explore Shanghai, China
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Explore Shanghai, China

Explore Shanghai with a population of more than 23 million (with over 9 million migrants), which is the largest and traditionally the most developed metropolis in Mainland China.

Shanghai was the largest and most prosperous city in the Far East during the 1930s. In the past 20 years it has again become an attractive city for tourists from all over the world. The world once again had its eyes on the city when it hosted the 2010 World Expo, recording the greatest number of visitors in the event’s history.


Shanghai is split in two by the Huangpu River. The most basic division of the area is Puxi West of the river, versus Pudong, East of the river. Both terms can be used in a general sense for everything on their side of the river, but are often used in a much narrower sense where Puxi is the older (since the 19th century) central part of the city and Pudong the mass of new high-rise development across the river since the 1980s. Read more about the districts of Shanghai.

Shanghai is a fascinating mix of East and West. It has historic shikumen houses that blend the styles of Chinese houses with European design flair, and it has one of the richest collections of Art Deco buildings in the world. As there were so many concessions (designated districts) to Western powers during the turn of the 20th century, in many places the city has a cosmopolitan feel. There is everything from classic Parisian style, to Tudor style buildings that give an English flair and 1930s buildings reminiscent of New York or Chicago.

There is a saying that goes, “Shanghai is heaven for the rich, hell for the poor,” People from all over China flock to Shanghai — everyone from farmers seeking jobs in manual labor to university graduates seeking to start a career or wanting to live in a cool up-tempo city. Even well-off people, though, complain that buying a home is becoming impossible; prices have skyrocketed in the last few years.

Most of Shanghai’s 6,340.5 square kilometres of land area is billiard table flat, with an average elevation above mean sea level of just 4m. The dozens of new skyscrapers that have been built in recent years have had to be built with deep concrete piles to stop them from sinking into the soft ground of this flat alluvial plain.


Shanghai is one of the main industrial hubs of China, playing a key role in China’s heavy industries. A large number of industrial zones are backbones of Shanghai’s secondary industry.

Shanghai’s climate is classified as humid subtropical. Summer temperatures at noontime often hit 35–36°C with very high humidity, which means that you will perspire a lot and should take lots of changes of clothing. Freak thunderstorms also occur relatively often during the summer, so an umbrella should be brought (or bought after arrival) just in case. There is some risk of typhoons in their July-September season, but they are not common.

Get around

If you intend to stay in Shanghai for more than a few days the Shanghai Jiaotong Card is a must. You can load the card with money and use it in buses, the metro, Maglev and even taxis, saving the hassle of buying tickets at each metro station and keeping change for buses and taxis. You can get these cards at any metro/subway station, as well as some convenience stores like Alldays and KeDi Marts.


The native language of locals, Shanghainese, is part of the Wu group of Chinese languages, which is not mutually intelligible with Mandarin, Cantonese, Minnan (Hokkien-Taiwanese) or any other forms of Chinese.

While you are more likely to encounter an English speaker in Shanghai than in any other mainland Chinese city, they are still not widespread so it would be wise to have your destinations and hotel address written in Chinese so that taxi drivers can take you to your intended destination. Though younger people will have studied English in school, due to a lack of practice, few are conversant. Likewise, if you are planning to bargain at shops, a calculator would be useful. That being said, staff at the more expensive hotels, major tourist attractions and other establishments catering specifically to foreigners generally speak an acceptable level of English.

What to see. Best top attractions in Shanghai, China.

Where to go in Shanghai depends largely on your time period and interests. See Shanghai for the first-timer for a sample itinerary.

Yuyuan Gardens. For a feel of the China of yesteryear loaded with classical Chinese architecture (the countless vendors just outside the gardens may lead to some frustration, so don’t come here thinking ‘tranquility’).

Classic (Western) architecture. For a taste of 1920s Shanghai, head for the stately old buildings of the The Bund or the French Concession–too many to list here! Some of the best sections are along Hunan Rd, Fuxing Rd, Shaoxing Rd and Hengshan Rd. The area is fast becoming famous for boutique shopping along Xinle Rd, Changle Rd and Anfu Rd, all of which also have interesting restaurants.

Modern architecture. Some of the tallest and most inspiring structures in Asia and the world can be found along the Huangpu River bank in Pudong’s Lujiazui District. Two of considerable mention are Oriental Pearl Tower, one of the tallest structures in Asia, providing visitors with city views (different tours available) or light shows (at night) from below (free), Jin Mao Tower, which is staggering 88-story behemoth, and the Shanghai World Financial Center. Be aware that both the 94th floors and the 100th floors offer similar views and photography opportunities. Discount available for students under 16 and senior citizens, and free if it’s your birthday.

Shanghai Museum, S side of People’s Square. 9AM-5PM. The Ancient Bronze exhibit is particularly impressive. Audio guides available. Also, there are often volunteer guides providing free service. Some of them speak English. Free. 

Temples. Some of the more popular ones include the Jade Buddha Temple, Jing’an Temple, Chenghuang and Longhua Temple. Seniors 70 and over get free admission at the Jade Buddha Temple and many museums. Passport ID is usually requested. 

Oriental Pearl Tower. Right in the middle of the skyline. This is a must see!

Zhujiajiao Water Town. The picturesque Zhu Jia Jiao is a classic water village, over 400 years old with a signature five-arch bridge spanning the Cao Gang River. Zhu Jia Jiao was an important town for local trade, shipping goods in and out of its man-made canals to the river. After about 40 minutes’ drive from the city, you will arrive at Zhujiajiao-the Ancient Water Town. Its main street is lined with quaint shops and restaurants serving local favorites. You can stroll the maze of paths and bridges, and take a boat ride to view the residences of this nicely-preserved water village. Zhu Jia Jiao is also home to two impressive temples, which add to the charm and historic significance of the village. 

What to do in Shanghai, China.

Drink at a tea house. Visit Shanghai’s many tea houses, but be beware of tea house scams. To sample some tea head to Yu Garden, but not at a dining establishment, rather at one of the many tea shops selling the product. In hopes to make a sale, the store owners will call out to you to sample some of their tea. You may enter – they will offer the best (or most expensive) to foreigners to taste. If you decide to do this, be courteous and purchase a small amount of tea – but be sure to ask the price before you try it. **Note: Prices mentioned are always by  jin1, which is equivalent to a pound or half-kilo.

Enjoy a dinner with locals. Enjoy a traditional meal at the home of a Shanghai local. Learn first-hand about life in China and see how locals really live. “Dinner in Shanghai” specializes in this, while AirBnB may offer some options as well.

Take a boat on the river. There are many companies that run river tours. Look for one of the cheaper ones. This is a great way to see the striking Shanghai skyline and river banks and shoot some good photos. A cheaper but less scenic alternative is to take one of the many ferries that cross the river for a couple yuan.

Shanghai Happy Valley, 888 Linhu Rd. Theme park.

Jinjiang Amusement Park, No. 201 Hongmei Rd (in Xuhui District, Line 1 to Jinjiang Park). 

Shanghai City Beach. Beautiful Jinshan City Beach is on the north bank of Hangzhou Bay, at the southern end of Jinshan District. The area combines great scenery, points of interest and entertainment all in one strip, and is composed of 2 square kilometers of blue waters, 120,000 square meters of golden sands and a 1.7 kilometer silver walkway. Every spring, Jinshan beach hosts the national kite flying competition and the world beach volleyball tournament; in the summer thousands of visitors come for the Fengxia Music Festival. Sail boating, speed boating, bungee jumping and 4-wheeling activities makes this place a great spot for athletics as well. 

Jinshan Donglin temple, Shanghai Jin Shan Qu Dong Lin Jie. Jinshan Donglin temple, located in Shanghai’s southern suburbs (Zhujing Town) has over 700 years of history, the temple has been renovated, and is a magnificent sight to see. Donglin Temple has large-scale, high artistic value, and three Guinness World Records: The Goddess of Mercy and the world’s tallest Buddha Cloisonné—Sudhana (5.4 m) the highest bronze door in the world-qian fo door (20.1 m), The world’s tallest indoor statue– the statue of Guanyin Bodhisattva with one thousand hands and several heads (34.1 m).

Shanghai Propaganda Poster and Art Centre (PPAC), RM. BOC 868 HUA SHAN RD SHANGHAI. The museum is inside the apartment complex here. With any luck, the complex guard will point you in the right direction. The museum is found in the basement of building B.). Daily10:00-17:00. This private collection is one of the most relevant and uncensored exhibits available to visitors interested in a glimpse of the politics and art of Mao-era China. Posters, memorabilia, photos, and even  big character posters can be found in this rotating exhibition. Due to the controversial nature of the historical items stored here, the museum is quite difficult to find, and unlabeled from the outside. Well worth the hunt, the museum boasts a wide array of art and political relics from 20th century China.

Madame Tussauds Shanghai, 10/F, New World Building, No.2-68 Nanjing Xi Rd. Madame Tussauds Shanghai, a must go for leisure, near people park centre, From Nan Jing Road, take walk to West and go to People Park, you can see the building after take underground road 

Shanghai Disney Resort, Pudong Xinqu, Shanghai Shi. The newest Disneyland theme park built; opened in June of 2016 and featuring the world’s largest Disney castle. The park is majority-owned by the Chinese government; “Authentically Disney, Distinctively Chinese.”

Open Mic Comedy (Shanghai Comedy Club), 1/F, Bldg A3, 800 Changde Lu, near Changping Lu. A stand-up comedy scene has grown in Shanghai over the last five years. Tuesday and Sunday nights go stop by Shanghai Comedy Club to catch local comics and touring international comedians.

Do a language exchange. 11:00. Every Saturday morning in Xujiahui there is a language exchange for English, Mandarin, and Japanese speakers. Usually 10-20 people from around the world will attend. This is a good way to meet and talk with locals! Free. 

What to buy in Shanghai

What to eat in Shanghai

What to drink

Prices of drinks in cafes and bars vary like they would any major metropolis. They can be cheap or be real budget-busters. There are internationally-known chains, like Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, as well as popular domestic and local java joints to satisfy those looking to relax. Tipping is not required, and while some will appreciate it, many will chase you down the street to return your money, thinking you’ve forgotten it! Visitors from tax & tip bar culture countries, once they figure in tax and tip that they’d have paid back home, will not find drinking to be expensive in the grand scheme of things, especially with reasonable taxi prices to get you to and fro!

Tsingtao, Snow, and Suntory beer are widely available cold in bottles in cans. Major foreign brands are produced domestically and smaller brands are typically imported. There is also a local brew known as REEB (beer spelled backwards). 711 and Family Mart will also carry Heineken, and Japanese beers like Kirin and Asahi. Taiwan Beer used to be readily available. Cheers-In and other emerging shops carry a range of delicious imported Belgian ales and American craft beers, but you’re better off going to one of three KAIBA in town to enjoy these in a proper environment with some tasty chow to boot.

Shanghai is filled with amazing nightlife, complete with both affordable bars and nightclubs that pulsate with city energy.

There are many magazines for Expats that can be found at hotels and other expat eateries that list events and the best bars, clubs and restaurants in Shanghai. The most popular ones are Smart Shanghai, That’s Shanghai, City Weekend, and Time Out.

Stay healthy

Do not drink Shanghai’s tap water unless it is boiled or goes through purification process. Even when you are staying at a five-star hotel. Drinking the water is relatively safe when it has been boiled; however, tap water is also said to contain high amounts of heavy metals which are not removed by boiling. When buying bottled water, you will come across a whole range of mineral water brands. Cheaper brands are in all the convenience stores and street stands. If you’re worried about the bottled water, check if the seal has been tampered with.


For visitors unused to travel in China the language barrier is likely to be the biggest obstacle, as English ability tends to be very limited in all but the largest tourist draws and establishments that cater specifically to foreign visitors. Mandarin-learners need to be aware that Shanghainese, a Wu dialect, is the first language of locals and very different from Mandarin, although most Shanghainese under the age of 50 speak Mandarin to one degree or another. The use of Shanghainese as the de facto ‘first’ language of the city has been discouraged by the government and its use is decreasing both due to the effect of the paramount use of Mandarin in mass media and by the large-scale influx of out-of-town Chinese moving to Shanghai to work in recent years.

However, with the opening-up policy, the situation has been improved. As English is compulsory in Chinese schools, an increasing number of younger people know some Basic English. If you are lost, try approaching younger people, such as high school or university students and stick to basic phrases; they might be able to point you in the right direction. Speak slowly, enunciate your words, and if rejected, a polite smile and even an English language “Thank you” will be well received!

Places near Shanghai to visit

Official tourism websites of Shanghai

For more information please visit the official government website: 

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