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Shanghai is a fast-paced, cosmopolitan city that has a pulse-quickening energy like no other Chinese city. From towering skyscrapers to iconic landmarks, historic museums to beautiful green spaces, there is something worth visiting around every corner. There is no doubt that this mesmerizing city should be on your list during your trip to China. To make sure you have the time of your life in this paradise, we’ve master-crafted a listing of the 10 best things to do on your Shanghai tour.
Shanghai's picturesque skyline comes to life at night along the city’s glittering waterfront, known as "The Bund". On the left bank of this marvellous riverside walkway are old European-style buildings dating back to Shanghai’s colonial days, whereas on the right are the towering modern architectural wonders that have come to represent the city on postcards and stamps around the world.
- Best time to visit: Visit The Bund after sunset — when the dizzy array of lights takes over the night sky to create an unbeatable photo op. However, just be prepared to deal with the massive crowd of people who want to experience this picture-perfect moment just like you!
- Pro tip: Glide through the Huangpu River on your way to The Bund aboard a 50-minute Pujiang River Cruise and enjoy the spectacular landmarks lightning up the night sky.
- Opening hours: 9:00 am to 4:00 pm
- Entrance fee: USD 7*
To the northeast of the old town lies Yuyuan, or the “Garden of Happiness”, the most revered and the only surviving Ming Dynasty garden in Shanghai. Dating back to the 16th century, this traditional Chinese garden offers unexpected serenity amidst decorated rockeries, wooden pavilions and koi-filled ponds.
The garden is a city highlight particularly because of its six main scenic areas outfitted with ornate structures like colorful pagodas and decorated bridges in addition to well intimate enclaves that are divided by elaborate "dragon walls”.
- Pro tip: Head here in the early morning to beat the crowds and explore the nooks and crannies in sheer peace.
- Opening hours: 8:00 am to 4:30 pm
- Entrance fee: USD 5*
Shanghai’s temples can be a great way to revitalize your mind and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city life, no matter your religious preferences. One such temple is the Jade Buddha Temple, which not only might help you find inner peace but also leave you ecstatic with its legion of statues.
The biggest draw here is the transcendent 2-meter-tall Buddha crafted from pure white jade and adorned with a robe of precious gems. But that’s not all; the grand temple hall also boasts of three golden Buddha statues, representing the incarnations of Buddha past, present and future.
- Best time to visit: It's important to note that the temple is one of Shanghai’s few active Buddhist monasteries, and it gets quite busy as the day sets in. So it’s best to arrive early in the morning to beat the crowds.
- Opening hours: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
- Entrance fee: Free
Nestled along the People's Square near the main shopping street in Shanghai, the Shanghai Museum is renowned for its sheer size and distinct architecture that replicates the shape of an ancient Chinese cooking pot. Often regarded as one of the best museums in China and a popular tourist attraction in Shanghai, this expansive museum boasts a vast collection of artifacts (about 1,000,000!) that lay testimony to the nation's rich culture and history.
Highlights include exquisite jade artifacts, ornate calligraphy, antiquated bronzes and traditional Chinese costumes exhibited across the museum’s four floors. Best of all, the museum is free to enter. But watch out, as there are only a certain number of tickets available each day for different time slots.
- Opening hours: 9:00 am to 9:00 pm
- Entrance fees: USD 56 – 76*
Shanghai Disneyland Park is the first Disney theme park in China and has been enticing Disney-lovers from across the world since 2016. Combining the magic of Disney with the unique cultural elements of China, this amusement park features six themed-lands with countless adventures and excitement. The fun starts at Mickey Avenue where you’re welcomed by unique Disney characters and merchandise-cum-souvenir shops before you head off towards the Enchanted Storybook Castle and visitor-favourite, the Gardens of imagination.
- Best time to visit: It can get really busy so try to reach the park around 7:30 in the morning. Arriving one minute later could possibly mean an hour more of waiting in the park!
Pudong, Shanghai’s east side, is home to the city’s towering skyscrapers that stand alongside the Huangpu River. To soak in the breathtaking panoramic views of the magical city, hop atop the Shanghai World Financial Center, aka “The Bottle Opener.” Standing at an astounding height of 490 meters, it offers three observation decks, the highest of which is on the 100th floor.
What’s even better? The crown jewel of the city’s skyline is the Shanghai Tower, which is not only China’s tallest building but also the world’s second tallest — extending 610 meters into the sky. The vista from the top is spectacular; on a clear day, you’ll feel like you are floating above the city, and when it’s grey and overcast, you’ll feel like you are drifting in the clouds.
It's simple — a ride in the Shanghai Maglev, the fastest passenger train in the world, is one of the best things to do in Shanghai and a perfect way to experience the ultra-modern city vibe. Traveling at about 431 kilometers per hour, this magnetically-levitated train is the adult equivalent of a theme park ride — covering 29 kilometers between downtown and Pudong International Airport in about 7 minutes.
- Ticket price: A one-way ticket costs USD 7, whereas, a round-trip return ticket costs USD 12*.
- Pro tip: Visit the Maglev museum that exhibits the engineering facts and history of the train. You can find this small museum at the Maglev Longyang Road Station, which is one of the train’s stops in the city.
If there’s one place you must head to for an authentic Shanghaian shopping experience, Nanjing Road is definitely your place! The Chinese equivalent to New York’s Fifth Avenue, Nanjing road stretches for several kilometres and boasts a mind-boggling number of shops. From local street vendors and souvenir stalls to boutique clothing shops, ultra-luxe malls, and a whole range of cinemas and restaurants, Nanjing is your one-stop place to shop your heart out and have the time of your life with your family and friends.
- Best time to visit: It is best to visit Nanjing at night when the streets and shops light-up and transform into a bustling nightlife venue. In fact, it is absolutely worth visiting for the neon lights alone, but be careful of petty thieves and scammers.
- Opening hours: 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
A must-visit Shanghai attraction, this iconic tower boasts a particularly unique design and is one of the most striking landmarks in the city. Standing a whopping 467-meters-tall, the Oriental Pearl offers absolutely fantastic views of Shanghai! But the real reason why you ought to mark your presence here is a revolving restaurant with a glass-floored deck which replicates a space module. It’s indeed a memorable experience to feast on Shanghainese delicacies like soup dumplings, hotpots and hand-stretched noodles while enjoying the spectacular views of the city.
- Best time to visit: Try to get up here just an hour or so before sunset to enjoy the best views.
If you want to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and explore the traditional Chinese way of life, then look no further than the water town of Zhujiajiao, the best-preserved ancient town in Shanghai, which glimmers like a bright pearl in the landscape of lakes and mountains.
Located just 29 kilometers west of downtown Shanghai, the town features numerous fascinating canals with bridges connecting travelers to clusters of charming narrow streets. What’s more, there are numerous chic, stylish cafes, tiny shops selling souvenirs, and friendly boatmen offering boat or ferry rides.
- Best time to visit: We strongly recommend visiting Zhujiajiao during the weekdays as the big weekend crowds may hinder your experience.
That’s our selection of the top things to do in Shanghai! From gardens, observation decks, museums and theme parks, the city offers something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you’re on a trip to Shanghai, with family, friends or solo, you’ll definitely have a blast exploring this city. Happy travels!
*Prices listed in the article are as of May 2019; they have been changed from RMB to USD and are approximations.