We spend a lot of time here. It’s an easy place to visit with kids and a good first-timer’s stop in China.
We’ve stayed in so many hotels in this city that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share some of our favorites in this Shanghai travel guide. While there are places to stay for every budget in Shanghai, this city absolutely outdoes itself when it comes to luxury hotels.
The Mandarin Oriental Pudong (widely considered to be the best luxury hotel in Shanghai) sits on the banks of the Huangpu River and in the heart of Pudong’s business district, and is one of our all-time favorites. It’s quiet, family-friendly, and a good home base for those traveling to Shanghai for the first time because it’s close to so many of the city’s attractions.
TIP: You can search and book luxury hotels in Shanghai with exclusive value-added amenities on my Virtuoso® page.
WHAT TO DO IN SHANGHAI
My family absolutely loves Shanghai for its energy and its diversity. There is something for everyone here. China’s largest city is both an economic center and a cultural hub, making a Shanghai travel adventure a must-have bucket list destination for anyone whose dream itinerary includes technological marvels and living history.
You can see masterpieces of Chinese art and ancient artifacts at the Shanghai Museum, look out over the city from an observation deck on the second largest building in the entire world, shop for anything and everything in Shanghai’s famous markets, or visit a temple that’s nearly 2,000 years old. Don’t be surprised to find ancient buildings sandwiched between spaces that seem straight out of sci-fi — that’s part of what makes Shanghai so interesting.
If you’re thinking about visiting Shanghai, my advice is to do it. There is so much to see in the city and so many things to do in Shanghai that you won’t be disappointed. I put together this Shanghai travel guide to help you plan your trip, and have linked throughout to posts I’ve written about our experiences in the different areas of this amazing city.
GET TO KNOW SHANGHAI NEIGHBORHOODS
Shanghai is a city of neighborhoods — each with its own character and charms. Whether you love quiet parks and historic architecture, fine arts, shopping until you drop, or people watching, there’s a Shanghai neighborhood (or two) you’ll love. When you’re planning your Shanghai travel itinerary, be sure to include visits to some of these areas:
You’ll probably fly into what has become one of the most famous Shanghai neighborhoods in the city, known for its impressive (and ever-changing) skyline and luxury hotels. Near the Huangpu River, busy Pudong was once mostly farmland, but today it’s a tourist hotspot thanks to the high rise Oriental Pearl Tower, the Jin Mao Tower, the Shanghai World Financial Center, and the Shanghai Tower in Lujiazui financial district — not to mention famous attractions like Shanghai Disneyland®.
On the other hand, Shanghai is also home to sights and experiences that feel decidedly non-urban. Century Park is a green oasis that’s considered one of the best parks in the world. There are several bird reserves, lakes, fountains, a bamboo forest, and the famous Century Flower Clock. Admission is RMB 10 per person, though seniors and children may enter for free. The area around the park is where you’ll find the quieter suburbs of Pudong, along with a number of museums, five-star hotels, and plenty of local flavor.
The Old City
Technically part of Huangpu, the old city next to Yu Garden is one of the most beautiful Shanghai neighborhoods — and the oldest. While a lot of the traditional Chinese buildings have been replaced by new construction, there are still more picturesque temples and tea houses here than in the rest of the city. This scenic area is a popular tourist draw because it’s home to the famous City God Temple (Chenghuang Miao) — but the whole neighborhood is just beautiful, and there are lots of opportunities to try the traditional Shanghai foods around here.
This area is known to travelers for destinations like Nanjing Road, the free Shanghai Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai, and the Grand Theater. It’s also home to People’s Park, which is a prime spot for people-watching in Shanghai. On any given day, you’ll spy people practicing Tai Chi, flying kites, roller skating, or enjoying the area’s small amusement park.
Shanghai’s famous waterfront has a mile-long stretch along the bank of the Huangpu River where you’ll see luxurious Gothic, Art Deco, and Beaux Arts architecture dating back to a time when this neighborhood was controlled by the U.S. and Britain. Today, many of the historic buildings in the Bund have become luxury hotels, boutique shops, and high-end restaurants, but there are also some fantastic art galleries and museums. It’s worth visiting the Bund at night when you can enjoy an amazing view of the shining Shanghai skyline from any of the neighborhood’s rooftop clubs.
The French Concession
You’ll find a cool mix of elderly locals and well-off expats in this Shanghai neighborhood, which has charming lane houses and Tudor mansions flanked by rows of imported French shade trees. Most people come here to visit Fuxing Park and to shop on Huaihai Zhong Lu, and the bars and restaurants are all lovely. Many of the buildings in this Shanghai neighborhood have bronze plaques that describe their history, and there are numerous culinary tours that will give you a taste of traditional and modern Chinese delicacies.
This newer Shanghai neighborhood has become the city’s number one art district and is among the coolest areas in Shanghai. Many people find M50 a bit hard to navigate at first because of the maze of restored factories that house the area’s art galleries and quirky cafes, but if you have the time and the patience to wander you’ll encounter some of the best art in the city. Make sure you visit the neighborhood’s iconic graffiti wall to snap a photo before you move on!
More than just a street of bookshops, the area around Fuzhou Road (which is one of the oldest roads in the city) is a hub of music, theater, and art. The Yifu Theater hosts traditional Chinese performances, there are antique shops with wares dating back for centuries, and you can buy everything from beautiful pottery to fine calligraphy tools.
Need to Know
You can get around using public transportation. Taxis are plentiful and the Metro train system is clean and reliable. Tip: Use Didi for rideshares. They have English translation in the app and you can link a foreign credit card to pay.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Visit between mid-September and November for the best weather and pricing. Chinese New Year in January/February is busy and many shops will close during the actual holiday. March and April also see milder temperatures. It becomes hot and humid between May and September, but don’t let that stop you from going. We have stayed for nearly a month several Julys in a row and while it’s hot, it’s doable.
220 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. The luxury hotels I work with have international plugs in the rooms, but carry an adaptor just in case.