One does not simply visit China without spending time in Shanghai. It often seems that this Chinese city stands right on the cusp of all things chic and cool, as embodied by local fashion, art and architecture. If you’re looking to visit Shanghai, put these must-see and do items on your itinerary and have the time of your life discovering one of China’s trendiest cities.
The Bund is a huge tourist draw, but a visit is always well worth it: this riverside walk has been the symbol of Shanghai because of the contrasting faces of Shanghai that it offers. The Puxi (west) side features a slew of Western-inspired architecture, like Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque, and more. The Pudong (east) side skips ahead to modern times with its towering skyscrapers and the iconic Oriental Pearl Tower. Go in the daytime or go at night; just don’t miss this!
Oriental Pearl Tower
At 468 meters high, the Oriental Pearl Tower looms over the rest of the city as a reminder of the city’s renaissance. Visit the Shanghai History Museum located at its base, and then head to the sky-high observatories for 360-degree views. Ticket prices range from 100-200RMB. The more adventurous can try their hand (or test their hearts) at walking the glass-bottomed platform.
The first Disneyland in mainland China opened to frenzied fanfare in June 2016 and shattered a handful of records along the way like having the tallest theme castle for its Enchanted Storybook Castle. Get lost among its six theme attractions, and keep an eye out for Chinese elements incorporated into the theme park. At USD$52 a day or USD$96 for two, this is one of the cheaper Disney parks to experience the magic.
Head downtown to find this famous garden, completed in 1577 and now over 400 years old. Yuyuan Garden – meaning “pleasing” or “satisfying” – was originally built by a Ming Dynasty official, but its greatest feat might be surviving the Opium War, Taiping Rebellion, and the Japanese. Now it doubles as a tourist destination hawking tea, antiques, Chinese seals, and more. Don’t skip the City God Temple just south of the garden.
Similar to The Bund, Xintiandi encapsulates Shanghai’s rich history. Take note of the shikumen architecture that characterizes old Shanghai: a two-storied structure with a stone game and wooden doors, popular in the 1870s. Now, the traditional walls of Xintiandi (“New Paradise”) belies the world of urbanity within: cafes, galleries, novelty shops, bars, and more.
Taikang Road was once just a 420-meter-long strip before evolving over the years into Tianzifang, an arts/cultural hub that is right next door to Xintiandi. However, unlike Xintiandi, it has so far dodged reconstruction, thanks to the area’s artists and residents. Nowadays, this section of the Old French Quarter is home to design studios, fashion outlets, art galleries, boutiques, one-of-a-kind food spots and more.
If you’ve ever wanted to be a part of an immeasurably Goliath Chinese crowd, see the neon lights of the city, kick back by diving into the less commercialized areas of Shanghai, or all of those at once, drop everything and head to Nanjing Road. Here you’ll find the famous shopping stretch from Nanjing East Road to The Bund, but there’s also a row of museums, with Shanghai Museum most prominently of all.
Pro Tip: Whatever you do, avoid offers of free teas, as those are the most notable traveler scams in the area.
Set in the historical-turned-industrial neighborhood around Suzhou Creek, M50 is the urban core of Shanghai’s art scene. Beyond its famous graffiti wall, M50 features a number of modern and contemporary art galleries – all for free. Come for the creativity, and stay for the exploration. The maze of buildings has been known to confound locals and visitors alike, so we recommend checking out Chronus Art Center, UNDEF/NE, and XMJ Photography.
Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre
One of the many unconventional museums Shanghai offers, the Propaganda Poster Art Center has an incredibly thorough collection of original posters from the Mao era – over 5,000, with many rescued from trash bins and recycling centers. The exhibit seems small, but its vibrant paraphernalia is enough to paint a rich picture of socialist life from China’s recent history from 1949 to the end of the Cultural Revolution.
1933 Old Millfun
1933 Old Millfun predates communist China and once housed the largest slaughterhouse in Shanghai, but recent gentrification converted it into a commercial hub. It’s hard to forget its original purpose, but at the same time, the interlocking staircases, bridged walkways, and curved paths lend the building a unique, almost eerie atmosphere. Come here for some unique photography opportunities.
As China’s third largest island, Chongming Island might be part of Shanghai, but this is taking a loose definition of “Shanghai.” Getting to the island requires crossing one of the longest bridges in China, but that also emphasizes the feeling of having left the city for good. For outdoor adventures, you have your choice of the Dongping National Forest Park, Pearl Lake, the wetlands, and more. Keep an eye out for crabs darting around the mudflats; it’s not for nothing that Chongming is also known as Crab Island.
Huangpu Ferry + Cool Docks
Skip the touristy ferries hawking overpriced tickets and head for the Cool Docks along the South Bund. Built on the site of Shanghai’s oldest docks, the area underwent a recent gentrification makeover and now boasts restaurants, cafes, clubs, and ubiquitous outdoor seating. From there, bypass tour companies and take a low-cost ferry across the Huangpu River at the price of 2RMB. You’ll mingle with locals on the ride without giving up the chance to see Lujiazui and the Pudong skyline.