Shanghai, the biggest and most prosperous city in China and third biggest in the world, is a global financial hub where modern skylines meet traditional buildings from the colonial era. In Shanghai, you can admire centuries-old buildings one moment, and then cross the Huangpu River and find yourself under the 632 m tall Shanghai Tower in the blink of an eye. The city’s beautiful parks and gardens filled with traditional pavilions and ponds offer precious moments of repose against the backdrop of the city’s hectic lifestyle. A metaphor for China and its meteoric rise as a world superpower, Shanghai is known as Oriental Paris, rivalling the great capitals of the West with its allure, charm, and modernity, as well as its unique blend of the East and the West.
WHAT’S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT SHANGHAI?
If you plan on visiting Shanghai, there are several things to keep in mind. While summer is a very popular time to visit, the warm weather often comes hand in hand with frequent rain showers. Moreover, you can always count on large crowds flooding the Shanghai old city during the peak tourism season. Spring is a pretty good choice, although the prices tend to spike during the public holidays. With that in mind, the best time to visit is either October or November, since the temperatures are still comfortable, and the prices more affordable, especially at the various Shanghai tourist sites, compared to the summer months. Visiting Shanghai in winter is also an option, although the temperatures do tend to drop below zero, making it hard to enjoy exploring the city for long stretches of time.
A FEW FACTS ABOUT SHANGHAI
Shanghai is located in the Yangtze River Delta, hugging the south bank of the Yangtze estuary, where the “Long River” meets the East China Sea, which is where the city’s name comes from, translated literally as “on the sea”. When only the population living within the city limits is taken into account, Shanghai is the most populous city in the world.
The Shanghai Old City is situated west of the Huangpu River in central Shanghai. It is a bustling labyrinthine district filled with narrow alleyways with numerous charming shops selling jewelry and antiques. The Bund, slightly to the east, is a well-known waterfront walkway with breathtaking views of modern Shanghai across the river. The tallest buildings with all the major businesses are located in the Pudong district – including the Oriental Pearl TV tower (with recognizable pink spheres) and the Shanghai Tower.
Shanghai is a global transport hub and a major financial center. The city’s container port sees more traffic than any other port in the world. Due to Shanghai’s position and importance, many travelers opt for a layover in Shanghai, either on their way to a different part of China or some other destination abroad. Luckily, due to China’s 144-hour visa-free policy for a number of countries, visitors can spend 144 hours (6 days) in the city and the neighboring areas without applying for a visa. Luckily, even during a long layover in Shanghai, the city has plenty to offer.
ONE DAY IN SHANGHAI ITINERARY
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Shanghai.
Visit the People’s Square to Start the Day
There are so many places to visit and things to see in Shanghai that choosing a good place to start can become a real challenge. The People’s Square is an excellent choice since it’s a major transport hub, with three subway lines as well as more than a dozen bus lines making it easily accessible from any part of the city. The nearby Nanjing Road is a popular shopping street with several malls where you can buy electronics or fashionable clothes. It is also a good place to grab a bite to eat in the morning, or at the very least a cup of coffee before checking out one of the museums.
Costa Coffee is a nice little coffee shop offering hot drinks, sandwiches, and various snacks. It can be found just off Nanjing Road near the first shopping mall. When it comes to landmarks, the People’s Square is one of the premier Shanghai tourist sites, with attractions such as the Shanghai Grand Theatre, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center, Shanghai People’s Government Offices, and the Shanghai Museum.
Explore the Shanghai Museum as Soon as It Opens
Widely considered to be one of the first modern world-class museums in China, the Shanghai Museum is a colossal depository with endless displays featuring ancient Chinese art, furniture, money, and clothing, as well as numerous jade and bronze artifacts, paintings, and sculptures. Amazingly, the museum is completely free, which is why there is occasionally a line to get in. Even so, it is more than well worth it. You can opt for a guided tour or a free audio guide, also available in English.
The audio guide may be a better option as it allows you to tour the museum at your own pace. While the audio tour is free, you will need to leave your ID to use it or a small refundable deposit of 400 Yuan. You can enjoy some refreshments at the café inside, or grab a souvenir from one of the souvenir shops. There are eleven exhibition rooms, and touring them all shouldn’t take much more than 2 hours. If you’re looking for an abridged version, then pick four or five rooms that sound the most appealing to you.
Take a Short Walk to See the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center
Also located on People’s Square, the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center is a modern 6-story urban planning museum detailing the development and history of Shanghai, with a massive scale model of the city as its centerpiece. The scale model shows all of the buildings in Shanghai, as well as planned developments, meaning it is a never-ending work in progress. Right now, the scale model shows what the city will look like in 2020.
The museum’s lobby features a large monument to Shanghai’s modernization, and the interactive exhibits and city models serve to show why Shanghai is the city of the future. Make sure to make it all the way to the end, since the last part of the museum includes an impressive virtual flight through Shanghai. If you don’t know what to do in Shanghai, this exciting and realistic experience will certainly be eye-opening.
Go for a walk down Nanjing Road
Nanjing Road, briefly touched upon earlier, is one of the busiest shopping streets in the world. The street today is divided into two sections, Nanjing Road West and Nanjing Road East. Prior to 1945 only Nanjing Road East was referred to as Nanjing Road, which is why many people still mean Nanjing Road East when they say Nanjing Road. It is a pedestrian shopping promenade, very busy at night, with bright lights and well-known brand names such as Nike, Zara, Apple, Sephora, Pull & Bear, and many others.
The best way to experience Nanjing Road and avoid potential backtracking is to start at People’s Square after touring the museums and walk down Nanjing Road due east until you reach the Bund. At a leisurely pace, the walk shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes, even if you take the time to enjoy the sights and snap a couple of photos.
Explore the Bund Before Taking a Ferry to Pudong (Lujiazui)
As soon as you exit Nanjing Road, you will arrive at Chenyi Square, a large plaza facing the river. To the left, there is a large bronze statue of Shanghai’s former mayor Chen Yi. For a better view of the tall skyscrapers of Lujiazui, you will have to climb the stairs to the right of the green-brown murals on the wall. The name the Bund refers to a mile-long stretch of waterfront promenade with numerous historic buildings such as the former British Consulate, the Customs House, and the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank. The tree notable buildings closest to Nanjing Road are the Fairmont Peace Hotel, Bund 18, and North China Daily News.
If you want to see as much of the Bund as possible, you can head north until you reach the Waibaidu Bridge, but since you have only one day in Shanghai and time is tight, it is better to go south until you reach the ferry terminal. You can get there in less than 15 minutes, but take your time to admire this “museum of buildings” in a number of distinct architectural styles.
Take the Ferry to Lujiazui
While the area west of the Huangpu River offers plenty of attractions, to truly experience the city, you will also want to visit Lujiazui, its bright financial district, whose tall skyscrapers, luxe-hotel nightlife, fine dining, and exclusive dance clubs hold the promise of the city’s future in stark contrast to its tumultuous past. While the Bund was Shanghai’s old financial and business district, Lujiazui has been continuously developed since the early 90s to completely take over that role.
Lujiazui now occupies the traditional area of Pudong, which has expanded into the much larger Pudong New Area, basically a state-level administrative district. There are several ways to get to Lujiazui, but taking the ferry is by far the best option, since it lets you experience some truly breathtaking scenic views of both new and old Shanghai.
Pick a Spot for Lunch
As you exit the ferry terminal, walk along the waterfront due north for 15-20 minutes until you reach the Super Brand Mall. It is easily recognizable by its large golden front facing the river, and you can see the iconic, futuristic Oriental Pearl TV Tower slightly to the left behind the mall. Even if you haven’t wasted any time by this point, it should already be around 2 PM. There are two great restaurants nearby, both with equally attractive options for lunch. Blue Frog, just in front of the mall towards the river, offers classic American bar grub with a Shanghai twist, in addition to a number of local dishes. They also have a pretty good selection of beer and various cocktails.
Inside the Super Brand Mall, you will find Ding Thai Fung, belonging to a major food chain with a number of locations near various Shanghai tourist sites. The view of the Bund from the restaurant is jaw-dropping, with local delicacies to match. You have to try Xiaolongbao or Soup Dumplings, a typical Shanghai dish of vegetable, pork, crab, or shrimp fillings wrapped inside thin-skinned dumplings and boiled in a tasty broth.
Climb the Oriental Pearl TV Tower
After lunch, you should visit the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, one of Shanghai’s most iconic landmarks. The tower can easily be reached by foot from the mall, as it is located only 10 minutes to the north. The 468-meters tall tower is the third tallest TV and radio tower in the world, offering spectacular 360-degree views of Shanghai from three different levels.
The glass floor is a particularly striking highlight, definitely not for anyone with a very pronounced fear of heights. Keep in mind that the tower is very popular and can occasionally get very crowded. In case you are not a big fan of crowds and waiting in lines, skip the tower and check out the financial district instead. Some other nearby points of interest include the 88-story Jin Mao Tower, the Shanghai World Financial Center (a symbol of commerce and Shanghai’s emergence as a global capital), and the 632-meter Shanghai Tower, a striking megatall skyscraper with a mind-blowing view.
Return to Shanghai’s Old City
After a couple of hours among the concrete, steel, and glass of Lujiazui, you may find yourself yearning for a change of scenery. Take a taxi back east across the Huangpu River to the Shanghai Old City, also known as “Old Street” by the locals. It is essentially a large bazaar in the open with dynasty style buildings and endless charming little shops. If you’re looking for a little peace and quiet, you can retreat to a nearby bamboo garden. If you get there in the evening or later at night, the streets are even more beautiful than during the day, with lights adorning the old-style buildings. You can see the lights of the skyscrapers in the background, which makes for some truly amazing, mind-bending photographs.
Visit the Yu Garden
While you are still in Shanghai’s Old City, don’t miss the chance to visit the Yu Garden, a 5-acre retreat in the heart of the city, built in 1577. With iconic Ming dynasty pavilions, arched bridges and enchanting ponds, the garden is one of the best places to relax and enjoy the moment in all of Shanghai. While compact, it is very complex, with numerous pathways surrounding ancient temples, tunnels, and small caves. You can find descriptions in English in front of the most significant historic items throughout the garden. Visiting the park may just prove to be the highlight of your one day in Shanghai, as one can easily spend the whole day there without feeling like any time was wasted.
Spend an Unforgettable Night Out
As a prosperous modern financial and cultural center, Shanghai has a very active, bustling nightlife, with no shortage of things to do in Shanghai at night. The city has something to offer to everyone, whether you are looking for something a bit more reserved and laid-back, or whether you want to stay out partying all night. When it comes to the latter, Bar Rouge should be your number one choice. Located just off Nanjing Road on the Bund, the bar features breathtaking views from its Sky Club patio. It is the most famous bar in all of Shanghai, frequently topping the lists of the most popular bars in the world, and often hosting famous international DJs.
Vue Bar, on the other hand, is way more casual and comfortable, focusing on tasty, stylish cocktails in an elegant, laid-back setting. Also located on the Bund, just across Waibaidu Bridge on the top two floors of the Hyatt on the Bund Hotel, Vue Bar boast one of the best views in the city. The cool ambiance of the gorgeous open-air terrace provides for an unforgettable experience, enhanced by the bar’s extensive selection of top-shelf champagnes and only the finest wines from a massive wine cellar.
Consider Spending the Evening at One of Shanghai’s Most Famous Shows
In case going out and partying is not really your cup of tea, you can also choose to do something completely different. The ‘ERA — Intersection of Time’ show is an extravagant million-dollar spectacle with stunning Chinese acrobatics telling a timeless love story. The spectacular choreography and the jaw-dropping performances will leave you mesmerized. Nobody does spectacles better than the Chinese, and if you want to end your one day in Shanghai with a bang, then this is exactly what you’re looking for. You can find out more and book the show here.
WHERE TO STAY IN SHANGHAI?
The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong
8 Century Avenue, Lujiazui, Pudong, 200120 Shanghai
If you want to feel like royalty when visiting Shanghai, then no place is better than The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong, a gorgeous five-star hotel whose prime location in the heart of the city’s financial district offers unparalleled views of the Bund and the Huangpu River. The hotel’s elegant Art Deco style perfectly matches its blend of classic luxury and cutting-edge modern comforts, which include BOSE sound systems, flat-screen TVs, and air conditioning. With an indoor pool, and exclusive spa, massage treatments, and a 24-hour gym, you will never want to leave the hotel.
Sofitel Shanghai Hyland
505 Nanjing Road East, Huangpu, 200001 Shanghai
Another hotel with a prime central location, Sofitel Shanghai Hyland is situated in the middle of Nanjing Road, right next to the bustling, dynamic Century Square and its numerous shops, bars, and restaurants. Halfway between the Bund and the People’s Square, the hotel’s location is matched by its comfortable interior with distinguishing wooden furnishings and spacious air-conditioned rooms that offer great views of Shanghai’s unique cityscape. In addition to an on-site spa with steam baths and relaxing massages, the hotel also has a modern, well equipped gym and fitness center.
Campanile Shanghai Bund Hotel
No. 33 Fujian South Road Huangpu District, Huangpu
With both the Yu Garden and the Bund within easy reach less than 900 m away, Campanile Shanghai Bund Hotel is set on Yan’an Road, one of the city’s main east-west thoroughfares. The comfortable air-conditioned rooms each come fitted with a flat-screen TV and a spacious seating area for relaxing. The hotel’s main focus is on comfort, hospitality, and convenience, with extras such as free toiletries, slippers, and a hairdryer, as well as a 24-hour front desk providing express check-in and check-out service.
Shanghai Blue Mountain Bund Youth Hostel
6F, No350, South Shanxi Road, Huangpu
If you are looking for a budget option with a great central location and plenty of opportunities for socializing, then the Shanghai Blue Mountain Bund Youth Hostel is a no-brainer. There are several private rooms with separate bathrooms in addition to the classic shared bedrooms with bunk beds. These come with privacy curtains and very good lockers, big enough to easily fit a carry-on. Larger pieces of luggage can be left at the luggage storage at the hostel’s 24-hour desk. The hostel is located close to the Bund and Nanjing Road, with numerous great restaurants nearby and the subway only 5-6 minutes away on foot. The staff is friendly and polite, with all members of the staff speaking good English.
DAY TRIPS FROM SHANGHAI
There are several great day trips from Shanghai, making it hard to single out just a few. Spending a day visiting the Ancient Zhujiajiao Water Town, resembling a magical Oriental Venice with traditional waterfront houses, is a very popular and attractive option, allowing you to escape the city and explore quaint, time-forgotten enclaves. You can also visit Hangzhou and its most famous sites on a private tour by bullet train, or go on a night river cruise complemented by an unforgettable dining experience. For must-see additional attractions and day trips from Shanghai, check out this article, where you can also find the best deals currently available.
EXTRA TIPS FOR VISITING SHANGHAI
-Most locals in Shanghai have their drinks served either warm or at room temperature, including drinks usually served cold in the west. If you don’t want to drink warm water or beer, make sure to point out that you would like to have it served cold.
Learning how to read some common Chinese street signs and nameplates before visiting Shanghai may be a good idea, since street signs and warnings are often not in English.
For example, 请勿吸烟 (qǐng wù xī yān) means “no smoking”, while 请勿拍照 (qǐng wù pài zhào) means “no photos”.
Consider downloading Pleco, a handy Chinese language app with the option of instant translation.
If you learn some basic Mandarin, you will find that locals will become much friendlier and much more willing to help.
You may want to get a temporary Chinese prepaid SIM card for your phone. Reliable operators include China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile.
You should always carry your own tissues/toilet paper since public restrooms in Shanghai often run out.
PIN FOR LATER!
If you have any other propositions for this One Day in Shanghai Itinerary, feel free to share them in the comments below!
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).