Shanghai has always been at the top of my list of cities I wanted to visit, and now I am lucky enough to live less than two hours away. I’ve collected all of my favourite places to see, things to do and places to go, and added in nearby food and drink stop offs, so you can make the most out of your weekend in Shanghai.
Start the day with a walk around People’s Square. It’s a huge park right in the centre of Shanghai. It is home to Shanghai’s municipal government building and a whole host of unique architecture. It is a bit touristy given that it’s one of the most popular attractions in the city, but it’s worth it.
If you go on a weekend, you will see hundreds of Chinese parents trying to set their busy, work orientated children up with other like-minded people at the marriage market. Since Chinese culture really values marriage, parents start to get worried that their child won’t find a suitable partner if they’re getting older, so they take matters into their own hands. I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s like a real life Chinese Tinder. The parents will almost advertise their child to other parents, telling them all about their career, wealth and family background, as well as showing photos of them.
Shanghai Museum is also in the square, so you can go inside and discover the history of the city and a bit more about Chinese lifestyle and culture, as well as Shanghai Contemporary Art Gallery which always has different exhibitions going on.
After soaking up all the more traditional aspects of the city, head over to Xintiandi to experience the modern, luxurious lifestyle that Shanghai is famous for.
K11 Art Store
Walk via K11 Art Store Shopping centre, home to brands like Burberry and Chloe, but also to some independent art and fashion brands. It’s a really good place to buy some unique gifts and souvenirs if you’re looking for something other than I heart Shanghai fridge magnets. In the basement of the shopping centre, there is an art gallery too, which always has interesting exhibitions on, usually costing around 50RMB (just over £5), but make sure to check their website before you go. The shop next to the gallery has the best things on sale in my opinion. They stock tonnes of independent brands who make homewares and accessories, as well as some sustainable and ethical brands such as Rubber Killer, who make products from discarded rubber. The K11 building itself is something you wont see anywhere else, you enter the centre by descending into
You’ll find every single luxury designer store in this area, but if you walk down the side streets, you’ll find some western restaurants, offering everything from Spanish tapas to American Shake Shack. The architecture in the area is also beautiful and very traditionally Chinese.
When you’ve worked up an appetite, stop for a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants in the area, most of them have an outdoor terrace area, which is perfect if the weather is nice. I’d recommend Cobra Lily for Asian fusion food, El Luchador for Mexican, Shake Shack if you’re craving a burger or Sproutseed if you’re after a quick, healthy lunch.
To get the most traditional Chinese experience in Shanghai, walk for half an hour of so to Renmin Road Old Street, stopping off at Yu Gardens on the way to have a look at the pagodas on the lake.
The streets around here are full of Chinese shops and food stalls selling everything you’d expect them to. Think tea leaves, dumplings and lucky cats. There’s usually a man doing the traditional art of Chinese paper cutting on the street, and he does a cutting of you. You can also show him a photo if you’d like to get one of your friends or family back home for a souvenir. Super cheap too, it was 25RMB which is less than £3 and they’re cute to keep. Again, this is a relatively touristy area, but the hustle and bustle makes it really enjoyable, it almost feels like you’re back in Ancient China with all the people and the vendors around.
Feeling peckish? Grab some of the street food. One stall sellssteamed buns that look like little animals and there’s a rainbow grilled cheese stall, which are some of more unusual offerings. There is also hundreds of proper Chinese stalls selling noodles, dumplings and meat on a stick if you’re feeling drawn in by the culture. My favourite Chinese street snack is the Chinese pancake. It’s a savoury pancake type thing with spring onions and seasonings in. If you see someone with a giant metal bin shaped thing, that what they’re making in it.
If you fancy some Chinese tea in a traditional tea house, this is the place to be, there is so many of them around. You can also get a nice ice cream, milk tea or a bubble waffle if you want something sweet. Whilst in China, you should try bubble tea, they do tonnes of flavours, my favourite is chocolate with caramel bubbles. Yum. R&B Teahouse do a good milk tea, and they also offer fresh juices and cheese topped drinks, which are actually nice. It’s a juice with a cream type topping.
For sit down restaurants, it’s not hard to find something Asian round here. There is obviously lots of Chinese places, but there is also some Thai, Vietnamese and other south east Asian cuisine on offer.
After having your meal, head down the bund to Pop Bar for the best views of Shanghai. It’s about a twenty-minute walk from Old Street and it’s all along the river. The bar is directly opposite the financial district, meaning you get to see all the huge sky scrapers in the city, including the famous Orient Pearl Tower. The drinks here aren’t too expensive considering the views you get and the quality of the drinks. You can get a cocktail for around 80RMB (Just under £9) and if you’re on a budget, make sure to go to the late-night happy hour. It’s from 11pm to 1am and a bottle of beer will only cost you 30RMB (£3.50 ish). There’s usually a DJ in the outside area too, which adds to the ambiance.
Shanghai has some of the best nightlife events in China, if not in the world, in my opinion. You just have to know where to go and what’s on.
My favourite clubs are Arkham, Dada, Alter and Elevator, all of which hold a variety of different music nights. Whether you like house, RnB, disco, techno, drum and bass or anything at all in between, you’ll be able to find a good event on the weekends. I usually check online for club listings before I go.
Jade Buddha Temple
In the morning, go to the Jade Buddha Temple. It’s an amazing old Taoist temple.
Then walk to Art Labour, one of my favourite galleries in the city. They always have really unusual exhibitions on and the lady who runs it is lovely to talk to and happy to tell you all about the artist and the works displayed.
After seeing the temple and art gallery, walk along the river to Jing’an Sculpture Park. It’s a chilled outdoor area with loads of sculptures, mostly made from random repurposed items like children’s toys and bikes. You can see the ‘dancing ladies’ here too. Which is something I’ve never seen outside of China, it’s basically groups of old ladies who gather in parks to dance for exercise every day. The Natural History Museum is also in the park, should you wish to have an explore, but I think there’s much more interesting things in Shanghai, and you can see natural history museums in most big cities.
Shanghai has the best brunches ever. There’shundreds of cool places for brunch in the old French Quarter. My favourites are RAC Coffee, which does the best crepes and Baker and Spice, a French restaurant. You could also go to Egg, which does amazing avocado on toast and maybe the best French toast I’ve ever had (cinnamon crunch!!). This is a twenty minute walk from the main street of the French quarter, the other two are on it, but it’s so good.
Wherever you go for food, head over to Anfu road from there, this is where all the independent stores are. You can also visit Fuming road and Wuyuan road to find more shops and cafes. The buildings in this area are a mix of modern and old Chinese style buildings, with some art deco 1920-1930’s buildings mixed in.
Propaganda Art Centre
First, go to the Shanghai Propaganda Art Centre, which is a gallery showing some of the old posters used for various political campaigns across China, it’s really interesting to see them all and you can buy smaller ones to take home with you. Entry is 25RMB (just over £2) and the gallery is in the basement of a residential building. Just find it on maps and go inside the gates to the buildings, then look for building 4. It has a sign saying ‘PPAC in red letters on the door.
Shanghai Camera Museum
Walk back on the main street of the quarter, Anfu Road, and find Shanghai Camera Museum which has loads of old cameras on display, as well as photography and old camera posters. The coffee shop in here is also cute if you want a sit down and a pick me up.
Bank Art Gallery
Just a few doors down, you’ll find Bank Art Gallery, it’s only small but they manage to get some cool artists displayed here, and the exhibitions change regularly. It’s down a side street that leads to residential buildings, its in the first building, just past the security booth. It’s sign posted and the has bright white, lit up stairs going down into it.
The shops on this street are a bit different too. There’s Klee Klee, a sustainable fashion store, Harmay, a cosmetics store and lots of independent fashion and homeware brands. There’s some bars and cafes on the street where you can either get yourself a coffee or a frozen margarita, depending on your mood. I recommend the Mexican place, I don’t know what itscalled, but it’s the only Mexican on Anfu Road and it’s red. They do huge frozen margaritas for 35RMB (Just under £4).
Or you can walk over to Boom Boom Bagels, which is, you guessed it, a bagel shop. They do pizza bagels, smoked salmon bagels and a load of other fillings too, as well as selling Brewdog draft beers. It reminds of me of Manchester in here, which is maybe why I like it so much.
If it’s a sunny day, sit outside Alimentari on Anfu Lu and have a drink. It’s part of an Italian company called Popolo who are trying to bring Italian food and drinks to China. They have a deli inside, as well as wines, cocktails and a fridge full of craft beer.
Dot Collection Vintage
After having food, wander over to Dot-Collection Vintage. Again, it looks like you’re going into a residential area, which you are, but it’s in the basement of the building right at the end of the street, directly facing the gate. You have to ring the doorbell, and then someone will come and let you in. They had vintage Moschino, Dior, Chanel and anything else your heart may desire. Even if you’re not looking to buy, the shop is interesting inside, decorated with the most random vintage items ever, well worth a visit.
Staying in the French concession, you can get some French food from my favourite French food place outside of France – Bread etc. They have a bakery that sells pastries, cakes and sandwiches as well as a hot food menu. They do classic French dishes and have a decent wine list too. When I went once, I ordered a bottle of wine and they brought me two because it was buy one get one free on bottles, you can imagine how happy I was. That was on a Thursday FYI.
Baker and Spice is also a good place to get French food. They also do pasta dishes which are delicious, and they have a huge selection of wines. Literally huge. They do wine by the glass or they have a wall where you can choose your own bottle. If you eat here you have to get a pastry or cake for desert because they’re too good to skip. I promise.
If you’re not feeling French food, then head over to Found 158. It has about 15 different types of restaurants from all over the world, so you’re sure to find something you fancy. They even have a fish place that does Poke and even fish and chips!
This is the perfect place to spend the evening as it’s outdoors but sheltered and busy enough to have a good vibe, but big enough to not feel crowded. You can also hop between places to try different drinks or have a late night snack. There’s wine bars, cocktail bars and I even spied a craft beer place, so you can spend a few hours here.
Traveling via the subway system in Shanghai is really easyand all the signs are in English. You can get pretty much anywhere using the subway lines and it’s so fast. It costs 3-4RMB (35-45p) per journey in the city centre. You can also get the subway directly to and from the train stations and airports and its much cheaper than getting a taxi. Buy a subway card from one of the machines in the stations, don’t go to the big ones, go to the smaller ones with just a digital screen and buy a travel card when you get to Shanghai. You pay a 20RMB (just over £2) deposit, which you can get back when you return the card, and you can top it up at any station in the city.
A random one here, but make sure you carry tissue around with you as most toilets in China as a whole, don’t have toilet paper in them. If you go to the toilets in public places, they will most likely be squat toilets, so try and go in restaurants and shopping centres if you’d prefer a western style toilet.
Some places don’t accept card, only WeChat and AliPay or cash. If you don’t live in China then you’ll probably just have to use cash. International shops like Zara and Apple take Visa and Mastercard, but smaller shops won’t.
Just like anywhere in the world, tourists are the main target for scams. Shanghai is relatively safe, but just use common sense and keep your belongings safe and don’t follow anyone to anywhere.
Most locals don’t speak English, so if you don’t speak Chinese I’d get a business card for your hotel, or ask the receptionist to write the address in Chinese characters so that you can show taxi drivers.
I’ve also got more posts on China on my blog, including Ningbo, which is just less than two hours from Shanghai.