9 Things to Do in Shanghai

Published 01 March 2017

Angela Griffin

Angela Griffin

If you can tear yourself away from the steamed dumplings and sweet and sour spare ribs, there’s a whole bunch of things to keep you occupied in Shanghai. The city may play second fiddle to Beijing, but it’s a more relaxed and compact place, and easier to digest in a couple of days. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and tick these nine things off your Shanghai to-do list:

Angela and David on the Maglev, Shanghai

Angela and husband David riding Shanghai's maglev image: Angela Griffin

Ride the maglev

A maglev is a train that uses magnetic levitation to propel it forward, avoiding the need for contact with the ground. This makes friction practically non-existent, and so allows the vehicle to reach very high speeds. In Shanghai’s maglev’s case, we’re talking 431 kilometres per hour. The line runs from Shanghai Pudong International Airport to the city centre, so if you arrive by plane, it’s an obvious choice. But even if you don’t, make the round trip and feel the speed.

Cruising the Huangpu River, Shanghai

Cruising the Huangpu River

Cruise the Huangpu River

At 70 miles long, the Huangpu River flows gently from Diashan Lake near Suzhou. It bisects Shanghai before joining the Yangtze River at Wusongkou. A cruise along the water is a great way to take in Shanghai and its memorable skyline, as well as seeing the hustle and bustle of the Bund from a different perspective. Beautiful by day and sparkling by night, cruises are a very popular excursion, with most leaving from the Bund, and some offering onboard meals or drinks.

The Bund, Shanghai

Pedestrians on The Bund

Walk along the Bund

Shanghai’s Bund is its most famous sight, its numerous architectural styles, a mishmash of gothic, baroque, Romanesque and renaissance, combining together with the riverside location and various street stalls, monuments and sculptures to create an intriguing urban walk. Indeed, you should not leave Shanghai without a wander along the Bund, either by day when the hawkers and strollers are out in force or by night when the iconic Pudong skyline lights up in a multitude of colours.

Yuyuan Garden, Shanghai

Yuyuan Gardens

Relax in the Yuyuan Gardens

A wander among the trailing trees, rocky terraces and fish ponds of Shanghai’s Yuyuan Gardens is a lovely way to spend a sunny day in the city, especially if all those skyscrapers are becoming a little too much for you. The gardens were first planted in 1559, and have endured various destructions over the years, before being restored to their current state. There’s even a teahouse here, the Mid-Lake Pavilion Teahouse, where Queen Elizabeth II herself has had a cuppa. You’ll have to queue to get in though.

View of Shanghai from Oriental Pearl Tower

View of Shanghai from the Oriental Pearl Tower

Ascend a skyscraper

If you fancy seeing Shanghai’s streets from (far) above, you’re in luck; there’s a lot of choice. With 150 buildings over 150 metres tall, China ranks at number four in the ‘Cities with the Most Skyscrapers’ list, surpassed only by Hong Kong, New York and Dubai. A number of the towers have observation decks, including the current second tallest building in the world, the Shanghai Tower (632m); the Shanghai World Financial Center (492m), the Oriental Pearl Tower (470m, pictured) and the Jin Mao Tower (421m).

Zhujiajiao Water Town, China

Zhujiajiao Water Town

Take a day trip to Zhujiajiao Water Town

About an hour outside Shanghai’s city centre is Zhujiajiao, a pretty 1,700-year-old water town filled with ancient buildings, its watery streets crossed by 36 bridges. The best way to explore is by boat or gondola, stopping every so often to wander the streets and admire the rice houses, temples, monasteries and gardens. Don’t miss Fangsheng Bridge, 70 metres long and carved with eight fearsome dragons.

Nanjing Road, Shanghai

Nanjing Road by night image: Angela Griffin

Shop on Nanjing Road

At three and a half miles long, Nanjing Road is lined with over 600 shops, ranging from high street brands and fast food joints to boutique fashions and high-end jewellery stores, as well as local crafts and textile shops. This is Shanghai’s, if not China’s, favourite shopping street, and a great place to people watch too. Come at night when the buildings are lit up and street performers entertain the crowds, then stop for a drink at one of the many open-air bars and restaurants.

The Humble Administrator's Garden, Shanghai

The Humble Administrator's Garden

Take a day trip to the Humble Administrator’s Garden

This may be the second garden on this list, but believe me, if you’ve got the time, it’s a worthwhile addition to your Shanghai itinerary. Located in Suzhou, about an hour and a half from Shanghai’s centre, the garden is one of the most famous in the region. Dotted with ponds and fountains, with pretty bridges and ornate pavilions, there’s plenty to see, and if you come in autumn the whole garden turns delightful shades of gold.

Shanghai steamed dumplings

Xiaolongbao steamed dumplings

Feast on local cuisine

You simply cannot leave Shanghai without chowing down on the tasty Cantonese food. This sweet, mellow cuisine, with its characteristic use of salted meats, soy and sugar, is a lot more recognisable to the western palate than northern Chinese food, as it more closely resembles your Chinese takeaway favourites. Dishes to try include xiaolongbao (steamed pork dumplings, pictured), steamed Shanghai hairy crab, sweet and sour spare ribs, braised pork belly and wonton soup.

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