Shanghai is a city that reveals itself slowly, so it can take a while to see all of its charms. These 20 attractions are a great place to start if you have only a few days to experience the city’s splendour. From iconic landmarks to floating towns, museums teaching the culture and history of Shanghai, beautiful green spaces and local hangouts, you’ll find something worth visiting around every corner of China’s biggest city.
The Bund may be be a common sight for people who live in Shanghai, but for visitors, it’s one of the first things you must do when entering 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. For a peak Bund experience visit at sunrise, when pensioners practise tai chi and fly kites in front of the skyline.
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. Tucked away in the basement of a nameless apartment building, the centre offers an eye-opening introduction to China’s tumultuous 20th century through posters that show an ever-changing vision for a Communist paradise.
Surrounding Shanghai are eight ancient water towns, which make for a once-in-a-lifetime road trip. If you don’t have time to visit them all, Qibao is the perfect place to stop. Located within the city limits, Qibao is known for its delicious street food and its beautiful canal views. Just a few streets long, Qibao is like a mini-town. It is best enjoyed during the week, as it can get packed with tourists at the weekend. Highlights include the cheap shopping and the Qibao Winery.
Tiánzǐfáng errs on the side of touristy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth your time. The attraction is a narrow lane-house neighbourhood that has been turned into a shopping, dining and crafts district. Always full of people, Tianzifang is popular for a reason. It is charming, relaxing and easily accessible. After you buy a few souvenirs, try one of the excellent bars or restaurants. Culture Trip recommends Kaiba.
Once the largest park in Shanghai, Fuxing Park is the quintessential Chinese senior-hangout spot. Find sprightly adults dancing their favourite ballroom steps, playing cards or mahjong or writing ephemeral poetry with giant calligraphy brushes. Located in the French Concession, Fuxing Park is also a great escape from the city that surrounds it. Here, there is plenty of green space and vegetation to renew your body and soul.
Lujiazui is Shanghai’s financial district, home to the city’s most iconic skyscrapers. When you exit the metro stop, you will be surrounded by an urban jungle that is so much more impressive in person than it is in pictures. Whether you choose to walk around the elevated skyway or check out one of the rooftop bars, Lujiazui is sure to be an experience you won’t soon forget.
Short for Moganshan 50, M50 is an ultra-hip contemporary art district on Moganshan Road that is home to some of the city’s best art galleries and museums. Located in an industrial area along Suzhou creek, M50 is often compared to Beijing’s 798 Art District or New York’s SoHo. The district embraces its grittiness and sports some very photogenic graffiti.
Yu Garden, or Yuyuan, is located next to the City God Temple in Shanghai’s Old Town. The gardens were created in classical Chinese style, and the area surrounding them holds endless opportunities to try street food and buy souvenirs. If you don’t have the opportunity to go to Suzhou, which is more well known for its gardens, then Yuyuan is the next best thing.
The first floor of the Caojiadu Flower and Bird Market is exactly what you would expect from the name. Here, you’ll find a wide range of indoor and outdoor plants, like perfectly potted succulents and fragrant herbs, as well as birds, turtles, fish and other small animals. The second floor specialises in interior design and the third floor is a Chinese wedding supplies dream. Although one of Shanghai’s most overlooked markets, Caojiadu is a must-see.
Want a designer look without the price tag? Head to the South Bund Fabric Market with a picture of your design and be amazed at the three floors of tailors ready to get you dressed up in style. Most stalls specialise in suits, coats or traditional dresses, but there is always someone on hand who is able to help you create a unique look. As a general rule, avoid the aggressive touts on the first floor. Their work is not as high quality as that of the second- and third-floor tailors. Depending on demand, a completed outfit should take less than a week to complete, from initial contact to final fitting.
Shanghai Disneyland has been welcoming Disney lovers from all over the world since 2016, but this isn’t just any Disney park. Many of the rides, attractions and characters have been redesigned to cater to a Chinese tourist audience.
The Shanghai Science and Technology Museum is split into two wings: one devoted to nature and the earth, and another that features interactive exhibits on computing, robotics, cells, space travel and other cutting-edge science. The museum also features four cinema screens, two of them IMAX screens. This is a great attraction for families, or for adults who get excited over the latest scientific advances.
Shanghai’s temples can be a great way to find peace within the noise of city life, whether or not you are religious. Buddhist temple Longhua is the oldest in Shanghai and has a fascinating history, from its inception in 242 AD to its use as a Japanese-run internment camp during World War II. Simply walk around the complex, or buy some incense and send up a prayer of your own.
Chongming Island forms the northernmost part of the municipality of Shanghai. Much of the island is made up of protected wetlands, but it’s also home to a migratory bird reserve, one of only three remaining Confucian temples in Shanghai, an ancient fishing village and several organic farms that provide local produce and meat products to health-conscious restaurants throughout the city.
Xintiandi is an affluent, car-free shopping and dining area in central Huangpu District. The area is worth noting for its preservation (and renovation) of old shíkùmén housing, most of which has been demolished in other parts of the city. The neighbourhood is also the site of the first congressional meeting of the Communist Party of China, so within the flashiness of Xintiandi there is also historical significance. If you have some extra cash to drop, there are a number of excellent fine-dining restaurants here.
Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street is about as touristy as it gets in Shanghai. Formerly the centre of life in the city, the street is now a major shopping and dining area that leads to the Bund. It is absolutely worth seeing for the neon lights alone, but be on guard against scammers and petty thieves. For RMB5 (£0.56), you can take a little train down the street, so you can take photos without doing any walking.
Your colourful stories of your trip to China would be incomplete if you couldn’t boast about the spectacular acrobatics show you saw, and Shanghai Circus World is the best place to see them. Be dazzled by feats of contortion and acrobatics that you never thought possible, all from a highly modern facility that features a revolving stage, computer-controlled lighting, a mirrored cage and a digital water curtain.
Get up close to some of the world’s fiercest animals at the Shanghai Wild Animal Park. The park features over 200 species of animal in two zones: one that is more like a traditional walk-through zoo and another safari-style area that is home to the big cats, bears and other large creatures.
Part of a renovated industrial complex, the 1933 Slaughterhouse is more than just dramatic angles; come for the dog café and stay for the architecture. 1933 has been transformed from an Art Deco slaughterhouse to a hip, industrial creative hub that hosts restaurants, shops, art galleries, performance spaces and more. The series of buildings are worth the trip themselves, but the area surrounding them is equally beautiful. Located on an offshoot of the Suzhou Creek, this slice of Hongkou District features intact shíkùmén and old-Shanghai-style lane houses with residents nearly as old as the buildings they call home.
It’s hard to call the French Concession an attraction, as it is simply a large swathe of land that happened to be the home of the French government during Shanghai’s colonial days. However, the area is unique due to its architecture and street style, and is the perfect place to take a walk or a bike ride on a nice day. Some of the city’s best dining and drinking options are here, so be sure to save time for a tipple or two.