Shanghai is China’s biggest city with an area of over 6,000km² and a population of more than 24 million, which means you can safely bet there there are plenty of things to do and sights to see.
1. Take in the View
Take the world’s fastest elevator up to the 118th floor of the world’s second tallest building, Shanghai Tower, for sweeping views of Shanghai. From 546 metres up, visitors are treated to 360° views of the sprawling city below. While you might assume it’s best to go during the day (ideally when it’s clear out), Shanghai is such an electric city that going at night is just as worthwhile, if not more so, as it provides a unique, bright, and colourful perspective.
2. Explore the Old City
In stark contrast to the vast expanse of new and impressive architecture that makes up the majority of Shanghai is the Old City. Admittedly quite touristy, come here to see traditional Chinese architecture on full display. With plenty of shops to browse and places to eat, this is a great place to explore to get a sense of what the city used to look like. For a small slice of serenity, head to Yu Garden and take in its quiet beauty (it can become very crowded, so for the best chance of making the most of the gorgeous complex, we recommend going in the morning right when it opens at 8:45am).
3. Try Alllll the Street Food
Delicious food can be found all over the city, but there are a handful of streets that are overflowing with vendors selling tasty bites, with two of the best being Yunnan Road Food Street and Wujiang Food Road. Half the fun is trying new, interesting things, but some of our favourite dishes include lamb skewers, fried mantou (fried dough balls) with custard cream, sesame balls, and sheng jian bao (fried soup dumplings), the possibly more delicious sister of the famous soup dumplings, xiao long bao.
4. Longhua Temple
Shanghai’s largest temple is also its oldest, first constructed in 242 AD and rebuilt in 977 AD after being destroyed. The temple offers a glimpse into Chinese history, tradition, and culture, with thousands of awe-inducing, ornate gold statues as you make your way through its five halls. Steven Spielberg fans may recognise the towering pagoda from his film Empire of the Sun. Although it’s the city’s oldest and largest temple, it isn’t its most famous, which means you can enjoy it without having to fight your way through too many crowds.
The ancient water city of Zhujiajiao is a bit of a trek from the centre of Shanghai, but is easily reached by train and worth the journey. Dozens of bridges from the Ming and Qing dynasties cross the several rivers that carve out this this 1700 year old town. Explore the Yuan Jin Buddhist Temple, built in the 1300’s, hop on a boat for a ride under bridges and along the rivers, and pay a visit to the Great Qing Post Office, one of several major Qing Dynasty post offices in Shanghai. Your best bet for beating the crowds is to go on a weekday, and if possible, in the off-season.
6. Take a Tour
When navigating such a massive city, taking a tour can help focus your time and energy, making the most of your trip. Our partners at Urban Adventures offer authentic experiences led by passionate, knowledgeable locals. They offer a few different tours, and we suggest the Shanghai Nights and Lights tour, since as we mentioned above, this city is truly an electric playground at night, saturated with vibrant, coloured lights. “Discover ornate temples, buzzing bars and unusual gift shops. Learn about everyday life in Shanghai and try your hand at one of China’s favourite pastimes of dancing or Tai Chi in the park.”
Stay at Mingtown Etour Youth Hostel, centrally located in the People’s Square neighbourhood. The entire hostel is built in old-fashioned Shanghai residential style, with an open, central courtyard for guest activities, a resident cat, and restaurant serving up delicious food.