When planning to travel in the Shanghai area, I was sure I wasn’t interested in spending too much time in Shanghai itself, as I am not that interested in modern cities with numerous skyscrapers, as much as the historical cities. While Shanghai does have historical areas (due to becoming a major trade port during the Qing dynasty since 17th century), it falls short compared to China’s numerous cities. Therefore, I planned to spend only 1 day here, giving the rest of the time in the region to Suzhou and Hangzhou, which interested me more than Shanghai itself.
Practical Details for Visiting Shanghai
Below I will list the Beijing-specific tips. For general tips for visiting China, which also applies to Beijing, please, see the relevant post here.
- Accommodation in Shanghai is very expensive. If you do decide to stay in the city, I recommend to find a place outside major central areas, near metro station. Instead, I decided to stay in a hotel in Suzhou and do a day trip from there to the megapolis, which was the best decision. We loved Suzhou far more, than Shanghai, and it was very easy to commute by train between the two cities.
- Shanghai has 4 railway stations and is served by 2 airports. If you, like us stay in Suzou, you can arrive to the Shanghai train station from Suzhou North station in less than half an hour. Keep in mind that the trains from Suzhou also go to Shanghai Hongqiao, which is far from the city center, while the Shanghai station is quite central and you will end up at People’s square really fast by metro.
- Shanghai metro has a huge network and it in itself is a sightseeing destination. I have seen metro systems in a number of cities, but this really was another level. The People’s Square station had an underground square with people swarming in different directions. That also was the longest change between the lines ever, it took us ten minutes to walk 🙂 That said, the metro is very well-organized and convenient. You can rely on it. We never tried buses, as like in other cities, here they also have signs only in Mandarin, while the transport apps don’t help significantly. Either way, metro is so well-developed that buses were absolutely unnecessary. If you are staying at least a few days, you should get the Shanghai transportation card, which costs 20 yuan and can be charged to be used on all transport in the city.
- We somehow expected to find more people speaking some English in Shanghai, due to its business status. However, that wasn’t really the case. But as everywhere else in China, translation apps helped 🙂
The following itinerary considers only visiting the sites in Shanghai proper. While there are a lot of beautiful towns and cities within half an hour to an hour distance, you may want to consider visiting them on separate days.
Shanghai Old City
If you haven’t visited a number of lovely cities in China already, Start your day by exploring the old city area of Shanghai. For this take Subway line 1 from the Beijing Railway station and transfer to line 14 to Yuyuan garden.
You can arrive at the Yu Garden (High season price: 40 yuan) first thing in the morning. The garden was built during the Ming dynasty period and has typical features of traditional Chinese gardens. However, it doesn’t come close to any garden in Suzhou. So if you have enough time, do go there instead.
After Yu garden, explore the City God temple (Price: 10 yuan) and wander around the narrow streets of the old city. You can also make a stop at the oldest teahouse in Shanghai – Huxinting.
However, if you already explored Beijing, Pingyao with its cute narrow historical streets, Suzhou with its gorgeous gardens and other cities of China, this area of Shanghai doesn’t offer much to you. Therefore, you can actually skip it.
If you are coming from the Old city, you can either walk here, take subway line 14 to Dashijie station (it will be 1 stop). Alternatively, if you skipped visiting the old city, you can come here from Shanghai railway station by taking line 1 and transferring to line 14 to Dashijie.
Once you arrive to the the People’s square, just walk around to soak in the atmosphere. Obviously, the sheer size of the buildings, streets, the number of people here is dumbfounding. We passed the concert hall and the Shanghai museum. If you are in the city for longer time, you should definitely see this museum, which is I believe largest in China.
The square has nice green areas with birds flying around. People are relaxing or exercising. We found many just strolling and enjoying the nice weather.
Shanghai Marriage Market
If you are at the People’s Square on the weekend, you will also be able to witness the most fascinating thing I have seen in a while – the marriage market.
When I read about it in the guides for Shanghai, I was simply amazed. I thought it would be just at a small corner of the People’s square, several old people quietly talking to each other, so I didn’t pay much attention to it and didn’t search for detailed information about it. But apparently I was wrong. I definitely didn’t expect what I saw.
Walking around the square, we stumbled upon the rows of colorful umbrellas with papers on them. First, we had no idea what it was about. Then we saw the papers, although in Chinese, you could see the numbers, like 81, 165, etc. People were checking the signs thoroughly and stopping and talking to each other. Some young people were smiling, while looking at the papers on umbrellas, that made us even more interested to understand what was going on.
I am not sure how long passed before we realized that we were seeing the marriage market. This actually is a very lively “market”. The sheets pinned on the umbrellas provide information about the age, height, weight, education and income of the people of “marriageable age”. People exchange phone numbers, arrange meetings, look for matches.
You find older people – parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles trying to make a match for their daughters, sons and relatives, who may or may not even be willing to be the objects of this. But you rarely see any young people here and if you do, they are either tourists or the curious, who seem to be amazed by all of this.
Interesting fact: This tradition started only in 2004, which in the age of internet is rather surprising.
It was a truly strange experience walking around this place. Some of the people standing at the umbrellas pointed at us and then started talking to us. Not speaking any Chinese, we obviously didn’t understand anything. We hurried along in fear that they might wanna make matches for us 😊
East Nanjing Road
Passing the market, we walked to the pedestrian road – East Nanjing road. This street is full of malls and shops the size of the malls. Crazy numbers of people move about with their shopping bags. If you need to buy something, I was told this is a good area, while West Nanjing road is more high-end and expensive. We didn’t buy anything, that wasn’t in our plans. We just wanted to watch people in this huge megapolis.
By following East Nanjing Road, you can reach the Bund, which is considered the heart of Shanghai and has truly beautiful views. If you want a clear view of the Pudong and want to get pictures without at least a dozen other people in them, walk along the Bund to the left side. Views are the best from here and compared to the intersection with East Nanjing Road, there are less people. After that, you can walk southwards to enjoy the views and see the 20th century buildings lining the street. Here you will find buildings from the 20s and 50s, the banks, old hotels, etc. This map from ChinaHighlights is the most comprehensive:
Walking down the Bund and enjoying the views is of course a must. We enjoyed it a lot and took dozens of photos of course.
Ferry across Huangpu River
Price: 2 yuan.
From the Bund, you can take a river cruise. You will find tour boats at several spots, while walking on the Bund. Actually there is also a public ferry crossing over from Bund to Pudong. I had to look for the ferry stops for a while to find any information online. Here are the stops on both sides:
This ferry is the most convenient way to go across the river quickly, however, it doesn’t give the feel of a boat ride. It is a closed space and the little windows don’t allow you to see much of anything during the short ride. So if you want to get the feel of a cruise, you don’t have another choice, but to find the tour boats.
Pudong and Shanghai Skyscrapers
When you go across the river, walk around Pudong and just marvel at the skyscrapers. I am normally not a huge fan of them, but well, when in Shanghai .. 🙂
As you may have heard, the Shanghai tower is a 128-story skyscraper, which is the world’s third highest building after Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the new Merdeka 118 in Kuala Lumput. It also has the world’s second fastest elevator.
The other high buildings are Jin Mao Tower and Shanghai Financial Center. The Oriental Pearl tower is somewhat away from these three skyscrapers and stands closer to the river.
While walking around Pudong, we wandered into the fanciest mall I have seen. You wouldn’t be able to find any mid-range shops here, I guess Dolce&Gabanna would be the cheapest among all the shiny shops 😀
After passing these towers, you will find elevated walkways leading towards the Oriental Pearl tower. This is not only the most convenient way to walk to the tower, but also very picturesque with great views of the surrounding skyscrapers.
It was a tough choice to decide which of the towers to climb. We opted for going up the observation deck of the Oriental pearl tower. You might prefer another one, depending on your preferences.
We ended our day with an evening stroll on East Nanjing Road. You have several options for this, to walk across Bund again to take in the night views and the lights or to walk on East Nanjing Road and do some shopping or watch people.
Day trips from Shanghai
Many people may like Shanghai’s modern feel and decide to stay in the city for a few days. Here are a few recommendations:
- Longhua Temple
- Centry Park
- Jing’an Temple
- Jade Buddha Temple
However, I do suggest to instead explore its nearby areas, which are numerous and lovely:
Suzhou – a cute city with lovely gardens and canals you can explore for 1 or 2 days.
Hangzhou – lovely city located next to the lake.
Nanjing – former capital throughout many dynasties.
Cute canal towns: