Best Things to Do in Shanghai, China

Start digging into the best things to do in Shanghai, and you’ll quickly discover why the biggest city in China is a favourite among travellers.

Whether it’s wandering through the leafy boulevards of the French Concession or sipping cocktails to lit-up views over The Bund and the Pudong skyline, the top tourist attractions in Shanghai are easy to love.

Not sure what to do in Shanghai? Plan your trip with this guide to the top Shanghai attractions and the best places to visit in Shanghai…

What to see & do in Shanghai

Take a stroll along The Bund

Even if you’ve only managed to carve out 24 hours in Shanghai, there’s no better introduction to the top places to go in Shanghai than its famous riverside district, The Bund.

Any expectations you’ve drawn up of what a Chinese city looks like will be instantly shattered by The Bund’s graceful European-influenced appearance.

The Bund

The architectural palette of The Bund swings anywhere between Art Deco & Gothic to Renaissance & Baroque.

It hints back to the dawn of its modern age when major Western powers converged on the area, creating an International Settlement in 1863. The settlement would last until the WWII Japanese invasion of Shanghai in 1941.

Besides the brilliant architecture on the western bank, The Bund presents one of the most compelling cross-river viewpoints from central Shanghai to the futuristic skyline of Lujiazui in Pudong.

As stunning as it is by day, to truly appreciate the views from The Bund visit in the evening.

After the sun dips below Shanghai, the brilliant neon lights of Lujiazui overtakes the skyscrapers on the opposite side of the Huangpu River.

Getting to The Bund: From Exit 2 or 7 of Nanjing East Road Station, it’s less than a 10-minute walk, about three blocks east towards the river, to The Bund.

Catch new trends in Tianzifang

One of the coolest things to see in Shanghai, the artistic enclave of Tianzifang is a pleasant escape from the glass-and-skyscraper scenes of central Shanghai.

Trendy Tianzifang, much like nearby Xintiandi, throws back to the Shanghai of the 1920s.

Shikumen Tianzifang

In Tianzifang the narrow alleyways gripped by old shikumen (retro stone buildings). These shikumen now hide dozens of bars, cafés, art galleries, design studios, restaurants, food stalls, and small boutique shops.

Grabbing a drink and a snack in this bustling area is, undoubtedly, one of the best things to do in Shanghai.

Tianzifang is insanely popular among younger hipster crowds and expats. Visiting this chilled-out area with will help you experience a unique side to Shanghai few travellers would predict.

Getting to Tianzifang: Via the Shanghai metro, zip over to Dapuqiao Station (Line 9). From Exit 1, walk past the Starbucks towards Taikang Road. You’ll see the entrance gate to Tianzifang across the street.

Get a glimpse of the past at Old City

When most travellers dream of visiting China, images like Shanghai’s Old City (Nanshi) dominate.

Even if it feels a little inauthentic in parts, Old City Shanghai is still one of the most interesting areas to eat, shop, and simply wander about. It’s no wonder that Old City tops so many lists of what to see in Shanghai!

Much of what’s now considered Old City was laid out during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It occupied the area within the ancient walls of Shanghai, now demarcated by Renmin Road and Zhonghua Road.

When the Chinese conceded other areas of Shanghai to European powers, Old City remained a cultural enclave. Little changed through the years.

Old Street

The most interesting bits of Old City radiate from Shanghai Old Street (officially Fangbang Middle Road). This old merchant street is lined with lovely buildings revealing glimpses of the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

While visiting Shanghai Old City, be sure to stuff your face at one of the Old Street’s many restaurants.

Alternatively, you can grab the perfect gift for your family & friends back home before digging deeper into more of the top things to do in Shanghai.

Getting to Shanghai Old City: The closest metro to Old City is Yuyuan Garden Station. To get to the heart of the district, take Exit 3, cross the street, and walk approximately two blocks south along Henan Road. At Fangbang Middle Road, turn left. The centre of Old City is straight ahead.

Marvel at the blissful Yuyuan Garden

Once you’ve made it to Old City, there’s no escaping its star attraction and one of the top points of interest in Shanghai, Yuyuan Garden.

Dating back to the Ming Dynasty, this stunning five-acre Chinese garden sits off the main drag of Shanghai Old Street, tucked past the warrens of an old-style Asian bazaar.

Yuyuan Garden

After traversing over an emerald pond upon the tourist-packed zig-zagging Jiu Qu Bridge—quite a sight in itself!—grab your entrance ticket (40 yuan) to find your bliss inside.

Once you’ve crossed the threshold of Yuyuan Garden, you’ll enter a world decorated with lush greenery, flowers, halls, pavilions, ponds, streams, and rockeries. No doubt, Yuyuan Garden will take your breath away.

While visiting Yuyuan Garden, also be sure to check out the nearby Old City God Temple. This famous folk temple is among the oldest in Shanghai and is one of the top Shanghai points of interest.

Getting to Yuyuan Garden: Despite being one of best places to visit in Shanghai, finding Yuyuan Garden can be fairly tricky. Start by taking the Shanghai Metro to Yuyuan Garden Station on Line 10. Using Exit 1, walk south along Henan Road. When you find Fuyou Road, cross the street and turn left. Walk four blocks, going past Lishui Road, and take your first right into the Yuyuan Bazaar. From here, stick left and follow the signs through the small alleyways to one of the entrances.

See Shanghai’s greener side in the Old French Concession

If the wide boulevards and tall skyscrapers make Shanghai seem like any other place on earth, shatter your expectations with a visit to the unexpected Old French Concession.

As you might have guessed, this leafy neighbourhood recalls a bygone era when the Chinese conceded a large part of Shanghai to France.

Old French Concession

Today, the French Concession is one of the coolest places to visit in Shanghai and to wander around. It combines an indefinite European aesthetic with a smattering of trend-setting bars, restaurants, and boutiques.

With the immense size of the Old French Concession, it’s smartest to tackle it at a languid pace rather than on a time-crunch.

Here are a few places to look out for in the French Concession:

  • Huaihai Lu: The main drag stretching from the Old City to the western fringes of the French Concession neighbourhood. Exploring the leafy streets north and south of here aimlessly is one of the best ways to acquaint yourself with the area.
  • Wukang Lu: A lovely street lined with some important historical buildings and cozy cafés that exude more than a minor European vibe. Pop into Ferguson Lane, an art-deco-inspired pedestrian area between Taian Road and Hunan Road, to dabble in some fine wine and tapas at some of Shanghai’s trendiest bars and restaurants. Be sure to catch a glimpse of the Normandy Apartments (Wukang Mansion) at the corner of Huaihai Lu, a famous building from the 1920s built in French Renaissance style.
  • Fuxing Lu: One of the main roads housing design studios and cool art boutiques shaded under the trees.

Getting to the French Concession: The Shanghai French Concession is a huge area so there’s a multitude of possibly entry points. Some of the main metro stations include Changshu Road Station, Shanghai Library Station, and Huaihai Middle Road Station.

Gaze upon Shanghai from above at Shanghai Tower

Even if it’s now relegated to a distant number two behind Burj Khalifa in Dubai among the world’s tallest buildings, Shanghai Tower is absolute must-see.

Crawling up the skyline a staggering 632 metres (2,073 feet), this skyscraper is an impressive feat of modern engineering. It was built to withstand the tough conditions of earthquake- and typhoon-prone China.

Skyline View from Tower

Peering up at Shanghai Tower from below (or even from the observation decks of its still insanely-tall brethren, the Shanghai World Financial Center) will truly put the building’s enormousness into perspective.

Of course, though, the most impressive way to experience this top Shanghai point of interest is to zip up to the 118-floor observation deck on the world’s fastest elevator.

Here you’ll be treated to epic 360-degree vistas hovering over Lujiazui, The Bund, the Huangpu River, and the rest of Shanghai & Pudong.

Want to save time on your visit? Grab your Shanghai Tower Observation Deck Ticket before you arrive!

Getting to Shanghai Tower: Find your way to Lujiazui Station (Line 2), leaving via Exit 6. Walk southwest about 500 metres to get to the tower.

Eat your way through Huanghe Road Food Street

Craving Shanghainese delicacies? There are few better places to load up on delicious food in Shanghai than Huanghe Road Food Street.

Famous among locals & travellers alike for its string of diverse restaurants covering the gamut of Chinese cuisine, Huanghe Road is bound to excite your tastebuds and destroy whatever cravings you might have.

(If your palate has been begging you for ideas for what to do in Shanghai, this is it!)

Huanghe Road Food Street

This stretch of restaurants only extends a couple blocks but offers everything from soup dumplings and hotpots to seafood and hand-stretched noodles.

Here are few favourite Shanghai foods to seek out along Huanghe Road Food Street:

  • Jia Jia Tang Bao: A Shanghai favourite, famous for its famous xiaolongbao, a silky-smooth Shanghainese steamed soup dumpling filled with ingredients like pork, crab, ginger, and scallions. Be prepared to wait as this place is insanely popular!
  • Yang’s Fried Dumplings: Another popular choice serving up xiaolongbao‘s near-twin shengjianbao, a soup dumpling stuffed with similar ingredients but pan-fried instead of steamed.
  • Chongqing Noodle Restaurant (重庆面馆): A tasty Szechwan joint firing up spicy noodle soup a-la Chongqing. Not for the faint-hearted!

Getting there: The easiest way to get here using Shanghai public transportation is to take the metro to People’s Square Station. Use Exit 8 and cross over Nanjing West Road at the intersection. Huanghe Road starts through the large gate to the left of the Park Hotel Shanghai.

Admire the past in Qibao Ancient Town

Don’t have time to tackle a full-day trip to a water town? The timeless canal-side streets of Qibao Ancient Town might be enough to tide you over.

Although not as stunning as other water towns like Zhujiajiao, Xitang, Tongli, or even Suzhou, Qibao’s location—just 30 minutes by metro from the centre of Shanghai—makes for a convenient jaunt that won’t eat away an entire day.

Qibao Ancient Town

Entering Qibao Ancient Town, you’re instantly transported into a world that feels miles away from the bustle of central Shanghai.

Saunter through the narrow streets, pinned with souvenir shops and endless food stands in graceful buildings, to recall the glory of the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

One of the best things to do in Qibao Ancient Town is to eat. Along Qibao Old Street a whole slew of tantalizing options await.

Try out the hai tang gao (海棠糕), a rice cake filled with red bean curd that’s a Qibao speciality. More adventurous eaters will likewise love the prospect of nibbling on Qibao’s popular stinky tofu or soy-braised pig trotters.

Getting to Qibao Ancient Town: Take Shanghai metro Line 9 to Qibao Station. From Exit 2, it’s a short 8- to 10-minute walk to Old Street via Minzu Road or Qixin Road.

Dispense all your yuan at Nanjing Road

Yuan burning a hole in your pocket as you decide where to go in Shanghai? Pull out your wallet and start spending on China’s premier shopping street, Nanjing Road.

The heart of Shanghai’s commercial universe, Nanjing Road is the top destination in Shanghai to get your fill of all the world’s most famous brand names (and stock up on anything you forgot to pack for China).

The stores along Nanjing Road include among some of the most illustrious department stores and boutiques in Shanghai—and even in all China.

Nanjing East Road

Even without all its shopping opportunities, strolling along the pedestrian-only section of Nanjing Road between Nanjing East Road Station and People’s Square presents one of the most stimulating scenes in Shanghai.

Visit at night when the shops’ neon lights flood the street to catch Nanjing Road at its finest.

Getting to Nanjing Road: Hop onto the Shanghai metro and venture to either Nanjing East Road Station or People’s Square Station which will put you on either end of Nanjing Road’s electric pedestrian stretch.

Get spiritual at Jing’an Temple

Unlike Beijing, Shanghai is not exactly famous for its drawing in crowds to check out its cultural properties. And that’s all part of what makes visiting the beautiful Jing’an Temple, located just west of the centre, all the more important when scoping what to do in Shanghai.

Jing'an Temple

With a history dating back nearly eight centuries, Jing’an Temple is one of the most important temples in Shanghai.

What you see today is a late-20th-century reconstruction. It has meticulously retained all the finest details for an aesthetic that’s unique—even in a country where temples are hardly difficult to find!

Strolling through the three main halls—Mahavira Hall, Hall of Heavenly Kings and Three Sage Hall—be sure to check out the massive jade Buddha in Mahavira Hall.

Weighing in at some 11,000 kilograms and stretching up 3.78 metres (approx. 12 feet), this dazzling jade statue is the biggest of its kind in China.

Getting to Jing’an Temple: Via the Shanghai Metro, zip over to Jing’an Temple Station (Lines 2 & 7). Take Exit 1 to get spit out directly on the temple grounds.

Chill out in Fuxing Park

While you’re strolling around the French Concession, don’t miss out on a visit to relaxing Fuxing Park, one of the coolest places to see in Shanghai.

Once a favourite among Ming Dynasty dignitaries, the leafy Fuxing Park found new life in 1909 under French rule when it become a public park to be enjoyed by all.

Fuxing Park

The indelible mark left by European rule still appears today at Fuxing Park.

It’s unique among the best parks in Shanghai as the only remaining French style garden.

Walking through you’ll stroll past flowerbeds, ponds, a rose garden, and even the government’s own addition, a Marx and Engels Statue, all under the shade of maple tress and sycamores.

Getting to Fuxing Park: From Xintiandi Station Exit 5, it’s a short two-block walk to Fuxing Road. After crossing under the North-South Elevated Road, you’ll see the park on your righthand side.

Check out Shanghai from above at Oriental Pearl Tower

When the Pudong skyline comes into view, the eye immediately darts towards the Oriental Pearl Tower.

This space-age TV tower, built in 1995 to ring in the hopes of new millennium, is undoubtedly one of the coolest things to see in Shanghai.

And at 468 metres, this tower is no slouch when it comes to delivering mega views of Shanghai!

Oriental Pearl TV Tower

(Even though it’s now eclipsed by newer neighbours in Lujiazui!)

Truthfully with the higher observation decks beckoning elsewhere in Shanghai, it’s hard to make a case for the views at Oriental Pearl Tower above the others by day.

The real treat here is to enjoy a evening buffet dinner at the Oriental Pearl Tower’s Revolving Restaurant for a unique perspective under the bright lights of Lujiazui.

Want to save time and secure your spot at Oriental Pearl Tower? Book your Oriental Pearl Tower Ticket including a buffet dinner at the tower’s Revolving Restaurant before your arrive and prepare for an unforgettable evening on the town.

Getting there: Hop on the Shanghai metro to Lujiazui Station on Line 2. From Exit 1, walk across the Lujiazui Ring Road to the entrance of Oriental Pearl Tower.

Watch trend-setters at Xintiandi

For trend-setters and young hipsters, chilled-out Xintiandi is undoubtedly one of the coolest places to hang out in Shanghai.

Much like Tianzifang elsewhere in the French Concession, Xintiandi exudes the feel of Shanghai in 1920s with its old stone shikumen and pedestrian-only streets where you’ll encounter du jour boutiques, restaurants, cafés, and bars.

Xintiandi

Other than walking around and zig-zagging in and out of shops and galleries, one of the best things to do in Xintiandi is eat.

The area is home to a wide variety of local and international restaurants. For a Taiwanese take on Shanghainese, pop into to the ever-popular Din Tai Fung or for something a little more off-the-cuff, grab some upscale Italian at Va Bene.

Getting to Xintiandi: Xintiandi is easily accessible from two metro stations. For the North Block, head to Huangpi South Road Station on Line 1 of the Shanghai metro. Use Exit 2 or Exit 3 and walk south along Madang Road to the corner of Taicang Road for the entrance. The South Block is most easily accessed from Xintiandi Station on Line 10 and Line 13. From Exit 1, walk one block north along Madang Road. The entrance to South Block will be to your right at the corner of Zizhong Road.

Watch the city from above at Shanghai World Financial Center

Before Shanghai Tower was completed, the sky-high Shanghai World Financial Center had its day as the city’s highest observation deck.

Even with the world’s second-tallest building breathing down its neck next door, this 492-metre-tall tower, shaped like a sleek modern bottle opener, offers a unique perspective on Shanghai that self-professed acrophiles will love.

Skyline from World Financial Center

The Shanghai World Financial Center’s real claim to fame is its 100th-floor SkyWalk.

Strolling along the 55-metre-long hallway—with the Oriental Pearl Tower shrinking off to the lefthand side—you’ll feel as if you’re floating in air high above the streets of Lujiazui.

Getting to Shanghai World Financial Center: From Lujiazui Station, take Exit 6 and walk east along the elevated pedestrian footbridge, following the signs for the Shanghai World Financial Center.

Take a day trip to Suzhou

Although not within Shanghai itself, Suzhou is quote possibly one of the best things that you’ll experience while visiting.

Located just 30 minutes away by high-speed train, Suzhou is not just one of the easiest but one of the absolute best day trips from Shanghai!

Shantang Street Suzhou

From its canal-lined streets to its traditional Chinese gardens, there’s a ton of things to see in Suzhou.

Thanks to its well-connected public transportation system, you’ll be able to experience many of the Suzhou’s coolest attractions—even if you can only fit in one day in Suzhou.

Keep your eyes on the look out for:

  • Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuo Zheng Yuan): This lovely UNESCO World Heritage Site, dating back to 1509, is quite possibly the finest of all the gardens in Suzhou and is a must-see while roaming about Suzhou. Some of the highlights include Lotus Pavilion (Furong Xie), Hall of Distant Fragrance (Yuanxiang Tang), Small Flying Rainbow Bridge (Xiaofeihong), and Heavenly Spring Pavilion (Tianquan Ting).
  • Shantang Street: An ancient canal-side street lined with impressive traditional buildings housing shops & restaurants that captures the spirit of Suzhou perfectly.
  • Pingjiang Road: Another historic area south of the Humble Administrator’s Garden and one of the most beautiful places in Suzhou to take a relaxing stroll.

Explore further: More things to see & do in Shanghai

Need more ideas for the top places to visit in Shanghai? Check out these other amazing Shanghai attractions!

  • Jin Mao Tower: Offering one of the highest observation decks in Shanghai, this 88-storey skyscraper is another great option for checking out the cityscape from above.
  • Shanghai Disneyland Park: Opened in 2016, this family-friendly attraction is one of the best things to do in Shanghai with kids. The park currently features seven theme areas—Mickey Avenue, Gardens of Imagination, Fantasyland, Treasure Cove, Adventure Isle, Tomorrowland, and Toy Story Land.
  • Zhujiajiao Water Town: Perhaps the best preserved water town near Shanghai, this village, nicknamed Shanghai’s Venice, charms with its ancient bridges, canal-side wooden buildings, and weeping willow trees.

Zhujiajiao Water Town

  • Shanghai Museum: One of the top museums in Shanghai focused on ancient Chinese art & artefacts. The Shanghai Museum features over 120,000 pieces spread across eleven galleries and three exhibition halls.
  • Jade Buddha Temple: With original roots digging back to 1882, the Jade Buddha Temple was rebuilt in 1928 to house two important jade Buddha relics—a 190-centimetre-high Sitting Buddha and a 96-centimetre-long Recumbent Buddha. The old Chinese architecture, spread among several halls and a main tower, is one of the top things to see in Shanghai, a city more well-known for its modern architectural styles than traditional ones!
  • Huangpu Park: A small park to the north of The Bund that’s the oldest in Shanghai. The park is home to the Monument to the People’s Heroes and the Bund Historical Museum.

Where to stay in Shanghai for sightseeing

As the biggest city in China, choosing where to stay in Shanghai isn’t always easy.

If you’re looking to get close to the bulk of the best things to do in Shanghai, your best bet is to pick somewhere in Huangpu District in the city centre.

The areas around The Bund and the French Concession (particularly Xintiandi) are particularly good for travellers as there’s a wide selection of high-quality accommodations.

Here are a few of the best hotels in Shanghai…

  • Campanile Shanghai Bund Hotel: A delightful 3-star hotel close to The Bund that offers value-laden modern rooms. Within a short walking distance to many of the top things to see in Shanghai like Yuyuan Garden and Nanjing Road.
  • Shanghai Marriott Hotel City Centre: A chic contemporary hotel located steps away from Nanjing East Road and and Huanghe Road Food Street. The skyline views from the rooms are simply marvelous. Get the best price and collect Marriott Rewards on your stay by booking directly at Marriott.com.
  • The Peninsula Shanghai: The top 5-star hotel in Shanghai on the western bank of the Huangpu River. This world-class hotel features luxuriant extras like an opulent indoor pool and soothing spa treatments to deliver the ultimate Shanghai accommodations experience. Finish off your evening with a cocktail at the trendy rooftop bar to wallow in incredible views over the futuristic Pudong skyline.

Where to go in Shanghai: The top points of interest & places to see

  • Built up an appetite? Delight your tastebuds with cuisine from every corner of China on the eclectic Huanghe Road Food Street.
  • Searching for tidbits of Shanghai’s ancient past? Recall the days of the Ming Dynasty by exploring Old City including the lovely Yuyuan Garden, one of the top things to see in Shanghai.
  • Want to escape the big city vibe? Sling through a 30-minute metro ride to explore the canal-side charms of Qibao Ancient Town.
Ryan O'Rourke

Ryan O'Rourke is a Canadian traveller, food & drink aficionado, and the founder & editor of Treksplorer. Join Ryan as he explores the world two to three weeks at a time from his home base of Canada with Treksplorer's independent and unsponsored mid-range luxury travel guides including itineraries, things to do, where to stay, when to visit, and hiking & walking trails.

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