Bright neon lights, stores, and shoppers on Nanjing Road in Shanghai at night.

Shanghai Travel Guide

By Alison Fox
August 16, 2021

When you think of China, there are many things that come to mind: an ancient culture full of beauty and history, very large cities with towering skyscrapers, and incredible food from the street vendors up to high-end restaurants. Shanghai blends all of that into one thriving city. 

Shanghai, which sits on the Yangtze River, is one of the most populated cities in the world and the most populated city in China. In a country known for its mega cities, Shanghai easily takes the crown. 

Often called the Paris of the East, Shanghai is a mix of modern towers that define its skyline, like the Oriental Pearl TV Tower with its iconic circular design, and quaint neighborhoods that make visitors feel like they've been transported to the romantic streets of Europe.

From classic xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) to Michelin star meals, top-floor observation towers to an after-dinner stroll along the Bund waterfront, Shanghai offers something for everyone.

Time Zone

China Standard Time

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pink cherry blossom in Shanghai
Credit: Elysee Shen/Getty Images

Best Time to Go

One of the coolest times to visit Shanghai is around Chinese New Year, which tends to fall around late January or February. The city comes alive with vibrant decorations, special food, and an amazing lantern display. 

Cherry blossom fans should head to the city in March to watch the blooms. There are thousands of cherry blossoms and dozens of varieties to see.

In September or early October, tourists can feast on traditional mooncakes (typically filled with red bean paste or lotus seed paste) for the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Things to Know

Shanghai is known for hordes of bicycles and scooters zooming by on the streets. It's an amazing sight to see, but pedestrians should remember to be extra careful.

It's great to post photos and Google everything you see while on vacation, but remember some websites are blocked in China, including Facebook. But a digital detox isn't necessarily a bad thing and less social media just means more time for being in the moment. 

Shanghai is a very safe city, especially compared to other cities of comparable size.

U.S. citizens need to apply for a visa to enter China. More information on visas is available through the Department of State's website.

Currency: Chinese yuan (Check the current exchange rate)

Language: Mandarin, Shanghai dialect
Useful phrases: 
Hello: Nǐ hǎo
Goodbye: Zàijiàn
Thank you: Xièxiè nǐ

Calling Code: +86

Capital City: The capital of China is Beijing

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How to Get Around

Trains: Shanghai's metro has more than a dozen subway lines. Station announcements are made in both English and Chinese and fares are calculated by distance. The city also has a high-speed Maglev train, which can travel at 431 kilometers per hour (or about 267 miles per hour) between the city and the Shanghai Pudong Airport.

Buses: There are buses in Shanghai, but they tend to be more difficult to navigate for tourists and non-Chinese speakers than the metro. 

Taxis: Official, licensed taxis in Shanghai use a meter to calculate the fare and tourists should rely on these.Car service: Those looking to order a car through an app on their smartphone can do so through China's Didi Chuxing.

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Best Hotels

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Amanyangyun in Shanghai China
Credit: Courtesy of Aman Resorts

Amanyangyun

Address: 6161 Yuanjiang Rd., Minhang Qu, 201111, Shanghai
Phone: +86 21 8011 9999
Website

This hotel just outside Shanghai offers all the luxury travelers would expect from the Aman brand as well as an escape from the city, immersing travelers in the tranquility of a 10-hectare forest park with giant camphor trees where guests can learn Tai Chi or go for a picnic. The hotel features both contemporary suites and antique Ming and Qing Dynasty villas and offers guests the ultimate in relaxation, including traditional Chinese medicine therapy.

J Hotel Shanghai Tower

Address: Shanghai Tower, No. 126 Dong Tai Rd., Lujiazui Pudong New District, Shanghai
Phone: +86 21 3886 8888
Website

This brand-new hotel sits in the tallest skyscraper in China (and the second tallest in the world behind Dubai's Burj Khalifa), offering unparalleled views of the city and making guests truly feel as if they're on top of the world. Each room is situated on the 86th to 98th floors and includes a personal butler service and unparalleled views of the city.

Fairmont Peace Hotel, Indian suite, Shanghai, China
Credit: Courtesy of Fairmont Peace Hotel/Accor

Fairmont Peace Hotel

Address: 20 Nanjing Rd. East, Shanghai, 200002
Phone: +1-800-257-7544 (U.S. and Canada)
Website

This art deco-designed hotel sits right in the middle of the action with the Bund and Shanghai's famous shopping street, Nanjing Road, just steps away. The hotel, which features 270 rooms and suites with modern amenities, was once known as the playground of Shanghai's elite. Capture some of that old world glamour with a visit to the hotel's Jazz Bar, featuring cocktails inspired by the 1920's and 1930's.

Window view from The Shanghai Edition
Credit: Courtesy of The Edition

The Shanghai EDITION

Address: 199 Nanjing Rd. East Huangpu, 200002, Shanghai
Phone: +86 (0) 21 5368 9999
Website

This modern hotel, which sits right in the heart of the famous Nanjing Road shopping street, offers views of the city or the Bund in every room. Shop til you drop and then relax with a drink on the Roof where guests can take in the views from underneath a gorgeous ivy-covered trellis.

Hyatt on the Bund

Address: 199 Huang Pu Rd., Shanghai
Phone: + 86 21 6393 1234
Website

Relax in bed and enjoy the views of Shanghai's incredible skyline and the Bund from the floor-to-ceiling windows, or head up to watch the sunset and have a glass of Champagne from the VUE Bar on the top two levels of the hotel. Simply step outside the hotel's front doors to go for a stroll along the Huangpu River.

URBN Boutique Shanghai

Address: 183 Jiaozhou Rd., Jing'an District, Shanghai
Phone: +86 21 5153 4600
Website

This carbon-neutral boutique hotel contains only 26 rooms and offers a green escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, featuring recycled and reclaimed local materials, including reclaimed bricks from the French Concession. Explore the neighborhood around the hotel, popping into the many independent bars and cafes, before ending the night at the hotel's garden restaurant.

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Best Restaurants

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Ultraviolet

Address: 18 Zhongshan Dong Yi Rd., Shanghai
Website

This three-Michelin Star, 10-seat restaurant delights diner's tastebuds with a whopping 20-course "Avant-Garde" menu (think: Pop Rock oyster with green tea and citric or "A Chicken in a Jar" with vineyard smoke and foie gras). Everyone sits together at one large table where lights, sounds, scents, and even projections accompany each course. Advance reservations are necessary (bookings are open four months in advance) and guests must pay a deposit to confirm their booking.

M on the Bund

Address: 7F, No 5 The Bund, Shanghai
Phone: +86 21 6350 9988
Website

Take in views of the Shanghai skyline and the Huangpu River from this classic restaurant, serving everything from crispy suckling pig and salt-encased slow baked leg of lamb for dinner to "M's Very Famous Pavlova" for dessert. In the mood for a healthier meal? Head to the restaurant on Sunday's for an all-vegan menu with dishes like maple-glazed heirloom carrots with pickled chili potato and kumara and cassava gnocchi with olive crumbs.

Din Tai Fung

Address: Multiple locations
Website

This famous restaurant was originally founded in Taiwan in 1958 and now has multiple locations throughout China, including several in Shanghai. Feast on the classic soup dumplings, or xiao long bao (theirs contains fillings like pork, crab roe and pork, chicken, or green squash and shrimp), or try the vegetarian mushroom buns. In the mood for a sweet treat? Try a steamed red bean rice cake with walnuts or even a chocolate xiao long bao.

Outdoor terrace at the Riviera Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental
Credit: Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental

Riviera Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental

Address: 111 Pudong Rd. (S)
Pudong, Shanghai, 200120
Phone: +86 (21) 2082 9928
Website

Tea is very important to Chinese tradition and nothing says a luxurious tea experience quite like an over-the-top afternoon tea. At the Mandarin Oriental, tradition is combined with modern cuisine to create dishes like mint crab and cucumber sandwiches, grilled pork neck with BBQ sauce in a cone, and yuzu raspberry Swiss rolls.

Jia Jia Tang Bao

Address: 90 Huanghe Rd., Huangpu, Shanghai
Phone: +86 21 6327 6878
Website

Eat your weight in xiao long bao at this famous spot in a city known for its steep soup dumpling competition. Go early (seriously) to get the popular crab and pork dumplings and be prepared to wait. 

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Things to Do

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UnTour Food Tours

Address: Varies
Phone: +86 137 0172 9642
Website

Learn how to cook (and eat) dumplings while exploring the former French Concession or visit a traditional wet market and sample traditional Chinese breakfasts, like jianbing. Each tour is available in English and children are welcome.

Aerial view of Shanghai Disneyland during the 5th anniversary celebration on June 16, 2021 in Shanghai, China.
Credit: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Disneyland Shanghai

Phone: +86 21 3158 0000
Website

This park offers everything someone would expect from the Happiest Place on Earth from favorite rides like Peter Pan's Flight and Dumbo the Flying Elephant to character selfie spots, but it also has some distinctly Chinese flair. The park's Garden of the Twelve Friends, for example, includes Disney characters to represent Chinese astrology.

Shanghai Museum

Address: No.201 Ren Min Da Dao, Shanghai, 20003
Phone: +86 (0) 21 63723500
Website

This free museum, first established in 1952, is focused on pre-modern Chinese art, including bronzes, ceramics, calligraphy, jade, and more. The museum has ten permanent galleries along with temporary exhibitions and other showrooms, and sits in People's Square, a central square in Shanghai.

Go to the Shanghai Tower's observation deck

Address: 479 Lujiazui Ring Rd., Pudong New Area, Shanghai
Phone: +86 (21) 2065 6999
Website 

Visit the second highest tower in the world with a view from the "Top of Shanghai Observatory" on the 118th floor where guests can take in a 360-degree view of the city and its iconic skyline. While there, visit the Summit Art and Cultural space on the 126th floor where people can hear a 4D music experience.

The Shanghai urban planning exhibition center stands in the afternoon's light in Shanghai, China.
Credit: Lucas Schifres/Getty Images

Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center

Address: 100 People's Ave., near Xizang Zhong Lu, Huangpu district
Phone: 86 21 63722077
Website

The highlight of this experience is the very detailed scale model of the city, complete with Shanghai's impressive skyscrapers down to its individual homes. In addition to the scale model, the exhibition center contains a 150-meter-long underground street called the "1930 Shanghai-Style Street." 

the sunset of the Huangpu River
Credit: Blackstation/Getty Images

Go on a river boat cruise

Address: Varies by company

The Huangpu River serves as an important landmark in Shanghai and one of the best ways to take it all in—along with the city's diverse architecture as a whole—is on a cruise. While there are cruises available during the day, going in the evening and seeing the city lit up is a special experience.

Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai

Address: Gate 7, People's square, No. 231, West Nanjing Rd., Shanghai

Website

This modern art museum, known as MoCA, was founded in 2005 and features avant-garde art and design as well as hosted fashion-focused exhibitions. The museum also features the Pavilion, an art space dedicated to supporting young artists.

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Best Shopping

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Crowds walk below neon signs on Nanjing Road. The street is the main shopping district of the city and one of the world's busiest shopping districts.
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Nanjing Road

This is one of the main shopping streets in Shanghai, complete with a pedestrian-only stretch that weaves between local and international stores. While there, head to the Shanghai First Foodhall where visitors can sample local eats.

Madame Mao's Dowry

Address: 207 Fumin Lu, Shanghai
Phone: +(86) 21 54033551
Website

This concept store sells beautiful crafts from local designers and artists. The shop values design from the Mao Period (from 1949 to 1976) and has a large collection of propaganda posters and news photographs.

Tianshan Tea Market

Address: 520 Zhongshan Xi Lu, near Wuyi Lu, Changning District

Tea plays a big role in Chinese culture and that holds very true in Shanghai. This massive tea-focused market is home to more than 100 vendors selling all kinds of tea along with other beautiful tea accessories.

Sunset Huaihai Road,Shanghai Wukang Building
Credit: guowei ying/Getty Images

Huaihai Road

This upscale shopping street has something for everyone from high-end stores like Prada and Tiffany & Co to popular brands like Levi's. While some stores are directly on the street, many are located inside large shopping malls.

Tourists shop for dresses in the South Bund Fabric Market, famous for fabrics and cutting suits, in Shanghai, China.
Credit: Ryan Pyle/Getty Images

South Bund Fabric Market

Address: 399 Lujiabang Rd., Huangpu, Shanghai

This bustling market will make any fashion-obsessed traveler's dreams come true with hundreds of tailors and endless possibilities for custom-made outfits from suits to dresses and more. If travelers have a style in mind, be sure to bring a photo (or photos) of the clothing item, and don't forget to go with cash. 

Garden Books

Address: 325 Chang Le Rd., 200031, Shanghai
Phone: +(86) 021 5404 8728
Website

This English-language bookstore is perfect for picking up a great novel or catching up on foreign newspapers and magazines. Stop by for one of the shop's lecture events or grab a coffee and settle in with your latest riveting read.

View of a row of plane trees and Chinese pavilion in Xiangyang park located in the former French Concession of Shanghai, China.
Credit: Patrick Donovan/Getty Images

Neighborhoods to Know

Shanghai French Concession is a leafy neighborhood full of trendy bars and restaurants that evoke a romantic vibe and offer a change from the high-rises in other parts of the city. The area got its name since it used to be administered by the French.

Pudong is a large area east of the Huangpu River where many of Shanghai's most iconic buildings are located, including the Shanghai Tower and the Oriental Pearl TV Tower as well as one of Shanghai's main airports. Beyond the skyscrapers, Pudong is also home to the massive Century Park.

Xintiandi is a car-free, pedestrian-only area full of cafes and cobblestone streets. The quaint feeling of the neighborhood is only enhanced by the preserved traditional shikumen buildings.

Xujiahui is a central commercial center in Shanghai, known for its bustling shopping centers. While the busy pace can be fun, the neighborhood's green Xujiahui Park offers a bit of a respite.

People's Square is home to some of Shanghai's best museums and government buildings, and serves as a central landmark in the city. The bustling square sits at the entrance to Nanjing Road, a popular shopping street.

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Weather

Shanghai has four seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. 

Spring tends to be mild in Shanghai with temperatures hovering in the 60's and 70's.

Summer tends to be the rainiest season in Shanghai with temperatures hitting the 80's and frequent downpours. 

Fall temperatures tend to drop into the 60's and 70's and much less rain falls on the city, making it one of the best times to visit.

Winter in Shanghai gets somewhat cold with temperatures falling into the 40's and 50's, and even dipping down into the 30's at night.

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Apps to Download

WeChat: Popular messaging app and a great way to follow restaurants and shops
iOs | Android

Alipay: Popular way to pay for things in China
iOs | Android

MetroMan Shanghai: App to help travelers navigate the Shanghai subway with a route planner
iOs | Android

Dianping: App to read restaurant reviews 
iOs | Android

Google Translate: App to translate languages through text or by using the camera
iOs | Android