10 things you must do in Shanghai

Alex Curran
By Alex Curran
9 Min Read

Shanghai is one of the world’s largest cities, China’s most populous city, China’s largest economic and financial center, and the People’s Republic’s most important transportation hub with the world’s third largest seaport. It has one of the longest subway lines in the world and the longest magnetic rail line, which reaches speeds of 431 km/h.

In the financial district of Pudong, skyscrapers racing to become the world’s tallest are rising at a staggering pace. But Shanghai is not only the coolness of steel and glass and the glamour of the most expensive boutiques, it is also the Buddhist temples scented with sandalwood, the bustle of the Old City, the romantic streets of the water towns, and the luscious greenery of the city gardens. This is a city with a rich past and a promising future, full of contrasts and interesting stories. From which side to approach it, what to see, where to direct your steps to get to know it best, and learn as much as possible during a short visit?

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A list of 10 things you must do while in Shanghai:

  1. See the city skyline from the perspective of the clouds. Choose from the observation deck on the 100th floor of the Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC), on the 88th floor of Jin Mao Tower, and in the highest domes of the Pearl of the Orient-the world’s 4th TV tower. The views are amazing: an anthill of skyscrapers stretching to the horizon, crisscrossed by a web of highways, punctuated by a ribbon of river. The price of the TV tower ticket includes additional admission to the Old Shanghai Museum with wax figures, which is also worth a visit.
  • Greet the new day with Shanghai residents practicing Tai Chi on the Bund-a waterfront promenade running along the right bank of the Huangpu River. Behind your back a row of post-colonial buildings housing the headquarters of the largest banks and luxury hotels, in front of your eyes a postcard view of the forest of skyscrapers on the opposite side of the river, in your ears traditional music accompanying the exercisers. Just some more steamed baozi buns sipped with hot soy milk for breakfast and you can start your day.
  • Visit the City Reign Center. The Urban Planning Exhibition Center building is located in the heart of Shanghai’s People’s Square. Inside it we can see exhibitions depicting the history of the city, its development, and plans for the future-interesting in both content and form: beautiful old photos, interactive maps, 3D cinema, and simulators. Almost the entire area of the 4th floor is occupied by the world’s largest model of the city-Shanghai in 2022
  • Give in to the shopping frenzy on Nanjing Road- Shanghai’s most expensive shopping promenade. If not surrender, then at least come to see the ocean of heads flowing from store to store, hear the uproar, and mingle with the consumerism-hungry crowd..
  • Take a look at the matrimonial fair. This peculiar event takes place every Saturday morning at the back of the city hall and theater (People’s Square). Chinese parents line the park avenues with ads advertising their unmarried children. Some of the ads feature a photo, and each is accompanied by a detailed description – we can read from it height, weight, earnings, education, where the candidate works, and whether he has a car and an apartment. Here we will see that in China the tradition of matchmaking is still alive.
  • Stroll through the narrow streets of the former French Concession, separated from Shanghai in 1844 by the waning Qing Dynasty. Today, these few blocks are a reminder of colonial times, with beautiful building facades, rows of plane trees, atmospheric cafes, and European-style boutiques. A moment’s respite from big-city noise is provided by Fuxin Park, founded by the French in 1909. Here you will find locals flying kites, dancing to the sound of music coming from portable speakers, singing to the accompaniment of traditional Chinese instruments, and playing chess.
  • Suspect cricket fights at the bird market. Walking around Shanghai you will quickly find out that the Chinese have a weakness for gambling, as illegal card games have become a permanent part of the city’s landscape. Cricket fights are also an excellent excuse to make money betting, and since the tradition of this insect entertainment dates back to the reign of the Tang Dynasty, modern prohibitions are of no use. Teased with a blade of grass, crickets show their mobility and prowess, on which depends the chance in a fight and the stakes. A good “player” is a real treasure.
  • Lapse into a reverie for a moment at the Temple of the Jade Buddha. This is an amazing place where the traditions of Buddhism collide with the modernity of the city, the splendor of the temple with the poverty of the street. Here we will have the opportunity to observe traditional rituals – in the smoke of incense and the shadow of majestic statues.
  • Eat roast duck in one of the “floating cities”. For those who are very pressed for time, I recommend Qibao-a settlement crisscrossed by water canals, which has been absorbed by Shanghai, which is growing at a frantic pace (a subway line runs here). For those who feel like taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis for a while, I recommend Zhujiajiao, an hour away by bus, called the Venice of Shanghai. Stone streets and bridges, from under which every now and then a pointy bamboo gondolier’s hat emerges, give this place an exceptionally romantic character.
  1. Sip green tea at a traditional Chinese teahouse. The best is at the oldest one, located in the center of the Old City, the Huxingting Tea House, which is accessed by the famous Zigzag Bridge-its unique design was supposed to ward off the path of evil spirits. By the way, it’s worth stopping by the Yu Yuan Gardens, whose stone labyrinths remember the Ming Dynasty, while the fanciful greenery provides a moment’s respite from the crowds of the Old City. For dessert after the tour, you can indulge in a traditional egg cupcake.

In addition to the list, I will mention one more attraction – the Bund SightseeingTunnel. Except, because the attractiveness of this tunnel under the Huangpu is often questioned. Music straight out of Space Odyssey sounds from the electronic afterlife, flashing lights, kitschy scare mockups, and shark visuals. A festival in typical Chinese style, and precisely because such entertainment is characteristic of the citizens of the Middle Kingdom, it is worth seeing in my opinion.

If we take the above points as a tour plan, we can be sure to feel the atmosphere of this vibrant city. In addition, I recommend getting lost – yes, get lost! Take a look at the housing estates of several dozen-story ant-houses and in the narrow, forgotten streets where a table and a machine are a tailor’s shop, and a chair and a hammer are a shoemaker’s shop. Sit on the curb, close your eyes and listen to the beating heart of Shanghai.

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