Things to do in Shanghai
When we arrived in Shanghai I was blown away by the enormity of the place – it dwarfs every other city I’ve ever been to. It’s officially the largest in the world, so it’s impossible to get round and see it all. We barely had time to step foot across the Pudong side of the river in five days! But if you’re visiting for a few days, here’s what not to miss in Shanghai:
The Bund is the most famous tourist destination in Shanghai. It’s a long stretch that runs along the Huangpu river and offers amazing views of some of Shanghai’s historical architecture on one side and the dazzling skyscrapers of the financial district on the other. The fascinating contrast between old and new Shanghai can be seen everywhere throughout the city, but is most prominent here. The famous images of the Shanghai skyline are taken from this vantage point. It’s stunning at night, and there’s an elevated path you can climb up to get the best views. Also, it won’t cost you anything to take a stroll down here and enjoy some of the city’s most famous sights.
Nanjing Road is the mother of all high streets; a shopper’s paradise – at least it would have been if I had the spare funds or space in my backpack. I seriously could have blown all of my budget here if left unsupervised. Fashion is serious business in Shanghai and its residents are so stylish. I had outfit envy for my whole time here! Nanjing Road seems to go on forever and has every kind of shop you could ever dream of. Whether you want a designer gown or a knock off pair of Nikes, you’re sorted on Nanjing.
The thing I liked best about Shanghai was that despite being such a modern city it still retains so much of its Chinese traditions. You can stand in one spot and see skyscrapers in one direction and pagodas in the other.
The best place to experience the traditional side of Shanghai is in the Yuyuan Garden and surrounding streets of the Old City. The Yuyuan Garden is believed to have been built during the Ming Dynasty hundreds of years ago, and it feels like stepping back in time when you escape into the garden from the hustle and bustle of the city. Just be warned that the bazaar that surrounds it is total carnage… you can barely move and people will literally push you out of their way to get a selfie. Plus all the traditional buildings around the garden have kind of been spoilt by Starbucks and McDonald’s logos. I found walking around there horrible, but once you get inside the garden’s walls it’s a lovely, tranquil experience. Tickets cost 40 Yuan – around £5 per person.
In my humble opinion Tianzifang is by far the coolest place in Shanghai. It’s basically a maze of interlinking lanes that are home to an eclectic mix of boutique shops, hole in the wall bars and cute restaurants. It’s very artsy, I think it must be where the Shanghai hipster crowd hangs out. I had researched Shanghai a lot before going and no website or book I’ve read seemed to mention this place. We never would have found it if it wasn’t highlighted on a city map we bought. We were actually a bit gutted that we didn’t discover it until the last day because we could have spent ages there! I’d really recommend it to anyone visiting Shanghai – to get there you just take the subway to Dapuqiao and exit on Taikang Road.
Not cultured or sophisticated, but a fun day out in Shanghai! And who doesn’t love embracing their inner kid? I don’t think I really need to sell this one to you because surely everyone loves Disneyland. Shanghai Disney doesn’t have as many big rides as Disneyland Paris but the Tron rollercoaster is amazing and makes up for it. It’s really easy to get there from anywhere in the city too, as it has its own subway stop. Just make sure you bring a packed lunch if you don’t fancy paying 85 Yuan for a Mickey Mouse pizza!
Nightlife in Shanghai
Like most cities, a night out in Shanghai can be expensive, but cheaper alternatives can always be found if you know where to look…the trouble is, we didn’t! We looked online and found addresses for a few different places that looked good and affordable, but kind of underestimated how massive the city is. Getting from A to B in Shanghai can be a nightmare, and taxi drivers didn’t seem to know much more than we did, even when we had the addresses written down in Chinese. I don’t think just winging it is an option either, the size of the city means a night out needs to be meticulously planned! You can walk for miles in a Chinese city without coming across a bar.
There are plenty of amazing nightlife options in Shanghai though I’m sure. We loved C’s Bar on Dingxi Road, it’s a dive bar that felt super cosy, the staff are really friendly and they play good music. We also came across a stretch of bars on Changsu Road that weren’t too pricey. Some of them were really western but you can get a pint for 20 Yuan (about £2.40) which you can’t turn your nose up at in Shanghai! The Tianzifang area also has quite a few bars in close proximity, but these are pretty expensive if you’re on a budget.
Where to stay in Shanghai
There’s no shortage of amazing Shanghai hostels spread all over the city. We stayed at Rock and Wood International Youth Hostel which was great – more like a hotel but with a lively bar and hostel vibe. It’s also really cheap – prices in mainland China are a massive step down from Hong Kong, thankfully!
Getting Around Shanghai
The size of Shanghai means you have to rely on public transport a lot. The subway is really efficient though, and easy to navigate once you get an English version of the subway map. The only downside to it is that it stops running fairly early – some lines as early as 10:30pm, which is a bit inconvenient. Some also don’t start until after 6am, which meant we couldn’t get the train early enough to make our flight out. As you can expect, it’s best avoided before 9am and between about 5-7pm. I thought the London Underground was busy in rush hour until I attempted to take the Shanghai subway at 6pm…
I should also add that the subway here is ruthless – it’s every man, woman and child for themselves! If you don’t psychically push people they will not let you off the train at your stop. It’s pretty brutal. At first I found this intimidating but after two weeks in China I discarded my British niceties and was shoving with the best of them.
As I mentioned earlier, Chinese taxis seem to be the most unreliable thing in the world. Pretty much every time we used one in China we ended up lost, even though I’d never get into one without my destination printed in Chinese. One driver had to consult our map four times to take us to The Bund; AKA the most famous attraction in Shanghai!? So basically just avoid hailing a taxi at all costs. If you really need one then get your hotel to arrange it for you as these are generally more reliable.
There are thousands of other things that I never got the chance to do in five days in Shanghai, but these are my pick of the best things I did do. If I had to choose a favourite I think I’d say the Yu Garden, it’s so uniquely Chinese and like nothing I’d ever seen before. Definitely not to be missed on a trip to Shanghai! Please comment and let me know if you love Shanghai and have anything to add to the list!