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Top 10 Things To Do in Shanghai

Top 10 Things To Do in Shanghai

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

Shanghai 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 color too!  Oh and speaking about cruise ships, take one along the river

2.  Zhujiajiao/Qibao

Qibao bridges

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)

Shanghai destination

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

Tianzifang

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

[Forgive me, I was always too busy shopping to take photos of this place]

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, womens 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

Shanghai steamed soup dumpling

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.

7.  M1nt

[No I’m not bringing my SLR to a club]

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)

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.

9. Xintiandi

Shanghai Xintiandi alleyway

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 party-er, 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

Shanghai Nanjing Road East

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!

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About Will Tang

Will is a travel blogger writing for Going Awesome Places. Since quitting his consulting job in 2012 he's been travelling the world and along the way writing about his epic adventures and taking amazing photos. His true passion lies in telling stories, inspiring others to travel, writing detailed trip itineraries for others to follow and providing helpful tips and tricks to travel better. Also the founder behind Travel Blog Breakthrough and freelance writer for Hipmunk and currently working on the #‎HipmunkCityLove Project.

43 comments

  1. I recently visited Shanghai and these tips were very helpful! I had a great time and would love to go back again, my favorite part was jogging on The Bund in the morning.
    Also, I ate some great food in Shanghai like duck feet and drunken shrimp.
    You are right about the Nanjing East Road, that place was insane!
    It was so much fun that I created a video of my experience
    http://reformatt.com/shanghai

    thank you China!

  2. Shanghai is one of the best places to visit in China..it really is a interesting place to know about all things China…it’s food, it’s culture, and people…loved reading your ideas….I will love to do these wonderful things when I get a chance to visit this wonderful city in China
    Mark @TravelnPleasure recently posted…10 Top Tourist Attractions in LondonMy Profile

  3. This was very useful! im moving for shangai for a couple of months and it was just what i needed!

  4. Maaike - Travellous World

    Gorgeous photos! What a special place!

  5. I have never been to Shanghai, but if I ever visit, I definitely need to check out some of the places on this list! I particularly enjoyed your description of Tian Zi Fang– I would love to wander these alleyways and explore the shops and cafes there.
    Jessica @ Green Global Travel recently posted…PHOTO GALLERY: Tibetan Culture In LadakhMy Profile

    • Tianzifang is a great place to wander and literally get lost. There’s so much to take in and if you go beyond the boutique shops there, I always love paying attention to the old architecture there.

  6. The picture of the dumplings are making me miss Shanghai again! The city is just full of wonder, I wrote an article about traveling to Shanghai when I went earlier this year:
    http://www.momentsthatsparkle.com/travel/shanghai/

    It’s really is an interesting place to visit!

  7. thanks for the hints. i am currently here and i can tell the science and technology market is overrated. go to yuan garden and skip the tourist spot bazar, just outside there is a market where you can get everything but cheaper, there is also this building somewhere around (sorry can not tell where exactly as we got lost and found it accidentally, but somewhere around yuan garden) where wholesale shops are located and you can get everything half or third the price you will pay at the touristy yuan garden bazar

  8. Thanks for the tips! I live in China now and wasn’t sure where to start in Shanghai. This definitely helps 🙂

  9. In shanghai right now, polluted, overcast, raining, hustlers everywhere trying to hawk massages, rude locals…cant wait to leave

    • Hey Johnny! Thanks for your thoughts. There are some things that aren’t as desirable in Shanghai but some of it you just have to deal with being in the territory. Just find the positive notes and enjoy the moment. If you’re a foodie, have some good cheap food!

    • I found the same thing. Can’t go shopping without being asked for massage, lady or sex.. Or people aggressively trying to laser lights, etc. They seem to pick on westerners, and I found a simple hand up and they get the message. The city is cool.. Food is great.. But yes, am ready to move onto another city. Shopping is very expensive.. and cheaper back in Australia for major brands, etc. All in all, no plans to come back so to someone else – Make the most of your time here. I also went to Beijing to see the Great Wall. That was simply amazing and something I will remember for the rest of my life.

  10. Thanks for the tips Will! I’ll be visiting in April for 3 days and will def. take your recommendations. I love your pictures, what do you use?
    I’m surprised Din Tai Fung has the best XLB in Shanghai!

    • Hey Steph,

      Thanks for your comments. I hope you have a good time out there.

      I shot most of those photos with my Canon 5D MK2.

      For XLB I expected where more local to serve better ones but to be honest Din Tai Fung still beat out the rest. Done to perfection!

  11. Does anyone know what the weather is like the first week of April?

    xie xie ni !

    • The average for April is 59F and 15C so that should give you an idea of what it’ll be like.

      Lowest last year was 3 deg C.

      I was in Shanghai in mid April and during the day I was very comfortable with tshirt and jeans. It does get a bit chilly at night so a wind breaker suited me.

      It was definitely a lot better than when I was there in July/Aug!

      Have fun there 🙂
      Will Tang recently posted…5 Day Itinerary in Bali IndonesiaMy Profile

  12. I loved my time in Shanghai! I only spent a weekend there and with so much to see and do I of coursed missed a few of these gems. The Bund was amazing and I loved the more traditional side as well. I need to go back and see more of the great city
    Alex | Partial Parallax recently posted…My Tokyo Story Part 1: What Tokyo Means To MeMy Profile

  13. My favourite place in Shanghai is Taikang Road. Its a fantastic area to wander about – nice restaurants and galleries.

  14. I’d also add a visit to Xiao Yang Sheng Jian (Yang’s Fried Dumplings) for cheap and awesome crispy fried soup dumpings!

    • Agree!! I went to the location near People’s Square and it was pretty awesome 🙂

      Like I said there were a ton of food places I could’ve mentioned but ten this would’ve become a Top 20 or 30 😉

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