Massive, multifaceted and magnificent: say hi to Shanghai!

As one of the world’s most populous cities, Shanghai offers its fair share of sensory overload. Its famous skyscrapers, bustling streets, and dazzling mix of traditional and cutting-edge culture make for a dramatic first impression. But this vibrant, sprawling city isn’t as overwhelming as you might imagine.

For one thing, there are plenty of parks and gardens where you can catch your breath. There are leafy neighbourhoods to wander and graceful old buildings to admire. A reliable, far-reaching metro system makes it easy to get around. And wherever you end up, you won’t be far from cheap, tasty street food. Take your pick from dumplings, steamed buns, pan-fried buns, rice cakes, seafood snacks and breakfast crepes (just for starters).

Get your bearings from the iconic Shanghai Tower (the city’s tallest building) or the Jin Mao Tower with its vertiginous glass viewing platform. Indulge your shopping fantasies in Nanjing Road and Huaihai Road or score a bargain in one of the many lively markets. Explore eclectic galleries, compelling museums and ancient temples.

You name it, Shanghai’s probably got it – and more.

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Things to do: Shanghai

  • people strolling along the riverside promenade at the Bund, Shanghai.

    Stroll along the Bund

    No visit to Shanghai is complete without a stroll along the Bund. Once a wealthy international financial district, this historic waterfront precinct on the west bank of the Huangpu River is renowned for its European feel. Check out its stunning gothic, romanesque, baroque and art deco buildings, which form a striking contrast to the futuristic skyscrapers across the river. Enjoy some fabulous people-watching, admire the sunset from the Waibaidu Bridge and take an evening river cruise: the Bund is extra-beautiful when it’s all lit up.

  • Surrounded by greenery, a traditional Chinese pavilion overlooks a pond in Yu Garden, Shanghai.

    Recharge in a park

    Get your green fix in Shanghai’s diverse parks and gardens. Known as the lungs of the city, People’s Park is a welcome respite from the concrete jungle with its flower beds, ponds and pavilions. Shanghai Botanical Garden is glorious during cherry-blossom season, while much-loved Yu Garden is an exquisite traditional Chinese garden you could spend hours exploring. Historic Fuxing Park is laid out in classic French style and is a popular place to practise tai chi. The beautifully tended, serene Jing’an Sculpture Park is dotted with sculptures and flower beds.

  • Exterior of Shanghai Museum, with round top and square base, fronted by lion sculptures.

    Explore Shanghai Museum

    Soak up China’s rich artistic history at the Shanghai Museum. A unique building with a round top and square base (symbolising the ancient Chinese belief in a square earth under a round sky), its enormous collection spans centuries. From ink drawings and calligraphy to ancient ceramics, furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368–1912), and special exhibitions, its treasures will keep you busy for hours. Free entry, but best to book in advance!

  • Street art in M50, Shanghai. By Jakub Hałun-Graffiti-Unknown-Self-photographed, CC

    Get your culture on in the M50 art district

    If you like your art edgy and contemporary, Shanghai’s M50 art district has got you covered. Sometimes compared to New York’s SoHo, M50 (official address: 50 Moganshan Road) is the heart of the city’s vibrant art scene. Since the first artist set up his studio there in 2000, this old industrial zone by Suzhou Creek has become home to more than 100 galleries, studios and design agencies. Who knows? You might score a piece by China's next rising artistic star.

  • A glimpse of leafy Tianzifang in the French Concession, Shanghai.

    Promenade through the French Concession

    Like a little slice of Paris, the French Concession is a picturesque neighbourhood just west of the Bund. Once a French settlement, the area retains its Gallic flavour, with European architecture, wide tree-lined streets and chic shopping. It’s notoriously expensive to live there, but wandering its avenues is free! Make sure you explore Tianzifang, an artsy enclave within the district. Labyrinthine alleyways full of charming architecture, stylish bars and shops, and great eateries have made it one of Shanghai’s most popular attractions.

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Airport information

Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG)

Distance to city centre 30km

Taxi The trip into central Shanghai takes between 45 minutes and an hour and costs around CNY ¥200 (night rates are higher). Take a taxi from the rank outside the arrivals hall and ensure the driver uses the meter.

Train The super high-speed Maglev train runs every half-hour or so to Longyang Rd metro stop (line 2), with services in both directions finishing just before 10pm. A single fare is around CNY ¥50, and a round-trip costs about CNY ¥80. Transfer at Longyang Rd station and jump on a metro to your destination. There is also a Metro station (line 2) at the airport. It’s cheaper than the Maglev (around CNY ¥9) but takes a lot longer. The Maglev and Metro stations are on the second floor of the airport between Terminals 1 and 2.

Bus Airport buses travel to destinations around Shanghai, taking around 60-90 minutes and costing about CNY ¥16-30 (the late-night bus costs around CNY ¥36).

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When to go

Shanghai has four distinct seasons. Winter (December–February) is cold, often bitterly so, though it rarely snows. Summer (June–September) is hot, humid, and rainy; late summer can bring typhoons. Autumn (October–November) and spring (March–May) are the best times to go for more agreeable weather.

Springtime is prime festival season. Longhua Temple Fair (April) is a traditional folkloric celebration at the city’s oldest temple, popular with tourists and locals. Peach Blossom Festival (end March–early April) is a magical experience; the International Tea Festival (around the same time) is a tea lovers’ dream. The famed Dragon Boat Festival falls in late May or June.

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Getting around

Shanghai’s 19 metro lines provide quick, cheap transport from 5.30am to midnight. One-day and three-day passes are available; alternatively, ‘top up’ as you go with the Shanghai Public Transportation card to travel by bus, ferry, train and taxi. Taxis start at around CNY ¥14 for the first 3km, and CNY ¥2.50-3.60 for each additional kilometre (more after 11pm). Not going far? Bike-sharing is a fun way to see the city.

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