Things to Do in Shanghai
Also known as the “Venice of Shanghai,” Zhujiajiao is the best preserved of the four ancient water towns in the Shanghai area. With a history dating back over 1,700 years, Zhujiajiao is full of lovely canals and waterways, small alleys, picturesque bridges, and ancient buildings, many from the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Dating from the Ming Dynasty, Yuyuan Garden—or simply, Yu Garden—in the middle of the Old Town (Nanshi) Shanghai, is one of China’s best-preserved classical gardens. Covering an area of 5 acres (2 hectares), Yuyuan Garden is known for its beautiful scenery, elegant layout, and delightful pavilions, pagodas, pools, bridges, and rockeries.
The Bund (Waitan) refers to Shanghai’s iconic waterfront strip, which runs for 1 mile (1.5 kilometers) along the west shore of the Huangpu River. Renowned for its extensive collection of colonial-era buildings, there’s also pedestrian-friendly promenade perfect for strolling, which offers stunning views of both the Bund and Pudong.
One of the tallest buildings in the world, the Shanghai Tower (Shanghai Zhongxin Dasha) has a twisting silhouette that dominates the skyline. Standing 137 stories and 2,073 feet (632 meters) high, the building features some of the world’s fastest elevators, which race to a viewing platform 1,841 feet (561 meters) above the city. On a clear day, the views are spectacular.
One of Shanghai’s most charming areas, the former French Concession is known for its tree-lined streets and interesting mix of Chinese and Western architectural styles. Popular with locals, expats, and visitors, the area is home to a number of top attractions, as well as hip cafés, restaurants, bars, clubs, boutiques, galleries, and museums.
Jade Buddha Temple (Yufo Si) is a working Buddhist monastery—one of the few in China. The star attractions of the Jade Buddha Temple are two figures brought to Shanghai from Singapore by a monk from Burma in the 19th century: a 6.5-foot (2-meter) seated jade Buddha encrusted with semiprecious stones and a smaller white jade reclining Buddha.
Stretching for over 71 miles (113 kilometers) and with an average width of 1,312 feet (400 meters), the Huangpu River flows through the middle of Shanghai and divides the city into two parts. Puxi, to the west, is the city’s historical, cultural, and entertainment center, while Pudong, to the east, is Shanghai’s business and financial center.
A vibrant mix of old and new, Xin Tian Di is a fashionable and upscale area full of modern and trendy shops, galleries, cafes, restaurants, bars, and clubs, many housed within traditional Shikumen buildings that have been restored. It’s a place to see and be seen, and a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.
Nicknamed the “Bottle Opener” due to its distinctive shape, the Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC) is the second tallest building in Shanghai, reaching a dizzying 1,614 feet (492 meters). Its three observatories—in particular, the glass-bottomed observatory on the 100th floor—are the main draw of the building, located in the Lujiazui area of Pudong. There’s also a hotel and a mall.
Nanshi is the collection of narrow streets and alleys once enclosed within the walls of old Shanghai. During the city’s period of foreign concessions, it was the main Chinese district, rarely entered by foreigners. Today, the neighborhood captures the essence of old China, complete with several temples, food vendors, and a crowded bazaar.
More Things to Do in Shanghai
Once the tallest building in Shanghai, the Oriental Pearl Tower (Dongfang Mingzhu Ta) remains one of the most recognizable skyscrapers in Pudong, part of the skyline visible from The Bund. The sci-fi-esque 1,535-foot (468-meter) tower houses observation platforms, a glass-bottomed walkway, rotating restaurant, as well as the Shanghai History Museum in its basement.
Pudong, which lies east of the Huangpu River, is Shanghai’s modern business and financial center. Formerly an agricultural area, Pudong is now home to an international airport, the biggest park in Shanghai, luxury shopping, a lively culinary scene, and the tallest and most distinctive skyscrapers in the city.
Considered one of the finest museums in China, the Shanghai Museum has a vast collection of Chinese artifacts from the Neolithic period onward. The museum’s 11 state-of-the-art galleries display ancient bronze, jade, and ceramics; painting, calligraphy, and ancient sculptures; and Ming and Qing dynasty furniture.
Shanghai’s premier shopping street, Nanjing Road (Nanjing Lu) features businesses ranging from small shops and stalls to massive department stores and malls. It’s the world’s longest shopping district, stretching 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) from the Bund to Jing’an Temple, and attracts over a million visitors a day.
The massive People’s Square (Renmin Guangchang) is in the heart of Shanghai. Surrounded by the city’s municipal government headquarters, a park, and several top museums, the major landmark makes for a popular meeting spot, as well as being at the center of politics, culture, transportation, and tourism in Shanghai.
Clear, unmanned tram cars surrounded by a psychedelic music and light show travel under the Huangpu River on the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel tourist ride. The 2,122-foot-long (647-meter-long) tunnel connects passengers from the Bund to Pudong in three to five minutes.
The tallest building in China when it was completed in 1999, Shanghai’s landmark Jin Mao Tower reaches nearly 1,380 feet (420.5 meters). The main draw for most visitors is the observation deck on the 88th floor—the largest in the city—which offers stunning 360-degree views over Shanghai.
Located in the French Concession, the Shanghai Museum of Arts and Crafts showcases traditional embroidery, paper crafts, lantern making, and carvings in wood, jade, bamboo, and other materials. Visitors can check out the exhibits and watch artisans at work.
Experience the magic at Shanghai Disneyland, the first Disney park in Mainland China. Enjoy thrilling rides, shows, and attractions; shop and dine; and pose with your favorite characters in six different themed areas: Mickey Avenue, Gardens of Imagination, Fantasyland, Adventure Isle, Treasure Cove, and Tomorrowland.
Step back in time to 1920s and 1930s Shanghai, and get a glimpse of how the average middle-class family lived, at the Shikumen Open House Museum (Wulixiang Shikumen Bowuguan). Located in Xin Tian Di, the museum uses recreated rooms and multimedia displays to present a house in the typical shikumen, or stone gate, style unique to Shanghai.
Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall Tours
A surprisingly interesting museum, the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall (Shanghai Chengshi Guihua Zhanshi Guan) in People’s Square traces the development of the city from a small fishing village to a modern metropolis. Featuring photos, models, videos, and interactive displays, it’s a great way to learn about the past and imagine the future of Shanghai.
The museum covers five floors above ground and two underground. Start off on the first floor, which covers the historical development of Shanghai. The centerpiece of the museum, a huge scaled model of the city, is on the third floor. Don’t miss the wraparound 3D theater, which gives a glimpse into the future of Shanghai. In the basement, you can walk down a re-created Shanghai street from the 1930s, which leads to a very modern underground shopping plaza.
Combine a visit to the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall with a hop-on hop-off bus tour of Shanghai, a Huangpu River cruise, or a half-day or full-day tour that includes other top Shanghai attractions, such as Yuyuan Garden, Xintiandi, or the Bund.
Things to Know Before You Go
Audio guides in eight languages are available for rental.
The museum is wheelchair and stroller accessible; both are available for free.
Special temporary exhibitions may require an additional fee.
There is a café on the fifth floor that offers great views over People’s Square.
How to Get There
The museum is located in People’s Square, in the Huangpu District. By metro, take line 1, 2, or 8 to People’s Square Station. By bus, take line 18, 20, 46, 49, 71, 123, or 537 and get off at People’s Square, or take tourist bus 1 or 3 to the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center.
When to Get There
The museum is open daily, except Mondays (unless it’s a public holiday), with slightly longer hours Friday through Sunday. Expect to spend one to two hours here, longer if you are really into design, architecture, or urban planning.
Other Attractions Near People’s Square
There are a number of other museums and attractions in and around People’s Square, including top-rated Shanghai Museum, the Shanghai History Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Grand Theater.
The Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum (Shanghai Youtai Nanmin Jinianguan) is housed within the restored Ohel Moshe Synagogue, which played a key role in the lives of the 20,000 European Jewish refugees who settled in the city during World War II. The museum highlights their story through photos, films, documents, and personal items.
The inverted scarlet pyramid that towers over Pudong isn’t just an icon of Shanghai. It’s home to one of Asia’s largest art museums, including works previously housed at the Shanghai Art Museum. Spread across several huge floors, the China Art Palace tells the story of the rise of modern art in Shanghai and hosts world-class exhibitions.
The City God Temple (Chenghuang Miao) is one of the main Taoist temples in Shanghai. Originally built during the Ming Dynasty, the temple has a rich history, which has survived its near destruction and renovation over the years. Still an active and lively temple, it’s a beautiful oasis within bustling Old Shanghai.
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