I recently turned 30 and to celebrate this big ordeal Matt and I decided to go on another one of our China adventures, but instead of mountains and epic scenery, we opted for sky scrapers and busy sidewalks – hello Shanghai!!
Arriving from a Western city into Shanghai you would probably just be expecting the usual city delights, but coming from a small city in western China where there is little to no traces of Western culture, we literally could not wait to join the millions of expats and get a little Western back into our lives, and of course take time to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of China’s most populated city.
We spent four full days in Shanghai and each day was packed with exploration. There is literally so much to do in Shanghai and if you only have a short amount of time, you really can’t see and do it all. I think we did a pretty good job of packing in as much as possible in our four days, but we were bloody knackered by the end of it!
If you’re thinking about spending a few days in Shanghai then hopefully this post will make your life a little bit easier. Get those comfy shoes at the ready, it’s time to explore Shanghai.
1. Discover the city’s amazing architecture
As you wander around the city you will be amazed by all the fascinating buildings, I know I was. From the Grand Theatre to the Science Museum the size and grandeur of the buildings will surley impress.
2. Visit The Bund during the day and at night
This is the number one tourist site in Shanghai so prepare yourself to be surrounded by thousands of tourists trying to get the ulitmate shot of the city skyline with the iconic Pearl Tower taking centre stage, looking all spaceship like. It doesn’t get any less busy at night, but with all the bright city lights lighting up the Huangpu River, who can resist heading back there in the evening?
3. Get high at the top of Shanghai Tower in the World Financial Centre
Standing tall at 632 metres, this mega 28 story skyscraper dominates the city skyline and with the highest observation deck and fastest elevator in the world, it would be rude not to pay a visit to the top of Shanghai. Ticket prices cost 180 RMB per person and you can stay at the top for as long as you like. I recommend getting there about an hour or so before sunset so you can secure a viewing spot and watch in awe as the city lights up and the sun goes down.
4. Wander through the beautiful Former French Concession area
I absolutely adored the French Concession area with its cute coffee shops and quaint little shops selling gorgeous (and expensive) clothes. The streets are lined with huge trees and like its name suggests there is a huge French influence here. The first place we stumbled across was a French bistro called Cafè Montmartre we had brunch and devoured French baguettes, it was the best! At night time the resturants and bars are open late, so if like us, you fancy a glass of red after a long day of walking around there are plenty of places to quench your thirst.
5. Explore the tiny alleyways and boutique arts and crafts shops in Tian Zi Fang
If you love shopping but like to stay away from designer malls and highstreet stores, then Tian Zi Fang is perfect for you. With a series of maze like alleyways full of arts and crafts shops and hidden bars and restaurants, this place is perfect for finding an authentic and original souvenir or grabbing a cheeky (imported) beer. It was places like Tian Zi Fang which made me fall in love with Shanghai and all its quirkyness.
6. See modern and ancient China collide at the Jing’an Temple
We were just out wandering the streets when we happened to come across this beautiful ancient temple. Surrounded by a sea of modern architecture the beauty of this ancient place of worship is a sight for sore eyes amongst one of the busiest shopping districts in Shanghai. To enter you must pay 50 RMB and inside you will discover wonderful paintings and Buddha statues, this is the perfect place to escape the chaotic city streets just outside the temple walls.
7. Eat as many dumplings as you can, especially the steamed soup kind
Since being in China we’ve made it our number one mission to sample the various speciality dishes in the different regions of China. In Shanghai the food of choice here is dumplings or as the Chinese call them jiaozi 饺子, in particular steamed soup dumplings xiaolongbao 小笼包. You’ll find no shortage of places to grab a dumpling… or six. Some of the best places for dumpling devouring is just outside Yuyuan Graden – just find the longest queue and get in it, there’s a reason people are queuing.
8. Visit the beautiful and ancient Yuyuan Garden
Another great spot to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, Yuyuan Garden. It is said that Yuyuan Garden is one of the best ancient gardens in the whole of Southeast Asia. As you wander around the garden you can only imagine how peaceful it would be without the hoards of tourists. Cute rockeries surrounded by beautiful flowers, tortoises basking in the sunshine and majestic stone dragons surrounding the garden walls are just a few things that make this garden worth a visit.
9. Stock up on your fake goods
If you’re heading to the Science and Technology Museum than make sure you check out the underground fake goods market right outside the metro station. You’ll find everything here from designer watches and handbags to football shirts and cute tea sets.
10. Take the bus to Zhujiajiao – an ancient water village
There are many famous ancient water villages in the suberbs surrounding Shanghai, some more popular than others. We chose to visit Zhujiajiao as it seemed to be the easiest to get to with limted time and we had read that it had kept most of its ancient charm, despite being a tourist destination. To get there take a bus from the bus station at the Puanlu 普安路 bus station near People’s Square, should cost around 13 RMB each and takes around one hour, buses leave every 30 minutes. There are tours you can pay to go on, but we wanderered around the pretty streets by ourselves and enjoyed a coffee by the river in the sunshine. This place gets seriously busy, so make sure you get there early to avoid huge crowds.
11. Have your mind blow at Shanghai Circus World
Don’t worry there are no animals involved in this circus, I made sure before I bought a ticket. The show is called the ‘Intersection of Time’ and it is seriously worth a watch. The show provides insight into ancient China in the form of martial arts, dance and acrobatics, oh and there’s also a performance at the end that involves a large round cage and 6 motorbikes – it’s seriously insane. Tickets vary in price from 120 RMB to 600 RMB
12. Ride the super speedy Maglev train
Sadly our time in Shanghai had to come to an end, so we thought we would get to the airport in style on the Maglev train – the 30km trip took about eight minutes and cost 50 RMB. This train is super, super fast, so fast infact that it can reach speeds of up to 267 mph. Maglev basically means magnetic levitation train – yep you guessed it, the train moves without making contact with the ground, crazy futuristic stuff!
– Buy a travel card and top up – it doesn’t save you any money, but it saves you time. The stations are always so busy with people queuing to top up their cards, pre pay and you can go straight through to the train, no drama
– Stay in an AirBnb – we did and we loved it. Due to us leaving it to the last minute and it being a national holiday we had to stay in two different apartments, both were super cool. We paid 2,000 RMB (£220) for five nights and we were in the Former French Concession area, which meant we had lots of cool cafes and restaurants nearby.
– Check out TimeOut Shanghai before your trip to see if there are any cool events happening when you’re in town. We did and we discovered a Tulip Festival in Daning Lingshi Park and it was beautiful to wander around a sea of colourful tulips.