Shanghai is more than the land of Michelin-starred restaurants and world-class drinking holes. In fact, you don’t have to look very far to find culture as well. From the educational to the visually captivating, Shanghai’s museums will keep you coming back for more.
Propaganda Poster Art Centre
The Propaganda Poster Art Centre is an art museum for people who don’t care for art and a history museum for people who don’t like history museums. Tucked away in the basement of a nameless apartment building, the center offers an eye-opening introduction to China’s tumultuous 20th century through the posters that show an ever-changing vision for a Communist paradise.
The Shanghai Museum of Glass
Located in the outer district of Baoshan, the Shanghai Museum of Glass is a worthwhile day-trip for anyone interested in the relationship between art and functionality. Housed in a renovated factory along an unremarkable street, this unique museum is filled with surprises, from the daily glass blowing demonstrations to the stained glass chapel. In addition to a series of regular and temporary exhibits, there are also interactive areas for the kids, and well, the adults too if we’re being honest.
Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center
Urban planning doesn’t whip most people into a frenzy, but the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center consistently draws a large crowd due to its large scale model of the entirety of Shanghai that shows all planned and recent developments. This six story building located in People’s Square 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.
Power Station of Art
Established in 2012, the Power Station of Art (PSA) is mainland China’s first state-run contemporary art museum. With the vast Huangpu River as its backdrop, the museum occupies the former Nanshi power plant, hence its name. However, unlike most renovated industrial museums in the city, the PSA embraces its utilitarian architecture, making patrons feel like they’re in on something special when they walk its halls. The space plays host to a series of visiting exhibitions and always has something new and worthwhile.
Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum
During WWII, Shanghai offered protective visas to Jewish refugees from Germany, Austria, and Poland. As a result, more than 18,000 Jewish immigrants poured into the city in the late 1930s and early 1940s. In 1943, the occupying Japanese army required these 18,000 refugees to relocate to a 0.75 square mile (1.9 square km) area of the Hongkou district. Conditions there were poor, and the Chinese residents already living there refused to move, leading to overcrowding. The Ohel Moishe Synagogue, now known as the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, pays tribute to the refugees’ lives.
Shanghai Natural History Museum
Who doesn’t like a good natural history museum? Taking up a space of 40,000 square meters in central Jing’an district, the Shanghai Natural History Museum delights with nearly 200,000 specimen samples from animals, plants, minerals, and Stone Age fragments.The museum also hosts rare or extinct animal species native to China, such as a Yellow River mammoth, a Yangtze alligator, and a giant panda. And, of course, there are dinosaurs.
China Maritime Museum
China has more of a maritime past than most people realize. In fact, Zheng He, one of the world’s greatest explorers, hailed from China, and it is a spectacular architectural interpretation of one of his ships (pictured above) that serves as the centerpiece for the museum. Unsurprisingly, the museum is primarily dedicated to detailing China’s major nautical developments, but the model boats, historical shipping relics, interactive knot tying activity, and 4D theater will ensure that this museum is anything but a snooze fest.
Rockbund Art Museum
Not just another contemporary art museum in Shanghai, the Rockbund Art Museum remains at the top of its game with an ever rotating series of innovative and influential exhibitions from internationally and locally renowned artists. This delightfully strange museum always has something interesting to display in its minimalist 1930s Art Deco building. Oh, and it’s free.
Looking for ancient Chinese artifacts and cultural relics? Shanghai Museum is for you. The museum, renowned as one of the first world-class modern museums in China, has a collection of over 120,000 pieces, from bronze and ceramics to jade and calligraphy. One of the highlights is a series of ancient coins from the Silk Road, which contains 1783 pieces from the Greeks to the Mongols. The museum itself can also be said to be part of the collection. Designed by architect Xing Tonghe, it mimics the shape of an ancient bronze cooking vessel.
Shanghai Science and Technology Museum
The Shanghai Science and Technology Museum is split into two wings: one that seems to be devoted to questionable taxidermy and another that features interactive exhibits on computing, robotics, cells, space travel, and other cutting edge science. The museum also features four–four!–cinema screens, two of which are IMAX. This is a great museum for families with kids or for adults who like to geek out over the latest scientific advances.
Chinese Imperial Examination System Museum
Jiading, Shanghai’s northwestern district, was a thriving town long before Shanghai proper was anything more than a fishing village. Today, Jiading’s historic charm remains. Located at the end of the southern fork of metro line 11, it is home to one of the best-preserved Confucian temples in the country, part of which has been retrofitted into a museum honoring the storied imperial examination system by which candidates for state bureaucracy were chosen throughout dynastic China starting from the Han dynasty (206BCE-220CE). If you think your standardized tests are hard, this museum will convince you otherwise.
China Art Museum
Housed in a striking upside down pyramid that was built for the 2010 Expo, the China Art Museum is dedicated to educating the public about modern Chinese art. The curation takes visitors on a visual journey through the development of contemporary and modern Chinese art, landing on an exhibit of 21st century artworks from some of the most renowned Chinese artists of today.