The Best Things To Do In Shanghai, China

Aerial view of Shanghai’s CBD and the Huangpu River in the evening
© Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

A symbol of prosperity and development, Shanghai reminds us of China’s affluence and potential to become a global superpower. Today, the city is a popular tourist destination, merging modern skyscrapers with traditional cultural centres.

 

If you are planning a visit to the Far East, then Shanghai’s reputation as a sleepless city is sure to intrigue you with its bustling nightlife and shopping districts. You’ll be amazed by Shanghai’s diverse cultural flavour, as it successfully combines Western and Eastern practices together.

 

But before you pack your bags and book the next flight to Pudong International Airport, here are the must-see iconic landmarks within the metropolis!

 

Admire the sights and sounds of Shanghai’s oldest temple — Longhua Temple

We start our Shanghai journey with a visit to the city’s oldest and largest Buddhist temple. Longhua Temple has a rich history of almost 1,800 years, spanning all the way back to the Three Kingdoms period.

 

Upon reaching Longhua Temple, you’ll be greeted by the sound of bells from the Longhua Pagoda moving with the wind. The 40m-tall Longhua Pagoda was built during the Song Dynasty and still retains its architecture to this day.

 

As you enter the Longhua temple, marvel at the oriental beauty of this place of worship and its various halls. It only costs RMB 10 to enter the temple. If you happen to be in Shanghai to celebrate the New Year, there is a New Year Bell-Striking Ceremony close to midnight for an additional fee of RMB 120. We totally recommend that you check it out though, for its unique experience! Longhua Temple is open from 7am to 4:30pm daily.

 

Main entrance of Longhua Temple, Shanghai’s oldest and largest, with the famous Pagoda tower in sight
© Photo by Wikimedia Commons

 

Appreciate the union of East and West — Shanghai French Concession

Surprised to find European style buildings in the middle of Shanghai? Shanghai French Concession used to be a vibrant ethnic enclave in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, it has transformed into a premium residential and shopping district.

 

Whether you feel like taking a stroll down the road or sip a coffee at a roadside cafe, you’ll need an entire day to fully explore the area. Sinan Road is a great place for a morning walk. Stroll past vintage houses of French-inspired architecture as you enjoy the breeze and serenity away from the city centre. If shopping and cafe hopping are your main priorities, Middle Huaihai Road offers many branded fashion outlets and restaurants.

 

There are also hotels within the former French Concession area that have adopted European style designs. Hengshan Moller Villa Hotel and InterContinental Shanghai Ruijin are some attractive options for less than USD 150 a night.

 

Street view of the Shanghai French Concession with tall trees shielding pedestrians from the morning sun
© Photo by Wikimedia Commons

 

Experience fine dining with a scenic view — Oriental Pearl Tower

Shanghai is renowned for its skyscrapers so it makes sense that a few will be featured on our list. Standing at a towering 470m, the Oriental Pearl is a media and communications tower right in the financial district.

 

What’s so interesting about the Oriental Pearl Hotel is that its base consists of three slanted columns in tripod formation. At night, the tower is colourfully lit with LED sequences that makes for spectacular viewing from the outside.

 

At the tower’s top, there is a revolving restaurant and an observation deck. The view from this height will certainly fill your heart with wonder as you see the entire city under the Lujiazui skyline. A ticket to access the highest floor and all its other lower spheres costs RMB 220. You can also choose to dine at the revolving restaurant and tour the tower for a combined fee. The lunch buffet will set you back RMB 298, while dinner will cost RMB 328.

 

Awesome view of the illuminated Oriental Pearl Tower at night
© Photo by Zifeng Zhang on Unsplash

 

Take a stroll among plum blossom trees — Century Park

Yes, you can still stay in touch with nature amid the bustling metropolis of Shanghai. Welcome to Century Park, the largest garden in Shanghai City. The park consists of seven major attractions and multiple entry points.

 

The Lakeside Scenic Area is arguably the most popular landmark and is home to the Century Clock, the park’s icon. This is an ideal starting point for your Century Park tour and the sector can be accessed from Century Avenue. As you enjoy your stroll, relish the gentle sight of plum blossom trees found all over the park. The Plum Blossom Show is held every spring and is enjoyed by the locals as well.

 

Century Park’s opening hours range from 7am to 6pm daily. However, do note that it closes an hour earlier during the winter months. You’ll also need to purchase a ticket worth RMB 10 to enter the park.

 

If you are looking for short-term accommodation around the area, the Crowne Plaza Century Park Shanghai is your best bet as it offers amenities to suit your business or leisure needs.

 

Relaxing sight at Century Park with lush greenery and water body in view
© Photo by Wikimedia Commons

 

Discover China’s political history — Propaganda Poster Art Centre

This destination is for all the history buffs out there. Make a detour to Propaganda Poster Art Centre during your stroll along the French Concession area. The museum is located at Huashan Road and is home to an extensive collection of political posters from the Maoist era.

 

Even though the art centre only consists of two rooms, you can literally spend half a day here musing at the Chinese Communist Party propaganda posters on display. The entrance price is RMB 20. There is also a gift shop where you can purchase a mini Mao Zedong bust of your own.

 

Interior shot of Shanghai’s Propaganda Art Centre. There are many Chinese Communist Party propaganda posters lining the museum walls
© Photo by Wikimedia Commons

 

Take a boat ride along a stream — Zhujiajiao Water Town

Within the bustling metropolis that is Shanghai, there lies four ancient towns. Among the best-preserved ones is Zhujiajiao — a water village that is China’s answer to Venice. Appropriately named the “Pearl Stream”, locals and visitors primarily travel on boats along the streams that surround Zhujiajiao.

 

The ancient water town is also famous for its unique old bridges that allow people access across the river. It is said that these bridges were constructed during the Qing and Ming dynasties and were made of wood, marble and stone.

 

Zhujiajiao is open from 8:30am to 4:30pm and is free to enter. We highly recommend that you include this destination in your itinerary as this beautiful ancient town is regarded as one of Shanghai must-see icons!

 

An elderly couple navigating a wooden boat through a stream at Zhujiajiao Water Town
© Photo by Chastagner Thierry on Unsplash

 

Enjoy the spectacular river view — The Bund

Finally we have arrived at The Bund — the waterfront landmark of the city and the symbol of Shanghai. Overlooking the Huangpu River, you can enjoy a walk along the waterfront as you see the locals go about their daily routine. Along the way, relish in the combination of western and oriental architectural styles that Shanghai is renowned for.

 

If you are feeling peckish after your stroll, make a stop at M on the Bund. The restaurant provides a spectacular view from the Bund overlooking Pudong and the Huangpu River. Besides that, the eatery also serves up delectable Australian cuisine options.

 

There are also no shortage of hotels along this gorgeous waterfront. If you are looking to bunk in style though, Hyatt on the Bund Hotel tops our list. The 5-star hotel provides a spectacular view and should set you back about USD 220 a night, depending on choice of suite.

 

Waterfront view of The Bund during a foggy day with many iconic landmarks in sight
© Photo by Ding Lu on Unsplash

 

Immerse yourself in history — Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum

Another representation of Western influence in China’s most prosperous city, the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum was built in me of the Jews who sought refuge in the city during the Second World War.

 

Today, the museum is a protected cultural relic site by the Shanghainese government. As you walk into the culture centre, admire the tranquil atmosphere of the place. Also, there are old photographs of the former Jewish refugees during that period.

 

The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum is open from 9am to 5pm, with a ticket costing RMB 20. Acknowledged as an excellent historical building, this landmark is ideal to visit if you have a couple of hours to fill in your schedule.

 

Main entrance of the Jewish Refugees Museum, a protected historical site in Shanghai
© Photo by Wikimedia Commons

 

Experience what it is like in an ancient Chinese garden — Yu Garden

Located in the Huangpu District, Yu Garden is a classical Chinese garden that dates back all the way to the 14th century. This preserved nature site contains all the sights of a classical oriental garden through its ponds and flowers. Among the most popular attraction is the Exquisite Jade Rock, a treasure of Yu Garden. When water is poured into the Jade Rock, it comes flowing out from its many holes, making for a delightful sight.

 

Should you be looking to buy souvenirs, there is an outdoor market just outside the garden. Here, vendors have trinkets on display that range from handicrafts, jewellery to street food.

 

If you’re looking to stay near Yu Garden, Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden Hotel is just across the street from this iconic landmark and is strategically located near all the other tourist attractions.

 

Bright red lanterns that adorn the streets of Yu Garden as pedestrians walk by admiring the classic oriental architecture
© Photo by Yiran Ding on Unsplash

 

Get your shopping fix — Nanjing Road

What’s a visit to a vibrant city like without visiting its shopping belt! Nanjing Road is Shanghai’s premier pedestrian shopping arcade and offers traditional department stores among the latest brands. Shopaholics will enjoy a full day of finding the best deals and discovering fascinating products to bring home.

 

Foodies won’t feel left out as well. The abundant food stalls that line the streets serves a wide variety of Chinese street foods such as moon cakes and meat buns that are sure to satisfy not only your stomach but your curiosity for exotic snacks.

 

Nanjing Road is also one of the most ideal locations to stay during your visit to Shanghai. Countless major international hotels have set up shop here and you won’t go wrong with any choice, given that the area is within touching distance of most tourist destinations.

 

Shopping crowd at Nanjing Road, Shanghai’s premier pedestrian retail arcade. There are bright neon lights attached to the buildings
© Photo by Hyunwon Jang on Unsplash

 

Fulfil your childhood dreams — Disneyland

If you have made your way to Shanghai, then you wouldn’t want to miss out on a visit to Disneyland. The first in mainland China, this magical theme park is home to Treasure cove, the pioneer pirate-themed park in Disneyland. Be amazed by the stunning visuals on display. There is even a life-sized replica of the Black Pearl, as seen on the Pirates of the Caribbean.

 

After spending an excellent time at Treasure Cove, make your way to Fantasyland, the largest park in Shanghai Disneyland. In Fantasyland, there is the Storybook Castle, which is the tallest Disney castle in the world. Meet Snow White at the top of the castle and enjoy the view of the theme park from the windows. 

 

Finally, walk along Mickey Avenue to find Mickey Mouse and his friends, and don’t forget to take a photo with them!

 

Ticket prices range from RMB 399 to 575 RMB, depending on the time of the year. Should you want to be close to the action, the theme park has its own accommodation just 3km off-site. Set on Wishing Star Lake, Shanghai Disneyland Hotel can cost up to USD 300 per night if you opt for the park view suite.

 

Awesome view of the Storybook Castle, the largest castle in a Disneyland theme park
© Photo by Wikimedia Commons

 

Get acquainted with ancient Chinese treasures — Shanghai Museum

Does Chinese art interest you? If so, then you’ll get more than you bargain for at the Shanghai Museum! The museum is segmented into eleven distinct galleries, with each of them showcasing different types of artefacts.

 

In particular, the Ancient Ceramics gallery houses more than 500 art pieces, some of which are seen as classical treasures. Check out the brilliant ceramic vases from various dynasties and witness the evolution of oriental pottery with your own eyes.

 

At the Coins gallery, a display of nearly 7,000 coins reveal the development of Chinese currency and tracks the growth of China’s economy through the centuries. There is really a lot to discover at the Shanghai Museum for everyone of all ages! The gift shop located at the ground floor also sells interesting souvenirs that would make great gifts. 

 

The museum’s opening hours are from 9am to 5pm, Tuesday to Sunday. You might want to arrive as early as possible though. The museum is free to enter for its first 8,000 visitors of the day.

 

Main entrance of Shanghai Museum on a rainy day as locals are going about their daily routine
© Photo by Wikimedia Commons

 

World’s first skyscraper trio

 

The world’s first skyscraper trio towering over other buildings in Shanghai with the night skyline in the background
© Photo by Yiran Ding on Unsplash

 

Visit the world’s highest indoor observation deck — Shanghai Tower

The tallest building in China and second in the world, your visit to Shanghai would not be complete without a visit to the Shanghai Tower’s observation deck, the world’s highest indoor observation deck. You’ll be treated to an awesome view of the Huangpu River, the CBD and its other skyscrapers.

 

Don’t miss the chance to ride on the world’s fastest elevator, which can reach speeds of up to 74km/h. The elevator can be accessed from the exhibition hall at B1 and you’ll arrive at the top in just under a minute!

 

Shanghai Tower opens at 8:30am and closes at 10pm. Tickets cost RMB 180 for adults and RMB 90 for children 1.4m or shorter.

 

Scenic view of Shanghai city from Shanghai Tower’s observation deck, the world’s largest indoor observatory
© Photo by Wikimedia Commons

 

Check out Shanghai’s panoramic view — Shanghai World Financial Centre

A symbol of China’s shining future, the Shanghai World Financial Centre is the second highest skyscraper of the trio. Naturally, the building provides a panoramic view of Shanghai. There are sightseeing observatories located at the 94th, 97th and 100th floors. Besides that, the Shanghai World Financial Centre is also a popular venue for cultural and arts exhibitions.

 

Panoramic view of Shanghai city from the Shanghai World Financial Centre in the evening sun
© Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

 

Discover your inner daredevil — Jin Mao Tower

The little brother of Shanghai’s majestic skyscraper trio is by no means the least impressive. The “Golden Prosperity” tower’s architecture blends in contemporary architectural styles with elements of Chinese culture in celebration of Shanghai’s modern values.

 

The highlight of this building tour has got to be the Skywalk. And it is not for the faint-hearted. Here, visitors can walk along a 60m-long glass skywalk without rails 340m above ground level. For the daredevils out there, a ticket to the Skywalk will set you back by RMB 388. However, think about the likes you’ll receive from your social media followers. Achievement unlocked!

 

Bird’s eye view of the Jin Mao Tower from the observatory floors of the Shanghai World Financial Centre
© Photo by Wikimedia Commons

 

Shanghai is really more than just a city of skyscrapers and strong economic development but beyond that, it is a beautiful metropolis filled with rich culture and history. So, if you are planning a year-end trip to the Far East, why not choose Shanghai instead!

Kenneth Long
Kenneth’s love for travel has led him to many countries across the world. Among the 25 countries he has visited, his favourite travel destination is somewhere close to home — Taiwan. He enjoys sharing about the best travel landmarks as he believes that the experience of travelling broadens one's mind and opens one's heart.

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