across from the Bund on the Huangpu River. It is filled with astounding and unique skyscrapers some of which are the tallest in the world.
Just a few decades ago it was mostly farmland but is now the fastest growing city on earth.
Here you can browse the high-end shopping centers located at the base of all the skyscrapers housing many observation decks.
It's easy to navigate around Pudong as there is an elevated pedestrian pathway between the buildings making it easy to walk from one skyscraper to the next.
- Getting there: To get to Pudong, take the Metro Line 2 and get off at Dongchang Road Station.
3. The Jin Mao Tower
The Jin Mao Tower is the third highest tower in Shanghai and the only observation deck that offers unobstructed 360-degree views
While the skyline views are awesome, it was the incredible view down the center of the tower from the 88th floor.
It looks like something out of a science fiction movie.
If you ever get to Shanghai, don't miss this.
4. Shanghai World Financial Center
The Shanghai World Financial Center is the second highest building in the city and is one of its most recognizable attractions.
It the one that looks like a bottle opener.
The observation decks are located on the 97th and 100th floors.
It doesn't offer complete 360-degree views as you can only look out one side or the other. But it does offer good views of the Pearl Tower and the River.
There's a glass floor that is 55-meters long (60 yards) letting you see the top of the Pearl Tower.
If you prefer not to go all the way up to the observation deck, the Park Hyatt Hotel has a cocktail bar on the 87th floor where you can take in the view with a cocktail in hand.
5. Ritz Carlton Patio
If you aren't into observation decks but still want a great view, the Ritz Carlton has a stunning outdoor patio where you can enjoy a cocktail overlooking the Bund and the Pearl.
It's a large observation deck and bar offering food and drink, and it was our favorite place to take in the city of Shanghai.
6. Oriental Pearl Tower
We don't recommend going up the Pearl Tower because in our opinion, it is the tower that you want to look at rather than look from.
But there is an observation deck here as well that lets you see views of the Bund and skyline.
back to top
7. Shanghai Tower
The Shanghai Tower is the tallest building in the city boasting the world's highest observation deck and the fastest elevators in the world.
There's an exhibit hall on the on B1 before you enter the tower where you can compare the high towers of the world before going up the high-speed elevator to the 118th and 119th floors.
- All of these observation decks are walking distance from each other. Once you arrive in Pudong, you simply have to choose which one appeals to you the most and head inside.
8. Nanjing Road
Nanjing Road is a massive pedestrian walkway lined with high-end shops, eateries, and cafés. It is the city's main shopping street.
It stretches from the Bund to the People's Square and you must take a stroll along it at both morning and night.
During the morning hours, elderly Chinese practice Tai Chi and dance in the streets. It's quiet and calm at this time of day and the perfect time to take in the sights with a coffee in hand.
At night, the neon lights turn on and it's a frenzy of people walking through the street. It's busy and hectic but not to be missed.
9. Yu Garden
The Yu Yuan Garden is a lovely garden in the old city dating back to the Ming Dynasty of 1368.
It houses the usual elements found in a Chinese garden including rocks, water, plants, and pavilions.
It is very busy, so we suggest getting there early before the tour buses arrive.
Getting there: Line 10 to the Yu Yuan Gardens stop. It is just two stops from the People's Square. The main subway hub in Shanghai.
We bought tickets on the Hop on Hop off Bus our first day in Shanghai and took in the sights this way. It dropped us off at the Yu Garden Shopping street and when we were finished, we hopped back on to our next destination.
10. Yu Garden Shopping
The Yu Garden has a shopping complex in front filled with places to buy Chinese souvenirs, and taste authentic Shanghai Dumplings.
The complex is designed as a traditional Chinese Bazaar with a maze of old laneways and alleyways.
This is a great place to grab your souvenirs.
11. French Concession
Shanghai's French Concession has a completely different vibe from the rest of the city.
It has a European flair with bistros and coffee shop terraces lining the streets.
To get away from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai, this is a nice reprieve.
The treelined streets are in high demand by expats searching for residential space.
Walk along cobblestone streets to explore the cafes and bistros and do some shopping for souvenirs too. I bought a beautiful silk scarf for 25 Yuan. ($4 USD)
12. Tian Zi Fang
Located in the French Concession, Tian Zi Fang is a narrow maze of shopping streets filled with arts and crafts shops and street food.
The upscale area is filled with bars and cafes.
As our guide said, Tian Zi Fang is popular with business people during the day sipping coffee and shopping, but at night, it has a completely different vibe of bars and nightlife.
Tian Zi Fang is known as the SOHO of Shanghai.
13. Jing'an Temple
Jing'an Temple was a highlight for us.
We entered the square for free to witness plenty of worshippers throwing coins into a large urn located in the center.
I have heard you have to pay, but we waltzed in without paying anything.
People burn incense and walk around the urn praying.
The temple was originally built in 240 AD but it was relocated to its current position in the early 1200s.
Inside you will see the largest Jade Buddha in all of China and there is a large bell dating back to the mid 1300s
- Getting There: Take Subway Line 2 to the Jing'an Temple station.
14. Jade Buddha Temple
The Jade Buddha Temple is a popular stop housing two Buddhas imported from Myanmar. There is a sitting Buddha and a Reclining Buddha made of Jade.
It now houses a third Buddha donated from Singapore.
15. Longhua Temple
The Longhua Temple dates back to the Song Dynasty of 960.
It is the largest most complete temple complex in the city of Shanghai.
16. AP Plaza – Science and Technology Museum Fake Market
If knock-off name brand watches and handbags are your thing, the AP Plaza in Pudong is the place to go.
There are silk scarves, name brand sunglasses, clothing and pretty much anything else you can think of to buy here.
We didn't love the market. the sellers are aggressive and the cheap stuff is on display.
If you want anything that is actually nice and will work in the future, you have to follow a relentless seller to a back room covered with black windows to enter a room where the better quality stuff is on display.
They start the prices ridiculously high, so be prepared to go as low as 10% – 20 % of what the asking price is.
I was quoted a handbag for a ridiculous amount at $475 and by the time I walked out the door, he was willing to take $50.
Be warned, the quality isn't as good as it once was and if you buy electronics, beware, they probably won't be working by the time you get home.
- Getting there: Take Line 2 to the Science and Technology Museums Station
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. 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.
20. 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.
21. 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.
22. 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.
23. 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.
24. 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.
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 information on this interesting country, check out our China travel guide.
Where to Stay in Shanghai
Westin Bund Centre
We stayed at the Hotel Westin Bund Center and found it to be very convenient.
It was walking distance to the Bund and to Nanjing Street. The closest subway is a bit far on Nanjing Street, but we grabbed a coffee to go each morning and strolled to Nanjing to get on the Metro to explore.
The internet was very fast and the amenities were great.
We loved our room.
Ritz Carlton Pudong
If you are looking for Luxury in Shanghai, you can never go wrong with the Ritz Carlton.
Located in Pudong, it is in the heart of the financial district. All the highrises surround this luxury 5-star hotel.
Yangtze Boutique Hotel
We stayed at this hotel and think it is perfect for those searching for something more traditional.
There is a rich history of this hotel dating back to the 1930s.
It is located close to the People's Square where you can easily catch the metro and Nanjing Walking Street is the next street over.
Traveling to China? Buy the Lonely Planet China Guide on Amazon
Shanghai Day Trip
23. 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.
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.
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.
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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 canceled with advanced notice.
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.