Things to do in Shanghai

Must-see Shanghai sights

Shanghai maintains its international character and is a fascinating place to visit, and is somewhere you’ll find more English spoken than in any other mainland Chinese city. It’s a rewarding city to wander aimlessly, from the bustling alleyways of the Old City to the elegant riverside Bund.

  1. Stroll along the Bund
  2. Feel tranquil in Yu Gardens
  3. Bite into xiaolongbao dumplings
  4. Be a hipster Batman in 1933 Millfun
  5. Slow down in Xintiandi
  6. Sip a cocktail at a snazzy bar

There’s also a world-class art scene with its host of flashing galleries, while food-wise, almost every Chinese- and world-cuisines are well-represented. When the sun sets, the city lights up in neon: and Shanghai becomes a totally different ball game, with dive bars, slick clubs and international DJs all vying for your attention.

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1. Stroll along the Bund

This iconic riverside stretch of grand colonial mansions should be the first stop on any itinerary of things to do in Shanghai. Along the row of European-style buildings lining the Huangpu River is prime window-shopping territory, where some of the city’s ritziest luxury brand shops and fancy restaurants are. Whether you want to explore inside or admire it from the outside, check out the Shanghai Post Museum with its clocktower, the Art Deco-styled Peninsula Hotel and la-di-dah No. 18 the Bund with its Italian marble columns.

Best for: East meets west… and credit card meets the till.

Don’t miss: Above the high-end shops at No. 18 The Bund, there’s a contemporary art gallery, a wanky restaurant and rooftop bar.

2. Feel tranquil in Yu Gardens

A classical garden of pavilions, ponds and rockeries, Yu Garden is a calm oasis at the heart of an olde-worlde Chinatown-style shopping centre. The gardens have survived since they were built in the 16th century, something the Shanghainese are very proud of, as they predate foreign Shanghai by three centuries. The first building you’ll come to is the Cuixiu Hall with 12m-high rockery; the Yuhua Tang Hall behind it is full of Ming-dynasty furniture, and the southeast section of the gardens is a self-contained miniature garden - this tends to see fewer crowds, so it’s a good place to stop for a rest.

Best for: Seeing old-world China in the country’s most modern city.

Don’t miss: The Yuyuan Bazaar, a tangle of narrow market lanes, is perfect for souvenirs.

3. Bite into xiaolongbao dumplings

These delicious ‘soup dumplings’ are available everywhere, from street vendors to fancy restaurants. Once you’re served your bamboo steamer of xiaolongbao (pronounced sheeow-long-bao), load one of the podgy things onto your spoon. Lift the dumpling up with your chopstick but keep the spoon underneath, as when you bite into it, the gelatinous soup will come spilling out from around the pork filling. If you want to take a break from sightseeing but are still wondering what to do in Shanghai, you can’t get more quintessential Shanghai than by feasting on xiaolongbao. Shanghai holiday packages don’t have to be expensive. If you want to reign in the budget every now and then, street food markets are great places to save some money for arguably tastier food and chattier clientele.

Best for: Traditional street food snacks.

Don’t miss: Head to Crystal Jade in the Old French Concession area for great xiaolongbao - but try to reserve a table.

4. Be a hipster Batman in 1933 Millfun

1933 Millfun is a crazy old building - once a slaughterhouse, now it houses a clutch of quirky businesses that’s throbbing with hipsters. This concrete building of brutalist architecture looks like it would be better suited in the likes of Gotham - you could imagine Batman flapping around here. Roofless, with six storeys and made entirely of concrete, it has 26 freestanding “air bridges” along with oddly angled ramps and staircases. This is a place to hang out, so totally don’t swing by for dinner, man. The hipsters descend here for the cafes, art galleries and photos ops - and no-one will mind if you join in with them, either.

Best for: Extraordinary architecture.

Don’t miss: The Canil Cafe; dogs pad around this cafe, and there’s a minimum spend which will just about get you a coffee.

5. Slow down in Xintiandi

Located in the Old French Concession area, Xintiandi is Shanghai at its most charming, and has clung onto its historic feel with its low-rise buildings, old mansions-turned-boutiques/embassies/restaurants and leafy lined streets. This genteel open-air mall was the first of its kind in China, which today offers upscale dining in a lively neighbourhood of traditional shikumen (stone-gate) houses. It almost demands a laidback itinerary of shopping, people-watching and eating a good meal; it’s possibly one of the best things to do in Shanghai as you can take in so much without feeling like you need to zoom through a tick-list. There’s the Shikumen Open House Museum, which details everything you need to know about these traditional houses; the Site of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, where talks of a national party were formed in 1921; and South Block, a glass mall with a host of luxury brands and a Hong Kong restaurant.

Best for: Slow sightseeing.

Don’t miss: Afternoon tea on the terrace at Andaz Xintiandi.

6. Sip a cocktail at a snazzy bar

Join the cool set at one of the city’s fabulous cocktail bars, from password-entry speakeasies to uber-stylish rooftop terraces overlooking the sparkling Bund. And what better way to embrace this cosmopolitan city than with a Cosmopolitan? At night, Shanghai lights up like a pinball machine, so appreciate the awesome spectacle at the likes of 100 Century Avenue, the world’s highest bar; Vue, a slick bar with great views of Pudong from its terrace; or Captain Bar, the only bar on the Bund that won’t empty your wallet.

Best for: MakeCarrie Bradshaw proud and spend the evening at a trendy bar.

Don’t miss: Kartel, whose rooftop bar offers a 360-degree view of glittering corporate monoliths.

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