Getaway Compass

Shanghai City Guide

Shanghai Observation Deck

Shanghai has many unique neighborhoods and countless things to see and do. Get a view of Shanghai from the second tallest building in the world, step back in time in the Old City, walk along the famous Nanjing Road shopping street, or relax at a cafe in Xintiandi. Plan your trip to Shanghai with this guide which includes the best things to do in Shanghai, when to visit Shanghai, and more tips to make for a great visit to Shanghai.

When to Visit Shanghai and For How Long

The temperature in Shanghai varies from a high of 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer down to 45 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter (with a low of 35 F). The best time to visit Shanghai is Spring or Fall, when the temperature isn’t too hot or cold. Try to avoid visiting during major holidays such as Chinese New Year in February. Spend at least two days in Shanghai in order to see the major sights and walk around the main areas. Two days allow you to get a good feel for the city and the culture.

If you are short on time and only have a day to explore Shanghai, consider this Shanghai City Private Day Tour which includes a visit to Zhujiajiao Water Town as well as the top Shanghai highlights.

How to Get From the Airport to Downtown Shanghai

Shanghai has two main airports, Shanghai Pudong and Shanghai Hongqiao. 

Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG): This is the bigger airport and where most international long haul flights land. The quickest way to get from the airport to downtown is to take the Shanghai Maglev train to Longyang Road station and then take subway line 2 or 7 downtown. Alternatively, you can also take metro line 2 directly from the airport, but this will take longer. The metro stops running around 22:00 at which time you would need to take a taxi. 

Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport (SHA): This airport is mainly for domestic or shorter flights and has two terminals. Terminal 1 has metro line 10, and terminal 2 has metro lines 2 and 10. Line 2 reaches many stations including People’s Square and East Nanjing Road, and line 10 reaches East Nanjing Road and Yuyuan Garden. The metro stops running around 22:00 at which time you would need to take a taxi.

How to Get Around Shanghai

Shanghai has a great metro system that connects the city. There are maps and signs in English in the metro stations, so you can easily get around. Download the Shanghai Explore Metro application on your phone for an interactive map of the metro.

Where to Stay in Shanghai

If you want to stay in a central location look for a hotel on booking.com near the Bund.
Make sure to have the name of the hotel and address written in Chinese in case you need to take a taxi or have trouble finding it. Booking.com automatically provides you with both an English and Chinese version of your booking.

We stayed at 
Campanile Shanghai Bund Hotel which is located a short walk from Yuyuan Garden train station, Nanjing Rd, and the Bund. It was conveniently located and a reasonable price.

Top Things to Do in Shanghai

See the Views at Shanghai Tower Observation Deck

Shanghai Observation Deck

The Shanghai tower is the second tallest building in the world. The observation deck on floors 118 and 119 offers a 360 degree view of the city. Enjoying the view of Shanghai from the Shanghai Tower is one of the best things to do in Shanghai.
Tip: Make sure to arrive early in order to get there before the crowds.
Hours: 8:30-22:00
How to get to Shanghai Tower: Take metro line 2 to Lujiazui station

Explore the Old City

You can take the metro line 10 to Yuyuan Garden Stations to reach Shanghai’s old city. In the Old City you can walk around the narrow streets, shop the Yuyuan Bazaar, and try local food. There are numerous shops with crafts, paintings, jewelry, silk and souvenirs. Make sure to try Xiaolongbao, steamed buns, at the famous Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant. 

Tip: Avoid buying anything in Yuyuan Garden and instead purchase souvenirs in the shops outside of the garden which sell the same items but for significantly cheaper.

Huangpu River Cruise

One of the best things to do in Shanghai is a Huangpu River Cruise in the evening when you can see the city light up. You will get to see views of the colonial buildings along the Bund, as well as skyscrapers including Shanghai Tower and Oriental Pearl TV Tower. This tour also includes dinner at a local Xinjiang restaurant. 

Visit Yuyuan Garden

Shanghai Yuyuan Garden

The 400 year old Yuyuan Garden is a beautiful garden built during the Ming Dynasty. Walk through the different halls, watch the Koi swim, and admire the traditional architecture.

Relax and Drink Tea at Huxting Teahouse

Huxinting Teahouse
Huxinting Teahouse Interior
Huxinting Teahouse Inside

The Huxting Teahouse was built during the Ming Dynasty and offers a large selection of Chinese teas. Take a break from your busy day exploring Shanghai to taste traditional tea with local snacks. Try to get a window seat so you can watch the busy streets outside.

Walk Around Xintiandi

Shanghai Xintiandi2
Xintiandi Restaurant

Walk around the french style neighborhood, shop at boutiques, and find a nice cafe to sit and have afternoon tea with desert. Here you will find restaurants with cuisine from a range of countries. This area has a mixture of modern and traditional architecture, with influence from western culture. Spend time taking a stroll through the the quiet Fuxing Park located right next to Xintiandi.

Shop on Nanjing Road

Walk down Nanjing Road, a popular shopping street with shopping malls, department stores, fancy hotels, restaurants, and cafes. Shop and explore East Nanjing Road until you reach The Bund.

Enjoy the Views at The Bund

Shanghai View
Shanghai The Bund

Walk along the famous waterfront on the Huangpu River with colonial-era buildings. From here you can see a view of Pudong’s skyscrapers including the Oriental Pearl Tower, the World Financial Center, and the Shanghai Tower. Make sure to get here before 22:00 when the lights turn off. Unfortunately we didn’t know this when we went, so the picture above shows the view after the lights were already turned off across the river in Pudong.

How to get to The Bund:
After taking metro line 10 to East Nanjing Rd. station, walk about 10 minutes down the street towards the Huangpu River

Visit an Ancient Water Town

Tongli Water Town1

There are several ancient water towns near Shanghai that you can visit if you have an extra day in Shanghai. This half-day private tour takes you to Zhujiajiao Water Town from Shanghai and includes entrance fees and a boat ride in the water town. Another water town that is worth visiting is Tongli, known as the Venice of the East. Tongli is a beautiful ancient water town with bridges, oriental gardens, and interesting halls. Read our Guide to Tongli Water Town for more information on visiting Tongli.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links for products and services I recommend. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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