Shanghai is one of the world’s most forward-thinking cities and the largest city in China when it comes to population.
It’s divided by the winding Huangpu River with the futuristic financial district on one side, historic waterfront buildings of The Bund, bustling shopping streets, and ancient gardens on the other.
Also known as the “Pearl of Asia”, – Shanghai is a city of great contrasts and a must-visit location whilst in China.
If you would like to know what Shanghai has to offer, take a look at our travel guide and the top things to do in Shanghai below!
While Beijing is the capital of China, so are Shanghai, the city with the largest population in China.
Top Things to Do in Shanghai
See Shanghai’s Modern Skyscrapers from The Bund
The Bund is a sprawling 1.6-kilometre long riverside walkway on the banks of Huangpu River.
The waterfront is home to many of Shanghai’s oldest banks, consulates, government buildings, and trading houses, consisting of over 50 buildings constructed in architectural styles ranging from Romanesque Revival to Neo-Classical, Beaux-Arts, and Art Deco.
The area offers incredible views and photo opportunities of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and modern glass skyscrapers of Pudong across the river.
There’s also plenty to see and do near The Bund with 19th century Huangpu Park to explore and Bund Sightseeing Tunnel (which is absolutely not worth the money) – a psychedelic light show and train ride beneath the river!
Gain Incredible Views from Oriental Pearl Shanghai TV Tower
A landmark of the city and one of the most recognizable and futuristic structures in Shanghai is the Oriental Pearl TV Tower.
The 153-floor tower completed in the mid-1990s illuminates at night with bright LED sequences, which can be seen throughout the city.
The Oriental Pearl TV Tower. has 15 observatory platforms, each offering a different perspective of the cityscape, plus there’s a revolving restaurant, small shopping centre, interesting exhibits, and 20 room hotel located between the two largest spheres! There´s also an aquarium at the bottom of the tower.
Browse Shops on Nanjing Road
The main shopping street in Shanghai stretches for over 5 kilometres from The Bund to Jing’an Temple. Nanjing Road is to Shanghai what Wangfujing is to Beijing. While not much else than shopping for foreigners, so are both streets historical important for locals an important site for Chinese in both cities.
Nanjing Road Eas has been a shopping street back to 1845 and comprises two sections – Nanjing Road East and Nanjing Road West.
Nanjing Road East is a pedestrianised area with popular shopping malls, fast-food restaurants, high-street stores, and markets selling electronics and digital media.
In contrast, Nanjing Road West boasts hotels, upscale designer shops, temples, Madame Tussauds Shanghai, and it even has the largest Starbucks branch in the world with its own roasting facility on-site!
If you’re seeking a treat for yourself, souvenirs, or the latest electrical gadget, you’ll find everything you desire on Nanjing Road.
Relax in Picturesque Yu Yuan Garden
Tucked away in Huangpu District in Shanghai is the classical Yu Yuan Garden or “Garden of Happiness”.
The Ming dynasty garden may be a small, enclosed area in the old city, close to the colourful Yu Yuan Bazaar, but this beautiful garden is a peaceful haven where you can explore pavilions and ponds, admire ancient rockeries or sit beneath willow trees watching Koi fish swim.
It’s the perfect spot to escape the crowds and gives a feeling of stepping back in time into ancient Shanghai.
Visit in the evening when bridges and pagodas are illuminated or enjoy Chinese New Year here when the whole area is bedecked with magical glowing lanterns and ornamental dragons.
Explore Exhibits at Shanghai Museum
Located on the site of People’s Square, Shanghai Museum is a world-class exhibition centre showcasing over 120,000 collection pieces across 11 galleries and 3 temporary exhibition halls.
Expect to see everything from unusual Chinese ceramics and furniture pieces to jade, paintings, coins, and sculptures!
Highlights include a transparent bronze mirror dating back to the Han dynasty, Ming dynasty style furnishings, and ancient coins, which were discovered along the Silk Road.
Shanghai Museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in Chinese history or culture, and as it sits at the end of Nanjing Road West, it’s the ideal place to unwind after a hectic morning of shopping!
Enjoy A Local Shanghai Craft Beer
Shanghai has, over recent years, become one of the top destinations in Asia for craft beer lovers together with Ho Chi Minh City In Vietnam.
These days there are 9 local craft beer breweries and tens of craft beer bars all over Shanghai, and even big international craft veer breweries like the Scottish Brewdog and Danish Mikkeller have opened their own bars in the city.
The most famous local brewery is the Boxing cat brewery which now has two locations in the city, or you can head to the “Beer Lady”, which has 3 different locations around Shanghai; while it doesn’t brew its own beer, so do they have thousands, yes thousands of different beer, it might be the bar with the best beer selection in the whole world.
Here you can try almost every Chinese craft beer, and most of the beers from Asia, and even rare beers from Europe, Australia, and North America, often for a lower price at the Beer Lady than you would find them at home.
Explore Creative Shanghai in Tianzifang / The French Concession
The French Concession, once the French part of Shanghai, now a historical part of the French neighbourhood, is better known as Tianzifang, a place that is often frequented by a young, bohemian crowd.
Narrow alleyways are lined with bars, cafes, craft shops, and galleries, and there are several old Shikumen houses – traditional to Shanghai with well-preserved stone framed gates.
The district was transformed in 1998 when Chen Yifei, a local contemporary artist, acquired two disused factories in Taikang Road and converted them into art and photography studios.
Following this event, resident artists from several countries arrived, and Tianzifang began to expand.
Today, there are almost 30 art and design studios, around 60 craft shops and art galleries, and numerous boutiques. This area has a great international café and restaurant culture, too, with American grills, Thai and Japanese eateries on offer.
See Shanghai from Jin Mao Tower Sky Walk
Jin Mao Tower can be found in Shanghai’s vibrant Lujiazui finance and trade zone.
This tower is one of the tallest buildings in the world (but only the 3rd tallest building in Shanghai) and home to the famous Sky Walk. The 88-storey structure has a glass-bottomed skywalk which you can stroll along – with the aid of a rope and carabiner clipped to a rail!
As you navigate the building from a great height, you will be able to see all of Shanghai, but if that sounds a little too daring, you can stay behind the glass on the observation platform and still gain incredible views and photos.
If not going outside the building is your thing, so can you instead head to the view platform at the Shanghai Finacial Center or at the Shanghai Tower, the tallest building in China and the second tallest building in the world, but home to the highest observation deck within a building or structure at 562 m at the 121st floor.
Sample Shanghai Cuisine
Shanghai, being a cosmopolitan hotspot, boasts a number of Cantonese, Italian, French and vegetarian restaurants. With new world-class restaurants opening almost every month somewhere in the city.
However, it may surprise you to know that Shanghai also has its own unique cuisine called Hu or Benbang cuisine.
The elements of these local dishes are the same as in other Chinese regional cuisines, yet the city draws focus to high-quality raw ingredients and seasoning, with many dishes pickled in wine to give them a shiny red sheen.
The popular sweet and sour dish is typical of Shanghai, as is rice with salted meats and preserved vegetables drizzled in a sweet soy sauce.
Whilst in the city, try their specialities – deep-fried mandarin fish steeped in hot broth, beggar’s chicken wrapped in lotus leaves, pork meatballs cooked in a pot, and Su-style noodles – a type of soup topped with meat!
Enjoy a Cruise Along The Huangpu River
One of the best and most tranquil ways to experience Shanghai is from the water on a river cruise along the Huangpu River.
These popular cruises take in awe-inspiring vistas of The Bund, Waibaidu Bridge, Shanghai Expo, Oriental Pearl TV Tower, and Jin Mao Tower, and the rest of the impressive skyline.
The cruises offer incredible photo opportunities, and there is even a bar, sundeck, and restaurant where you can nibble on snacks as you glide along!
The cruises operate daily from around 11.00 to 21.30, so you can experience the city from a daytime and evening perspective if you wish!
Rent a Boat and relax in Century Park
The largest green space in Shanghai – Century Park is located in Pudong, New Area, close to the city’s science and technology museum.
This picturesque park is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city with grassy lawns, woodland walks, and lakes.
It is divided into several areas with a Nature Reserve – abundant with birdlife and over 50 tree species, a Folk Village – a natural wonderland with a lake, centuries-old ginkgo trees, and a white beach and an Exotic Zone – home to 3,000 plum blossom trees in full bloom during winter and spring.
Spend a leisurely afternoon strolling beneath the palm trees, cycle along enchanting woodland pathways, or rent a boat and drift along the water, at one with nature.
Step Back In Time at Zhujiajiao Water Town
Zhujiajiao water town is located 50 kilometers from central Shanghai and can be reached by subway on Line 17.
This tranquil water town was established around 1700 years ago – a place where rivers are lined with willow trees and stone cobbled pathways lead to bridges, Buddhist temples, and ornamental gardens.
Enjoy a leisurely boat ride, admiring the wooden riverside houses, see historic buildings where rice and spices are sold, or feast on delicious Chinese cuisine as atmospheric lights glow on the water as the sun goes down.
Zhujiajiao Water Town is one of the best and easiest day trips you can take from Shanghai.
Indulge Your Inner Child at Shanghai Disneyland
If you’re travelling to Shanghai with family or just your kids, or simply wish to indulge your inner child, venture across the Huangpu River and visit Shanghai Disneyland!
The famous theme park is easily reached in around 40 minutes by subway, bus, taxi, or car and offers attractions, adventures, rides, and entertainment for all ages.
Enjoy a thrilling ride on the Roaring Rapids, get lost in Alice in Wonderland’s Maze, or take a journey through diamond mines on the Snow White and Seven Dwarves train!
How to Get to Shanghai
Shanghai is China’s financial hub and gateway into the country for many tourists. Therefore it’s an easy city to reach from other countries.
The city has two airports – Shanghai Pudong International Airport, which operates flights to and from 90 cities worldwide and 60 domestic routes.
This airport lies 30 kilometres from the city centre and can be accessed via the Maglev train, subway, taxi or shuttle bus.
The second airport is Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport which operates 20 foreign airlines and 35 domestic routes.
This airport, 13 kilometres west of Shanghai, can be reached via taxi, subway, and shuttle bus.
Rail is also a popular way to travel throughout China.
With high-speed trains in abundance, journeys are quick and comfortable. Shanghai also have three different railway stations, so always be sure of which one you will arrive and depart from.
Each operates frequent trains to major towns and cities throughout China.
From Hongqiao Station, for example, bullet trains travel to Nanjing, Guangzhou, Beijing, Suzhou, Hankou, and more.
A journey by high-speed train to Beijing takes around 5 to 6 hours, making the capital a perfect option for a two-centre trip; if not, so are Chengdu 11 hours by Bullet train from Shanghai and Guangzhou is 7-8.5 hours away with the bullet train.