Shanghai is one of the most populous cities in the world with a population of about 26.32 million as of 2019. There are so many things to do in Shanghai, China it will take several visits to see it all. But you can still experience a lot in a short time.
Shanghai 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.
Best Things to do in Shanghai
Here are our top things to do in Shanghai.
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 Shanghai where we’ve had the chance to experience the best of China’s most exciting city.
Check out another exciting Asian City in this Taiwan Travel Guide
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 Huangpu River.
The Bund is a 1.5 km long stretch of colonial buildings lining the waterfront. At night the lights go on showcasing an incredible view of the city skyline.
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.
2. 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.
Check out these alternative things to do in another exciting Asian City – Taipei
3. 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.
4. 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.
Another amazing place to visit in Asia is Taiwan, Read this complete 7 Day Itinerary to Taiwan.
5. 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 Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Huangpu 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 top, the Park Hyatt Hotel has a cocktail bar on the 87th floor where you can take in the view with a cocktail in hand.
6. 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 outdoor patio and bar offering food and drink, and it was our favorite place to take in views of Shanghai.
7. Oriental Pearl TV Tower
The Pearl Tower is one of the most recognizable attractions in Shanghai. It’s illusion of twin dragons playing with two pearls has ignited the skyline since 1995.
We don’t recommend going up the Oriental Pearl TV Tower because, in our opinion, it is the tower that you want to look at rather than look out from. But there is an observation deck here as well that lets you see views of the Bund, the Huangpu River, and the Shanghai skyline.
8. 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. 128 story skyscraper stands 632-meters (2,073 ft)-tall offering a bird’s eye view of Shanghai.
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.
9. 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. There are two sections to Nanjing Road – West Nanjing Road and Nanjing Road East.
Nanjing Road West is the pedestrian walking street and Nanjing East is more of a commercial zone with restaurants and hotels. 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.
10. Yu Garden (Yuyuan Garden)
The Yuyuan 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 Yuyuan 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.
11. 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.
12. 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)
13. 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.
14. 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. People burn incense and walk around the urn while praying.
I have heard you have to pay, but didn’t know that and ended up waltzing in without paying anything.
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.
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. Fake Market – Science and Technology Museum and AP Plaza
If knock-off name brand watches and handbags are your things, 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 only the cheap stuff on display. If you want anything that is actually nice you have to follow a seller to a back room with painted black windows where you can shop for better quality.
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
18. Shanghai Maglev Train
The Shanghai Maglev Train (SMT) is the first commercial maglev line in the world. The SMT operates between Shanghai Pudong International Airport and Longyang Road Metro Station.
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 trains do not have wheels, consume less energy than airplanes, are less noisy, run smoothly, and are environmentally friendly.
19. Shanghai Circus World
Designed in the form of a golden vault, the Shanghai Acrobats 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.
Where is Shanghai Circus World?
Located in the Zhabei District, the Shanghai Circus World is regarded as the “number one Circus World”.
See why you should visit the Great Wall of China, plus tips.
20. Ride a Gondola
A trip to Shanghai is incomplete without a gondola ride in the scenic and serene water town of Zhujiajiao. The 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.
21. Shanghai Disneyland
Shanghai Disneyland and Resort has a modern park for adults and children and includes two hotels. The Toy Story Hotel has 2 restaurants and rooms with a garden, courtyard, or theme park views.
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. See rates and availability
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.
Get the Definitive Guide to Shanghai Disney on Amazon
22. 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.
23. 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.
24. 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 100km from Shanghai and just 20 minutes by train gives a firsthand view of how this delicate material is manufactured from the silkworm. In Shanghai, you can visit
Tian Hou Silk Factory.
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.
Shanghai Day Trips
25. Classical Gardens of Suzhou
Suzhou is located just west of Shanghai in the Jiangsu Province and makes for the perfect day trip from Shanghai. We actually spent a few days in Suzhou, so if you have the time, make it a weekend getaway.
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.
The largest of the gardens is the Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuo Zheng Yuan), which occupies four hectares in the city center. It was built during the Ming Dynasty in 1522.
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.
Getting There: You can take public transport quick and easily from Shanghai to Suzhou. The bullet train leaves from Shanghai Railway Station or Hongqiao Railway Station and takes only 30 minutes.
The high-speed train costs only 40 Yuan ($5 USD)
Buses go to Yangzhou from Shanghai and take 1.5 hours at 40-50 Yuan ($5 – $6 USD)
26. Zhouzhuang Water Village
Zhouzhuang, also known as the number one water village in China, consisting of beautiful landscapes and interconnected waterways. The town is renowned for its simple and elegant architecture and has been well preserved after over 900 years.
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.
How to Get There: Zhouzhuang is located between Shanghai and Suzhou and you can get there by bus, train or transit.
For more information on this interesting country, check out our China travel guide.
Where to Stay in Shanghai
Yangtze Boutique Hotel – We stayed at this hotel and think it is perfect for those searching for something more traditional in the City Center. There is a rich history of this hotel dating back to the 1930s. Its art deco interior feels as if you have stepped back in time. Read Reviews and check rates at TripAdvisor or Booking.com
Westin Bund Centre – We stayed at the Hotel Westin Bund Center and found it to be very convenient. Located in the heart of the Shanghai City Center, we found it easy to get to many of the top attractions in Shanghai. Check out prices and reviews on TripAdvisor or Booking.com
Ritz Carlton Pudong – If you are looking for Luxury in Shanghai, you can never go wrong with the Ritz Carlton. All the highrises surround this luxury 5-star hotel. Located in Pudong, it is in the heart of the financial district. Look for rates and availability on TripAdvisor or Booking.com
When to Visit Shanghai
- The best time of year to visit Shanghai is in March, May, and September to 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!
How to Get to Shanghai from Pudong Airport
We used Viator to transfer from the airport to Shanghai. After a long flight, we don’t want to deal with trains or busses. Viator was waiting for us with our names clearly marked on our driver’s sign.
The service was great, as we lost our luggage and spent nearly 2 hours in line at the airport making a claim. Viator waits up to two hours after your arrival, but we also emailed them and they got in touch with us to tell us our driver will be waiting.
Having The KnowRoaming SIM loaded on our cell phone as soon as we landed gave us data to be able to make appropriate calls to the airline and to email our pick up. We highly recommend it. With KnowRoaming we didn’t need a VPN.
The cost was just $9.99 for three days of unlimited data. We bought a new package every 3-days and it cost $30 for a 10 day trip.
Internet Censorship- Cellular Data
You cannot access Google or social channels like Facebook or Twitter in China. We used KnowRoaming SIM cards on our phones and it worked better than our VPN on our computers.
The KnowRoaming SIM is hosted outside the country giving you access to Gmail and all other social channels with ease. PlanetD readers receive 50% credit when ordering with promo Code DDSave50: Visit KnowRoaming for details. International Data Packages are just $3.99 per day!
We know many don’t travel alone, so it’s great to have two phones working overseas. How many times have you gotten lost and need to text one another? If you don’t use KnowRoaming, you must use a VPN. It is impossible otherwise to access your accounts.
Resources to Plan Your Trip to Shanghai
- 1 USD = 6.92 Yuan – Check XE Currency Converter for updated conversion.
- To chat with anyone in China, WeChat is the preferred social network.
- Get your Lonely Planet Pocket Travel guide to Shanghai for quick reference and tips
- Wifi is easily accessible at hotels, coffee shops and places like McDonald’s.
- Traveling to China? Buy the Lonely Planet China Guide on Amazon
Recommended Shanghai City Tours
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.
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This post was originally written by 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! We have since added most of the information from our trips to Shanghai.