20 Best Things to Do in Shanghai

Shanghai is a massive city, full of contrasts. From the buzzy Bund to the winding alleys of the French Concession, this Chinese city of more than 20 million has world-class art, historic temples, sprawling parks, and shopping to rival Paris, among other things. You'll never run out of things to do in this magical city.

01 of 20

Walk in the Former French Concession Area

Former French Concession Area in Shanghai
bricoleurbanism/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The former French Concession is a lovely part of Shanghai because, despite the fact that you're in the heart of a city with a population exceeding 20 million, it feels like you're just in a local neighborhood. The French imported plane trees in the early 1900s and these trees still line both sides of every street in the area. These days, old villas and lane houses are being renovated and turned into lovely shops and homes. It's fun to wander the less-congested streets and watch old folks chatting on the sidewalks and vendors market their wares.

02 of 20

Take a Walking Tour of the Bund

© 2007 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.
Address
Zhongshan East 1st Rd, WaiTan, Huangpu Qu, Shanghai Shi, China, 200002

The Bund is Shanghai's most famous landmark. You might have buzzed in and out of a fancy dinner in one of the renovated buildings but take a morning to really enjoy the area and peek inside some of the buildings. A great way to visit the Bund on a nice day is to be dropped off at the Fairmont Peace Hotel (formerly the Cathay Hotel) and walk south, ducking into buildings along the way.

03 of 20

Visit the Yu Garden and Bazaar

Yu Garden, Shanghai
Afriandi/Getty Images
Address
Yu Yuan, Huangpu Qu, Shanghai Shi, China, 200085

While kitschy, the Yu Garden area is a fun place to explore. The whole area around the gardens has been renovated in traditional style Chinese architecture with curving tile eaves that make you feel like you've finally found "Chinatown." Wander through the lanes and alleys and find everything you might want to take home as souvenirs from silk pajamas to chopsticks. Eventually, you'll come to the Huxingting Tea House that supposedly inspired the design in the famous Blue Willow china pattern. Across the way is the entrance to Yuyuan Garden itself where you can follow crowds through a classical Ming garden.

04 of 20

Check Out Contemporary Art at the Moganshan Road Art District

People at ShanghART art gallery, Moganshan Road, Shanghai, China, Asia
Karl Johaentges / LOOK-foto/Getty Images
Address
50 Moganshan Rd, Putuo Qu, Shanghai Shi, China, 200085
Phone
+86 21 6276 9932

If you'd like to see what's happening on the contemporary art scene in China, take a taxi to Moganshan Road near Suzhou Creek. Once just factories and warehouses, the area is now a thriving art colony full of galleries of all sizes. There's a café near the entrance to the lane where you can have a nice coffee once you've seen the scene. Don't miss the Art Scene Warehouse, the EastLink Gallery, and Shanghart.

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05 of 20

Have a Cocktail at the Glam

People walking on the Bund promenade in a sunny day, Shanghai, China
Matteo Colombo/Getty Images
Address
China, Shanghai Shi, Huangpu Qu, WaiTan, Guangdong Rd, 20号近外滩 邮政编码: 200002
Phone
+86 21 6350 9988

After fronting the crowds on the Bund promenade—it's a rite of passage—there's nothing more relaxing than slipping up to the seventh floor of Bund 5 where Glam, a chic bar, sits and looks out over the Huang Pu. Open at 5 p.m. for cocktails, you'll likely be one of few inhabiting the place during weekdays and you can relax with your friends ​or your guidebook, and take in the view. You'll see the sun (if you're lucky) bouncing hot pink off the Oriental Pearl Tower across the river.

06 of 20

Shop at Xin Tian Di

xintiandi shanghai
Getty Images / IMAGEMORE Co, Ltd.
Address
Huangpu, Shanghai, China, 200085

Xin Tian Di is a restaurant, bar, club development that utilizes Shanghai's traditional shikumen architecture. Shikumen buildings are recognizable by the gray and red brick facades, numerous ornamental front gates and low two to three story heights. Originally built by the thousands in rows for middle-class Chinese, these classic Shanghainese houses are being destroyed and replaced by modern skyscrapers. Enjoy the restaurants and shopping, but don't miss the small free-entry museum that educates visitors on what life was like in the lane houses of the past.

07 of 20

Visit a Skyscraper for a Bird's Eye View

China - Urbanism - World Financial Center in Shanghai
Ryan Pyle /Getty Images
Address
Shang Hai Huan Qiu Jin Rong Zhong Xin, LuJiaZui, Pudong Xinqu, Shanghai Shi, China, 200120

The Shanghai World Financial Center (or SWFC) is one of the tallest buildings in China. There are multiple viewing platforms, one of which has a glass floor. Beware if you have vertigo! It's quite a fun experience to see Shanghai from so far above but it is rather pricey. If you just want to go up high, try the Jin Mao next door. At 88 floors, its remarkable architecture is recognizable on a clear day from all over the city. Enjoy great views over a cup of coffee or a cocktail in the Grand Hyatt hotel (inside the Jin Mao). You can do the same from within the SWFC's resident hotel, the Park Hyatt, but they have a table charge in the lounge.

08 of 20

See Shanghai Life Along Taikang Road Art

Taikang Road Art Centre.
Richard I'Anson/Getty Images

If you're in the mood for some shopping but are tired of touts shoving fake watches in your face, head to Taikang Road. A walk down the road lets you see local Shanghai life at its best: street vendors selling pancakes and fruit, kids scampering about and women hanging up laundry. Then find alley 210 and wander down the lane. It's full of shops and cafes selling everything from traditional Chinese qipao dresses to funky silver jewelry.

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09 of 20

Visit the Shanghai Disneyland Resort

shanghai disneyland resort
Photo by Sara Naumann. All rights reserved.

With the opening of Shanghai Disneyland Resort in 2016, entertaining kids in Shanghai got a lot easier. The park has multiple distinct areas, which include Mickey Avenue (similar to Main Street, U.S.A.), Gardens of Imagination (a Chinese Zodiac garden), Fantasyland (an area dedicated to Disney films), Treasure Cove (a pirate's island), and more.

10 of 20

Walk Along the Dong Tai Road "Antique" Street

China - Shanghai - Dongtai Road Antique Market Stall
Mike Kemp/Getty Images

This small road, not far from Xin Tian Di, is Shanghai's answer to Beijing's Panjiayuan Market. While tiny in comparison to Panjiayuan, Dong Tai Road is lined with stalls and shops selling all that is junk and treasure in chinoiserie. You can find all kinds of items including Mao memorabilia, porcelain, old wooden rice buckets and brightly painted opera masks. It's worth a wander just to see what's on offer but don't forget your bargaining skills.

11 of 20

Visit Longhua Temple

Shanghai's largest temple consists of five halls, two towers, and an impressive seven-story pagoda. You might recognize the landmark from "Empire of the Sun." If you visit during the eponymous temple fair, you'll find vendors lined up selling various goods.

12 of 20

Get Lost in the Old City

This neighborhood was once Shanghai's center, filled with winding, narrow streets surrounded by a fortified wall. Now, it's a great place to take in the old shikumenstone gatehouses and catch a glimpse of what life in Shanghai used to be like before the skyscrapers took over.

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13 of 20

Visit the Home of Soong Qing-Ling

Soong Qing-ling was the wife of the founder of the Republic of China, Sun Yat-sen, who was much older than her. Today, you can visit her former residence, which was built by a German resident in 1920. The home includes Soong's expansive collection of thousands of books, as well as unique artifacts from the couple's time together.

14 of 20

Check Out the Marriage Market at People's Park

Yes, it is what it sounds like. On weekends from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., Shanghai's People's Park is home to a marriage market, where parents and grandparents "advertise" their unmarried children. Of course, the 30-acre park is a great stop at other times too.

15 of 20

See World-Class Contemporary Art at the Power Station of Art

This museum, housed in former power plant building that was used for 2010's World Expo, has no permanent exhibitions, instead focusing on world-class temporary displays of art. The previous exhibits have ranged from retrospectives of top American artists to up-and-coming Chinese talents.

16 of 20

Admire Chinese Artifacts at the Shanghai Museum

Designed to look like a ding, an ancient vessel used for cooking, the Shanghai Museum is home to more than 120,000 different pieces of Chinese art and history. The collection includes paintings, furniture, jewelry, ceramics, and more, and is also home to an expansive dress gallery that showcases clothing from China's 55 ethnic minority groups.

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17 of 20

Glimpse at Shangai's Future

This bustling, expansive metro is hard to wrap your head around the first time you visit, but if you want a glimpse into what Shanghai was, is, and becoming, a visit to the Urban Planning Exhibition Center is quite interesting. The museum even includes a 6,500-square-foot highly-detailed model of Shanghai.

18 of 20

Have Lunch at the Jade Buddha Temple

This colorful temple was built in the style of the Song Dynasty, with bright yellow walls, upturned eaves, and symmetrical courtyards. It's also home to a 7-foot white jade Buddha and a delicious, inexpensive vegetarian restaurant.

19 of 20

See Pandas at the Shanghai Zoo

If you're looking for another activity to satisfy the kids, check out the Shanghai Zoo. In addition to the ever-popular giant pandas, the zoo is also home to tigers and Asian elephants among other creatures. Be warned that the zoo gets quite crowded during local school holidays.

20 of 20

Hit Up the Stores on Nanjing Lu

Shanghai's main shopping street has something to offer everyone. East Nangjing Road is awash with neon billboards and bright lights (and plenty large stores), while West Nanjing Road is an upscale thoroughfare lined with hotels and retail.

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20 Best Things to Do in Shanghai