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The Bund | © Matthias Ripp/Flickr
The Bund | © Matthias Ripp/Flickr
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How to Spend 24 Hours in Shanghai

Picture of Rachel Deason
Updated: 4 June 2017
Good news for travelers with a long layover in Shanghai: you don’t need a visa to head out of the airport and get a taste of the city. In fact, you can stay in China visa-free for up to 72 hours. Follow Culture Trip’s guide to Shanghai in 24 hours, and you may end up having the best day of your whole trip right here.

Take the world’s fastest train into town

There are two international airports in Shanghai, but chances are you’ll be flying into Pudong (PVG). The Pudong airport is world-class, but it’s basically in the middle of nowhere. Naive tourists often assume that a layover in Shanghai means the ability to stroll out of the airport into civilization, but unfortunately for now, this is not the case. Of course, you can take a taxi or bus into town, but nothing quite typifies Shanghai like the Maglev, which runs daily until 9:30pm from PVG to the Longyang Rd. metro station at speeds up to 268 mph (431 kph). There’s nothing like the feeling of darting past goat farms and shanty suburbs on a giant levitation tube. It puts Shanghai’s rapid development into perspective and preps you nicely for what to expect from the rest of the city.

Get the best views of the Bund

The Bund may be humdrum for people who live in Shanghai, but for visitors, it’s one of the first things you must do when you enter the city. On the left bank of the waterfront promenade are the old European buildings from Shanghai’s colonial days, and on the right are the skyscrapers that have come to represent Shanghai on postcards and stamps around the world. If you want the best views of both, grab a drink from upscale rooftop bar Flair on the Pudong side of the Huangpu River. Located at the top of the Ritz Carlton Shanghai Pudong, Flair is so close to the Pearl Tower, patrons can nearly reach out and touch it.

Flair, 58/F Century Avenue 8, Huangpu District, Shanghai, China

Walk into the heart of the city

After you’ve taken all your pictures at Flair, hop on Shanghai Metro Line 2 to East Nanjing Rd. This pedestrian street was the heart of the city during Shanghai’s colonial days and is now a major shopping and dining area full of tourists and locals alike. It is absolutely worth seeing for the neon lights alone, but be on guard against scammers and petty thieves. For RMB5 (US$0.73), you can take a little train down the street, in case you want to take photos without a walking incident! Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street runs from the Bund to People’s Square, where you’ll want to end up for some quality museum visiting.

Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street, Huangpu District, Shanghai, China

Visit a museum in People’s Square

Throughout Shanghai‘s short history, People’s Square has been a nucleus of culture and activity. Due to its centrality and proximity to the Bund, the area draws tourists from all over the world to its hectic streets. And for the discerning tourist, People’s Square can truly be worth the hype. If you know where to find them, People’s Square is packed with amazing and cheap local restaurants and street food stalls, parks, museums, and more. For a quintessential People’s Square experience, check out the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center. This six-story building located on People’s Avenue provides visitors a detailed look at the evolution of one of the world’s most dynamic cities. It’s hard to predict what Shanghai will do next, but perhaps this museum will give you a clue.

Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center, 100 Renmin Ave, Huangpu District, Shanghai, China


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Eat local

You can’t come to Shanghai without experiencing its culinary wonders. From penny-priced street food to budget-blowing Michelin-starred restaurants, Shanghai is a foodie paradise. Luckily for you, some of the city’s best local eats are located right around People’s Square, so you won’t have to go far to eat well. Pop into Jia Jia Tang Bao for a taste of Shanghai’s signature dish, the Xiao Long Bao. Perhaps the most famous purveyors of Xiao Long Bao in Shanghai, Jia Jia Tang Bao is little more than a hole in the wall, but it is an institution in the city. Lines are long, and closing times are arbitrary, but the chefs here have mastered the traditional pork filling and even offer crab roe-stuffed Bao. If street food is more your thing, head over to the southern end of Yunnan Rd, where you’ll find everything from halal kebabs to Shanghainese noodles.