How to Spend 48 Hours in Shanghai

French Concession, Shanghai, China
French Concession, Shanghai, China | © Sanja Sparica / Alamy Stock Photo
Jenna Farmer

There’s so much happening in Shanghai, it could keep you occupied for weeks on end. To help you make the most of a short trip to this buzzing city, here’s a handy guide to spending 48 hours in Shanghai.

Day 1

Morning – Breakfast in the park and museum hopping

Encompassing a stunning 23 acres of greenery, People’s Park is the ideal spot to enjoy a peaceful breakfast before Shanghai rustles to life. Grab a bagel and juice from Wagas, or opt for jianbing (a savoury Chinese crepe made from egg and scallions) from one of the many nearby food stalls. Then it’s time to venture inside the park, freshly prepared breakfast in hand.

As you chow down, watch as this quiet corner of Shanghai gets moving. Senior citizens enter the flow of their morning tai chi classes, while eager young things practise in the dance hall. If you’re visiting over the weekend, make a point to stop by the famous Marriage Market, where parents mingle in the hope of finding their children a perfect match.

Wander out of the park to People’s Square, home to two of Shanghai’s finest museums. The Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition details the city’s vast and rapid development, while the Bund Exhibition documents the skyline’s dramatic transformation.

Jingshan Park, Beijing

Afternoon – Shopping and culture on West Nanjing Road

Spanning an impressive five kilometres, it would be ambitious to tackle all of Nanjing Road in a single afternoon. Take your time meandering through the diverse range of shops and eateries on offer. The Shanghai Centre is the place to go for big names, with three floors of designer brands including Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Versace.

Once you’ve spent your coin, it’s time for a spot of culture. In between this collection of shops, restaurants and crowds lies a rare gem: Jing’an Temple, an impressive Buddhist structure dating back to 247 AD. The Jade Buddha statue is the main attraction, towering at 12 feet and weighing a whopping 11,000 kilograms. Explore the Exhibition Hall of Buddhist Relics for a glimpse of traditional Chinese art and calligraphy.

Women with a bicycle in Nanjing Road, Shanghai

Evening – a night on the Bund

The Bund is a thing of beauty by day and is utterly unmissable at night. A simple stroll is very pleasant, but taking an evening river cruise allows you to see both sides of the Huangpu River. You can opt for a short 30-minute trip, or a lengthier version that includes dinner. Night owls on the Bund shouldn’t miss the chance to enjoy a cocktail with a view. The Hyatt offers unrivalled views of the city, alongside a rooftop jacuzzi, should you fancy a dip.

Bar at the Park Hyatt hotel, Shanghai

Day 2

Morning – Tour the Former French Concession

Awaken to the world on a gentler note in the leafy Former French Concession. This area is rich in history and evokes a much more peaceful atmosphere, providing a stark contrast to the hectic city centre. Oak trees line the promenades, as fashionable types stroll past its European-style villas. Key attractions here include the Cathay Theatre (which dates back to the 1930s), gorgeous Fuxing Park and the fascinating Shanghai Propaganda Poster Museum. If you need a bite to eat, try Little Sun Hotpot (Chengdu North Road) for a delightful feast or Slurp (Wulumuqi Zhong Lu) for spicy Yunan-style street food.

The former French Concession tree-lined streets in Shanghai

Afternoon – Discover the Shanghai Museum

It’s time to hop on the subway at Yanggiao Middle Road station to People’s Square, arriving at one of the city’s largest museums. The Shanghai Museum is a huge attraction spanning four floors, where wandering around could easily fill a whole day (let alone an afternoon). The Bronze exhibit is particularly noteworthy, as is the ancient jade collection and Ming and Qing-style furniture. Best of all, it’s totally free.

Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, China

Evening – Check out Chenghuangmiao Old Street

If time is on your side before your flight, head to Chenghuangmiao Old Street: one of Shanghai’s most famous roads to grab traditional snacks. Tuck into sheng jian bao (pan-fried pork buns) ci fan (rice balls) and xie ke huang (crab shell pie), all at very wallet-friendly prices. The buzzing atmosphere, with the sounds of sizzling meat, chatter and delicious smells, is intoxicating.

Chenghuangmiao, Shanghai, China

Leave Shanghai in style via the Maglev

End your 48 hours on a high via the Maglev. This high-speed train transports you from the centre of Shanghai to Pudong airport in under eight minutes. You can grab it from Longyang Road station. At 40 yuan a ticket (for those who have flight tickets as proof), it’s a cost-effective and exhilarating way to end your Shanghai adventure.

The Maglev train in Shanghai

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

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