Shanghai, China’s largest city, is a bustling metropolis known for its impressive skyline, rich history, and vibrant culture. For those considering things to do in Shanghai, exploring the Bund, a waterfront area with colonial-era buildings, and visiting the Shanghai Tower, one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, are top activities.
The city’s bustling Nanjing Road offers a premier shopping experience, with numerous stores, restaurants, and entertainment options. Nearby, the Yuyuan Garden, a classical Chinese garden, provides a tranquil escape from the city’s hustle and bustle.
Beyond its urban attractions, Shanghai is also known for its culinary scene, with numerous restaurants serving Shanghai cuisine, known for its delicate flavors and emphasis on freshness. For those seeking the best places to visit in China, Shanghai’s blend of historical significance, architectural marvels, and gastronomic adventures makes it a captivating destination.
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Attractions & Things to Do in Shanghai, China
1. The Bund
The Bund is a famed waterfront area in central Shanghai, known for its impressive skyline that encapsulates the blend of historic colonial buildings and modern skyscrapers. A walk along the promenade offers a view of the contrasting architectures that tell the story of Shanghai’s past and present.
Travel Tip: For the best views, visit at night when the buildings are illuminated and the city truly comes to life.
2. Yu Garden
Yu Garden is a stunning example of Ming Dynasty landscape design. With its classical Chinese architecture, tranquil ponds, and lush greenery, this garden is a peaceful sanctuary in the heart of Old Shanghai.
Travel Tip: Visit during a weekday morning to avoid the crowds and experience the garden’s tranquility.
3. Shanghai Tower
China’s tallest building and the second-tallest in the world, Shanghai Tower offers an observation deck with unparalleled views of the city. Its twisting form is not only aesthetically pleasing but also functional, designed to withstand Shanghai’s typhoon-force winds.
Travel Tip: On a clear day, opt for the late afternoon to watch the sunset and stay to see the city lights come up.
4. Shanghai Museum
Located in People’s Square, the Shanghai Museum is known for its extensive collection of Chinese art and artifacts. The museum’s architecture, resembling an ancient bronze cooking vessel called a ding, is both a nod to history and a landmark of modern Shanghai.
Travel Tip: Admission is free, but lines can be long; plan to arrive early, especially if you’re visiting on weekends.
5. Nanjing Road
Nanjing Road is Shanghai’s premier shopping street, a bustling thoroughfare that stretches from The Bund to People’s Park. It’s lined with all manner of shops, from historic brands to modern boutiques and everything in between.
Travel Tip: Even if shopping isn’t your intention, the street’s lively atmosphere and street performers offer a great cultural experience.
6. Jing’an Temple
A beautiful and active Buddhist temple located in the Jing’an District, Jing’an Temple’s rich golden hues and traditional architecture stand out amidst the modern surroundings.
Travel Tip: Check the schedule for cultural events or religious ceremonies that might coincide with your visit for a deeper experience.
Xintiandi is a stylish pedestrian street composed of Shikumen and modern architecture, offering a unique blend of restaurants, boutiques, and entertainment. It’s a prime example of how Shanghai marries its historical aspects with a new, chic lifestyle.
Travel Tip: Visit Xintiandi at night to enjoy the vibrant nightlife and alfresco dining options.
Tianzifang is an artsy area nestled within the former French Concession. Its narrow alleys are filled with craft shops, cafes, and art galleries housed in restored traditional Shikumen houses.
Travel Tip: Be ready to navigate through small and often crowded lanes, and you’ll find some of Shanghai’s most charming hidden treasures.
9. The French Concession
This historic area offers tree-lined avenues, European-style villas, trendy boutiques, and quaint cafes, reflecting the time when Shanghai was divided into foreign concessions.
Travel Tip: Rent a bicycle to explore this area at a leisurely pace, allowing for spontaneous stops at any shop or cafe that catches your eye.
10. Shanghai Disney Resort
This is the newest addition to Disney’s global theme park empire and offers a distinctly Chinese twist to the Disney magic. Attractions include the largest Disney castle, the first-ever Pirates-themed land, and many exclusive rides.
Travel Tip: Download the Shanghai Disney Resort app to check ride times and secure FastPass selections to make the most of your visit.
11. Zhujiajiao Water Town
With a history that stretches back over 1,700 years, Zhujiajiao is an ancient water town crisscrossed by canals and home to well-preserved buildings from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It’s often referred to as “Shanghai’s Venice.”
Travel Tip: Take a boat tour to appreciate the charm of the waterways and traditional homes from a unique perspective.
12. Longhua Temple
The oldest and largest temple in Shanghai, Longhua Temple, is a serene site steeped in history, with the temple bell tower being a prominent feature. The temple complex is filled with ancient artifacts and intricate carvings.
Travel Tip: Time your visit to catch the striking of the ancient bell, which is said to bring good luck and peace.
13. Shanghai World Financial Center
Known for its trapezoid aperture at the top, the Shanghai World Financial Center offers another opportunity for breathtaking city views. It’s one of the tallest buildings in the world and houses offices, hotels, and observation decks.
Travel Tip: Head to the 100th-floor observation deck for the ‘Sky Walk,’ which features a glass floor providing a vertigo-inducing view straight down.
14. Power Station of Art
As Shanghai’s first state-run contemporary art museum, housed in a former power station, this venue has played host to the Shanghai Biennale and other high-profile exhibitions in the art world.
Travel Tip: Visit on a Tuesday when the entrance is free, and remember to check out the rooftop for a panoramic view of the Huangpu River.
15. Shanghai Science and Technology Museum
This museum is an interactive wonderland for science enthusiasts of all ages, with exhibits ranging from space technology to biodiversity.
Travel Tip: It’s a popular spot for school trips, so visiting in the afternoon might help you avoid the big groups of students.
16. Qibao Ancient Town
Another historical water town near Shanghai, Qibao offers a slice of traditional Chinese life in the bustling metropolis. The town is also known for its street food and delicate snacks.
Travel Tip: Don’t miss the Qibao snacks like roasted sweet potatoes, crab-shell pies, and cotton candy as big as your head.
17. M50 Art District
M50 is Shanghai’s main contemporary art district, with a cluster of galleries housed in former factories. It’s a great place to see works by up-and-coming Chinese artists.
Travel Tip: Some galleries can be a little hidden, so don’t be afraid to explore the area thoroughly—you never know what artistic gems you might find.
18. Fuxing Park
Designed in the French style, Fuxing Park is a popular local hangout and offers a peaceful respite from the city. It’s also a prime spot to observe locals engaging in daily activities like tai chi, dancing, and playing mahjong.
Travel Tip: Visit early in the morning to see the park come alive with locals and partake in the communal atmosphere.
19. Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center
This museum showcases Shanghai’s urban planning and development with detailed models of the city, including a massive scale model of Shanghai as it will look in 2020.
Travel Tip: It’s a great starting point for your visit to understand how the city has evolved and where it’s headed.
FAQ About Things to Do in Shanghai, China
What are the must-visit places in Shanghai for a first-time visitor?
For first-time visitors, the Bund, Yu Garden, Shanghai Tower, and the Shanghai Museum are essential destinations. Don’t miss the Nanjing Road for shopping and a stroll through the French Concession for its charming architecture.
Is the Shanghai Disneyland Park worth visiting?
Absolutely! Shanghai Disneyland Park offers a magical experience with its unique blend of classic Disney characters and attractions, as well as new experiences tailored for Chinese guests. It’s perfect for families and Disney fans of all ages.
Can I go on a river cruise on the Huangpu River?
Yes, a river cruise on the Huangpu River is one of the best ways to see the city’s skyline, including the iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the skyscrapers of Lujiazui. It’s particularly stunning at night when the city lights up.
Are there any traditional Chinese gardens to visit in Shanghai?
Definitely! Besides the famous Yu Garden in the Old City, the Shanghai Botanical Garden and Guyi Garden are also beautiful examples of traditional Chinese landscaping, offering peaceful retreats from the city bustle.
What cultural experiences should I not miss in Shanghai?
Experience the rich culture of Shanghai by attending an acrobatic show, visiting the Longhua Temple, exploring the ancient water town of Zhujiajiao, and trying the local cuisine like xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) and Shanghai hairy crab.
Is there an art district in Shanghai that I can visit?
Yes, the M50 art district is Shanghai’s most famous contemporary art district, housing numerous galleries, art studios, and cultural spaces in converted warehouses and factories. It’s a hub for art lovers and creative minds.
Where can I find the best view of Shanghai’s skyline?
For the best panoramic views, head to the observation decks of either the Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world, or the Oriental Pearl Tower. Both offer stunning vistas of the city’s futuristic skyline.
Are there any unique shopping experiences in Shanghai?
Shanghai offers diverse shopping experiences, from the luxury boutiques on Huaihai Road to the bustling markets like Tianzifang and Yuyuan Bazaar. For a more local experience, visit the South Bund Fabric Market to have custom clothing made.