8 Things to Do in Shanghai on Your First Visit

Sohini Pal

Last updated: Apr 3, 2017

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Take a day trip to the water town of Zhujiajiao in the suburbs of Shanghai
Rent a bike and explore the old city


The Shanghai Tower, China's tallest structure
The Shanghai Museum, People's Square, which houses ancient Chinese art


Bird's-eye views of the city from the Oriental Pearl Tower
The stunning Shanghai skyline from The Bund


Baos (steamed bread) and dumpling, roast duck and traditional Chinese tea


Shanghai literally means "by the sea" (Shang = "above", hai = "sea")

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Ah, Shanghai! The name itself evokes images of bright lights, an iconic skyline, and all the glamour and mystery of a James Bond movie (specifically Skyfall, which was shot, in part, in Shanghai). But this city—with its unique amalgamation of the old and the new: a booming modern economy on one hand and the scattered relics of ancient Chinese dynasties on the other—might be a tad bit confusing for a first-time traveller. There’s just so much to do and see! But fret not, Shanghai enthusiasts, we have the perfect list for you. Here are the top 8 things to do in Shanghai to truly experience the essence of the ‘Paris of the East’ for first timers:

8. Get a bird’s-eye view of the city from the Oriental Pearl Tower

Shanghai: a spectacular view from the top


No first trip to Shanghai is complete without a trip to the Oriental Pearl Tower, arguably the most iconic of Shanghai’s many neck-craning skyscrapers. Go all the way up to the 259m-high upper platform, with a glass floor, for dizzyingly stunning views of the city.

7. Click some stunning pictures at The Bund

View from the Bund aka how the world will look like in 2060


The waterfront area of The Bund, in central Shanghai, runs along the west bank of the Huangpu River and is the best place to take some great shots of the spectacular Pudong-district skyline, right across the river. Visit at night for a view that’s straight out of a futuristic movie!

6. Take a ride under the Huangpu River

The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel: a psychedelic experience


Yes, you read that right. While you can, of course, take the usual river cruise (complete with dinner and a tour of the city lights), we recommend the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, which takes you on an audio-visual ride through a tunnel under the river on an automated car. Bizarre as it may seem, it’s one of Shanghai’s top five tourist attractions and definitely a ride to remember!

5. Spend some time with nature at Yu Garden

Peace and tranquility in the heart of the city


This extensive Chinese garden is spread over 2 hectares and houses many relics from the Ming dynasty. The gardens are a beautiful example of Chinese landscaping, with glittering ponds, Ming-style pavilions and towers, and a 12-metre high rockery including caves, gorges and peaks.

4. Pay your respects at the City God Temple

The protectors of the city


Located in the old walled city, this temple is dedicated to the city gods, in the tradition of most Chinese towns. The surrounding temple area has many restaurants, teahouses and souvenir shops, and is a great place to spend some time exploring local culture.

3. Sample some street food at Shouning Lu Food Street

Delicious bowls of savoury goodness


One of the best known food streets in Shanghai, this tiny lane might be a little chaotic to maneuver for a first-timer, but the seafood here is to die for. Try whole barbecued fish, crayfish, roast duck and traditional Shanghai-style dumplings at very reasonable prices.

2. Shop for souvenirs at Old Street

Shop for traditional Chinese wooden boxes 


Shanghai is a shopper’s haven and no trip to the city is complete without some time spent at Shanghai’s local markets. If designer shopping is not your thing, head to Old Street (also called Middle Fangbang Road) to shop for curios, Chinese silks and jade jewellery. Don’t forget to stop by a traditional teahouse for a drink when you’re tired!

1. Watch the Peace Hotel Old Jazz Band play

The iconic Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai houses the Old Jazz Band


The Old Jazz Band, which plays at the Fairmont Peace Hotel every evening between 7.30 pm -9 pm, is as famous in Shanghai as many of its tourist attractions. The members are all in their 80s, which explains the band’s name, and they’ve been playing non-stop every day since 1980!

There’s an endless list of fun things to do in Shanghai, of course, but these should definitely be at the top of your first-visit checklist. So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and dive into the bizarre and beautiful culture of this historic city for your next trip!

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