12 must-do things to do in Shanghai

Visiting Shanghai: what are the best things to see and do in China’s most populous city?

China is already synonymous with adventure, curiosity and exoticism for any Westerner, and when we talk about the great cities of this immense country, we’re of course talking about Beijing, but also Shanghai.

Just 15 or 20 years ago, Shanghai seemed almost abandoned, stuck in a bygone century, but today it’s a booming, exploding city where buildings and skyscrapers seem to spring up from the ground day after day. Economic activity is flourishing, and the city’s proximity to the sea makes it a magnet for Chinese residents, expatriates from all over the world and tourists alike.

But what to do in Shanghai? To help you plan ahead, we’ve listed the main monuments and activities to visit in Shanghai, as well as other little curiosities specific to this cosmopolitan city that holds many surprises in store.

Also read on the Shanghai guide :

1. Jade Buddha Temple

Temple du bouddha de jade, Shanghai

Photo credit: Flickr – David Almeida

The Jade Buddha Temple houses three imposing statues carved from jade brought from Burma. The temple has been in existence since the late 19th century, and although the original temple was destroyed during the Chinese Revolution with the fall of the Qing dynasty, a new temple was built in 1928 with the two jade Buddha statues. The temple’s roofs are richly decorated with sculptures and bells to scare away evil spirits. The interior is sumptuously decorated in shades of red and yellow, and the silk strips hanging from the ceiling represent prayers.

2. Tianzi Fang

Quartier Tianzi Fang à Shanghai

Photo credit: Flickr – Kevin Jaako

Tianzi Fang is the city’s art district. In all these little alleys, you’ll travel back in time: in fact, you’ll see houses from the 1930s and art stores that look as if they’ve stepped out of a photo album. A very pleasant district where you can stroll around with a drink in hand and enjoy a meal on a café terrace. A popular spot with locals, and one that tourists will soon be discovering.

3. Yuyuan Garden

Jardin Yuyuan, Shanghai

Photo credit: Flickr – Henrik Berger Jørgensen

In the heart of Shanghai lies the city’s oldest garden. The Yu Garden is a typically Chinese garden where everything is in its place, with no room for chance in this arrangement, which is faithful to the rules of Chinese geomancy. And yet, when you enter this garden, you get the distinct impression that nature has reclaimed its rights and evolved as it saw fit. If possible, you should visit early in the day for a peaceful stroll, as this garden is quickly overcrowded.

4. The Maglev

Maglev, Shanghai

Photo credit: Flickr – Spacing Magazine

The Maglev is a must-see if you’re visiting Shanghai! This train is unique in the world, and you’re sure to find it only in Shanghai. The Maglev is a magnetic levitation train, meaning that it doesn’t touch the rails, as if it were levitating. It’s a truly incredible experience to travel almost flying at ground level. There is currently only one run, but when you consider that it can top out at 430 km/h, the journey takes just… 7 minutes from Longyang bus station to Pudong international airport. Once you’re settled in, watch the cars travelling at 120 km/h beside you, and you’ll get the impression that they’re moving very slowly.

5. Jin Mao Tower

Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai

Photo credit: Flickr – Francesco Muratori

The Jin Mao Tower is surely one of the most impressive skyscrapers in Shanghai. With 88 storeys and a height of 420 metres (higher than the Eiffel Tower), it ranked sixth in the world skyscraper rankings when it opened in 1999. You’re sure to get one of the best views and a fantastic panorama of the whole city. Note its art deco façade and ultra-fast elevators.

6. In Point puzzle store

Magasin puzzles In Point, Shanghai

Photo credit: MonNuage

This strange store specializes in puzzles, and is located in the Point Wujiang shopping center, right in the center of town. Most of the themes represented in their puzzles are of Western origin, and you can see their affection for paintings by van Gogh, Picasso and others. This singular store also offers gigantic 3D puzzles depicting Shanghai’s main buildings.

7. Shanghai Tower and Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC)

Shanghai Tower

Photo credit: Flickr – tangi bertin

These two imposing buildings are located in Pudong, and are respectively the city’s two tallest buildings. The Shanghai Tower is the second-tallest in the world, behind only the Burj Khalifa.

At 492 meters in height, the Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC) is best known for its distinctive shape, which features an opening at the top – a kind of spectacular viewpoint open to the public. The building contains offices, hotel rooms and restaurants. There are three viewpoints, but the most incredible is the one 440 m above sea level.

8. Nanjing Street

Rue Nanjing, Shanghai

Photo credit: Flickr – David Almeida

This is one of the city’s main thoroughfares, linking the Bund promenade with People’s Square. Famous for its stores, multicolored neon signs and the comings and goings of people on bicycles, it’s as if the street never closes. A great place for entertainment, especially during the festive season when you can’t tell day from night.

9. Pudong district

Quartier Pudong, Shanghai

Photo credit: Flickr – DavideGorla

Until recently, this district was an agricultural zone, but today it’s surely the liveliest district in all of Shanghai, with its skyscrapers, luxury hotels, shopping malls and top-class restaurants. Resembling the American or Australian CBDs, everything about this district is impressive, and the Chinese taste for challenge is evident.

10. Qibao

Qibao Shanghai

Photo credit: Flickr – Manu Cornet

Not far from Shanghai, Qibao is well worth a visit, as this small town still retains all the charm of yesteryear, with its traditional Chinese houses. The town is characterized by two things: one is its canals, where you can hire a boat to cruise around the town; and the other is the opportunity to shop at your leisure for typical products such as textiles, tea, handicrafts and food. Don’t forget to haggle – it’s become a way of life!

11. Place du Peuple

Place du Peuple, Shanghai

Photo credit: Flickr – Kyle Emmerson

It’s one of the city’s key centers. People’s Square lies to the west of the Huangpu River, where you’ll find restaurants, fashion boutiques, skyscrapers, a park, the Urban Planning Museum, the Grand Theatre and the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art. An immense place, far from the hustle and bustle of the city, that leaves no one indifferent.

12. Other ideas for things to do in Shanghai

  • Take a trip to Jiashan Market
  • Cycle through the former French concession
  • An evening at the Bund
  • You can also go out to the Bund, to the Bar Rouge for example.

How to get to Shanghai

From France, Air France and Air China operate daily direct flights to Shanghai. Located 30 km southeast of Shanghai, Pudong International Airport is linked to Shanghai by Maglev train, cab, metro or bus. You can book your airport shuttle via the button above. To find a cheap flight to Shanghai, you can search on our partner website Skyscanner.

Where to stay in Shanghai?

The four main areas to stay in Shanghai are Jing’an, Xuhui, Luwan and Huangpu. These four districts are centrally located and close to all the things to see and do in Shanghai. Staying in Pudong is not highly recommended. You can find a cheap hotel in Shanghai by searching on this hotel comparator.

Have you visited Shanghai? What else would you recommend?

Main photo credit: Flickr – Bernd Thaller

Hotel and accommodation map – Shanghai,cn