City Highlight: Shanghai

Published on: Wednesday, September 20, 2017
City Highlight: Shanghai - Waibaidu bridge with Oriental Pearl Tower behind


Shanghai is fast-paced, confident, and still growing at an extraordinary rate – it is where visitors come to see modern China at its glimmering best

Shanghai is a port city on the Huangpu River, a tributary of the Yangtze River where it empties into the East China Sea. The city is a global financial centre and its container port ranks the world’s busiest – so seize the opportunity to dine at world-class restaurants, enjoy trendy cocktail bars, and shop inside glitzy malls before resting up in the city’s most impressive hotels.

When to go

Spring (March-May) sees temperatures climb from 15°C (59°F) to 24°C (75°F). This is the best time to visit the 16th-century Yu Yuan when the garden is dotted with blossoming flowers.

Summer (June-September) is long, hot and wet. It’s a good time to hide inside the air-conditioned malls and shop till you drop. You can also catch the Dragon Boat Festival on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month (usually in June).

Autumn (October-November) is the best time to visit Shanghai. The weather is cool (14°C/57°F to 20°C/68°F) but dry. The city celebrates the National Day on October 1 and mid-Autumn Festival on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month (usually in October).

Winter (December-February) is cold and damp, with biting winds from Siberia sending temperatures below freezing. But the city turns festive during Chinese New Year (in January or February).

Getting around

Shanghai has an efficient Metro system with signs and announcements in English. You can enjoy unlimited travel by getting a day-pass for RMB 18 (US $2.75 or £2.10) or a three-day pass for RMB 45 (US$6.80 or £5.30). Taxis are cheap, metered and plentiful – you can just hail from the street and tipping is not expected. For more information, see our getting around Shanghai guide.

Must-see attractions

The Bund
We recommend visitors to Shanghai start the trip by visiting the majestic Bund, the city’s famous waterfront and one-time ‘International Settlement’ controlled by Britain, America and other western powers. From there, you’ll get a sense of Shanghai’s growth by gazing across the Huangpu River and seeing the ever-evolving cluster of mega structures.

Yu Yuan (Yu Gardens)
A classic Chinese garden complete with traditional pavilions, fish ponds and covered walkways. At the entrance, Mid-Lake Pavilion Teahouse (Huxinting) is a great place to sample fine Chinese tea and people watch.

Shanghai Museum
Arguably China’s best museum, this huge space houses over 120,000 historical and artistic treasures. The beautiful calligraphy and dazzling jade are worth checking out.

Hipster-cool Xintiandi is where you will find trendy restaurants and bars, as well as two museums. The small Shikumen Museum depicts traditional life in a 10-room Shanghainese tenement building in the early 1900s.

For more ideas on must-see attractions, see our Things to see in Shanghai guide.

Quirky & offbeat

Jing’an Temple
Nestled in the heart of urban Shanghai, the Jing’an Temple features a huge jade Buddha –the largest sitting jade Buddha statue in the country.

Huangpu River Cruise
One of the best ways to admire Shanghai’s architecture and Pudong’s skyscrapers is to take a cruise down the Huangpu River.

For other offbeat attractions, including where to enjoy a rollercoaster ride 98 metres (322 ft) above the city, check out the Things to do in Shanghai guide.

Travel tips

Must-try specialities

  • Shengjian – pan-fried buns with a juicy meat filling, arguably the most famous street food in Shanghai.
  • Cong You Bing – flaky pancakes stuffed with scallion and pork, another popular street food.
  • Shanghai hairy crab – named for its furry claws, the locals believe that crabs are best enjoyed in autumn.
  • Baijiu – a strong alcoholic spirit with powerful flavour, not for the faint-hearted.
  • Tsingtao – the most popular beer in China.

Tipping: it is not customary particularly at local restaurants.

Once you’ve had one too many dumplings, see our Restaurants in Shanghai guide for other options.

Hotels in Shanghai

As you can expect from a global powerhouse, business hotels and luxury 5-star chains are plentiful in Shanghai. Decent budget accommodation is tricky to find in Shanghai so book early. Magnolia Bed & Breakfast in Xuhui district (near Jing’an Temple) is a good budget option which is best to book months ahead to avoid disappointment. For a touch of luxury, the Fairmont Peace Hotel is fabulous; its famous Jazz Bar, which has drawn celebrities and international heads of state since the 1920s, is open daily from 6pm to 2am. For more recommendations, see our Hotels in Shanghai guide.

Nightlife in Shanghai

There is no shortage of swanky cocktail bars in Shanghai – popular choices include Cloud 9 which offers spectacular night views of Shanghai (address: Jin Mao Tower, 88 Century Ave), the Union Trading Company Bar (address: 64 Fengyang Lu), and Bar Rouge (address: 18 Zhongshan East). For an opulent night out, M1NT is the place. Turn to our Nightlife in Shanghai guide for more recommendations.

Shopping in Shanghai

Shanghai’s shopping scene befits its economic status and the city easily boasts the best shopping in mainland China. Nanjing Lu, often billed as one of the world’s busiest shopping streets, is a 5.5km (3.5 miles) long artery of malls and shops. For more information, see our Shopping in Shanghai guide.

Visa requirements to Shanghai, China

Americans, Australians, British, Canadians and EU citizens need a visa to visit China and your passport must be valid for at least six months on the day you arrive. However, you can visit Shanghai without a visa for up to 144 hours if you’re transiting through Shanghai airports and cruise terminals. Please click this link to apply. For information on fees, check out the China visa and passport requirements guide.

Before your trip, don’t forget to read through the comprehensive Shanghai city guide which can help you to plan and make the most out of this futuristic metropolis.