The Best Things to Do in Shanghai

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.

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.

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
231 Nanjing W Rd, RenMin GuangChang, Huangpu Qu, Shanghai Shi, China, 200003
The Shanghai Race Club, built by the British in the 1800s, is a lingering reminder that horseraces were once held here, just south of Nanjing Road. Opened to the public in the 1950s, this green refuge charms with landscaped traditional gardens and a reflecting pond with fish and pink lotus blossoms. It’s also a prime spot for people watching. Locals turn up to do tai chi exercises, play cards, and scope out the Marriage Market. Parents hoping to attract a suitable spouse wait under colorful umbrellas pinned with notes listing each child’s age, occupation, family values, and even zodiac sign. Photo by Ira Smirnova.
685 Changjiang W Rd, Baoshan Qu, Shanghai Shi, China
The Shanghai Museum of Glass, housed in a former glassmaking factory, features ancient artifacts such as blown-glass hairpins from the Song Dynasty as well as modern glass sculptures by Chinese and international artists, many of them American. Take a glassblowing workshop and make a vase to bring home. 685 Changjiang Xi Lu, 86/(0) 21-6618-1970.
Lin Jiang Da Sha ( Zhong Shan Nan Lu ), Huangpu Qu, Shanghai Shi, China, 200085
While there are a number of ways to cross the Huangpu River, the most scenic is—without a doubt—by ferry. Part of Shanghai’s incredible public transportation system, a couple yuan will get you from one bank of the river to the other, with a view to boot. Ferries run every 15-20 minutes depending on the time of day and take off from various ports on either side. Check out the link below for more details.
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