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. You'll never run out of things to do in this magical city.
The former French Concession is a lovely part of Shanghai; 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 they 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 marketing their wares.
Take a Walking Tour of the Bund
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.
Visit the Yu Garden and Bazaar
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 Huxinting 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.
Check Out Contemporary Art at the Moganshan Road Art District
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.
Have a Cocktail at the Glam
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.
Shop at Xin Tian Di
Xin Tian Di is a restaurant, bar, and 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.
Visit a Skyscraper for a Bird's Eye View
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 in 1920. The home includes Soong's expansive collection of thousands of books, as well as unique artifacts from the couple's time together.
Check Out the Marriage Market at People's Park
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.
Basically, parents of eligible Chinese men and women come here to meet and mingle with other parents and see if they can find a match for their children. While there, each parent writes information like age, height, job, income, education, Chinese zodiac sign, and family values on a piece of paper, which is then hung on long strings throughout the People's Park for other parents to browse.
While the practice may seem outdated, it ties into Chinese marriage traditions and the importance Chinese people put on family lineage. However, the marriage market has also been compared to a real life Match.com—with a very low success rate.
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.
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.
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 past, present, and future, 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.
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 wonderful, inexpensive vegetarian restaurant.
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. Note that the zoo gets quite crowded during local school holidays.
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 of large stores), while West Nanjing Road is an upscale thoroughfare lined with hotels and retail.