Shanghai has become our hometown. Walking along The Bund and looking across the river at the downtown skyline never gets old. If you are thinking about taking a trip to this urban metropolis, you won’t be disappointed. Someone told me Shanghai is the “China of the future”, and being a city of 25 million people means that life is constantly evolving. New restaurants, bars, and shops pop up almost overnight. There is always something new to see or do.
This guide is meant to get you started. Check out some of the places online to make sure they are still open, their hours, and additional details. If you have any additional questions, feel free to reach out to me. I would be happy help and maybe even play the tourist with you!
Some Handy Tips ELECTRICITY
BEST TIME TO GO
Yuan Renminbi (¥)
- taxi (most taxi drivers don’t speak English so make sure you have your directions printed out in Mandarin before leaving)
- Ferry to cross the HuangPu River
- Mo Bikes. Download the app and rental is a snap.
- Your own two feet
- Temporarily switch your current plan to an international plan.
- Inquire whether your phone is eligible to be unlocked. If it is, you can bring an unlocked phone to China and purchase an inexpensive SIM card with a local phone number to use while visiting. Cost for a SIM card=about $30 and can be purchased at the airport.
- Purchase an inexpensive phone, or bring an old phone with a SIM card and proceed with suggestion from #2. Smartphones are suggested (iPhone or Galaxy)
- Regardless of which option you choose, download the WeChat app. This app is incredibly popular in China. You can text, voice, and video call anywhere in the world using only your data. Plus, it tends to be the most stable form of communication.
Internet usage in China can be sporadic. Wi-fi signals go in and out. Please bring your patience. The internet may be fast one day, and not work at all another. Also, some websites such as Facebook are banned in China. The only way to access them is through a VPN. If certain sites are very important for you to access while you are here, you may considering researching a VPN you can install on your device.
Thoughts and things
- Shanghai is 12-13 hours ahead of the EST zone depending on Daylight Savings Time. You will experience some major jet-lag no matter how hard you try to avoid it. The first three days are the most difficult, but it’s really a full week before you feel normal again. Something to think about when planning your trip’s length.
- You can exchange money at the airport or in town. Cash is still the most widely accepted form of payment, and the only form accepted in most markets. Many stores and restaurants accept MasterCard or Visa. Fewer accept American Express.
- Always carry your passport in case you are questioned by the authorities.
- Make a copy of your passport, Visa, immunizations, health issues, insurance card, and blood type. Medical care is very different here and you should always have your information in case of emergency. You may also want to check with your insurance provider regarding international coverage.
- A visa is required for all U.S. citizens staying in Shanghai for more than 144 hours. Check with your local consulate about how to obtain your visa.
- The Chinese culture believe it is ok to openly stare at something or someone they find interesting. They aren’t being rude, they are just curious. And if you are tall, have blonde or red hair, or dark skin they may ask to take their picture with you. Don’t worry, you aren’t a freak of nature. It’s just the way they are.
- Some locals don’t feel the need to…ahem…find a bathroom if necesary. They will just go wherever they want. So if this happens, try not to stand there mouth gaping open in horror. Just look the other way and move on.
- You will need a converter, and/or adapter for most of your electrical appliances. Most cellphones and computers are dual frequency and do not require conversion. You can purchase one on Amazon relatively cheap.
- Water is not safe to drink unless filtered. Brushing your teeth and showering are fine.
- Some days have a high AQI, or air quality level. This means the air is heavily polluted. Wearing masks may be recommended. You can purchase masks before you leave (VOG masks are the best).
- Pedestrians in China do not have the right of way-EVER. Use extreme caution any time you cross a street. Cars and scooters will come at you from all directions.
- Many toiletries and medications are difficult or impossible to find here. Please bring all you may need.
- Many toilets are still squatty potty type. Be prepared and always carry tissues or toilet paper.
- Hand sanitizer wipes are useful to carry with you.
- Tipping is not common practice for meals and services.
Places to see and things to do
- The Bund: Walk along the water to see the picturesque Shanghai skyline.
- Lujiazui: See some of the world’s tallest buildings up close. Enjoy authentic xiaolongbao at Din Tai Fung. Get a bird’s-eye view inside one of the skyscrapers.
- Fake Market (Science and Technology Building): Need a Michael Kors bag, fake watch, custom suit, or souvenirs? This is the perfect place to go, but be ready to bargain!
- Fuxing Park: Enjoy a weekend morning outside strolling through the park and watching locals enjoying some downtime. Immerse yourself in the dancing, play a game of mahjong, or talk politics.
- Carrefour: Visit a local grocery store, or wet market to see what the locals eat. Be prepared, many items in the meat department are still alive.
- Yuyuan Garden & Bazaar: A beautiful traditional Chinese garden oasis nestled in the middle of town is sure to delight. After a tour of the garden, take time to shop for local handicrafts and keepsakes.
- Foot Massage: A must after a long plane ride or a day of sightseeing.
- Tianzifang: Get lost in the longtang style alleyways of charming shops and restaurants.
- City lights at night: Enjoy a cocktail at a downtown rooftop bar. We love Flair for a view of The Bund, and Char Bar for a view of the skyline. Try to arrive just before sunset so you get both a daytime and nighttime view.
- Eat, Eat, Eat!!: The choices are endless.
- Yang’s Fry Dumplings: For another taste of delicious local fare.
- Shanghai Disney!!! Who wouldn’t want to go to Disney, am I right?
- Watertowns: The Chinese Venice. Watertowns have many sights, sounds and smells that make you feel like you have stepped back in time. Qi Bao is the closest to downtown.
- ERA Circus: Spectacular Cirque-de-Sole style show. Performances nightly.
- Shop for custom pieces: fabric markets, lamp lady, Painter’s Street, etc.
- Jing’an Temple: A large Buddhist temple tucked amongst a backdrop of tall buildings. This temple is still active and dates back to 1918.
- Zotter’s Chocolate Factory. Pretty much like walking into Willy Wonka’s factory minus the Oompa Loompas. You will be sick by the time you leave, but it is totally worth the chocolate coma!
- Local tours
- walking tours
- street food
- double-decker bus city tour (a cool way to see the city and get your bearings)
- sidecar city tour
- bike tours
- migrant village
- Huang Pu River Cruise
- any tour can be arranged according to interest
- Shanghai History Museum
- Shanghai Museum of Natural History
- Post Museum (history of Chinese postal service)
- Propaganda Poster Art Centre Museum: is cooler than it sounds with3,000 posters from the time of Mao and the Cultural Revolution.
- Modern art:
- Power Station of Art
- China Art Palace
- Minsheng Art Museum
- Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art
- Art Deco
- Rockbund Art Museum (contemporary Chinese)
- Chinese art
- Shanghai Gallery of Art
- China Art Palace
- Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall. Incredible model layout of Shanghai.
- Traditional crafts:
- Shanghai Arts & Crafts Museum
- Nankeen Fabric Museum. See how beautiful blue and white fabric is made and shop for some to bring home.
- Pudong or Hongqiao Flower Market: Flowers, paintings, home furnishings, pets and even floating babies!
- Wet Market: See local food being sold outdoors.
- Tea Market (schedule a tour)
- Marriage Market: Walk along the sidewalks and observe people with adstrying to find marriage prospects for their children and grandchildren.
- Antique warehouse: If you like to get dirty and hunt for treasures this one’s for you! Word of warning, not everything you see is an antique and prices tend to be high. But it is fun to see some of the crazy things for sale.
- Shanghai Aquarium: Home of the world’s longest aquarium tunnel.
- Super Brand Mall: 8+ floors housing any store you can imagine.
- IFC Mall: see if you can afford anything here.
- East Nanjing Road: A walking street with many stores.
- Many high-end shopping areas in Puxi
- Take in a show, musical performance, or concert
As you can see, there are endless things to do in Shanghai which is one of the reasons we love it so much. Come on over for a week or two and immerse yourself in “the China of the future”.
Ahh this post just made me so much more excited for my trip to Shanghai next summer!
You will love it!
Reading your “Guide to Shanghai” made Jerry and me want to visit again. NYC intimidates me; I’d be paralyzed without an local representative and daily itinerary. That’s just how we travel. Your guide is super comprehensive. Good job!
Thank you so much Pam! I would love to be your local representative if the two of you decide to come back. We would have a ball!