Over the past couple of years I’ve had a chance to go to Shanghai quite a few times and this past summer I even got to spend a full month there when I did the summer language program at Jiao Tong University. So without further ado, I wanted to put my 2 cents in on what the top 10 things in Shanghai are to do for any new traveller.
1. The Bund
Iconic waterfront viewing of the Pudong side of Shanghai with it’s enormous collection of ridiculous skyscrapers and the Huangpu River flowing through with it’s barges and cruise ships. After or during sunset is probably when you want to go and when it’s most magical when the dizzy array of lights take over the night sky. Just be prepared to deal with the massive crowds that build up where eventually you’ll be shoulder to shoulder with other tourists and Chinese alike. Make sure you check out the The Bund and the People’s Heroes Memorial to the left and even further down cross over the Waibaidu bridge which offers up some beautiful views. The bridge changes colour too! Oh and speaking about cruise ships, take one along the river
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Many tourists come to China to experience what it would feel like to live during one of the Chinese dynasties. A lot of times that consists of water ways, old crumbling buildings, alleyways, temples and street food. Well you can have all of that by heading out to Zhujiajiao which is around an hour away from Shanghai. To get there you can take a bus from People’s Square for 12 RMB or you can cab there for 150-200 RMB. This is that classic ancient water village that is a great day trip to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. However don’t expect the crowds to be any less. Now if you’re looking for a bit of an alternative, it’s probably worthwhile to mention Qibao which is actually accessible by subway (Qibao) which is another ancient town where you feel like you’re transported to another world but of course on a smaller scale than Zhujiajiao. If you don’t want to commute too far, Qibao may be the choice for you!
3. Yu Yuan & Cheng Huang Miao (Yu Yuan Garden and City God Temple)
Okay a theme seems to be setting in here with all this traditional, old-time feel to stuff but don’t worry the other fun and city stuff to Shanghai is coming up. This is pretty much a must-see when you come out to Shanghai and one that everyone knows best. Let’s start off with the Cheng Huang Miao which is the area surrounding Yu Yuan.
Where Zhujiajiao is an ancient water village this gives you a feel for what a big market/godly temple area would be like. From the shopping aspect you get a ton of shops with handmade crafts, fake knock off stuff, folk art and other knick knacks. From a food perspective there are ton of street stalls with a random assortment of Chinese foods and snacks. Oh and don’t forget the huge signs for Starbucks and Dairy Queen there. There’s also a famous xiao long bao (Shanghai steamed soup dumpling) restaurant here.
From a sights perspective you’re surrounded by these tall ancient-looking well preserved area where you’re bombarded with temples, pavilions, halls, hanging lanterns. Towards the middle of the area, you’re graced with a beautiful zig-zagging pathway with a huge pond below with enormous Koi fish.
The Yu Yuan garden I hear is supposed to be very beautiful inside with a well-preserved zen-ness to it considering you’re in the middle of the city. For some reason I’ve never had time to go inside but one of these days I will. Be ready to deal with big crowds and high level of touristy-factor to it.
4. Tian Zi Fang
There’s a real charm about this place that keeps drawing me back every time I go to Shanghai. This is an arts and crafts neighborhood that has developed from a renovated residential area in the French Concession area. What I love about it are the maze-like alleyways that take you around to see a bunch of boutique gift shops, clothing stores, cafes, galleries, studios and other random knick-knack stores. It feels as if the neighbourhood itself was preserved to how it was back in the 1930s with its traditional architecture and ambiance. It’s on a way smaller scale compared to Cheng Huang Miao, trendier and less touristy. Always a winner here. Eat, shop and get lost.
5. Science & Technology Subway Station Fake Stuff Market
Okay let’s take a break from all that traditional stuff and let’s get real about why you came to China – to buy cheap, fake, knock-off stuff duh! I’ve checked out quite a few of these markets and I find that the one literally just outside the turnstiles of the Science and Technology subway station (on the Pudong side) is the best for tourists. It’s the most organized, clean and easy to figure your way around. Great buys here include phone accessories, sports jerseys, popular brands, women’s bags and for some reason those god awful Beats.
Bargain like crazy. Don’t be afraid to counter-offer their initial price at 50% off or more. If they don’t bite just walk away. There’ll be other stores that sell the same stuff.
6. Ding Tai Fung
There are a ton of good food places in China and it would take forever to list all of them. If there’s one place that I “have” to go to each time it’s Ding Tai Fung. Now the funny thing is this is actually a Taiwanese franchise but never mind that. Shanghai is known for their xiao long bao (Shanghai steamed soup dumplings) and these guys do it the best. They’re not the cheapest but in terms of the quality, the thin-ness of the dumpling skin, the amount of soup and the meat inside, I really can’t find anywhere else that beats this.
Party it up in Shanghai one night and check out the clubbing scene here. I can’t say I’ve done a lot of international clubbing but everything about M1nt screams high class (no kidding they have a shark tank) and fun. Though who knows, by the time you go to Shanghai the “it” club may have passed along its baton to someone else.
8. Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC)
What tour of a city doesn’t include some sort of high-rise tower overlooking the landscape below? Right now anyways it’s the tallest and fanciest viewing point in all of Shanghai.
Xintiandi is an interesting spot in the city to check out though it is more of a hang out/party place that wakes up in the evening hours. It’s a car-free shopping, eating, entertainment district that is a gentrified area where traditional “shikumen” houses occupy the narrow alleyways. This area is definitely prominent for foreigners and mostly ex-pats. Even if you’re not a partier, it’s still worthwhile to check out the area. It’s done up really nicely, clean, trendy, different from your typical China and also lots of great spots for photography.
10. East Nanjing Road
Perhaps this is the best for last but just as iconic as the Bund is, Nanjing Road East is buzzing with activity all hours of the day. No cars are allowed on this street and everywhere you turn there’s some sort of shopping. It’s also unlikely that you’ll miss this area because the nearest subway station to the Bund is this one so you’ll be walking through it I guarantee. Most of the big brands are represented on this street. On top of that there are some hidden gems food-wise here. It’s definitely very touristy here but if you want to come see the mecca of Chinese consumerism, more bright lights than Times Square, a ton of people and potential for some decent finds for shopping, you’ll want to visit Nanjing Road East.
More on Shanghai
For more of my adventures in Shanghai, check out a few of my other posts!
- Back in Shanghai after a few years away
- My experience doing a month-long summer language exchange program in Shanghai
- My first Airbnb experience in Shanghai
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