Shanghai is China’s largest city (over 24 million population) and is a global financial hub. Located on the central coast at the mouth of the Yangtze River, Shanghai is also the the world’s busiest container port. All of this commerce makes Shanghai a cosmopolitan center, with a diverse offering of attractions for visitors. Most nationalities will require a tourist visa to visit China, so be sure to plan ahead and allow time for the visa application and processing.
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The Bund is the waterfront area of Central Shanghai, a boardwalk stretching 1500 meters along the west bank of the Huangpu River. The Bund offers visitors a view into old Shanghai with vintage buildings, cafes, bars and shops. If you picture Shanghai as a city of glass and steel skyscrapers (it is!) you will be surprised at the variety of architecture along the Bund, including neoclassical, baroque and gothic styles.
Huangpu Riverboat Cruise
From the Bund, you can join a Huangpu River cruise, which will give you an alternative view of the buildings of Shanghai. For an especially charming view of the city, consider an evening tour where you can see the city lights come alive. Cruises range from 30 minutes to over 3 hours, and there is also a ferry that crosses the river to Pudong for a less expensive alternative.
Oriental Pearl Tower
The Oriental Pearl Tower is the second-tallest building in Shanghai, and a well recognized landmark on the Shanghai skyline. Located on the river across from the Bund, the Oriental Pearl Tower offers great views of the city. There is a museum in the base, a revolving restaurant in the second level, and an observation deck at the top. Tickets are required to access the tower, and prices vary depending upon which levels you want to visit. The highest ticket level is all-inclusive and also includes a Huangpu River cruise.
World Financial Center
Shanghai’s World Financial Center falls in the category of “supertall” skyscrapers at 480 meters tall. The iconic “bottle opener” shape is a prominent fixture on Shanghai’s skyline. Housing offices, conference rooms, observation decks, hotels and a shopping mall, the World FinancialCenter is a great place to get a birds-eye view of Shanghai. One observation deck is on the 100th floor at 474 meters high, and can be accessed by purchasing admission tickets. The Park Hyatt Shanghai occupies the 79th to the 93rd floors of this building.
Shanghai Maglev Train
Connecting the Shanghai Pudong Airport to the Shanghai metro area, the Maglev train is the fastest commercial high-speed electric train in the world, traveling over 430km/hour. Maglev, means magnetic levitation, and is very unique for most visitors to Shanghai.
Old City Shanghai
Inside the walled city of Shanghai, the Old City dates back to the 12th century and has become one of Shanghai’s most popular tourist destinations. There are numerous opportunities for shopping, eating and sightseeing. You can join a street food tour, haggle for custom-made clothing at the Xiliupu Fabric Market, and photograph the old style buildings. Arguably the most popular destination in the Old City is the Yuyuan Garden (Yu Garden.) Yu Garden is a traditional Ming-style private garden dating back to the 1500’s. This is also the site of the famous zig-zag bridge. Follow the zig-zag bridge to one of the most famous tea houses in China, the Huxingting Tea House.
Nanjing Road is the main shopping district of Shanghai, and covers 5.5 km starting at the Bund. Nanjing Road has over 600 businesses including massive shopping malls, specialty stores, movie theaters, hotels and more. The shopping district has 4 iconic department stores: the #1 Department Store, the #1 Provisions Store, the Shanghai Fashion company, and the Hualian Commercial Building. Plaza 66 features luxury brands like Versace and Cartier. Nanjing Road is a pedestrian mall, but there is also an electric train that runs the length of the road. At night, the street lights up with open-air bars and street musicians.
Another pedestrian entertainment center is Xintiandi, which has become Shanghai’s upscale destination featuring fine dining, upscale clubs and boutique shopping. Xintiandi is divided into the South Block and the North Block. The South Block is the more modern area, while the North Block maintains antique buildings from the 1800’s. Both blocks have a variety of options to attract tourists.
Also called “Shanghai’s Culture Street,” Duolun was once a literary district housing artists and writers, and is now lined with art galleries, museums and tea houses. This is a quieter side of Shanghai which you might wish to escape to after time spent amongst skyscrapers and throngs of people.
People’s Square is a large public square in the center of Shanghai. It is bordered by Nanjing Road and is the site of Shanghai’s government headquarters building. Within the Square are many tourist attractions, including the People’s Park, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center and Shanghai Grand Theater. As a central point of the city, People’s Square is also a transportation hub, being served by several metro lines and bus routes.
The People’s Park is a public park and green space within the People’s Square, well-known for historical buildings, beautiful scenery and the Marriage Market, where parents of unmarried adults meet every weekend in an attempt to arrange marriages of their children. The Park also houses the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art, a children’s fairground and several ponds.
Zhujiajiao has been called the “Venice of Shanghai.” This charming water town located on the outskirts of Shanghai in the Qingpu District has been established for 1700 years, although archaeological findings date back 5000 years. You can visit Zhujiajiao on a guided tour, or on your own via public transportation, but once you arrive, you’ll likely want to take a water tour anyways. The village has 36 picturesque stone bridges, and on North Street you can see ancient buildings from the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The French Concession was a foreign concession until 1943 and is now a quaint district of live music, wine bars, boutiques and bistros. Tianzifang is a small enclave within the French Concession that features art galleries, craft shops and coffee houses.
Jade Buddha Temple
The Jade Buddha Temple is a popular tourist destination and one of Shanghai’s few active Buddhist monasteries. As the name suggests, the highlight here is a Buddha figure made of pure jade.
The Longhua Temple is a Buddhist temple dedicated to the Maitreya Buddha and dates back to the Song Dynasty of 1064.. The earliest version of this temple was built in 242 AD. The temple was also the site of public executions in the 19th century.
One of the newest parks in the Disney family, Shanghai Disneyland opened in 2016 and is the first Disney resort in mainland China. Not to be outdone by other Disney properties, Disneyland Shanghai has the tallest theme castle and the first pirate-themed garden. The entire area includes Disneyland, Disneytown (the shopping/dining/entertainment complex,) Wishing Star Park (a free park and gardens surrounding the Disneyland park) and two hotels. And this is China, after all, so expect top-notch use of technology throughout the park.
The Shanghai Zoo is a popular destination to see exotic animals such as giant pandas, golden monkeys and several species of Asian tigers. It is the second largest zoo in China, housing more than 6000 animals. The zoo is situated within a large green space area, so again it’s a good place to escape the craziness of the city.
You simply cannot visit Shanghai without sampling some of the famous Shanghai dumplings, also called Xiaolongbao (bao for short.) These steamed buns, filled with a variety of meats or vegetables, are prepared and served in small bamboo baskets. Some dumplings contain soup and are served with a straw for sipping. Fried soup dumplings (sheng jian bao) are also a thing in Shanghai although not as popular as the steamed variety. There are probably 100’s of places to try this local specialty. Jia Jia Xiao Long Bao, near People’s Park is a popular place as is Yang’s Fry-Dumpling for the fried version.