Best Things To Do in Shanghai
Shanghai is overflowing with things to do. Your challenge will be to prioritize the city's attractions and accomplish all of your goals in the limited time you have here. Should you want a glimpse of Shanghai's past, hurry over to Longhua Temple and Zhujiajiao, a traditional water town with numerous canals and bridges. But if you're itching to see what's on the horizon, head to the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center or to the river's edge at the Bund to admire the futuristic skyline. Just don't forget to pay homage to the city's commercial gods (or "retailers"), who have set up shop along Nanjing Road.
Updated August 31, 2017
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Shanghai's picturesque waterfront, known as "the Bund," is where you'll find those classic skyline photo ops. With the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the Shanghai World Financial Center and other skyscrapers standing across the Huangpu River, the view (on a clear day) stuns. And behind you, gorgeous European-style buildings housing restaurants and shops (Nanjing Road is just around the corner) line the waterfront boulevard, affording plenty of activities.
Though a gateway to other attractions, the views from the Bund were the only thing on most travelers minds. Visitors consistently report being in complete awe of Shanghai's skyline, so much so that some said skipping this attraction would be like skipping the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Most agreed the best time is to go at night – the skyscrapers illuminated in different colors create an unbeatable photo op. Not only that, but smog can occur during the day, and depending on the weather, can hinder one's first-time viewing experience. But whichever time you decide to visit, know that many other people want to experience this picture perfect moment too – so expect crowds around the clock. And considering the immense tourist traffic the Bund receives, vendors and pesky hawkers set up shop here too.
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Located on the People's Square near Nanjing Road, the Shanghai Museum is hard to miss thanks to its distinct architecture (a circular building atop a square foundation) and remarkable size. And you really shouldn't skip this historical gem. Frequently called one of the best museums in China, this expansive museum houses a diverse collection of artifacts (more than 1,000,000 to be exact) that chart the nation's history. Highlights include ornate calligraphy, exquisite jade carvings, thousand-year-old bronze works and traditional Chinese garb.
English-speaking travelers, in particular, praised the museum for its presentation of both Chinese and English exhibit descriptions. Others loved the vast amount of historical articles available for view and appreciated the comprehensive history lesson they were able to get out of it. Keep in mind: Since there is no entrance fee, you're likely to encounter many others looking to take advantage of this freebie, so come early if you can.
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Located 29 miles west of downtown lies the Venice of Shanghai, Zhujiajiao. This ancient water town saw its heyday during the Ming Dynasty, when its success as a commercial hub resulted in the construction of its picturesque waterways. The area remains composed of numerous canals with bridges connecting visitors to scores of charming narrow streets. Expect to find tiny cafes down back alleys, friendly boatmen offering rides and hole-in-the-wall shops selling souvenirs. Though recent visitors found strolling Zhujiajiao lovely, reviewers strongly suggested visiting during the week, as the big weekend crowds can hinder the experience.
Admission to Zhujiajiao is between 30 to 90 yuan ($4 to $13); the difference in price depends on what attractions you wish to visit within. Getting there, however, can be a challenge. The easiest way to reach Zhujiajiao is to take a taxi from downtown Shanghai, which should cost you between 150 to 200 yuan (about $22 to $30) each way. But, if you'd like to save some dough, take the hour-long bus ride from the Puanlu bus station near People's Square in Shanghai. This will only set you back 12 yuan (about $2). Just make sure you get on the Hùzhu Gaosù Kuàixiàn bus line.
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Resembling a gigantic bottle opener, the Shanghai World Financial Center stands as one of the world's tallest buildings, glittering majestically on the skyline. Competing with the Oriental Pearl TV Tower for the best bird's-eye views, this structure touts an array of digital Shanghai depictions that illustrate the city's rapid evolution. And that's just at the bottom floor. Take the 49-second elevator, which is one of the fastest in the world, to the 94th and 97th floors where you'll be treated to a jaw-dropping urban panorama. However, the true highlight is on the 100th floor. Here, the Sky Walk – the world's highest observatory – allows guests to marvel at this Chinese metropolis from 1,555 feet above ground.
Recent visitors loved the views from the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center, but said those afraid of heights shouldn't try to conquer their fear here. Aside from the glass walkway, the 94th and 97th floor vantage points feature floor-to-ceiling windows, with the latter also having ceiling windows. Travelers also strongly suggested going a clear day if possible, as those who went on overcast or smoggy days were disappointed.
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Dating back to the 16th century, the 5-acre Yuyuan Garden is the city's most revered green space. The garden took nearly 20 years to completely construct and was initially intended to be the private garden for Ming-dynasty official Pan Yunduan and his family. However, the garden ended up taking some hits, enduring both British occupation during the Opium Wars and again by the French during the Taiping Rebellion. Despite the turmoil, the garden remained largely intact and is today a beautiful retreat loved by many. Here, you'll find six main scenic areas and 30 pavilions outfitted with ornate structures like decorated bridges and colorful pagodas as well intimate enclaves that are divided by "dragon walls" (partitions with stone dragons lying on top). Highlights include the Heralding Spring Hall, the Jade Magnificence Hall and the Lotus Pool.
Recent visitors enjoyed the scenery and architecture that comprise the Yuyuan Gardens but lamented the hoards of tourists the gardens attract. Many travelers ran into crowds during their visit and strongly recommended choosing a time when there won't be as many people, as some felt the crowds took away from the peaceful nature of the gardens. And depending on the season, it's worth noting that there isn't too much cover in the park, so visiting at peak hours on a hot afternoon during the summer could easily end up being a miserable experience.
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As Shanghai's oldest and largest religious complex, Longhua Temple is a natural tourist attraction, drawing droves of travelers. The temple was built in the 10th century and is named after the pipal tree where Buddha is said to have reached enlightenment. It's staggering seven-story pagoda is easy to spot, though much more lies within. Take time to explore the five main halls each filled to the brim with ornate sculptures, including numerous buddhas. Also take time to marvel at the more than 14,000-pound bell located in the bell and drum tower near the entrance. And if you're visiting Shanghai in the spring, expect hordes of peach blossoms to make appearances in your photographs. Unfortunately, the most photogenic point of the property, the pagoda, is not open for exploration.
Recent visitors found the Longhua Temple peaceful and enjoyed being able to witness locals in worship. Many also strongly recommended visiting during the week, as the weekends bring in the most tourists and can become quite crowded. Travelers who reported visiting at peak days of the week and popular times of the year reported admission prices surging, especially during Chinese New Year.
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One of the city's most popular attractions, the Jade Buddha Temple impresses visitors with its legion of statues. The temple was originally built to house two jade statues brought in from Burma. But over time, its collection of ornate statues grew, subsequently drawing crowds in droves. While you should definitely pay homage to the jade buddhas, there are other figures that merit your attention. In the Grand Hall, three golden Buddhas represent the incarnations of Buddha (past, present and future), while the Heavenly King Hall features four heavenly kings surrounding more buddhas, acting as divine protectors. There's also the Hall of the Reclining Buddha, which houses the second jade buddha statue, carved from a single piece of white jade. It's also worth noting that the temple is one of Shanghai's few active Buddhist monasteries, so many monks call this place home.
Recent visitors reported thoroughly enjoying their trip to the Jade Buddha Temple, calling the attraction both tranquil and beautiful. The artwork is awe-inspiring, with many travelers strongly suggesting future visitors take time to admire the uniqueness of the Jade Buddha. Photography of the buddha, however, is prohibited. And keep in mind that the temple does get quite busy, so try to arrive early in the morning to beat the crowds.
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It's simple: The Shanghai Maglev is one of the fastest passenger trains in the world. Traveling at about 270 miles per hour, this train is the adult equivalent of the theme park ride, especially since it is also very convenient. Passengers on board the Shanghai Maglev are blasted between downtown and Pudong International Airport in about 7 minutes. This 18-mile ride is quite a trip. Plus, there's a museum dedicated to exhibiting the history of the train and the engineering feats required to construct it. You'll find the small museum at the Maglev Longyang Road Station, where the train stops in the city. That said, most visitors recommend the train for more practical purposes.
The train operates from 6:45 a.m. to 9:40 p.m. every 20 minutes. A one-way ticket costs 50 yuan (about $8). For more information, consult the Shanghai Maglev's official website.
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As Shanghai's most recognizable landmark, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower occupies a prominent place on the city's landscape. Standing tall in the Pudong district, the structure features one revolving restaurant, three legs, 11 spheres and multiple observatory levels. The most thrilling viewpoints are from the "Space Module" – the highest observation deck, sitting a staggering 1,148 feet above the ground. The Shanghai Municipal History Museum also resides here and merits a quick visit.
Recent visitors found the views from the tower to be simply incredible, but it comes at a cost. Many travelers expressed frustration over the long wait times for buying tickets, being admitted to the attraction and getting to the elevators – with the average wait time being at least an hour. That being said, some felt the high price wasn't worth it. Though the glass bottom floor at one of the observation levels and the Shanghai Museum were redeeming features for some reviewers.
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Whether or not you have money to burn, consider visiting Nanjing Road to witness the hustle and bustle of Chinese commerce. The Shanghai equivalent of New York's Fifth Avenue, Nanjing Road stretches six miles total and boasts retailers from all over the world in addition to local shops and department stores. In the daylight, you'll admire the graceful architecture of the surrounding buildings. At night, you'll marvel at the illuminated logos and brand names that line the avenue.
The main drag has been designated a pedestrian-only street, but that doesn't mean you can ignore traffic. Thousands of shoppers clog this main artery on a regular basis, so come prepared to power through the crowds. And if you are planning to spend some cash, make sure you do so wisely. Recent visitors said they didn't do much shopping because it was difficult to find a bargain. However, travelers were taken by the atmosphere of the lively thoroughfare and recommended going to witness the life of the area for that reason alone (though many strongly cautioned against engaging aggressive hawkers that permeate some parts of the street). Some even said vendors followed them, but not for very long. The best thing to do is to completely ignore them. Prostitution can also be found on Nanjing Road, so it's best not to bring children along.
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