Things to do in Shanghai
Are you planning a trip to Shanghai? We just visited Shanghai, and I spent so much time figuring out my itinerary — what to see, where to stay, how to get around, and things to do in Shanghai — that I thought I’d post what I found to help out other families traveling to Shanghai.
Considered the Paris of the East, Shanghai is jam-packed with awesome things to see and do. But traveling with a family in China is a little different than traveling solo or as a couple.
Luckily, the downtown area is compact and easy to navigate.
Scroll to the bottom if you need a family-friendly, convenient and comfortable place to stay in Shanghai, information about how to get around Shanghai, or tips for seeing Shanghai on a budget.
Without further ado, here are our top 10 favorite things to do in Shanghai.
Top 10 Things to do in Shanghai:
This Shanghai Itinerary took us 3 days. We spent one day in the Pudong area, which is the financial district, East of the Huangpu River, seeing numbers 1-4 of the list below. We spent one day around the Bund and the downtown area West of the river, seeing numbers 6-10 of the list below, and we spent one day at Disneyland.
With lots of children, we don’t cover ground quickly. And the metro is much easier for us (and cheaper!) than taxis. So this Shanghai Itinerary is geographically compact, and easily accessible via the metro.
1. The Century Overbridge
Head over to the Pudong District (the financial district across the Huangpu river from the Bund) via line 2 of the Shanghai Metro, at the Lujiazui stop.
Numbers 1-4 of this list of things to do in Shanghai are located within easy walking distance of each other and the metro stop. You can stretch them out to fill a day, like we did, or rush through them to squeeze them all into half a day.
Outside the Lujiazui metro exit, you can walk the The Century Overbridge, the awesome footbridge located right between the Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai Tower , Shanghai World Financial Center, Jing Mao Tower and the Lujiazui Central Green Space.
It was raining while we were there, so we stepped into the Disney store located right next to the Century Overbridge. The cute clock tower out front parades Disney characters out it’s hinged doors on the hour and half hour.
The big round bridge below is the Century Overbridge. Pretty cool, huh? You’ll only need about 20 minutes to walk the entirety.
See the big Mickey Mouse on the roof of the building to the right of the Century Overbridge? That’s the Disney store. The square in front of it has this adorable clock tower, which plays music and parades Disney characters around the base every half hour. It’s worth stopping if you think your kiddos would enjoy it.
When you’re ready for lunch, there is a yummy French boulangerie right next to the metro exit as you step out into the square. My kiddos were tired of the snacks we had brought over to China in suitcases, and they weren’t keen on Chinese breakfasts, so we stocked up on croissants and sweet rolls and sandwiches for the week.
2. Shanghai Tower
Visit the Shanghai Tower, which is located right around the corner from the Century Overbridge. It’s the 2nd tallest building in the world and costs $27 per person to take the high-speed elevator up to the observation deck. My older kids thought the Shanghai Tower was a lot cooler than the Oriental Pearl Tower, but both are iconic things to do in Shanghai. You’ll want about an hour here.
3. Oriental Pearl Tower
The Oriental Pearl Radio is just a short walk away from the Century Overbridge and the Shangai Tower. Purchase the 160RMB ticket ($24USD) instead of the 220 RMB. We mistakenly purchased the more expensive tickets, and then ended up skipping the extra (super dumb) things it included.
This attraction is incredibly kitschy, complete with clowns and balloon animals. And I’m not kidding! But it’s so iconic that it remains on the top 10 list of things to do in Shanghai. The Shanghai History Museum, located at the base of the tower, tells the history of Shanghai through miniature models and wax figures, complete with baffling explanations in what passes as English. Why don’t they ever hire proof readers?
Tickets to the Oriental Pearl Tower are timed, and they check the time when you get in line. But you can skip a good portion of the line that goes straight up to the observation deck if you start your tour at the museum at the bottom of the tower.
Don’t miss the bottom ball. Once you are on your way down, it is possible to go straight from the upper ball to the basement, skipping the bottom ball completely. But the bottom ball is worth stopping by for the outside walkway and the 4-D feature.
Our favorite part of the Oriental Pearl Tower was the upper observation deck. We timed our visit so we could see the city in daylight, then dusk, and as the lights turned on through the financial district and the Bund. We skipped the virtual reality roller coaster, because it didn’t look like something we wanted to pay extra for.
FYI, you can save over half the admission price with a Go Shanghai Card All-Inclusive Pass!
4. Ride the Shanghai Ferry
Take the Shanghai Ferry back from the financial district (Pudong) to the Bund side of the Huangpu river. If you take it in the evening, you have a great view of the skylines on both sides of the river.
It’s the ideal sport from which to appreciate the impressive heights of the Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai Tower and all of the high rises in the financial district on one side of the river, contrasting with the stately colonial buildings that line the Bund waterfront on the other side. And it’s only 2RMB per person — what a bargain!
>>> Looking for ways to travel China for cheap? <<<<
Shanghai Disneyland probably deserves an entire post all by itself, but you’ll have to settle for the most important points here. This particular Disneyland seems to cater to the Chinese, understandably, who seem to value photo ops and shopping above thrill rides. The only thrill rides were TRON (which was fantastic!) and Pirates of the Caribbean (which was also fantastic!).
There was also a ‘Soaring Around the World’ ride, which was exactly like the Soaring ride elsewhere, except for the long wait in line, which was decorated such that it made me wonder if this particular Soaring ride would have an Indiana Jones theme. It didn’t. China (including Chinese Disney) doesn’t feel the need to be congruent, and that’s okay.
The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train reminded us of Thunder Mountain Railroad, the Buzz Lightyear ride was exactly the same, only this one seemed to work better than the one in Anaheim. And there were several non-ride attractions, such as the Alice in Wonderland Maze, everything in Toy Story Land, and the Dance Party.
Basically, despite visiting on a busy day, we rode everything before 2 pm, then we rode them again. I think we ended up riding TRON about 5 times, and we rode Pirates at least 8 times! My favorite thing about Shanghai Disneyland might have been that the Chinese crowds were so busy taking selfies, and waiting in line to take selfies, that they left the rides wide open to the foreigners!
You have to give Disney props for this castle, too. It is absolutely incredible!
I can’t say enough good about the adorable buildings. Check out the Ugly Duckling in the top left photo below. I wish you could see Rapunzel’s tower behind it, but I didn’t get a good photo of the tower. There is no shortage of eye candy (or photo ops or shopping!) at Shanghai Disneyland.
Shanghai Disneyland was easy to get to from the metro — just take Line 11 all the way to the end and follow the crowds. Of course, the metro might suddenly stop, two stationss before the end, without warning or explanation, and everyone will have to file off and wait for the next train. And the next train might be full to bursting, so that you end up having to wait for yet another train.
But that’s par for the course in China, and just to be expected.
FYI, we did see Chinese people pee in the shrubs and the street, but we didn’t have too much trouble with pushing or butting in lines. That might be because we are all tall and fair, though. We fancy ourselves intimidating.
>>> Click here if you want more info about Shanghai Disneyland! <<<
6. Walk the Bund
It’s fun to walk The Bund along the Huangpu river. The Bund promenade has heritage architectural landmarks on one side and some of the city’s best panoramas across the Huangpu River to skyscraper-filled Pudong on the other.
Most of China is filled with ugly concrete high rise buildings. But the Bund is lined with beautiful, European, colonial-style architechture. You can sit on the benches along the Bund and people-watch, or rent a bike.
Both of these photos are on the Bund, facing toward Pudong.
This photo is on the Bund, facing the other direction. Walking the Bund is one of the most enjoyable things to do in Shanghai.
7. Yuyuan Gardens (also called Yu Gardens)
You’ll find this incredible, traditional Chinese garden, created over 400 years ago by a rich, rice vendor, at Exit 1 of the Yuyuan stop on Line 10 of the Shanghai metro. As aweseome as the garden is, the surrounding streets are even better.
Check out the ceilings of a few of the arcades below. All of them were amazing just like these. If you like architecture at all, you will drool over these buildings! The area around Yuyuan Gardens was one of my favorite things to do in Shanghai.
The iconic, narrow, Chinese streets around Yu Gardens are lined with shopping stalls, food vendors, and all kinds of wares. We enjoyed watching them make (and later eating) Nanxiang Steamed Buns with stuffing, which are a Shanghai specialty. The buns are soft and juicy with thin skin. You also have to try the delicious handmade noodles.
The only downside of Yu Garden is that they (and the entire surrounding area, too) are jam-packed! I don’t suffer from claustrophobia, yet still I was ready to pull my hair out from trying to navigate our way through the crowds. We could barely move as we approached the ticket line.
The garden itself is full of amazing pagodas, pavilions, towers and halls, bridges, ponds, and courtyards. I especially loved all of the different paving styles. There’s also a very famous, beautiful and historic temple located opposite the Yu Garden, which is worth an hour to see.
8. Nanjing Lu
Nanjing Road is one of the most famous shopping streets in Shanghai. It runs from The Bund on one end to the People’s Square on the other end.
Upscale stores along Nanjing Road include Tiffany, Mont Blanc, Omega, and Dunhill. Dozens of specialty shops provide choice silk goods, jade statuary, embroidery, wool and other textiles. If you love to shop, you will want to spend an afternoon on Nanjing Road.
My older daughters were thrilled to spend some time in a couple of clothing shops, until we looked at the price tags and concluded that we are way too cheap for Nanjing Road, ha, ha! So we sat and ate snacks and people-watched.
9. People’s Square & People’s Park
Located in the heart of Shanghai, Peoples Square is one of the largest squares in the city. It used to be a horse track for racing purposes, but now it’s home to Shanghai’s important government buildings. Right next to the Square is People’s Park, where two of the city’s most important museums, Shanghai Museum and Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art.
We laughed that a few of Shanghai’s parks had beautiful lawns (unusual for China) with signage and railings to keep people off of them. We watched a group of older women dancing in the square. They had traditional costumes and fans and seemed to be practicing for an event.
But you often see groups of people dancing for exercise as well. Or you’ll see them cracking whips, or practicing synchronized roller-blading, or doing tai chi or playing homemade instruments.
You can learn a whole lot about Chinese culture by spending time in its parks! It’s one of the most interesting things to do in Shanghai.
10. Tian Zi Fang Shopping Alley
Situated near Exit 1 of Dapuqiao Station on Line 1 of the metro are alleys of charming cafes and elegant shops tucked into quaint, three-story buildings.
You’ll find everything from handmade stationery and postcards, to collectibles, art and traditional clothing. The gracious, old, stone architecture gives you insight into Shanghai’s elegant past. Check out all the adorable sweet buns below.
It’s a little pricey but great for picture taking! Don’t forget to barter, the locals love to try and get the best deal.
Things to do in Shanghai: Where to Stay
Are you looking for a family-friendly place to stay in Shanghai?
We stayed at Utels Youth Hostel, which was just about a two minute walk from the metro station, and amazingly spacious by Chinese standards. It’s not downtown, but the price was great, and it’s so close to the metro that it was still easy to get around.
It was also clean and comfortable, with actual mattresses instead of just thin mats spread on platforms that the Chinese like to use as beds. The bathrooms were all western style, with separate shower stalls, which was a nice change from showering over the toilet.
Be aware that the location will come up wrong if you try to use Google Maps. We planned to just drop off our luggage upon arrival, but the rooms were already clean, so they let us go ahead and check in 4 hours early.
My kids loved that our rooms were all two-story, with a queen-sized bed upstairs and two twins, a couch and a bathroom downstairs. But their favorite thing about the hostel was that they had friendly cats to play with!
Things to do in Shanghai: How to Get Around
We had our fill of taxis in Xi’An, before coming to Shanghai. Taxis are difficult with such a large group — we always needed three of them. So we were overjoyed that Shanghai’s metro is so extensive and easily navigable.
You can purchase a three-day metro pass for 45 RMB ($7USD)at any metro station ticket booth. You have to go to a booth with a person — not the machines. A 3-day metro pass is good for 72 hours. There is often a line at the ticket machines, but the pass enables you to skip them. You just swipe it at the turnstile, put your bags through the x-ray, and off you go.
The Shanghai metro is fantastic! You can get anywhere easily and cheaply!
You could also download the Didi app, although it may not work for you if you don’t have a Chinese bank card to sign up for We Chat pay. Didi drivers expect to be paid with We Chat pay and won’t take cash or credit cards. I tried several US credit cards, and couldn’t enable We Chat pay with any of them.
You can order a regular taxi with the Didi app, though, and they will take cash. Just be sure to ask them to start the meter (just tap the fare box), because they are notorious for overcharging and pocketing the difference. But most places in Shanghai you can easily just flag down a taxi on the street.
Most touristy places, including the airport and train stations, will have taxi stands outside. You’ll probably be accosted by people yelling, “Taxi, taxi” as you leave the building. Ignore those guys, or tell them, “Boo Yao” and instead head for the line of taxis. Hop in one and ask them to start the meter. The aggressive guys just want to charge you double or more what a regular taxi will.
>>> Click here to learn more about transportation in China! <<<
>>> Looking for ways to travel China for cheap? <<<<
Check out the Go Shanghai card if you’re planning to visit several attractions. You could save more than half off the price of admission!
Do you have any questions about things to do in Shanghai? Ask away in the comments below — I’d love to help!
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