With 24 million of inhabitants, there are many things to do in Shanghai. From a small fishing town, Shanghai grew into a huge metropolis, offering diverse tourist attractions – old, new, trendy and traditional.
Shanghai is important financial, innovational and transportational center for China. In fact, Shanghai is the most popular city to live in China – that is also why it does not come cheap.
17 Best things to do in Shanghai, China
1. Walking on the Bund
Before the Brits came to Shanghai, the area along the river Huangpu was a moorland, which they turned into the Bund – perfect for walking and admiring all the historical buildings on one side and the high skyscrapers on the other side of the river. A walk on the Bund is for sure one of the must things to do in Shanghai at least twice – during the day and night.
2. Admiring the Yu-Yu garden
Shanghai is a concrete jungle, but it does have several amazing parks too. The most important garden of them all, and with that also one of the best things to do in Shanghai, is visiting more than 400 years old traditional Chinese Yu-Yu garden. Even though the garden was ruined several times in 4 centuries, it opened its doors to visitors in 1961. The area spreads over 2 hectares, which have 6 thematic parts. We can find the Yu-Yu garden in the middle of the Yuyuan bazaar, which was artificially built around the garden.
The Yu-Yu garden was privately owned by the Pan family in the Minq dynasty and was known as the most prestigious in Shanghai. You will not see just trees, bushes and streams inside, but also sculptures, carvings, rocks and several impressive pavilions. A visit to the garden is one of the best things to do in Shanghai to learn more about the history and its traditional architecture.
3. Getting lost at the Yuyuan bazaar
Getting lost at the artificially build Yuyuan bazaar is actually one of the best things to do in Shanghai, if you are looking for Chinese souvenirs to take home, local food, numerous shops, restaurants, cafes.
4. Learning about Shanghai history in Shanghai museum
With more than 120.000 artifacts, visiting Shanghai museum is for sure the perfect place to visit when wanting to know more about Chinese and Shanghai’s history. You will find the Shanghai museum at the People’s square, one of the largest transport hubs in the city.
5. See the Shanghai Urban Planning museum
Apart from Shanghai museum, you can also visit other interesting places at the People’s square, like theater, opera, MOCA and very interesting Urban Planning museum. If you are interested how Shanghai has been developing, a stop at the Urban Planning museum is one of the must things to do in Shanghai. The museum covers 3600 square meters and has five storeys.
6. Visiting the largest aquarium in Asia
Aquarium in Shanghai is the largest in Asia, and makes it one of the best things to do in Shanghai if traveling with kids. My favorite aquarium is still the one in Valencia, but also this one in Shanghai has some nice corners, including one of the longest tunnels in the world.
7. Looking down to Shanghai
I guess most of the people know Shanghai for its skyscrapers and that is why looking down to the city from one of them is for sure one of the best things to do in Shanghai. Currently, you can visit the world’s highest observation deck in Shanghai tower, which is the second highest building in the world. Shanghai tower is 632 meters high and has 128 floors. The construction costed 2,5 billion USD. Shanghai tower is for sure one of the most amazing buildings in Shanghai.
8. Seeing pandas in action
If you enjoy seeing animals, you might consider visiting Shanghai ZOO. We have not been there, but we heard it is a good place to see pandas, not needed to travel far outside Shanghai. Stopping at the ZOO is one of the best things to do in Shanghai with kids.
9. Relax at the foot massage
Chinese traditional medicine has a long history and what can be better than a good traditional Chinese foot massage after a long day of wandering around this large city? Well, I have to be honest, it does hurt, but after the massage, I felt so relaxed and my feet were light as a feather. One of the best things to do in Shanghai, if you ask me.
10. Tasting local dishes
No matter where you travel, tasting the local cuisine is one of the must things to do and it is the same in Shanghai. Some dishes might look strange and don’t smell nice, but don’t worry, you have plenty to choose from.
11. Shop ’till you drop
If you enjoy shopping, you came to the right city. Shanghai is a true shopping paradise for everyone. No matter if you are into original and high fashion brands or you prefer buying fake items. The famous shopping pedestrian street Nanjing road is reserved for thick wallets, but if you are traveling to Shanghai on a budget, you might rather spend some money at the metro station Science and technology museum. The whole station is full of shops with fake things. Don’t forget to bargain – one of the must things to do in Shanghai, when you are buying outside of the official stores.
12. Observe tai-chi in parks
When I traveled to Shanghai 11 years ago, I really enjoyed its parks early in the morning. Away from hustle and bustle, I just loved watching people, how calmly they are performing tai-chi in groups. I was happy to see that nothing has changed about that in Shanghai. Getting up early in the morning and walk into a park is for me one of the best things to do in Shanghai.
13. Take a stroll around the local markets
Seeing the local markets are one of the best things in Shanghai, as only then, you will realize how controversy Shanghai really is. You have modern technology and high skyscrapers on one side and traditional and authentic Chinese vibes on the other side. Local markets with vegetables, fruit, meat and seafood are interesting, but wait until you find yourself at the crickets and insects market. It is so amazing to observe locals, how they are buying crickets. It looked like science fiction to me.
14. Finding yourself in the Natural history museum
Absolutely one of the best things to do in Shanghai with kids is taking them to the Natural history museum. Actually, a visit to the museum is amazing even to adults, without kids. The Shanghai Natural history museum is set in the Sculpture Park. You can find all kind of animals and fossils on display – most of them are artificial, but nevertheless, the museum is quite a sight. The only thing that I was sorry about, is the fact that Simon and I traveled to Shanghai without our 3 year-old traveler – he would love the place.
15. Jumping into fairy tale land (Disneyland)
Another great and one of the best things in Shanghai for kids is the Disneyland. You should book at least half of the day for it, as I am sure you will have troubles taking your kids back to the hotel after one complete day too.
16. Take a one day trip outside Shanghai with a bullet train
Traveling around China has become so comfortable, easy and fast due to its bullet trains and the always increasing network. If you are staying in Shanghai long enough, one of the best things to do is to make one day or two days trip from the city – you can either decide for Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuxi, Nanjing, Zhouzhang… We picked up one day trip to Suzhou – the garden city, which is among the most popular cities in China for tourists due to its amazing gardens. We chose well, as one day trip to Suzhou was one of the best things to do during our stay in Shanghai.
17. Trying to avoid travel scams
Unfortunately travel scams are one of the things you are trying to avoid, but from now and then, they still manage to find you. You can find travel scams all around China and three of them are very popular for Shanghai too.
We all know the taxi travel scam, so make sure not to sit in a car before negotiating and set the final price. To avoid it, take the official metered taxi.
Shanghai also has many massage travel scams and if you are a solo male traveler, don’t ever walk into massage salon if you were invited by a young, attractive female. She will not give you a massage, but will come into the room with two or three tall, masculine men, who will demand ridiculously high amounts to pay (few thousand dollars) or else you will not come out of there undamaged. If this happens, you will not be able to just leave, so your best solution is to pay them and leave the place as quickly as possible. Try to remember the place (its location) and report them to the police or the hotel front desk, to help you with police report as a translators.
Last but not least, one of the most famous travel scams in China and Shanghai is also the tea scam on which they got me too when I visited Shanghai for the very first time. You can read the whole story here.
Things to do in Shanghai are so amazing, diverse and new, that traveling to Shanghai is always interesting. Shanghai has the right mixture of new and old. When you are walking on well-maintained pedestrian streets, beautifully done parks and four lane roads, you can still see, feel, smell and taste the traditional China with just few steps into the tiny, remote back streets. It is like traveling back in time.
Even though Shanghai has some really amazing things to do, make sure not to leave it without seeing the ordinary faces of the city, from which you will really be able to say, you have explored Shanghai well.
Shanghai hotel recommendation
To be able to enjoy all the best things to do in Shanghai, make sure to find the hotel close to the Bund and a metro station. We have stayed at SSAW Boutique Hotel Shanghai. Hotel is not low budget, but comparing it with other hotels, it really offers good value for the money. The location is near the metro. The Bund and Yu-Yu garden is in walking distance and you have rich buffet breakfast available. The price of the room also includes evening snacks/dinner and afternoon tea or coffee. The front desk speaks mostly good English and is very helpful with all kind of information regarding Shanghai.