50 things to do in Shanghai

This article covers fifty things to do in Shanghai, China. I’ve heard people (especially Americans) say there’s not much to do in Shanghai. I think there is, but some of it can be hard to find out about if you’re not local.

So I wrote a list of fifty things to do in Shanghai. Five are in the far suburbs and will take an entire travel day to see and return to Shanghai. Shanghai is the most sprawling city of any I’ve ever been to.

Some things didn’t make this list. That’s either because I didn’t think they were great things to do, or I didn’t know about them. If you have other things to do in Shanghai, add them in the comments!

In the city:

1. China art museum: A huge museum where you could easily spend a day or more if you’re a fan of looking at art. Next to China Art Museum Metro station. (free entry)

2. Shanghai Expo Park: A nice park near the China Art Museum and Minsheng Art Museum (free entry)

3. Shanghai 21st Century Minsheng Art Museum: An art museum focusing on Minsheng art near the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition Centre (which isn’t on this list as it’s a venue not a thing to do)

4. Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art: A modern art gallery in a former power station on the south-eastern edge of Bansongyuan Road Residential District, on the northwest bank of the Huangpu River.

5. Shanghai Century Park: A huge park with lots of open space, near the upmarket Dorsett Hotel if you’re looking for an alternative to a Marriott. Built in 2000 to mark the new century, it cost 10RMB to enter, pay cash or phone only; they don’t take cards. Features of Century Park include a bird sanctuary, Yunfan Bridge, Lakeside (Hubin area), and Guanxing Square.

6. Shanghai Science and Technology Museum: An educational museum featuring permanent exhibits on robots, life on Earth, space exploration, the Earth’s crust and temporary exhibitions in theatre areas alongside a colourful children’s playground. Free entry for children under 1.3 metres. Adults 45RMB. Book the theatre exhibitions separately. Great for kids. Find out more: http://en.sstm.org.cn/

7. Shanghai Oriental Art Centre: A performance venue for traditional oriental art.

8. Light of the east sundial sculpture (Feoso Zhiguang). Beautiful outdoor art installation next to the Shanghai Oriental Art Centre.

9. Shanghai Tower: Situated in the financial district, this is the second-tallest building in the world at 627m high.

10. Shanghai Ocean Aquarium: An aquarium with a “walk under the fish tank” sort of thing, and features 10 areas covering different aspects of marine life.

11. Shanghai Natural Wild Insect Kingdom: A sort of mini-zoo for insects, small mammals and reptiles. Near the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium.

12. Oriental Pearl TV Tower: At 468m high, it’s enormous, but dwarfed by Shanghai Tower. The Oriental Pearl TV Tower is still worth a visit, however, because it has a revolving restaurant at the top from which you get great views of the city. And what better way to see the second-tallest building in the world than from the slightly smaller building nearby?

13. Aurora Art Museum: A six-floor art museum near the Shanghai Tower. More info: http://www.auroramuseum.cn/

14. Shanghai World Financial Centre: A 101-floor high skyscraper with a glass walkway and fantastic views of the other buildings nearby. The website is in English but is mostly corporate-speak. http://www.swfc-shanghai.com/about.php

15. Jin Mao Tower: If you’re an enthusiast for tall buildings, or if the queues for the Pearl TV Tower, Shanghai World Financial Centre and Shanghai Tower are just too big, don’t forget Jin Mao Tower also has an observation deck, and at 88 floors tall, it has great views of the taller buildings which are around it.

16. Waitan boardwalk: A boardwalk area on the west side of the Huangpu River where you can look across the water and see the Bund and Shanghai modern skyline.

17. Huangpu River Cruise: Starts from the Ferry Waterside Travel Bus stop at the corner of Jinling East Road and Zhongshan East 2nd Road. Scenic and fun way to see Shanghai from the river. From the other side of the river it is called the Dongchang Road Ferry.

18. Bund Sightseeing Tunnel: An underwater train with flashing lights, this one is best for kids or the young-at-heart. Takes just over 5 minutes to cross under the Huangpu river.

19. Huangpu Park: A 19th-century park at the top of Waitan, this gets very busy at peak tourist times such as the Mid-Autumn Festival and Chinese New Year.

20. Waibaidu Bridge: Right next to Huangpu Park, engineering and architecture fans will love to see China’s first all-steel bridge.

21. Shanghai Museum: A huge museum with free entry but during peak times the queue snakes for hundreds of metres from the entrance, so I never went inside because it was always too busy. Right at the bottom of People’s Park.

22. People’s Park: A huge park in the middle of Shanghai, this is a lovely place to spend a couple of hours or eat lunch, even on busy days it is large enough to feel peaceful. At weekends, during the afternoons, you will find Shanghai Marriage Market here from about midday, where families go to find husbands/wives for their children. Free entry to park. Also home to the Museum of Contemporary Art.

23. Museum of Contemporary Art: An art museum in the centre of Shanghai People’s Park, it is tucked away in one of the former greenhouses of the park. It’s not clear from their website whether it’s free entry or not and I couldn’t find it in the People’s Park so this might be a hidden gem or a total bust. http://www.mocashanghai.org/

24. Jing’an Sculpture park: A green space around the corner from the Shanghai People’s Park, featuring lots of sculptures.

25. Shanghai Natural History Museum: A museum with dinosaurs, fossils and recreations of extinct animals. Unlike most natural history museums worldwide, this one is not free entry and the cafe doesn’t have a vast range of options.

26. Shanghai Mao Zedong Former Residence: The home of Mao Zedong during a short period of time, this is now a museum with artifacts and wax models. No English, so take plenty of mobile data for WeChat Translate. Free entry.

27. Ohel Rachel Synagogue: A baroque style Jewish synagogue with a kosher shop and restaurant. You need your passport for entry.

28. Changshou Park in the Changshou Road subdistrict: A beautiful park with a collection of traditional Chinese buildings. Well worth seeing.

29. Longhua Martyrs Memorial Hall in Xuhui District: A park and former prison which was where the martyrs (people allied with the Communist Party who became political prisoners and died at the hands of the former government) were held and executed. A part of the “real” China that every visitor should see to understand how China arrived where it is today.

30. Shanghai Botanical Garden in Xuhui District: Two hundred acres of domestic and exotic flowers and plants. Includes a bonsai garden. Gets busy during national holidays and weekends. Two tiers of tickets. The basic one only has limited access so to see the really good stuff, you need the more expensive ticket.

31. Yu Garden, Xinbeimen district: A garden dating back to 1577, Yu Garden features traditional pavilions, ponds, rockeries and bridges. This garden isn’t huge and it is always bustling, but gets really, really busy at peak times. When I went, there was a one-way system around this whole area, corralling tourists into a specific route, and progress was very slow.

32. Shanghai Temple of the Town God: A Taoist temple just south of Yu Garden.

33. Yuyuan Old Street: Surrounding Yu Garden and Shanghai Temple of the Town God, this area is full of very old fashioned buildings with the pagoda-style roofs and selling a lot of souvenirs and fast food. A bit of a tourist trap, this is always a busy area, but it is worth seeing, and if you take a side road before you hit the Yu Garden one way system, you can get all the atmosphere of Shanghai’s Old Town with far fewer people or souvenir shops.

34. Shanghai Old Town City Walls Dajing Ge Pavilion: Across the road and a little way south from People’s Park, this is the entry to the Old Town. When you’re tired of beating a path on the ground, get a bird’s eye view of the Old Town by walking the walls or hiring a bike. While there isn’t as much remaining as the Xi’an city walls (which completely encircle Xi’an’s city centre), it’s still worth a look, especially if you’re not planning on going to Xi’an.

35. Shanghai Zoo (aka Shanghai Dongwu Yuan or Shanghai Zoological Park): This is where to see pandas in the Shangai area. The zoo is modern and the animals well-looked-after. The site is ENORMOUS so take comfy shoes, and there is so much to see here that you could easily spend an entire day.

36. Hongqiao Pearl Market: A huge indoor market selling cultivated pearls and lots more. Some good deals to be had here but you do need to bargain hard.

35. Shanghai Jewish Refugees museum: A small and understated museum devoted to the 20,000 Jews who fled to Shanghai during the Holocaust.

36. Fabric Market, Huangpu district: A market selling fabrics, tailoring services, as well as other items on the upper floors. I got a pair of glasses re-lensed with transition lenses here and my husband got some excellent three-piece suits fully tailored.

37. Disneyland Shanghai. Enough said.

38. Site of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party: A museum built on an important historic site telling the history of the Communist Party. Free entry.

39. Madame Tussauds Shanghai, just north of People’s Square: A Chinese version of the popular London waxworks attraction.

40.  Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre: Spanning 6 floors, this has interactive exhibitions of the city’s architecture and urban development.

41. Shanghai Propaganda and Art Museum, Changning District: A hard-to-find hidden gem museum in a basement, this place shows propaganda artwork from the twentieth century, giving a unique insight into a part of China’s story.

42. Tianzifang, or French Concession Area: A shopping street and marketplace type area in traditional twentieth century architecture.

43. Environmental Theme Park of Suzhouhe Mengqing Garden: This isn’t a theme park, it’s a park with a theme. It’s a garden connected to a residential district where 100,000 people were relocated due to the water where they used to live becoming too polluted. There’s an exhibition centre in the garden telling the story of what happened to Suzhou Creek.

44. Ride the Maglev train: If you’re a railway enthusiast, this may float your boat, but for everyone else, it’s the same as getting the subway (except this doesn’t even go into downtown). Start at Shanghai Pudong airport.

45. Shanghai Museum of Public Security: A museum spanning 3 floors dedicated to the Chinese law enforcement. Prepare to see old police cars, guns, a jail cell and police uniforms! Free entry.

Outside the main city:

46. Zhujiajiao Water Town: A traditional and historic town which has been occupied for over 5000 years. Very scenic. Lots of canal.

47. Qibao Ancient Town (on the edge of Shanghai): Another historic canal town, this one is just west of Hongqiao district and therefore easier to get to.

48. Shanghai Maritime Museum (about 30km south of Shanghai): A museum dedicated to Shanghai’s seafaring prowess.

49. Jinshan city sand beach at Binhai Park, Jinshan district: A sandy beach on the eastern edge of Shanghai.

50. Shanghai auto museum: A museum of automotive history. No translations but beautiful cars.

Author: Torie Adams

I am a thirtysomething travel writer, lifestyle blogger, photographer, and USA Today bestselling author in Ireland, aka Mama Adventure. As a writer, I have written articles that are published in Offbeat Bride and on Buzzfeed, and as a photographer, I have taken photographs that are published in local and national news outlets in the UK. I have a blog at www.mamaadventure.com Twitter: @mamaadventurez