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Things To Do

What to do in Shanghai

Here’s some inspiration if you’re interested in taking a trip to Shanghai. I spent around 10 days in Shanghai during Chinese Year 2012. Here’s what I experienced in the first days of the Year of the Dragon…

When is it Best to go to Shanghai?

Shanghai's World famous waterfront

Shanghai's World famous waterfront

First of all I recommend that if your travel dates are flexible, then you see Shanghai at its best.

The best times to travel to Shanghai (and indeed most of China) are the Spring and Autumn months. April or September-October are good times to visit China.

The Mid-Autumn break is a particularly good time to visit Shanghai. Just be aware though that major tourist sites will get super busy! Airports are normally OK though, especially if you’re travelling from overseas.

I visited Shanghai in January – and it was cold! Incredibly cold...

Actually, the thermometer said it was warmer than my native England was at this time of year. But I found that the air was incredibly dry in Shanghai, which made it feel a lot colder than it actually was.

Shanghai Sights

There’s definitely a lot to see while you’re in Shanghai, and here are my top few recommendations:

The Bund

If you visit Shanghai then you’ll want to visit The Bund. This is the waterfront that runs along the centre of Shanghai.

The view along The Bund is certainly impressive. It’s also great to watch the local Chinese out walking, particularly at weekends.

There are a wide range of boat trips you can take from alongside the Bund. There’s also a ferry service that will take you between the Bund and Pudong.

If you want to cross the water by a more unusual means then the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel is worth a look. This takes you under the water via a small railway and a rather strange light show. Don’t go on this if you suffer from epilepsy!

Near the Tunnel’s Pudong exit is the Shanghai Natural Wild Insect Kingdom. Like the tunnel, this is quite pricey. I was rather impressed by the collection of tortoises here (since this is China, there is of course no explanation for what they’re doing in an insect museum!)

Jinmao Tower

From the Jinmao Tower's observatory, I spotted these wonderful rows of colored apartment buildings

From the Jinmao Tower's observatory, I spotted these wonderful rows of colored apartment buildings

If you visit only one skyscraper in Shanghai, then this one is worth a look.

You can get some spectacular views from the building’s public observatory 88th floor observatory.

If you want to stay in a Shanghai hotel that’s something special, then you’ll also find the Shanghai Grand Hyatt situated in this building. The hotel rooms have spectacular views.

If your budget won’t stretch to this hotel, then just take a trip to the Jinmao Tower’s observatory. There’s a portal here that allows you to gaze down to the hotel’s lobby some 30 floors below!

Shanghai Urban Planning Museum

An urban planning museum? Yawn!

This museum wins because one of the exhibits is an enormous scale model of downtown Shanghai. You’ll be pretty astonished at the scale of the model. Have fun trying to spot your hotel!

It’s worth sticking around in the museum, because at some points in the day the lights dim and the model lights up as if it were night.

You’ll find the museum at the Western end of East Nanjing Road.

Nanjing Road

Shanghai Urban Planning Museum - the floodlit city by night

Shanghai Urban Planning Museum - the floodlit city by night

Nanjing Road is the commercial heart of Shanghai, and if you like shopping, it’s the place to go and be seen.

Sadly if you want lots of bargains and tourist trinkets to take home then you’ll probably be disappointed – prices are often higher than they are at home. The street is also full of designer stores (Apple. Armani etc.) rather than the traditional Chinese stores of old.

Another irritation (especially if you’re a lone Western tourist) is the number of touts that will approach you trying to sell everything from copy watches to massages. I had much the same when walking down Beijing Road in Guangzhou. These streets aren’t the best places to visit in China.

Shanghai Zoo

Shanghai Zoo is a pretty good day out, especially if you have children. It’s accessible from downtown using the metro.

The zoo has a wide range of animals, and of course it’s another place in China where you can see Giant Pandas.

Shanghai Food

Shanghai food was a disappointment to me. Food in China is often chaotic at the best of times, and you can often expect restaurants to run out of particular dishes. The odd upset stomach is to be expected as well.

Nonetheless, my experiences in Shanghai were pretty bad. Let’s see…

  • In one mall my girlfriend and I went to a restaurant in a shopping mall on Nanjing Road. I ordered chicken, but ended up with beef. I’m quite glad I got the beef though, as my girlfriend was sick after eating the chicken!
  • In one restaurant the spicy cucumber I ordered had seen better days. Fair enough, this is China I suppose, but this was a Japanese restaurant chain so I expected better.
  • In one restaurant no any food arrived. They didn’t even seem to have anything to make us a starter. After 45 minutes we left.
  • Even the normally dependable Pizza Hut got our order wrong on one occasion.
  • I’ve had much better food in Hubei Province and in Guangzhou. If you’re a foodie then for the best Chinese food you need to go to Guangdong Province. Cantonese people would never tolerate the bad dining experiences we had in Shanghai!

By contrast, in Shanghai the ladies who lunch seemed to be more interested in where they were seen to be eating as opposed to what they were actually eating.

Street food didn’t seem to be as popular was it was in Guangzhou either. The migrant street vendors from Xinjiang Province had little to do in Shanghai, but their street cooking was immensely popular on the streets of Guangzhou and Foshan.

Shanghai Hotels

Shanghai's 430km/h Maglev train

Shanghai's 430km/h Maglev train

I stayed at a pretty good hotel, and the price was pretty reasonable. The hotel was just 10 minutes walk to East Nanjing Road and the Bund.

Shanghai hotels vary in price from $ to $$$$$. If you want to do a lot of sightseeing then it’s best to find a hotel that’s close to a metro stop. Most of the more expensive hotels are situated a bit out of the way – I guess most of their clientele are wealthy enough to go everywhere by taxi.

Shanghai Travel

Shanghai is reasonably easy to travel round. The metro goes to both Pudong and Hongqiao airports.

If you’re on a long haul flight from the USA or Western Europe then you’ll normally land at Pudong.

From Pudong you can either get the metro or the Maglev train to downtown.

Actually, the Maglev terminates well outside the centre of Shanghai, so you need to get the conventional metro from the adjoining Longyang Road station.

The Maglev is worth a trip, but don’t expect it to save much time on the way to your hotel!

So those are a few things to see and do in Shanghai. Personally, I found Shanghai to be a little disappointing. In my opinion, Central or Southern China are far more interesting. If you’ve got any more suggestions, then leave your comments below.

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