The Ultimate Travel Guide to Shanghai
Located in the easternmost of the Yangtze River Delta and the middle of the curved coastline of eastern China, Shanghai has a long history as a trade port, benefiting from the unique political environment, its economy has achieved unprecedented rapid development in all aspects making it the richest city and the economic and trade center of China with colorful nightlife.
In the recent nearly 100 years, Shanghai is a city that perfectly combines the "Shanghai-style culture" with modern civilization. It has not only many temples and gardens with Chinese classical characteristics, but also a large number of European-style ancient buildings over a century, some of them are even the best witnesses of the development of modern China.
Alongside, it is a fast-paced city also known for its towering modern skyscrapers, crazily advanced technology, vivid art scene, numerous shopping malls, a large variety of delicacies home and aboard..., letting it be the popular China tour destination among tourists, business travelers, backpackers, and…everyone else.
What to expect in Shanghai
The word "Shanghai" represents not only a city, but a symbol of fashion, art, progress, charm, speed, etc.: Xintiandi French Concession not only retains the old Shikumen and the original old neighborhoods, but also displays the latest popular elements. The vicissitudes of life on the opposite side of the Huangpu river have now been replaced by magnetic levitation and the most international airport. The former racecourse has become a park today. Besides, it is also the shopping paradise, with many shopping malls located at Nanjing Road, Huaihai Road, Xujiahui Commercial City, etc.
Shanghai is also a world-famous modern, industrial metropolis in China without losing traditional Chinese characteristics that have always been influenced by a foreign culture. From one of the earliest cities in China with a trade port opened to the prosperous "Shiliyangchang (metropolis infested with foreign adventurers)", the Eastern and Western cultures have blended with each other since then. The old western-style architectures on the Bund and the modern skyscrapers in Pudong complement each other.
There are many things to expect in Shanghai: the sound of hymns at Xujiahui Cathedral; the curls of cigarettes at the Jade Buddha Temple; the elders playing Mahjong on the other side of the street; the teenagers playing football in the alleys; the burlesques, one-man shows, Shanghai operas, and today's Shanghai Qing mouth in the small theaters; the symphony and ballet in the large theatres; the local delicacy of the old restaurant; the Cantonese tea in the Xinghualou; the French cuisine in the red house; the antique tea houses in the old street alleys; and various surprising bars in the bungalows on Hengshan Road (presenting an excellent combination of Chinese and Western), each has its own wonderful.
How to get to Shanghai and travel around Shanghai
As one of the most important transportation hubs in China, Shanghai has convenient transportation, making it supremely easy to be reached by plane, train, bus, and ship. Besides, passengers from 51 countries or regions transiting through China via Shanghai can enjoy a 144-hour visa-free stay in Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang. Most travelers choose Shanghai as their start city or end city to tour China.
There are 2 major airports in Shanghai, namely Hongqiao International Airport and Pudong International Airport, which are located in the east and west of Shanghai respectively and can be accessible to each other by the city metro and the airport shuttle. Both of them operate international and domestic flights, with more than 1,000 flights taking off and landing every day. Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport, located in Puxi and closer to the urban area, mainly operates domestic flights as well as a few international routes to Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. Shanghai Pudong Airport, located in Pudong and far from the city center, is the main airport for China's entry and exit with the vast majority of international flights concentrated here. Its routes cover 73 international cities and 62 domestic cities.
For domestic travels within China, it is a great option to take a train, particularly the high-speed train which significantly shortens the riding hours and improves the comfort and experience of train riding. There are 4 train stations in Shanghai, namely Shanghai Railway Station, Shanghai South Railway Station, Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station, and Shanghai West Railway Station, operating regular trains and high-speed trains connecting cities all around China. The fares of train and plane tickets are comparable, but the trains are likely to be less possible to get delayed compared with domestic flights.
Shanghai is an important port for domestic passenger ships and international cruise ships. At present, there are two international passenger terminals in Shanghai, one is the Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal and the other is Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal. The Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal operates both international and domestic cruise routes, the international routes can reach Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Europe, and Southeast Asia, and the domestic routes are open to ports such as Dalian, Ningbo, and Hankou. While Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal mainly operates domestic cruise routes to Dinghai, Putuoshan, Nantong, Zhoushan, Daishan, and cities along the Yangtze River.
There are more than 40 long-distance passenger bus stations in Shanghai, mainly including Shanghai Long-distance Bus Terminal, Shanghai South Long-distance Passenger Terminal, and Hengfeng Road Passenger Terminal. The buses to all provinces in East China can be found at these 3 stations, especially to its nearby provinces Jiangsu and Zhejiang which have an intensive bus frequency. Most of the models are luxury buses, which are very convenient and comfortable. There are many shuttle buses from Shanghai Tourism Distribution Center to the tourist destinations around Shanghai.
Travel around Shanghai
The city metro and buses are cheap and reliable. As of August 2020, there are 16 metro lines opened in Shanghai covering many highlights of Shanghai, and a very complete public bus transportation system divided into regular routes (covering the suburbs), dedicated routes and tourist routes. We don't suggest travelers take buses because there are a large number of one-way streets to make you confused. However, as metro’s ticket vending machines operate in English and English-speakers are available on the metro, making it easy to figure out the city’s metro system, but you should bear the metro operating hours in mind, particularly for Shanghai Pudong Airport, which generally runs between 6:00-22:30.
It can be interesting to walk around the highlights like Xintiandi French Concession, the Bund, etc. to discover its historical background and vivid art scene, however, it may be too much walking even for the fittest hikers, then you may choose to ride a shared bike, such as Mobike, Hellobike, etc., with a very low fare (approximate CN¥ 3-4 per hour). The taxi is another easy way to travel around Shanghai, but you should be careful with the rush hours, taxis are usually charged by meter, with a starting price of CN¥ 13-16.
When is the best time to Shanghai
Shanghai has a subtropical monsoon climate with four distinct seasons, abundant sunshine and rainfall. The climate in Shanghai is mild and humid, with short spring and autumn and long winter and summer. Shanghai's average temperature is about 17.6°C, sunshine is about 1885.9 hours, and precipitation is about 1173.4 mm. More than 60% of the annual rainfall is concentrated in the monsoon season from May to September.
As an international metropolis, it is suitable for travel to Shanghai all year round, but Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to November) are considered to be the best seasons to travel to Shanghai, as both seasons are with adorable weather and different bright colors. Spring is the time for flower blossom, Shanghai Qingpu plum blossoms, Fengxian rape blossoms, Pudong peach blossoms, and Songjiang orchid bamboo shoots emerge from the ground in sequence, which is truly beautiful! Autumn is the leaf-peeping time with colorful leaves to see. Summer (June to August) is the monsoon season in Shanghai with the hottest and dampest weather, while winter (December to February) is the dry season in Shanghai with the coldest weather, which is not suitable for outdoor activities. In addition, July and August, and especially the golden week (usually October 1st to October 7th) are the busiest periods to travel to Shanghai, you should avoid visiting Shanghai as well as making a tour to China during these periods.
Top things to do in Shanghai
The Bund, looking for the past and future of Shanghai
The skyscrapers of Pudong New Area are set against the Western European houses along the Bund, including Shanghai Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center, Oriental Pearl TV Tower, and Jinmao Tower. The view of the Bund on both sides of the Huangpu River must be the essence of Shanghai. Here in the early morning, you can see the elders dancing swords and punching, and at night you can enjoy the bright lights on the bustling Bund. Buying a ferry ticket to cross the river, sailing from the century-old "World of Nations" building complex to Lujiazui with row upon row of skyscrapers, on the slowly swaying ferry, blowing the sea breeze, as if to feel Shanghai's past and future.
Shuttle in the old alleys full of memories
The rapid development of Shanghai has gradually blurred the outline of the old city. The narrow lanes reflect the old generation of Shanghainese's longing for "home". Auntie in pajamas with curly hair; a dazzling array of roadside stalls on the side of the road; old people sitting on a bench at the end of the alley; children running around; these small fragments of life outline the simplest folk daily life in the alleys of Shanghai. Spending half a day, slowing down your paces to walk slowly through each lane full of memories where you can encounter this unforgettable old time hidden behind the city.
Step into the fairy tale world of "Disney"
Shanghai Disneyland is the first western super-park in mainland China. While creating a "Chinese version" of Disney, Walt Disney has incorporated more Chinese elements. The parade floats of the Chinese princess "Mulan" and Disney's "Zodiac"; the original Disney characters meet the traditional Chinese style, making Shanghai Disney unique. What are you waiting for? Hurry up and pull up three or five friends or family, step into Disneyland, and let the familiar fairy tales become reality here.
Eat from street stalls to top restaurants
"I am not afraid that there is no food, I am afraid that there is too much to eat.", this is the best description of Shanghai cuisine. As a cosmopolitan city in China, it has the oldest local restaurants in the country, as well as the world-famous Western cuisine. Various flavor restaurants and restaurants provide countless delicacies. Whatever you want to eat, you can have it in Shanghai. Even if you are a food enthusiast, you can eat all the way from the roadside stalls to top restaurants.
Stroll through the old western streets in the "French Concession"
The semi-colonial history in the past has given Shanghai a number of unique western architectural blocks. The Shikumen, a combination of Chinese and Western; cathedrals of different shapes; and countless European-style buildings dazzled visitors. There were countless literati and inkmen living on Huaihai Road; the quiet and elegant western-style restaurants on Hengshan Road; and the various western-style houses on Wukang Road are the best places for tourists to taste the "French Concession". Maybe the most pleasant thing in Shanghai is that, on a warm afternoon, looking for a secluded old street, accompanied by large platanus trees, and riding a bicycle to explore the rows of exquisite bungalows.
Feel the folk customs at the City God Temple
When people talk about City God Temple, they often refer to the area around City God Temple, not just the temple itself. The City God Temple area is the prosperous old city of Shanghai, with historical sites such as Yu Garden, Inner Garden, etc. In addition, feeling the beauty of Chinese garden architecture on the Jiuqu Bridge, tasting the Nanxiang Xiaolong and other Shanghai snacks in the old street, and admiring the unique golden light of the City God Temple when the lanterns are on, are the experiences that everyone should not miss in Shanghai. During the Lantern Festival, the City God Temple will be put on various large lanterns to welcome tourists from all over the world. Walking in the "old city" in the bustling city, you can feel the traditional folk customs of Shanghai.
Top places to visit in Shanghai
Yu Garden, a classical garden with a history of over 450 years, even it is small in size, but still impressive as of its sophisticated design, with pavilions, rockeries, ponds, and a complete traditional theater intertwined together in an ornate maze.
Jade Buddha Temple
Located in No. 170 Anyuan Road, Putuo District, it is home to two ancient sacred Jade Buddhas, one sitting Buddha and one reclining Buddha. It is pure land with a quiet and peaceful environment where you can escape from the hustle and bustle city life.
It is a large-scale ancient Chinese art museum with 12 special exhibition rooms and a collection of more than 120,000 pieces. It houses historical relics from all dynasties, especially ancient bronze ceramics, calligraphy, and paintings, making it one of the best places to learn about the art of ancient China.
As one of the top ten famous pedestrian streets in China full of artsy and fashionable atmosphere, it is the paradise for shoppers with a large scale of department stores selling a complete range of goods, creative urban sculptures everywhere, many chairs for tourists to sit in the middle of the street. Besides, you can see the clang-dang cars that resemble the reduced version of the old trams, which has a taste of old Shanghai, you might as well experience it.
Tianzifang is the most famous "business street in the most characteristic old Shikumen alley" in Shanghai, the first choice for young artists. Walking in Tianzifang, winding through the maze-like alleys, characteristic shops and art workshops, from teahouses, open-air restaurants, open-air cafes, galleries, home furnishings to handicrafts, and many well-known creative studios in Shanghai, will inadvertently jump into the line of sight.
Zhujiajiao Ancient Town
Reputed as the Venice of Shanghai, it is the nearest water town to Shanghai with a history of 1,700 years. The age-old beautiful man-made wonders such as old bridges, old streets, Ming-Qing dynasty architectures, old Buddhist and Taoist sites, etc. are in a harmonious combination with the natural water network here.
It is the current world's second-tallest building with a height of 632 m. This 128-story megatall skyscraper in Lujiazui is composed of hotels, restaurants, observation decks, conference rooms, offices, and shopping malls, etc., retaining the record of having the world's highest observation deck in a building or structure at 562 m, which is the best and highest point to overlook Shanghai city.
What to eat in Shanghai
For tourists short in time, the major food courts, such as the scenic area of City God Temple of Shanghai, Yunnan Road Food Street, Shippo Old Street, etc. are the best places to enjoy a variety of authentic food, offering mouth-watering specialty snacks and cuisines including local delicacies and flavorful cuisines of countries of the world. Xintiandi and Tianzifang are good options to find some lovely artistic featured bars and cafés.
Its food scene is extremely diverse, featuring snacks and cuisines from various parts of China and the rest of the world, among them, the pan-fried buns and steamed buns stuffed with juicy pork (soup dumplings or Xiaolongbao) are the snacks you must try. Xiaoyang Shengjian is one of the best places to taste the pan-fried buns. When it comes to Shanghai Xiaolongbao, Nanxiang Xiaolongbao is naturally the most famous, Nanxiang Steamed Buns shop and the Guyiyuan dim sum shop are the place to have Nanxiang Xiaolongbao, besides, Shanghai’s DingTaifeng, Wanshouzhai, and Jiajia Tangbao are a good place to enjoy Xiaolongbao too.
Where to stay in Shanghai
As an international metropolis, Shanghai offers a large variety of hotels to meet every budget, from local guesthouses to international 5-star hotels or even higher standards. You can easily find a hotel based on your interests and preferences. Usually, we would recommend travelers to book a hotel downtown area close to the metro stations, which is convenient to travel around.
For travelers planning to stay in Shanghai for only a few days, booking a hotel close to Nanjing Road and People’s Square in Puxi Area could be a good choice, as they are conveniently surrounded by metro stations and bus stops, and many of the tourist highlights are located in Puxi Area. For those preferring to appreciate the beautiful and colorful nightlife of Shanghai, staying at a hotel at the Bund, Lujiazui, or close to Yu Garden might be the best option. Besides, another great option is booking a hotel at the old French Concession, where cozy hotels are hidden in the narrow alleys that suit all sorts of travelers and the place is also close to nightlife attractions, laid-back cafés, and shopping malls.
Recommend itinerary and tours in Shanghai
As one of the main gateway cities in China, Shanghai could be an ideal starting point for your China tour, due to its convenient transportation to connect all over China. To fully enjoy the wonders of Shanghai and its nearby attractions, travelers should plan no less than 3-4 days. If you are sufficient in time, it would be a great idea to extend the journey by connecting the tranquil water towns nearby, Suzhou, ancient capitals like Hangzhou, Xi’an, or Beijing, the picturesque Guilin and Mount Huangshan.
- For travelers with limited time, but want to have a quick glimpse of Shanghai, this 4 days Shanghai must see tour with outskirt Zhujiajiao sightseeing (144-hour visa-free) could be a good option, which includes all the highlights of Shanghai, allowing you to appreciate the beautiful Bund with towering skyscrapers and exotic Western-style architectures, learn more about ancient Chinese art by visiting Shanghai Museum, and enjoy the typical water country scenery of Zhujiajiao.
- For travelers longing for learning more about traditional Chinese architectures, it is highly recommended to take our 5 days Shanghai to Suzhou tour with Tongli Water Town exploration (144-hour visa-free), which includes not only the highlights of Shanghai but also a visit to Tongli Water Town and two famous gardens in Suzhou to admire Chinese superb architectural skills.
- For travelers desiring to discover more than just the modern and traditional atmosphere in Shanghai, a 6 days Shanghai Suzhou Hangzhou tour with water town visit (144-hour visa-free) is designed for you. The modern skyscrapers in metropolitan Shanghai, the classic gardens and the peaceful age-old water town in Suzhou, the picturesque West Lake in the ancient capital Hangzhou can certainly wipe off your previous impression of China.
- For travelers wanting to get much closer to nature, an extra few days to appreciate either the picturesque Karst landscapes of Guilin and Yangshuo (a total of 8 days), or to hike to the summit of the spectacular Mount Huangshan to enjoy its stunning sunrise and sunset (a total of 7 days) or 9 days by covering Suzhou are definitely the best choices.
- For the first time travelers to take China private tours, there is no doubt that the 9 days Golden triangle Beijing Xi'an Shanghai tour is the most classic and best option for them to have a quick understanding of China’s past, present, and future by exploring the world cultural heritages and more.
If the pre-designed tour plans above don’t match your interests and requirements well, please don’t hesitate to share your comments directly!