Shanghai is the largest city by population in the world, with a staggering 24 million permanent residents. Located in the Yangtze River Delta in East China, Shanghai has, for centuries, been a major administrative, shipping, and trading centre. But the city really came into its own in the 19th Century, when it was recognised as an incredible location for international trade.
A city steeped in history, and one very much at the heart of global affairs, Shanghai is, today, an extremely popular tourist destination, offering some of the best attractions that China has to offer. So, here’s a list of the top ten things to do in Shanghai. Enjoy!
1. Shanghai Sightseeing Tour
One of the best ways to find your feet in a city that can be as bewildering as it is massive is to take a guided tour. As in any major city, there are a variety of vendors offering sightseeing tours, which means that most major languages are catered for. And some tours even combine a bus ride with a river cruise so that you can see a really comprehensive selection of Shanghai sights.
Interesting Fact: Shanghai translates literally as “Above the Sea” since it is located at the point where the Yangtze River meets the East China Sea.
2. Shanghai Maglev Train
A magnetic levitation train, the Shanghai Maglev Train really is an amazing feat of engineering. The first commercially operated high-speed train of its kind in the world, the Shanghai Maglev Train can reach speeds of up to 268 mph (though during a non-commercial test run, it has achieved a whopping 311 mph!). You probably won’t get many opportunities to ride on of these special vehicles, so if you’re looking for things to do in Shanghai, you should definitely give this a try.
Interesting Fact: The Shanghai Maglev train is reported to have cost the Chinese government $1.4 billion.
3. Shanghai Museum
No article about things to do in Shanghai would be complete without a mention of the Shanghai Museum. Since its complete renovation in 1996, the Shanghai Museum has widely been considered one of China’s first world-class museums. Receiving around 1.9 million visitors each year, the museum, which houses ancient Chinese works of art, has a collection of around 120,000 pieces – including a number of items of national importance.
Interesting Fact: Shanghai Museum owns an important collection of ancient coins from the Silk Road. The collection contains 1793 pieces from the Greeks to the Mongol Empire.
4. Din Tai Fung
The soup dumpling is Shanghai’s signature dish. Consisting of a delicate dumpling skin carefully wrapped around a sumptuous pork filling – or, occasionally, crab – and a delicious squirt of broth, the soup dumpling is available all over Shanghai. To find the very best dumplings, however, you don’t have to traipse around looking for the most traditional, authentic looking little eatery; in fact, Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese restaurant chain, are often lauded as the masters of this delicacy.
Interesting fact: Din Tai Fung was named as one of the top ten restaurants in the world by the New York Times in 1993.
5. The Huangpu Night Cruise
The Huangpu is Shanghai’s longest river cruise. Best taken at night, when the city is brilliantly illuminated on all sides, tourists are able to spot some of Shanghai’s biggest and most famous attractions whilst slowly meandering down the “wiggly” river.
Interesting Fact: On average, the Huangpu River is 400 metres wide and nine metres deep.
6. Fuxing Park
Located in the former French Concession of Shanghai, Fuxing Park, designed in the French style, complete with lake, fountains, pavilions, and colourful flowerbeds, is a gathering point for locals from all walks of life. Expect to see dancers, card players, mah-jong devotees, and tai chi enthusiasts. Covering an area of about 10 hectares, the park was once the largest in Shanghai. Although it has since lost this title, it is often named as one of Shanghai’s must-see sights.
Interesting Fact: In the north of Fuxing park stands a six and a half metre high statue of Marx and Engles. The statue weighs 70 tons and was erected on August 5, 1985.
7. Dongtai Road Antique Market
Strewn along Dongtai Road and Liuhekou Road are more than 100 stalls selling cheerful tourist tat, genuine antiques, and everything in between. A word of warning, though: if you go, be prepared to haggle – no priced is fixed on Dongtai Road, and traders are always looking to get the most from their wares, and will doggedly push for the price they want.
Interesting Fact: Dongtai Road was built in 1902, during the reign of Emperor Guangxu of Qing Dynasty; however, it was only named Dongtai Road in 1943.
8. Oriental Pearl Tower
The Oriental Pearl Radio and TV tower has become somewhat emblematic of Shanghai, and features on hundreds of Shanghai postcards and TV ads. At 468 metres, the tower was the tallest structure in China from 1994-2007. If you go, it may be worth sticking around until after sunset, since then the tower is brightly lit up with various LED sequences.
Interesting Fact: The Oriental Pearl Tower weighs 120,000 tons, has a sway of 1.5 metres, and cost $100 million to build.
9. People’s Square
People’s Square is the centre of Shanghai’s municipal government headquarters and is home to a prestigious list of Shanghai tourist attractions and landmarks, including: People’s Park, Shanghai Grand Theatre, Shanghai Art Museum, and Tomorrow Square. The economic, political, cultural centre of Shanghai, People’s Square is a busy, fast-moving, and exciting place.
Interesting Fact: People’s Square is built on the grounds of the former Shanghai Race Club, which was established by Britain in 1862. When the People’s Republic of China banned gambling in 1952, the racetrack was converted into People’s Park (the north part) and People’s Square (the south park).
Xintiandi, which is translates literally as “new heaven and earth”, is a huge car-free shopping, dining, and entertainment district. With plenty of shops, cafes, and restaurants, Xintiandi is a great place to visit at any time of day, and boasts a long history of historical and cultural legacies. Retaining the antique walls, tiles, and exteriors of old Shanghai, Xintiandi is a wonderful mix of old and new.
Interesting Fact: Xintiandi is the location of the site of the first congress of the Communist Party of China. The area is now preserved at the Museum of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Part.
Though Shanghai offers so much more than these ten things, anybody lucky enough to visit all the sites we’ve included is almost guaranteed to have a good time, and will be sure to leave with a real feeling for what the city is all about.