While you’ll never have time for all of Shanghai’s best sights, here are some of our favorites. Seek out the city’s art and mind-blowing architecture, decompress in tranquil gardens, or tour long-forgotten nightclubs. Trust us: You won’t be bored.
Changning, China, 200085
One of Shanghai’s most fascinating museums is hidden in the basement of a French Concession high-rise. Yang Pei Ming started collecting Maoist-era (1949–1979) propaganda posters in 1995—first as a hobby, and then to preserve these important historical and cultural relics. (The Chinese government destroyed many old posters for political reasons.) Thanks to Ming’s diligence, the museum has nearly 6,000 originals you won’t see anywhere else, from woodblock prints by Chinese autoworkers to intricate Shanghai Lady cigarette ads and neon-red armbands. The gift shop sells large and small reprints as well as postcards and kitschy souvenirs.
516 Fuxing Middle Rd, Huangpu Qu, Shanghai Shi, China, 200085
Fuxing Park has quite the history. It was a Ming Dynasty private garden until the French took it over in 1909. Then came the Japanese occupation of Shanghai during World War II until the early 1950s, after which the park again became Chinese. Today, the park is a vibrant gathering spot, wide open to the public. No matter the season, it’s full of locals playing mah-jong, practicing tai chi, writing calligraphy, and flying kites amid the sycamore trees. Come early on a weekday morning to see the dancers, then walk over to the Mattress flower beds.
Zhongshan East 1st Road
Architecture lovers flock to the Huangpu River’s western side to stroll the Bund, a waterfront tourist magnet in central Shanghai. There’s a glorious mishmash of late-19th- and early-20th-century styles here, from Gothic revival to art deco. Walk by the Fairmont Peace Hotel—first opened in 1929 as the Cathay Hotel—to behold its copper pyramid roof turned aqua with age. (Talk about aging gracefully.) Then hit the marble-floored HSBC Building (No. 12) to admire the domed ceiling’s eight mosaic murals, with frescoes depicting the 12 zodiac signs.
200 Hua Yuan Gang Lu
On the desolate site of the 2010 World Expo, the Chinese government has transformed an old power station into an artistic gem. Power Station of Art (PSA) is the first state-owned contemporary art museum in China, so while that precludes shows that might be deemed too avant-garde, it also means admission to the big-name exhibitions is heavily subsidized—and sometimes even free! In addition to hosting the Shanghai Biennale, the museum puts on shows running the gamut from modern Danish design to punk rock history and works by Shanghai street artist JR.
Shanghai Tower has a lot to be smug about. At 2,073 feet, it’s the second highest building on earth, topped only by Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Let the world’s fastest elevators whisk you to the 119th-floor observation deck at 67 feet per second. From up here, the Oriental Pearl Tower looks like a child’s toy, and the cruises gliding on the Huangpu River appear no bigger than model boats. While, from the ground, you have to crane your neck to see the tops of skyscrapers like the Shanghai World Financial Center and Jin Mao Tower, in Shanghai Tower you’ll be looking down on them. Like a boss.
20 Huqiu Rd, Huangpu Qu, Shanghai Shi, China, 200085
One block west of the Bund you can find the Rockbund Art Museum, housed in Shanghai’s former Royal Asiatic Society building (1932). Like many of the grande dame Bund buildings, RAS was dreamt up by British design firm Palmer and Turner and done to the nines in art deco style. The museum hosts its share of heavy hitters from the contemporary art world, such as Zhang Huan, Cai Guo-Qiang, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Rockbund is small but charming, especially the tranquil top-floor café and lounge, which give way to a small terrace overlooking the Pudong skyline.
3398 Longteng Ave, Xuhui Qu, Shanghai Shi, China, 200000
Wang Wei and her husband, Liu Yiqian, are voracious collectors of Chinese art, both contemporary and traditional. The first Long Museum opened on the Pudong side of the river, in the suburban neighborhood of Jinqiao; the second is located on West Bund, a mere 15 minutes’ walk from the Yuz Museum. The building, done by lauded Shanghai architects Atelier Deshaus, might just stun you, with its enormous ceilings and open rooms that flow one into the other. Most exhibitions are of Chinese artwork—past shows include a retrospective of the work of cartoonist Zhang Guangyu and a selection of Qing Dynasty paintings. But big-name Western artists also show here, among them James Turrell and Olafur Eliasson.
Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China
Hangzhou is an easy day trip from Shanghai, just 45 minutes by bullet train from Hongqiao Station. Hangzhou is the home of China’s prized Longjing green tea, which you can taste at the China National Tea Museum. The city is also known for its temples and for beautiful West Lake, captured in countless photos and classical Chinese paintings. Lingyin Temple is one of China’s largest Buddhist temples, which dates back to the 4th century (although most of the buildings that visitors see today are contemporary reconstructions of Qing Dynasty structures). In front of the temple is the Feilai Feng grotto, with more than 300 rock reliefs of Buddha, some dating from the 10th century.
170 Anyuan Rd, Jing'an, China, 200060
The original Jade Buddha Temple was built in the late-19th century to house two jade Buddha statues brought from Burma by a monk named Hui Gen. They remain the principal attractions of the temple, especially the larger of the two, a seated Buddha carved from a single piece of white jade and weighing 205 kilograms (452 pounds). This is an active Buddhist monastery, and you’ll see monks throughout the buildings and grounds, as well as locals who come here to worship. The complex has gone through cycles of destruction and repair, first during the uprising that led to the overthrow of the Qing dynasty, and later during the Cultural Revolution. There is also a popular vegetarian restaurant at the temple.
62 Changyang Rd, Hongkou Qu, Shanghai Shi, China, 200082
You wouldn’t know it from walking the streets of Hongkou today, but this Shanghai neighborhood once was home to more than 20,000 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Shanghai before and during World War II was a safe harbor for European Jews, although by 1943, with the city under Japanese control, most were forced to live in what was called the Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees, aka the Shanghai Ghetto. The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum is on the site of the former Ohel Moshe Synagogue, built in 1927 and one of two remaining synagogues in Shanghai (the other is Ohel Rachel in Jing’an). The museum’s exhibits showcase historical artifacts, among them a number of photographs, refugee passports, and copies of the newspaper Shanghai Jewish Chronicle.
1555 Huaihai Middle Rd, Xuhui Qu, Shanghai Shi, China, 200085
Historic Shanghai’s tours and events are the closest you’ll can come to traveling back in time to Shanghai’s golden age. The group was founded by longtime Shanghai residents Tess Johnston, Tina Kanagaratnam, and Patrick Cranley. They host myriad cultural events—author talks, lectures, screenings—as well as tours of Shanghai’s historic sites and neighborhoods. All three owners are architecture buffs, and together they have an encyclopedic knowledge of Shanghai’s Western architecture, past and present. Tours and walks run a couple of times per month, covering topics like Americans in Old Shanghai, Old Shanghai’s nightclubs, and the regeneration of Yangpu District.
128 Guilin Road
In the early 20th century, Guilin Park was the private compound of detective-turned-gangster Huang Jinrong. Today, it’s open to the public, beckoning tourists to come relax in an otherwise-buzzing neighborhood. Strolls through the handsome carved pavilions, tree-lined stone pathways, and grottoes allow for superb people-watching: In the shade of pavilions and on benches beneath pergolas, locals play Go and mah-jong, practice opera, and show off their singing caged birds. If you’re in Xujiahui or the French Concession, it’s well worth coming here to experience a slice of Shanghai life.
207 Fumin Rd, Jingan Qu, China, 200085
Hunting for made-in-China souvenirs more Etsy than kitschy? Madame Mao is the spot! Check out the alphabet tote bags from Pinyin Press, cloisonné snuff bottles by Piling Palang, vibrant wrapping paper by Paper Tiger, and quirky jewelry from the young Shanghai designer Shin. If you’re into vintage finds more than handmade items, browse the extensive collection of Communist propaganda posters from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. While the large framed images can be expensive, the postcards and photographs are affordable and can be tucked away in every suitcase.
183 Anfu Rd, Xuhui Qu, Shanghai Shi, China, 200085
Deng Bing Bing started his line of ceramic, cloisonné and lacquer home goods after he spent a decade in Melbourne. Traditional Chinese designs incorporate playful details and vibrant colors, blending Eastern and Western styles seamlessly. Scoop up ceramic trays, bowls painted with acrobats and beautiful cloisonné tiffin carriers.
360 Kangding Road
You don’t know you need a paperweight shaped like a dumpling until you see it. Hidden behind sliding doors on an unassuming street corner in Shanghai‘s Jing’an District, Spin is the best place in the city to buy modern Chinese ceramics. The shop works with artists in Jingdezhen, China’s porcelain capital, to make original, limited-edition works of art at competitive prices, from a small porcelain and wood display table to delicate celadon-green teacups and dainty chopstick rests shaped like chili peppers. Spin ships worldwide at a reasonable cost, so you don’t have to worry about lugging a vase the size of a small child through Asia.
637弄24号 Changle Road
Blue Nankeen Exhibition Hall’s name is a bit misleading. There’s a display upstairs explaining how nankeen cloth is starched and hand-dyed a rich shade of indigo, but this is primarily a place to pick up beautiful textiles, clothing, and accessories. Nankeen, also known as blue calico, originates from Nanjing, China’s onetime capital (nanjing means “southern capital”). You’ll find it used here in mandarin-collar shirts for both men and women, pint-size tea dresses for little girls, soft-soled slip-on shoes, hats, and bags. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can even buy fabric by the meter. No discounts.
56 Shaoxing Rd, Huangpu Qu, Shanghai Shi, China
Shanghai’s arts and crafts enclave, Tianzifang, is a labyrinth of narrow lanes bursting with diminutive shops, restaurants, and bars. Most of the shops here are located inside shikumen, stone gatehouses dating to the early 1930s. Gear up for your shopping spree with a coffee alfresco at Kommune before checking out Xingmu Handicraft’s gorgeous handmade leather notebooks or Shanghai Code’s vintage Chinese glasses and watches. Pick up delicate stationery at Dongxi Workshop, Shanghai‘s very first boutique, and head to Sky Music Box for—you guessed it—music boxes from all over the world.
506 Jianguo W Rd, Xuhui Qu, Shanghai Shi, China
This French Concession tailor shop specializes in bespoke and made-to-measure menswear. Come here to get fitted for suits, blazers, and overcoats for a fraction of what it would cost in the States. Germain’s tailors were trained in Japan and Europe, and its fabric selection, sourced from England, Italy, China, and Japan, is expansive, with a whopping 1,000 choices of natural fibers like cotton, wool, and linen. Custom suits start from approximately $530. Bespoke shirts, in which you choose the fabric weight, pattern, and cuff and collar style, start from about $75.
17 Dongping Rd, Xuhui Qu, Shanghai Shi, China
Gaze down at Shanghai denizens’ feet, and you’ll see many pairs of canvas sneakers emblazoned with the word Feiyue. You can pick up your own pair at Culture Matters, a pint-size second-floor shop offering Feiyues in dozens of styles and colors. The homegrown brand dates back to the 1920s, when canvas shoes with a supple rubber bottom were first produced in Shanghai. It wasn’t until two decades later that the shoes, popular in martial arts because of their flexible sole, got the name Feiyue, meaning “to fly across.” The street-style staples retail in Europe for as much as $71—but at Culture Matters, the original black and white models cost a fraction of that, and you can even have them custom painted!