Though primarily a cosmopolitan business city full of east-meets-west, there are plenty of things to do in Shanghai with kids. I’ve visited now multiple times with my daughter.
She studies Mandarin, so our most recent trips involved multi-week summer camps near People’s Square with plenty of local field trips sprinkled in. Needless to say, we’ve had a lot of time to explore this fantastic city which is one of our family favorites.
I’ve revised this list to include even more fun activities, sightseeing tips, where we stay, and more so that you can enjoy Shanghai as much as we do.
Before You Go: Tips & Tickets
One thing that is constant in Shanghai is change. Restaurants come and go quickly, and, of course, the world isn’t quite the same in 2021. Check addresses and operating times before you visit attractions on this or any other list.
For your convenience, I’ve included options for buying attractions tickets in advance. Do what it takes to avoid tourist attraction lines in China because they can be long. Luxury hotel concierges can also help you purchase tickets as well.
Speaking of tickets, children in Shanghai are priced according to their height, age, or both. To give you an idea, children’s Shanghai Disneyland tickets are for ages 3 to 11 years old with a height above 1.0 meter and up to 1.4 meters on the day of their visit.
So, my daughter has been qualifying for adult tickets for some time. This metric is important for families to know in order to budget sightseeing expenses accordingly.
Without further ado, let me share the best things to do in Shanghai with kids. Then I’ll answer frequently asked questions that I receive about family trips to China in other major cities as well.
1. Shanghai Ocean Aquarium
The Shanghai Ocean Aquarium has the world’s longest underwater tunnel and is the only aquarium in the world with a section dedicated to endangered Chinese marine life.
With two impressive local aquariums in San Diego and having been to San Francisco’s Aquarium of the Bay (among others), I truly enjoy this aquarium for several reasons.
A lot of the marine life hails from faraway places like the Nile, China, and Australia. Some of the fish are bigger and more exotic-looking. The conservation message is strong, including discouraging shark fin soup, a Chinese delicacy.
Located in Pudong, the aquarium is just steps away from the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, Huangpu Riverside Promenade, Super Brand Mall, Yang’s Fry Dumpling, and the Oriental Pearl Tower.
Spend about an hour in the aquarium and then head out to see one of these other sights.
2. Shanghai 3D Magic Fun House
At the end of the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel on the Pudong side, tourists might become sidetracked by souvenir shopping and a few other touristy attractions.
One is an interactive 3D museum called Magic Fun House, where visitors can stand in front of art and look like they’re in it. Kids love it, and it is a fun way to spend an hour or so. There is another similar, smaller attraction next door. I can’t remember what it’s called.
On both sides of the sightseeing tunnel, you’ll have the option to bundle these smaller attractions, the sightseeing tunnel ticket, and a ticket for the Oriental Pearl Tower. It is a little less expensive to buy these bundled tickets.
I regret not this during our last visit because ticket lines at the Oriental Pearl Tower were massive during the summer evening. A bundled ticket would have allowed us to skip the ticket booth queue.
3. Bund Sightseeing Tunnel
It’s touristy and shouldn’t be number one on your sightseeing list, but the kids will think the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel is awesome.
Instead of taking a taxi through a tunnel underneath the Huangpu River or a ferry across the river, why not board a people mover that will transport you directly from the Bund to Pudong (and back) through low-tech, psychedelic light displays underneath the water’s surface?
The journey takes just a few minutes. The good news is that it opens at 8 a.m., should you need something to do with jet-lagged kids or early risers.
Amusement park-like games await on the Bund side like the infamous, money-losing claw in theory supposed to grab stuffed animals from a pile. You’ll need coins for these.
4. Oriental Pearl Tower
Lovingly referred to as “the shot” by my daughter due to its resemblance to a syringe, the Oriental Pearl Tower is the main skyscraper that defines the Pudong skyline. Built in 1995, it’s the third tallest TV and radio tower in the world. Visitors can enjoy:
- A glass-bottom observation deck.
- The revolving restaurant.
- A virtual reality roller coaster (we’ve done it — fun)
- The Shanghai Development Exhibition Hall Museum, located at the base of the tower.
Note that even with tickets in-hand, which allows you to skip the ticket booth queue, the queue for ticket holders to get into the Oriental Pearl Tower itself can be long during peak season. Please plan plenty of time.
Tip: Between the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium is a Yang’s Fry Dumpling, a local favorite for Shanghainese sheng jian bao dumplings. They’re incredibly inexpensive and delicious (I talk about them below).
5. Shanghai Natural Wildlife Insect Kingdom
So, here’s the thing about the Shanghai Natural Wildlife Insect Kingdom. Young kids will probably enjoy it. It does get some criticism for small living spaces for the animals and they do also have turtles, goats, and other animals in addition to insects.
I would say read the reviews, decide how you feel about it, but definitely do not go when it’s crowded. It’s not a large attraction and not worth a long wait.
6. People’s Park and People’s Square
If kids are feeling fidgety in this part of town, People’s Park is a great place for them to run around. The park is just a little bit north of People’s Square but it’s easy to explore both.
There are a few concession stands and amusement park rides. Shanghai Art Museum and MOCA Shanghai are located here, too, and Madame Tussaud’s is nearby.
From here, it’s easy to walk on to the pedestrianized part of Nanjing Road and all the way to the Bund.
7. Shanghai Acrobats: ERA-Intersection of Time
It takes about 45 minutes from Pudong to reach Shanghai Circus World to see ERA-Intersection of Time. The journey was well worth it.
No photography is allowed, but I completely understand how one accidental flash can seriously put the acrobats in jeopardy.
Their skills are amazing, from balancing huge jars on a nose to stacking glassware on heads by kicking it into place. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a multimedia performance set to music, and you don’t have to speak Mandarin to enjoy it.
Several vendors outside Shanghai Circus World sell glow sticks. I wish I’d have purchased more of these cheap and cheerful goods as some are more expensive in the U.S. We scored a pretty cool wand and headband, which was fun to use while we waited for our driver. Concessions are sold inside as well.
Tip: I’m very glad we chose to hire a driver from the hotel. Shanghai taxis with drivers that are lead-footed and quick to brake, causes my daughter to become a little bit car sick. Also, I texted the driver when the show was over and he met us in the exact same spot. Finding a taxi looked a little bit difficult (though probably not impossible), with so many people needing one at once at the end of the show.
8. Century Park
The sizable (almost 350 acres) Century Park in Pudong is home to a lake where fishing is allowed, a children’s recreational area, trails to run, a small beach area, an outdoor music theater, trees, ponds, pretty landscaping, and more.
If you can visit Shanghai with kids during a warm-weather month, definitely put the park on your itinerary.
My daughter loves the pedal boats, catching and releasing fish in the lake, the little amusement park rides, buying snacks, and running relatively free through the park.
It’s a lovely way to spend a day.
9. Shanghai Disneyland
Shanghai Disneyland is located in Pudong. However, it does take about 45 minutes to an hour from the Lujiazui area in Pudong, where most of the luxury hotels are. It is also possible to take the metro.
Despite the crowds and sweltering summer heat, we did enjoy our visit very much. Because there are so many things to know about visiting the park (such as get there early to buy Fastpasses before they run out), I would highly suggest that you read the post I’ve written. We have also taken a Shanghai Disneyland Premier Tour.
10. Themed Restaurants
Themed restaurants in Shanghai come and go rather quickly but are worth seeking out during your trip.
We stumbled upon Bistro Bianco Hello Kitty when shopping in the Mosaic Mall on Nanjing Road so knew we had to eat there.
Having dined at my fair share of themed restaurants, I can honestly tell you that the food was not bad and that I was so grateful to be able to have a glass of wine, too. (UPDATE: This restaurant is sadly closed.)
Other themed restaurants children will love include a robot restaurant, a toilet restaurant, a Barbie restaurant, and others.
If you want to find a happy medium between themed restaurant and fine dining, try the revolving restaurant, Epicure 45m at the top of the Radisson Blu hotel on Nanjing Road. We’ve eaten there, it does spin around slowly for fantastic views of Shanghai, and the food is very good. The menu includes Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and European cuisine in addition to a nice wine list and craft cocktails.
11. Shanghai Science and Technology Museum
Shanghai’s largest museum is also one of its best for kids. The Shanghai Science and Technology Museum is located near Century Park and has 13 main permanent exhibitions and 4 science theaters, two of which are IMAX theaters. Go for hands-on exhibits about computing, robotics, cells, space travel, and more.
It’s a rather large museum. My daughter’s class took a field trip here and spent the entire day exploring the exhibits.
12. Super Brand Mall
A shopping mall? Well, yes, here’s where you can go if there’s anything you forgot to pack. There’s an H&M with a kids department, Toys R’ Us, and plenty of quick eats inside, including a branch of Din Tai Fung, which is famous for xiao long bao dumplings.
Tom’s Arcade has games for the older kids, and there’s even an ice skating rink inside, making Super Brand Mall a good stop during inclement weather.
Super Brand Mall is just steps from the Oriental Pearl Tower and IFC mall, where even more luxe shopping in Pudong awaits.
13. Yu Garden
Yu Garden is a classic Chinese garden built during the Ming Dynasty by a government officer as a gift for his parents. It’s about 5 acres in size with many koi ponds, bridges, elaborate rockeries, and pavilions. There’s a ginkgo tree in the garden rumored to be planted by the garden’s first owner, about 400 years ago.
The one thing to be aware of at Yu Garden (also called Yu Yuan Garden) is that it’s busy. You’ll want to keep an eye on younger kids in crowds as not to lose them and also keep an eye on your belongings (which is good practice anywhere).
That being said, it is a touristy and fun place to shop for souvenirs, candy, toys, clothes, name chops, Chinese housewares, paint brushes and so much more in its bazaar. I like visiting every time we’re in Shanghai.
Nanxiang Dumplings is the place to eat for xiao long bao dumplings. The wait can take up to an hour. But rest assured there is Starbucks and a myriad of other places to eat.
14. Shanghai World Financial Center Observation Deck
The Shanghai World Financial Center in Pudong looks like a bottle opener at the top and has several observation decks.
A ticket to the 100th-floor observation deck, Sky Walk 100, provides entry to the Sky Walk 97 and Sky Arena 94. Kids will think that the in-floor windows of Sky Walk 100 are really cool.
I admit to being nervous to step on them as Lujiazui Central Green is 100 stories below me in the photo above.
The view is tremendous though visibility was limited during our visit thanks to the threat of rain. I’m still glad we went. I’ve heard that it’s spectacular at night, too.
15. Lujiazui Central Green
For those staying in Pudong at perhaps the Park Hyatt or The Ritz-Carlton, Lujiazui Central Green is an extremely pleasant place to take a stroll.
A lake in the shape of Pudong is outlined by a path in the shape of a magnolia, the official flower of Shanghai.
It’s certainly an oasis in the middle of skyscrapers galore, and during the time of our visit, an art exhibition featuring colorful horses surrounded the lake. Sculptures dot the park, and water jets spray upward in the middle of the lake, though they weren’t on when we were there. Kids can run pretty freely here.
If you need things to do in Shanghai with kids who like to shop, the whole family will enjoy an outing in Tianzifang.
This community in the French Concession is set inside shikumen-style Shanghainese buildings dating back to 1933. You’ll find design studios, cafes, bars, and boutiques to browse. It feels like an oasis in the middle of the city.
I buy most of my souvenirs here from the tea and confectionary shops.
17. Go Market Shopping
Depending on your kids’ age and interests, hitting some of the famous Shanghai markets might enthrall them.
South Bund Fabric Market
Teens and tweens may enjoy having some seriously inexpensive clothes made. Or, they can buy what’s already made off the rack. If you think this is something they’ll enjoy, before you leave home, have them bring some magazine clippings of styles they like. Or, better yet, pack a pair of jeans they love and would like to have remade perhaps in a larger size, longer length, you name it.
Don’t forget to do the same for yourself. Visit at the beginning of your trip so there is time to pick up your goods. Some vendors will send them to your hotel or even all the way home for you.
Hongqiao Pearl Market
If your teens or tweens dream of having their own strand pearls or likes to make jewelry, this is the place to go. It’s three floors, with the top two featuring pearls and jewelry. The first floor features your average Chinese market trinkets.
You’ll find a wide variety of cultured pearls, many in wild colors thanks to a special laser-dye process. Believe it or not, they are real but you can always ask the vendor to scrape a pearl to prove that it’s real. Fine dust should come off. And, fake pearls are usually ultra-smooth and glass-like with a completely uniform texture.
It is a bit of a trip outside of the city center, however.
18. Eat Fun Snacks & Local Food
I strongly believe that food plays a role in raising culturally sensitive kids. Plus, it can be seriously good in Shanghai.
If your kids are resistant to trying some local dumplings, take them to Yang’s Fry Dumpling for sheng jian bao. Tell them it’s basically the McDonald’s of China. These pan-fried dumplings with pork are outstanding and everyone I’ve recommended them to loves them. In fact, my daughter and her friends from California ordered several rounds of these dumplings last time we were in Shanghai.
Plus, your investment is low if the experiment fails. Eight dumplings will only cost a few U.S. dollars. Just be careful, because they arrive piping hot to your table.
You can find white rabbit candies in multiple flavors, taffy, fancy popsicles, nitro ice cream… you name it. And don’t forget to enjoy as much exotic Asian fruit as you can. Many vendors along Nanjing Road, for example, sell it already peeled and prepared. Grab a fork and enjoy on a hot day in Shanghai.
19. Take a Day Trip
Surrounding Shanghai are historic water towns and villages that are reachable by car, bus or train. Consider a trip to:
- Zhujiajiao Water Town
I would highly suggest spending a night or two in Hangzhou, if you go. It is where the Rolls-Royce of green tea, Longjing is grown, and there are things to do in Hangzhou with kids.
For centuries, it’s been a preferred vacation destination for emperors, royalty and those in-the-know as the West Lake area, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is beautiful. If you visit Shanghai in spring, Hangzhou is the place to go as it will be tea-picking season.
We have also taken a day trip to Zhujiajiao ancient water town. It is a bit touristy but a really nice way to spend a half-day between all of its cool shops, famous sugar candy maker, food stalls, boat rides and more. We did hit some hefty traffic in the afternoon on the way back to Shanghai.
20. Take a Private Tour Customized Just for You
One of the best ways to kick off a trip to an unfamiliar destination is through a customized private tour. I use Context Travel worldwide.
You’ll tell them the ages of your kids, their likes and dislikes, what you’d like to accomplish, any food you’d like to try, and sights you’d like to see. They will design an itinerary exactly to your needs. They are fantastic. And, you can move at your own pace.
Family-Friendly Shanghai Hotels
Shanghai can be a lot of walking for kids so I would highly recommend a hotel with a metro stop and/or things to do within walking distance. And, an indoor pool is always nice in the summertime.
Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai is located right on the Huangpu River in a quieter part of Pudong. I would definitely recommend their Club Level rooms for meals, afternoon tea, and cocktail hour.
The ferry across the river departs from below the hotel. There is also a lovely riverside jogging/walking trail and some green space to enjoy. Kids love the onsite cake shop and we actually walked all the way to People’s Square from the hotel (thanks to a ride through the sightseeing tunnel) with the kids, stopping along the way for snacks and shopping. It takes about 10-15 minutes to walk to the Oriental Pearl Tower and metro station.
Other family-friendly hotels I like include The Peninsula, Shanghai and Four Seasons Shanghai at Puxi (under renovation). The Portman Ritz-Carlton in the Jing’an district is unbelievable value for connecting rooms, especially when you add on my perks.
Families need to pay attention to room occupancy limits in Asia. The maximum in most cities is three people of any age. This means that families of four and larger need to book connecting rooms or find a rare suite that will allow two adults and two small children.
If you have questions about where to stay, feel free to contact me as I have access to VIP amenities at many of the luxury hotels in town. And, I specialize in helping families fit into the right accommodations in China. You can browse Shanghai hotels*.
*The desktop version of Virtuoso.com is where you’ll search rates and book online. If you’re on a mobile device, scroll down to the black footer and click “Full Site” to enable this functionality. You may also use my form to request rates (currently up to a 48 hour response time). When searching rates on Virtuoso, do not input children ages 17 and under as they will be priced as adults. I’m notified when you book and will add them when I contact you about your reservation.
FAQs About Visiting Shanghai with Kids
Shanghai with kids can be an easy city to visit. I help families plan their trips there. These are the questions that land in my inbox the most.
Do I Need to Speak Mandarin?
No. I typically rely on luxury hotel concierge desks to help coordinate our stays as I do not speak Mandarin. I haven’t had great luck with translation apps, but Google Translate is popular. Just be prepared for it to translate incorrectly more often or not.
When Is the Best Time to Visit?
The best time of year to visit is either spring or early fall, which usually avoids the summer heat (which we found actually manageable) and winter cold.
Is Air Quality an Issue?
Air quality can be an issue, but it hasn’t been for us, luckily. You can check it daily here and plan outings around the days and times of maximum pollution during your stay.
If you are concerned, pack masks with you. You will have a hard time finding them in China if smog rolls in. Make sure that it is at least N95 or above to filter out the particulate matter. Make sure the mask fits everyone in the family.
Should I Bring a Car Seat?
Car seats are not required for children, so I would bring one. We traveled in mainland China with a BubbleBum when my daughter was younger. It is effortless to inflate, deflate, and carry in a handbag. The mifold is another popular, compact travel booster seat.
Can I Take Taxis with Kids in Shanghai?
Yes, you can take taxis with kids. However, even now, not all taxis have seatbelts in the backseat. Also, not all taxi drivers speak English.
What Are Taxi Alternatives?
I’m so glad you asked. Please download the Didi app. It’s the Chinese equivalent of Uber and how we get around Shanghai.
The app has pretty good translation if you need to speak to the driver. And you can link a foreign credit card to it for payment — rare for many Chinese services.
You can also choose a minivan if you have a larger family. The drivers in our experience were professional and courteous. The nice thing in a busy city is that you’ll have their license plate and car information. So when they come around the corner, you’ll know who they are.
Can I Find Western Food?
Don’t worry about not finding enough for picky eaters. Western chains like Starbucks are everywhere. The Chinese love fruit, pizza and bread products. You’ll be able to find snacks, chips, and ice cream in most tourist attractions, but it doesn’t hurt to carry your own.
Should I Bring Diapers and Baby Food?
Yes. You should bring your own diapers and some jarred baby food. Pampers in China do not fit like pampers in the United States, for example. I learned this the hard way, having given birth in Hong Kong and spending many months of the year in California (the Chinese Pampers fit my daughter MUCH better than the U.S. version). Leaky diapers on the go are not fun.
Rest assured though, that you can find baby necessities in Shanghai. If you feed your baby jarred food, packaged baby food, or formula, you can find some Western brands in the Shanghai city center. You’ll find bigger grocery stores like Carrefour and Tesco. city’super is where I used to find formula and there’s one in the IFC mall in Pudong.
Is It Safe to Bring Kids to Shanghai?
Yes. In fact, if you had to pick one city in China to visit, Shanghai is easier with kids than Beijing, in my opinion.
Our family tends to stay in nice hotels and stay on the beaten path (unless we’re with a trusted friend or guide). If you are a smart and courteous tourist, stick to popular sites, leave your valuables in the hotel, and keep a close eye on your kids, you shouldn’t have issues.
I have never felt unsafe in Shanghai.
What If My Teen Wants to Use Social Media?
As you may know, many social media sites are banned in China. You can use a VPN to access them but the government is cracking down on VPN usage.
You can also use this as a time for your teen or tween to take a social media break. No matter what, you should explain to them why these sites are censored and maybe even use it as a lesson teaching moment to let them know that people are watching.
What are your favorite things to do in Shanghai with kids?