Shanghai is a city that reveals itself slowly, so it can take a while to see all of its charms. These attractions are a great place to start if you only have a few days to experience the city’s splendour. From the Shanghai Tower and Qibao to M50 and Fuxing Park, you’ll find something worth visiting around every corner in the largest city in China.
The Bund waterfront district is well known to people who live in the city, and as a visitor, it’s one of the first places in Shanghai you should check out. On the west bank of the promenade, which runs along the Huangpu River, are the old European buildings from Shanghai’s colonial days, and on the east are the skyscrapers that have come to represent the city 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.
Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre
The Shanghai 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. It offers an eye-opening introduction to China’s tumultuous 20th century through more than 6,000 posters printed between 1910 and 1990 that show an ever-changing vision for a communist paradise. The museum was founded in 2002 in the basement of an apartment building and moved in 2019 to a larger space.
Eight ancient water towns surround Shanghai, creating one of the best tourist attractions in the city, especially if you’re looking 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. It dates back to the 10th century and is known for its delicious street food and beautiful canal views. Just a few streets long, this small town within the city limits is best enjoyed during the week, as it can be a busy tourist spot at weekends. Aside from the historic old town, highlights include cheap shopping and the Qibao Winery.
Tiánzǐfáng, Taikang Road
Tiánzǐfáng errs on the side of touristy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth your time. This narrow lane-house neighbourhood is now a shopping, dining and crafts district. Always full of people, Tiánzǐfáng is popular for a reason – it’s charming, relaxing and easily accessible. After you buy a few souvenirs, visit one of the excellent bars or restaurants in the area.
Fuxing Park, Huangpu
Once the largest park in Shanghai, Fuxing Park is the quintessential Chinese senior hangout spot. Find sprightly older adults dancing their favourite ballroom steps, playing cards or mahjong, or writing ephemeral poetry with giant calligraphy brushes. The park is in the French Concession, which was occupied and governed by the French from 1849 to 1943. It’s a great escape from the city that surrounds it, and there’s plenty of green space and vegetation to renew your body and soul.
Lujiazui is Shanghai’s financial district. When you exit the metro station, you’ll be surrounded by an urban jungle that is so much more impressive in person than it is in pictures. It’s home to the most iconic skyscrapers in the city, the tallest of which is the Shanghai Tower at 632m (2,073ft). It has an indoor observation deck at 562m (1,843ft) – perfect if you want to take in the view but don’t fancy feeling the wind on your face at such a great height. Whether you choose to walk around the elevated skyway, linking the station with the office blocks, or check out one of the rooftop bars, such as the trendy Bar Rouge, 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, home to more than 120 of the best art galleries, studios and museums in the city, including ShanghArt Gallery, one of the first contemporary art galleries founded in China. In an industrial area along Suzhou Creek, which has seen much development in the 2000s, M50 is often compared to the 798 Art District in Beijing or SoHo in New York City. This district embraces its grittiness, and there’s some very photogenic graffiti.
Yu Garden, Anren Street
Yu Garden, or Yuyuan, lies next to the City God Temple in Shanghai’s Old City, which was dedicated to the city’s spirits, or protectors, in the 1400s. The classic Chinese-style gardens, complete with rockeries, ponds, pavilions and towers, feature several distinct areas separated by grey tiled ridges called “dragon walls”. The area surrounding the gardens holds endless opportunities to try street food and buy souvenirs. If you can’t make it to Suzhou in Jiangsu province, which is better known for its gardens, Yuyuan is the next best thing.
Wan Shan bird and flower market
If you’re wondering what to do in Shanghai that’ll take you away from the tourist crowds, this is one option, as locals vastly outnumber visitors here. Flowers are sold alongside pet birds, fish, chinchillas and even crickets – from the tiny to the unnervingly massive – in this market, which sits at the junction of Tibet Road and Huiji Road. You’ll also find potted plants, such as bonsai trees and succulents, on sale. Antiques and jade are also sold nearby, in case you’re good for small mammals, and your aquarium and window box are both fully stocked.
South Bund Fabric Market
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’s always someone on hand who can 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 tailors on the second and third floors. Depending on demand, an 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. A group of Chinese zodiac gardens make up its centre – with the 12 animals represented by Disney characters – and instead of Main Street USA, there is Mickey Avenue. There’s also more live entertainment here than in other Disney theme parks. It’s a great choice if you need a break from traditional sightseeing in Shanghai.
Shanghai Science and Technology Museum
The Shanghai Science and Technology Museum is split into two wings: one devoted to nature and the earth, with themes such as dinosaurs and large animals of the ice age, and the other featuring interactive exhibits on computing, robotics, cells, space travel and other scientific breakthroughs. The museum also features four theatres, two of them IMAX screens. It’s an excellent place to experience with the whole family or just for adults who get excited over the latest scientific advances.
Temples can be a great way to find peace within the noise of Shanghai tourism and city life in general, whether or not you are religious. The Buddhist temple of Longhua is the oldest in the city and has a fascinating history, from its inception in 242CE 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 upscale, pedestrianised shopping and dining area in the central Huangpu District. The neighbourhood is worth noting for its preservation (and renovation) of old shíkùmén (stone gate) housing, most of which has been demolished in other parts of the city. It’s also the site of the first congressional meeting of the Communist Party of China, so within the flashiness of Xintiandi, there’s 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
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’s worth seeing for the neon lights alone, but keep an eye out for scammers and petty thieves. For a small fee, you can take a little train down the street so that you can take photos without doing any walking.
Shanghai Circus World
Your colourful stories of visiting China would be incomplete if you couldn’t boast about the spectacular acrobatics you saw – and Shanghai Circus World is the best place to see them. Be dazzled by feats of contortion you never thought possible, all performed in a state-of-the-art facility that features a revolving stage, computer-controlled lighting, a mirrored cage and a digital water curtain.
Shanghai Wild Animal Park
Get up close to some of the world’s fiercest creatures at the Shanghai Wild Animal Park. It features more than 200 species in two zones: one that is more like a traditional walk-through zoo and another safari-style area home to cheetahs, zebras and a section with Asian animals.
Part of a renovated industrial complex, the 1933 Laoyangfang is more than just dramatic angles. It 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 buildings are worth the trip themselves, but the area surrounding them is equally beautiful. Sitting 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.
Former French Concession shíkùmén
It’s hard to call the French Concession an attraction, as it’s 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, making it 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 also here, so be sure to save time for a tipple or two.
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