Shanghai is China’s largest city, full of futuristic high-rises, traditional temples and colonial buildings. The city is surprisingly clean & quiet, especially for being the largest city by population in the country! A financial hub for China, Shanghai is a world-class city, with plenty to see and do. I’m so excited to share my guide to Shanghai with you!
A COMPREHENSIVE 3-DAY GUIDE TO SHANGHAI
HOW TO GET TO SHANGHAI
When you think of flying to China, you probably don’t expect cheap airfares, but we found our flight for only $386 round-trip! That’s practically unheard of, flights to Chicago are more expensive! Don’t forget, if you’re heading to China, you will need a visa – I wrote a detailed post dedicated to getting a Chinese visa, you can find that here!
Once you arrive at Shanghai’s airport, you can rent a car, grab a cab (they don’t have Uber), take the subway or ride the MagLev (more on that below). I’d definitely recommend taking the MagLev to the city center if it’s near your hotel. You can get from the airport to the city center in just 8 MINUTES! The subway will easily take you over an hour.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed in the Pudong District, which is Shanghai’s CBD (Central Business District). There are a lot of great hotels along the river with easy access to the ferry and the subway to take you across the river and into Shanghai. We preferred this area to the Bund, simply because it seemed nicer, less crowded with tourists and lots to do in the area. I’d recommend the Grand Kempinski Shanghai or the Pudong Shangri’ La, as its location is right on the water. Those are two of our favorite hotel chains, you really can’t go wrong with either!
GETTING AROUND SHANGHAI
Shanghai does not have Uber and I’ve read horror stories of expensive cab rides. We usually like to do a mix of walking and public transportation, so that’s what we did here. Shanghai’s subway is great – it’s really easy to use, very clean, affordable and always on time! The city is pretty spread out, so the subway comes in handy. We walked a lot too, our days averaged around 11.5 miles!
STARBUCKS RESERVE ROASTERY
Start your morning with a jolt of caffeine at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, a 30,000 sqft coffee Mecca. At the time of our visit, it was the largest Starbucks in the world, but a week later, a larger one opened in Tokyo. Chicago is also set to open one later this year that will take the spot as the largest.
Shanghai has the most Starbucks locations of any city in the world, they really love their coffee. We started downstairs and tried a couple of drinks. I had the Smoked Butterscotch Latte and it was incredible! It’s like a Butter Beer, but with caffiene. Paul had the Nitro Cold Brew Float, which was espresso poured over vanilla ice cream. We tried a few of their food pairings as well.
After the coffee settled, we headed upstairs to the bar. Yes, bar. Starbucks sells specialty beer, wine and alcohol-infused teas. I had the Kumquat Kölsch and Paul ordered the Kenya Grapefruit IPA. There’s nothing quite like a cold beer at 9am 🤪
JADE BUDDHA TEMPLE
Full of coffee & beer (sounds disgusting lol), we made our way to the Jade Buddha Temple. This Temple is a beautiful display of traditional Chinese temple architecture. Remember to be respectful of the other guests, as many are there to worship, not sightsee. While you can take photos in most areas, some spots will have signs that ask you not to – so just keep an eye out for those!
RIDE THE MAGLEV
The MagLev is the fastest train in the world! It can reach speeds of 270mph! But on the regular, it tops around 301kph, which clocks in at about 170mph. MagLev stands for Magnetic Levitation, as the train levitates above the track!
If you have a departing flight, you can save about 10 ¥ by showing your boarding pass to the ticket agent. It’s well worth it to take the MagLev as opposed to the subway, as it will save you about 1 hour and 30 minutes + of travel time!
We bought roundtrip tickets just to ride it for fun! And then on our way home, we took it to the airport and it was great!
WALK THE BUND AT SUNSET
The Bund is a river front promenade, lined with colonial era buildings, overlooking the Huangpu River and the Pudong District. While it’s nice during the day, I prefer it at night, when all of Shanghai is lit up! It’s super busy, but you can always find a spot to take photos of the glittery, futuristic skyline Shanghai is famous for.
Since we skipped Hong Kong Disney, we decided we had to check out Shanghai Disney. Holy Craziness, Mickey! This place was nuts but so fun! For a more in-depth guide, check out my post Heading to Shanghai Disney? Read This First!
Are your feet tired just from reading this post? I know just the remedy, ha! Shanghai is famous for massage parlors. They’re super cheap and the massage therapists are amazing. The city is full of spots to choose from. Just read the reviews ahead of time. The place we chose was open until midnight, perfect for after Disney (which closes at 8:30). Most offer massages ranging from 30-90 minutes. Bring cash, as most don’t accept credit cards.
Yu Garden is a traditional Chinese garden located near the old city of Shanghai, next to the Yu Garden Bazaar & City of God Temple. It dates back to the Ming Dynasty, built in 1559. The park takes up 5 acres and the most popular site is the Exquisite Jade Rock, a 5-ton boulder!
The park is a peaceful place to escape from the hustle & bustle of the city. There are endless ponds, pavilions and blooming flowers all throughout the park. Keep your eyes peeled along the way, the walls separating the different sections, known as dragon walls, depict dragon heads!
ZHUJIAJIAO FISHING VILLAGE
Take the train to Zhuajiajiao, a traditional fishing village dating back over 1,700 years ago. When we first arrived, we weren’t expecting the insane crowds. It was PACKED. I was also really surprised how over-developed the village was. I was expecting a few little tea or silk shops, but the entire place was chock-full of tourist stands. It was very overwhelming but still neat to see.
There are 36 stone bridges and endless water ways. You can take a boat ride but we opted out, as others told us it was very short for the price.
I also found a shop with the most unique embroidered slides. The store had so many interesting designs and they were very reasonably priced. I paid around $45 USD for my pair. They didn’t take credit-cards, as we discovered was quite common in Shanghai and Zhujiajiao. I absolutely love when I can find unique items to buy as keepsakes. Now, whenever I wear these I’ll remember my time in Shanghai.
SHANGHAI TOWER AT SUNSET
Shanghai Tower is the second tallest building in the world, behind Burj Khalifa in Dubai. I typically forgo these types of places, but wanted to check this out, as it’s #2 in the world. The observation deck is on the 118th & 119th floors and wow, that view!! I’m sure it’s great any time of day, but I’m a serious sucker for city lights at night. While this is #2, there are others under construction that will knock this out of place, but still a really neat place to visit!
Shanghai is an incredible city with so much to see and do. While you could easily spend more than 3 days, I think that’s the perfect amount of time to explore the city. If you have more time to spend in China, I recommend heading to Beijing to see the Great Wall of China and make a stop in Hong Kong, too. I’ll be sharing guides to Beijing and Hong Kong over the next several weeks!
What cities have you visited in China?