The Best Museums in Shanghai

The Shanghai Museum is free to the public
The Shanghai Museum is free to the public | © Nick Higham / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Will Harris
4 July 2019

Shanghai is home to an impressive range of museums, celebrating the city’s – and all of China’s – historical, artistic and technological triumphs.

Propaganda Poster Art Centre

Art Gallery
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The Propaganda Poster Art Centre is a private museum located in the basement of an apartment building
© EQRoy / Shutterstock
The owner of this museum operated it in secrecy for nine years, in the basement of a Changning District apartment building. It was at last officially recognised by the local government in 2017. The reason it was shrouded in secrecy for so long was its collection of 5,000 pieces of Maoist Communist propaganda art. This exhibition is a must-see for anyone interested in modern Chinese history, standing as one of the most culturally significant museums in China today. Poster prints are available from the gift shop, as well as copies of Mao’s famous Little Red Book.

China Maritime Museum

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China Maritime Museum is particularly good for people travelling with children
China Maritime Museum is particularly good for people travelling with children | © China/REX/Shutterstock
This interactive Shanghai museum tells the fascinating nautical history of China through the evolution of its naval ships. Visitors can learn how to tie knots like a pirate, and climb aboard a 3D simulation of a cargo ship cruising down the Huangpu River. It’s a fantastic museum for kids of all ages, with a stunning recreation of Chinese explorer Zheng He’s ship, rebuilt in intricate detail.

Shanghai Natural History Museum

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The Shanghai Natural History Museum building looks and functions like a cellular structure
The Shanghai Natural History Museum building looks and functions like a cellular structure | © AlexelA / Alamy Stock Photo
Take a deep dive into the natural (and sometimes surreal) world at the Shanghai Natural History Museum, situated within Jing’an Sculpture Park. Opened in 2015, this new site replaces the 1950s-era institution, with a building shaped like the curved chambers of a nautilus. Natural light flows in through a 30-metre glass-and-metal wall that looks and functions like a cellular structure. More than 10,000 artefacts from across the globe are part of the museum’s collection, alongside an array of educational activities for kids, a 4D cinema and more. Be sure to check out the animal specimens endemic to China, including the 140-million-year-old intact skeleton of the dinosaur Mamenchisaurus.

Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre

Building, Museum
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This hugely ambitious museum can be found at People’s Square. The third floor houses a complete scale model of Shanghai as it stands today, frequently updated with new and upcoming construction projects. This fascinating exhibit gives visitors insight into what it takes to build a “city of the future”. There are also old photographs and various scale models of Shanghai’s most iconic architecture, showing how the city has evolved over time.

Shanghai Science and Technology Museum

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Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, Pudong, Shanghai, China
© Arcaid Images / Alamy Stock Photo
The exhibitions at this museum include Space Navigation, complete with model rockets, spacesuits and information on how astronauts train and prepare for their missions. The venue makes the effort to educate visitors on science and nature from a uniquely Chinese perspective. The Spectrum of Life exhibition, for example, is a microcosm of the nature found in China’s Yunnan province, showcasing the region’s rainforests, wildlife and local Dai Chinese people.

Shanghai Museum

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Discover ancient bronze metalwork, ceramics and Chinese sculpture at Shanghai Museum
Discover ancient bronze metalwork, ceramics and Chinese sculpture at Shanghai Museum | © Alex Segre / Alamy Stock Photo

Free to the public, the Shanghai Museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in the city’s cultural history. Its galleries showcase incredible artefacts of Chinese art throughout history, including ancient bronze metalwork, ceramics and Chinese sculpture. Recent special exhibitions have included The Ferryman of Ink: the calligraphy and painting of famed artist Dong Qichang and Crossroad: the belief and art of the Kushan Dynasty. New exhibits are launched monthly.

Shanghai Museum of Glass

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Disney castle at Shanghai Museum of Glass, China - 15 May 2016
The glass-made Disney castle by Miguel Arribas on display at the Shanghai Museum of Glass | © China/REX/Shutterstock
This visually stunning museum teaches visitors about the history of glass in ancient China, as well as the skill and labour involved in creating it. If you book in advance, you can attend a glass-blowing class to learn the craft for yourself. All of this is set in an old and repurposed glass-making factory, lending the museum an authentic setting.

This article is an updated version of a story created by Rachel Deason.

These recommendations were updated on July 4, 2019 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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