Shanghai Travel Guide
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 both 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 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.
The Best Neighborhoods in Shanghai
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.
The Best Places to Stay In Shanghai
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.
The Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai at Pudong is also a consistently excellent choice. If you’re a long-time reader, you know that we love the Four Seasons because we lived at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong for four years, and the Pudong Four Seasons similarly always exceeds our expectations. The rooms have amazing views of the famous buildings of the Shanghai skyline, the pool is luxurious, the service is wonderful, and the food is utterly fantastic.
TIP: You can search and book luxury hotels in Shanghai with exclusive value-added amenities on my Virtuoso® page. If there is a luxury hotel in Shanghai that you’d like to stay at that isn’t listed on my Virtuoso page, please send me your details through this form.
The Best Places to Eat in Shanghai
In keeping with this city’s reputation for mixing luxury and tradition, there are both world-class luxury restaurants in Shanghai and a local street food culture that adventurous eaters can’t miss. The traditional noodles, dumplings, and other Chinese treats are all worth trying, and you can book one of the many food tours highlighting the different neighborhood specialties. Your Shanghai travel itinerary should include eating your way around the city, and I recommend you use Context Travel to book private and small group culinary tours.
We always eat at the Shanghai Tang Cafe in the Bund, and I’m a big fan of the Da Dong Roast duck restaurant on West Nanjing Road. Other hotspots to check out include L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo BOMBANA, and Hakkasan Shanghai. As for must-haves during your visit, I’d suggest giving everything from the smoked fish to the moon cakes to the tea eggs to Shanghai’s famous wine cured crabs a try. You never know what you’ll love until you taste it.
Shanghai for Young Professionals
It’s not unusual for business travelers to end up in Shanghai, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do some sightseeing while you’re here! If you’ll have limited free time while you’re visiting Shanghai on business, I definitely suggest planning your itinerary out in advance.
If you have only one day and aren’t in the mood for a wander around the city, try a day trip to immerse you in old China, like the guided tours of Zhujiajiao — an ancient water town near Shanghai. Or you could spend a day in Hangzhou, where you can take a private longjing tea picking tour and then visit the area’s century-old shops.
If you’re on a multi-day trip with free time throughout your Shanghai visit, consider investing in the Go Shanghai Card. It will save you up to 30% on admission to 14 of Shanghai’s major attractions, and there are three different pre-paid ticket options to choose from depending on how many attractions you want to visit and the length of your stay.
The Best Things To Do With Kids in Shanghai
Traveling in China with kids is actually easier than most people realize. People in China tend to be welcoming toward children, kid-friendly food is everywhere, and there are lot of fun things to do with kids in Shanghai beyond visiting Disney®. I’ve visited the city numerous times with my daughter, and we’ve visited everything from the Ocean Aquarium with its amazing underwater tunnel to the 3D Magic Fun House at the end of the trippy Bund Sightseeing Tunnel on the Pudong side.
That said, I understand that Shanghai travel with kids will probably mean having to be flexible with your itinerary. When traveling with young children it’s best to keep your options open for those cranky days — People’s Park and Century Park are both great picks for kids who need to burn off some energy. If you need to stay close to the heart of the city, check out Lujiazui Central Green, a beautiful green oasis surrounded by skyscrapers.
The Best Shanghai Neighborhoods for Shopping
In Shanghai, there are indoor and outdoor markets for every product, from pearls to tea to fabric, and while upscale mall shopping is fun, market shopping is an experience all its own. The South Bund Fabric Market is one of my personal favorites because the fabric vendors and tailors there can replicate just about any article of clothing. If you’re more interested in looking than buying, plan a stop at the Flower, Bird, Fish, & Insect Market south of People’s Square. There, you’ll find a cacophony of croaking frogs, singing birds, and noisy crickets along with stacks upon stacks of fish tanks. And for tea lovers, the sprawling three-story Tianshan Tea Market on Zhongshan West Road is a must-visit. You can buy all manner of Chinese teas, from delicious green tea to traditional fermented pu’er tea. The shop owners are amazingly friendly and will perform a little ceremony when they serve