In late 2015, my father and I visited China for the first time. The first city we landed in was Shanghai, the skyscraper capital of the world! It’s way more than I could have ever expected. It’s clean, its tall and the food is delicious!
The city bristles with buildings that you can behold all day. However, the joys of Shanghai are on the street level, where everyday life unfolds with bewildering variety. Without further ado, here are 20 things you must do in Shanghai!
When in Shanghai, you simply can’t miss the Acrobatics. Shanghai hosts several world class acrobatic theaters from where you can choose from. The shows here are held every night, and one lasts for about 2 hours. They have become a popular tourist entertainment for tourists. These performances have in the recent past evolved to join hands with other cultural undertakings.
In these shows, you will be able to enjoy gravity-defying contortionism, juggling, unicycling, chair-stacking, and plate-spinning acts that will leave you thrilled. These acrobatic shows combine traditional Chinese arts and modern technologies.
The performers present Chinese acrobatics, martial arts, and dance perfectly in harmony with the music. While you marvel at the highly proficient skills of the performers, the story of China’s evolution from its ancient past to the future is told. You can get the best seats at 600 Yuen each, which is about $90.
Shanghai World Financial Center “100 Floor Observation Deck.”
This is one of the tallest buildings in the world. It is actually the 2nd tallest building in Shanghai, 4th in China and 8th in the World. It resembles a gigantic bottle opener and glitters majestically in the skyline. The building has three observation decks, the highest of which is on the 100th floor. The view from up here is a knockout; you will be treated to a jaw-dropping urban panorama. You will marvel at this Chinese metropolis from 1,555 feet above the ground.
On a clear day, you can see far and wide; on an overcast day; you’ll feel as though you’re floating in the clouds. If you have a fear of heights, you may be a little hesitant, but it’s perfectly safe and not see through all round. You will get great views of the city and on a clear day and lots of great photo opportunities.
This is a great way to see a lot in a short space of time. The observation decks are open to visitors from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. (final admission is at 10 p.m.), allowing you to witness either sunrise or sunset.
Shanghai Tower “Tallest Tower in China and 2nd Tallest in the World.”
Shanghai Tower is in the Lujiazui Finance and Trade Zone of Pudong. It is the tallest building in China and the second tallest building in the entire world, after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Its observation deck is, however, the highest ever conceived by humans, which offers the highest views of Shanghai in a 360-degree pan-optic, doughnut-shaped room that looks out onto the entire city and beyond. It was designed by American firm Gensler, with Shanghainese architect Jun Xia taking the lead on design. Though the project started way back in 1993, the construction only began in 2008.
To go to the observation deck, make sure you purchase your ticket outside before continuing towards the entrance. At the entrance lobby, there’s a short video depicting the progress and growth of Shanghai from the early 1800’s to the present day, which by the way you should make sure you watch. You can then get to ride the fastest elevator in the world which moves at a speed of 18 m/s. You will get to the deck in less than a minute and get to enjoy the majestic views of shanghai city from an unreal height.
The Oriental Pearl Observation Deck at Night
The Shanghai Oriental Pearl TV Tower is located in at the tip of Lujiazui in the Pudong district by the side of Huangpu River, opposite The Bund, which makes it a distinct landmark in the area. It is the tallest in Asia and third of the TV towers in the world.
The body of the tower creates and admirable image, and it’s described in in an ancient Chinese verse as ‘large and small pearls dropping on a plate of jade’. It consists of 3 gigantic columns, 5 small spheres, basement and the square.
There is a totally transparent panorama lift between the columns offering a quiet good view of Shanghai. Actually, it was the first wholly transparent elevator in the world. There are 3 main sightseeing floors from where you can enjoy the view from different heights.
When the night fall comes, the radiant Oriental Pearl TV Tower responds to the myriad twinkling lights on the other side of Huangpu River and vividly outlines a colorful and voguish night vision for Shanghai. Make sure you visit this tower at night for the best views of a lit Shanghai.
Exploring the Yuyuan Garden
Yuyuan Garden is a famous classical garden located in Anren Jie, Shanghai. It was a private garden of the Pan family in the Ming Dynasty, and it was considered the the largest and most prestigious of its era in Shanghai after it was completed in 1577. This garden features a unique design, and it perfectly blends decorative halls, elaborate pavilions, glittering pools, zigzag bridges, pagodas, archways, and impressive rockeries.
Wandering through the corridors and archways brings you a feeling of relaxation, and you can stop to gaze at the famed Exquisite Jade Rock, a 5-ton, porous, beautifully-shaped, spiky rock; or climb to the top of the Great Rockery. When walking in the garden, don’t just focus on the huge items like buildings and bridges, but keep your eyes on the details.
Much of the garden’s beauty is in the tiny carvings and sculptures. The best time to visit Yu Garden is in spring when the garden is dotted with green trees and blossoming flowers. If you are in Shanghai for a few days, visit the garden on a weekday as it will be less crowded than on the weekend.
Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street
Shanghai’s Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street sets an exemplary model for Asia’s shopping scene. It is one of Shanghai’s famous shopping streets and the world’s longest shopping precinct. It’s about 6 km long and attracts over 1 million visitors daily.
It enjoys a history of over 100 years and used to be called “Parker Lane.” It was named Nanjing Road officially in 1865 and turned into a pedestrianized road in 1999. It starts at the Bund in the east and ends in the west at the junction of Jing’an Temple and Yan’an West Street.
Here, you’ll find over 600 businesses on the road that offer countless famous brands, superior quality, and new fashions. World-famous food vendors like KFC and McDonald’s and as well as upscale stores like Tiffany and Dunhill can all be found here. There are also hundreds of traditional stores and specialty shops that provide choice silk goods, jade, embroidery, wool, and clocks.
You can either visit during the day or at night. During the night, flashing neon signs illuminate the magnificent buildings and spangle the night skyline of this lively city. A trackless sightseeing train provides a comfortable tour of the night-transformed pedestrian street.
See the Jade Buddha Temple
Located in the outskirts of Shanghai, is the Amazing Jade Buddha temple tucked in the middle and surrounded by modern buildings. Its architectural design is inspired by the Song Dynasty. This temple houses two serene Jade Buddha statues that were shipped from Burma. Their sparkling and crystal-clear white jade gives the temple its splendid grandeur.
The aromatic incense also gives the temple a transcendent atmosphere. Its magnificent structures are the great Devajara Hall, Mahavira Hall, and the Jade Buddha Tower; others are the Kwan-yin Hall, Amitabh Hall, Tang Hall, Dining- Room, also Recumbent Buddha Hall. They host venerable collections and attractive antiquities.
Jade Buddha Temple is still functional and replete with monks who reside, pray, study and conduct religious ceremonies on holy occasions. The recommended time to explore the temple is 1 hour. You can pay CNY 10 extra in order to see the Jade Buddha statues which are the major touristic attraction.
Other tourist attractions are the collections and the souvenir shop. While you are done with sight-seeing, you can enjoy modestly priced meals at the vegetarian shop. The temple is open from 8:00 am – 4:30 pm and to explore with ease, take the City Sightseeing bus.
Shanghai Maglev Train (from airport to center)
From Pudong airport, there are several modes of transport you can use to reach the center. But hey, there’s the Shanghai Maglev Train; magnetic levitation train, the fastest commercial train in the world – top speed of 431km/h-, faster than the F1 racing cars.
With this speeds, it only takes 7 minutes and 20 seconds to cover the distance of 30 km; from the airport to center. Traveling using the Maglev train feels like taking a cool, speedy step into the future in a split second. To use this mode of transport you must have a ticket, and you get a 20% discount if you have a plane ticket.
The train is subdivided into what is called cars. Inside each car, there are just normal but comfy seats. This might feel unusual as one would expect seat belts and shoulder harnesses. The cars are clean and very spacious. There are luggage racks and also plenty of space for more luggage near the doors.
The speed at which the train is cruising is also posted and updated in a real-time manner. At full speed, a look at the window will make you realize how fast it is as everything whizzes past it, even the speeding cars on the freeway. This is indeed a smooth but rapid 7 minutes of great experience that you should partake.
Eat at M Glam
Glam is a chic dining lounge & bar. It brings a renewed life and funky energy to the heart of The Bund with an intoxicating mix of food, cocktails, and wines. Their playful menu consists of small plates from around the world. You will experience their glam from its sparkly interior décor and its bay windows that offer a view to the beautiful Bund. Services here are also an above par excellence.
M Glam is not only a place for delightful meals and cocktails, but also for intimate gatherings, special celebrations, corporate and club meetings, parties, wine tastings and cocktail receptions. You also get to relax, be glam and enjoy the goodies life brings with pleasant but unobtrusive staff at your service.
Walk the Bund
Also known as Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu (East Zhongshan 1st Road), the Bund is a famous waterfront beach and it has been regarded as the symbol of Shanghai for hundreds of years. It’s a no rush walk in the Bund as its accessible by foot and a majestic stroll along its length in the evening is a lovely thing to do.
The light show is so pretty on the water, and the meander is worth a gaze. It’s a euphoric experience that seems to take you back in time. You can grab a snack in a few cafes that sell food or get yourself a beverage from the stands.
While here, you get to see the most famous and attractive sight which is on the west side of the Bund. It consists of various buildings of different architectural styles including Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Classicism and the Renaissance. Other sights include the lovers’ wall; a whopping 1,700-meters long flood-control wall.
It’s located on the side of Huangpu River from Huangpu Park to Xinkai River. There’s a full romantic atmosphere brought by the hollowed-out railings. At the railings, you can have a scenic view of the Pudong Area and Huangpu River.
Eat at Flair Rooftop Restaurant
It feels ecstatic to dine in the highest outdoor open bar in Shanghai with the Oriental Pearl Tower floating before your eyes. It offers you one of the most spectacular views in town as you get to see the Bund along with the great ambiance its Historic buildings. While letting its flair overwhelm you, this al fresco restaurant will also fill your tummy with the best Shanghai delicacies.
The Flair Rooftop Restaurant has mesmerizing delicacies from japan, India, Indonesia, china, Thailand and Vietnam served in the tapas style. The sushi and raw sea food will further elevate the vibe. While dining, you get to listen to soothing upbeat music.
At the bar, their enthusiastic staff is ready to get you relaxed with delicious cocktails, and beer lovers are taken care of. Their prices match the value offered. It offers lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner. Smart casual is the dress code. Flair Rooftop Restaurant is a great place to enjoy with friends, make your date smile from ear to ear, or simply enjoy the sunset by yourself.
Eat at M on the Bund
M is a quality restaurant that resides on the Bund. At M, you get to enjoy a modern European feast while your eyes are savoring on Shanghai’s historic waterfront, the river and the lights of Pudong.
With a wonderful view and pretty good art deco-style décor that match the architecture of the building, M exudes a timelessness and level of sophistication that eclipses the razzle-dazzle of many other upscale Shanghai restaurants. It’s spacious with a scenic atmosphere that makes it a heavenly spot for afternoon tea.
The cuisine here is more “international” than fusion. This, however, doesn’t mean that you should expect the world from it. Its menu features a wide array of delights, including classics like M’s Crispy Suckling Pig, the highly praised-slowly Baked, Salt-Encased Selected Leg of Lamb and Our Hot House-Smoked Salmon. There’s also an excellent list of wine that you can enjoy accompanied with music.
Try Shanghai Dishes on Huanghe Road
Huanghe Road is located on the west People Square in the downtown Shanghai. With a prime central location, Huanghe Rd covers all the bases from cheap lunches to late-night post-theatre snacks. You’ll find large restaurants, but Huanghe Rd is best known for dumplings – you can get them fried at Yang’s or served up in bamboo steamers across the road at Jiājiā Soup Dumplings.
You can also get steaming baskets of juicy crab meat. Due to their deliciousness, the place will be full most of the times. Patience is the key as the queue at a particular place will be long.
The dumplings may vary according to the place from where they are prepared. Most of them mostly contain soup and pork meet in the inside. The skin is thicker and can be steamed or pan fried.
While at it, you ought to try the delicious shanghai noodles; especially for Yellow croaker plus preserved vegetable noodles and crab noodles, punch toppings in the tawny fish owl with preserved vegetable, and also flapjacks. Want to eat local food like a pro? Book a private 3-hour tour here!
Take a Huangpu River Cruise
When in Shanghai, you should not miss a cruise tour on the Huangpu River. It is the best way to admire Shanghai’s classic skyline views of colonial architecture and modern skyscrapers along the river. Huangpu River, a symbol of Shanghai, originates in Dianshan Lake and empties into the Yangtze River at Wusongkou (mouth of Wusong River). It is 114 kilometers long and 400 meters wide. It is ice-free year round. The river divides Shanghai into east and west. It is a silent eyewitness to Shanghai’s history and its development.
Cruise ships vary in size, decoration, and amenities, with the most luxurious offering air conditioning, conference room, banquet hall, bar and television. During the daylight cruise, you have a spectacular view of the two suspension bridges, Nanpu Bridge and Yangpu Bridge which appear to arch over the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, resembling ‘Two dragons playing with a ball.’ You also get to know the differences of architecture between the east bank and the west bank.
On the west bank, a lot of western-style buildings can be seen, full of exotic flavor, while on the east bank, rows of skyscrapers spring up and rise above the clouds. It is recommended to take a cruise at night when the river is veiled in the sparkling neon lights on both sides. You get to experience the incandescent beauty of The Bund, Shanghai’s cosmopolitan cultural district and also the sparkle of the city from the shimmering Huangpu River. Book your tickets here!
Zhujlajiao Water Town
Located in the outskirts of Shanghai, Zhujiajiao is a water town that was founded over 1700 years ago. It’s about 47 square kilometers. Zhujiajiao Water Town is noted for its archaic water country scenery, idyllic, tranquil, and peaceful. The majority of its buildings date from the Ming and Qing Dynasties and are in truly remarkable condition. Several large gardens that are scattered around this ancient town offer charming alcoves in which one can just lie back, relax, and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Popular activities to undertake at Zhujlajiao Water Town include; boating, walking, and photography. Apart from these, you ought to see the ancient buildings and the bridges. Its North Street (Bei Dajie), is the most preserved and has old buildings from the Qing Dynasty. There are also some restaurants where you can grab a snack and an artsy bar to relax. The Xihu Streets host the Qing Dynasty post office. It has old letters and other antique post cards.
The main attraction that you should see is the Fang Sheng Bridge. In fact, it’s the largest stone arch bridge in Shanghai. It has a stone tablet named the Dragon Gate stone which is engraved with 8 coiling dragons encircling a shining pearl. While here, nearby attractions include the fresh water lake Dianshan. Book your private day tour to Zhujlajiao here.
Eat Hot Pot at Hai Di Lao
Hai Di Lao mainly serves Sichuan-style hotpot while mixing the pick of other style hot pot. It has the top priority of ensuring the customer satisfaction by providing the best service and best food. They offer excellent service, and you can enjoy different kinds of food. The soup is mouthwatering and can range from hot, moderately hot, and extreme hot style, non-hot style.
The waiter makes the noodles right on your table; maybe for you to gain some skills. They have a good ambiance that accompanies their great food. You will relish every bit of it. There is also a huge selection of sauces and broths. You get to enjoy the value of the price on the meals.
Shop Around the City God Temple
The Old City God Temple of Shanghai is located at Fangbang Middle Road and adjoins Yuyuan Garden in the south. This place enjoys a far-reaching history and attracts a lot of tourists from all over the world. It is one of the most popular scenic area as well as a shopping center for travelers.
Actually, it is such high rated that there’s a saying that goes like, ‘one who fails to reach the temple never reaches Shanghai.’ It was built to protect the safety of the people in the city, and the gods are regarded as patron saints in Taoism.
This is a must see when traveling to Shanghai, and you can feel the Chinese culture in this Taoism temple. You can spend hours walking around, become one with the people around you, and have a moment to admire how the Chinese engage with others. This is Chinese culture, religion, and heritage all in one place. It’s a colorful place to relax and take some pictures.
Stay at the Grand Hyatt in the Jin Mao Tower
The Grand Hyatt is an iconic luxury 5-star hotel located in the Jin Mao Tower. It is the third tallest hotel in the world, and it was once the tallest. Actually, it was included in the Guinness World Records in 200 after winning the Millenium Edition as the highest hotel in the world. Its situated in an ideal location, in the Lujiazui financial center, just opposite the World Trade Center. I will take you only about 45 minutes from the airport to get there.
Occupying the top 36 floors of the Jin Mao Tower, this hotel offers you inspirational panoramas of the Shanghai skyline. There are sophisticated rooms and suites that are bound to meet your needs and preferences. The service provided here is also first class with an aim to make your stay as comfortable as it can. Being located next to the Shanghai IFC center/ shopping mall, it is within walking distance to metro station (line 2), and you will have various dining and shopping options.
Eat Xiaolong Bao at Din Tai Fung
Din Tai Fung is a renowned Taiwanese chain of restaurants and its famous for its exquisite xiaolongbao, the city’s soup-filled dumplings. This is probably one of the biggest restaurants that you have never heard of especially because it misses in Europe.
Though not originally a Chinese restaurant, this is one of the best places where you can enjoy Chinese Cuisine. The Taipei 101 branch of Din Tai Fung is located inside that skyscraper’s basement-bound food hall. Interestingly the kitchen is visible through from the dining room, although it’s partitioned off by a glass wall.
Here, you will definitely love the prompt service and will find the most authentic experience you can find for traditional Shanghainese soup dumplings. Though the classic Shanghai locations will provide a more adventurous dumpling experience, DTF is a better choice if you are looking for a more civilized meal. If you are a western visiting Asia, this one is a must!
Get a Foot Massage
When you are in China, indulging in a massage, or more specifically, a foot massage in Shanghai is a wonderful, relaxing and revitalizing experience. Actually, no trip to China is complete without the authentic massage experience. Having one at one of the parlors next to Huanghe road is bound to make you experience probably the finest foot massage of your life.
The experience is simply wonderful, and you can enjoy some splendid foot oil massage and aroma oil massage in an amazing atmosphere. You will also get served by some friendly staff and professional therapists. There are some great weekday deals you can take advantage of and get yourself de-stressed.
After exploring Shanghai for 5 full days, I have to say this is a city that lives up to its name. There are so many things to see and do, this list is just a taste of the must dos! For me, the top things to do were to visit the three tallest towers in Shanghai, try some Shanghai dishes on Huanghe Road, take the bullet train from the airport and visit the water town of Zhujlajiao.