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Top 10 Things to Do in Shanghai

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Read also Complete Guide to Shanghai & my Complete Guide to Sightseeing in Shanghai for in-depth travel information for all things to do in Shanghai.

A lot of travelers end up in Shanghai at the end of a group tour, especially those that visit the Yangtze River and the Three Gorges Dam, or on a business trip and aren't sure what to do with themselves when they're free. Here are some suggestions to fill your time - you might even end up extending your stay!

1. Walk in the Former French Concession Area

Former French Concession Area in Shanghai
bricoleurbanism/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The former French Concession is a lovely part of Shanghai because, despite the fact that you're in the heart of a city with a population exceeding twenty million, it feels like you're just in a local neighborhood. The French imported platane trees in the early 1900s and these trees still line both sides of every street in the area. These days, old villas and lane houses are being renovated and turned into lovely shops and homes. It's fun to wander the less-congested streets and watch oldies chatting on the sidewalks and vendors market their wares.

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2. Bund Walking Tour

© 2007 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.
The Bund is Shanghai's most famous landmark. You might have buzzed in and out of a fancy dinner in one of the renovated buildings but take a morning to really enjoy the area and peek inside some of the buildings. A great way to visit the Bund on a nice day is to be dropped off at the Fairmont Peace Hotel (formerly the Cathay Hotel) and walk south, ducking into buildings along the way.

Not to be missed:

  • A walk through the renovated Fairmont Peace Hotel (at night, don't miss a stop into the Jazz Bar
  • The HSBC Building's fully restored lobby
  • Brunch or a drink at M on the Bund (see "Sundowners" below)
  • The former Shanghai Club (now Waldorf Astoria) and the Long Bar
  • Strolling along the far side on the promenade next to the Huang Pu River

3. Yu Garden & Bazaar

© 2009 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.
While kitschy, the Yu Garden area is a fun place to explore. The whole area around the gardens has been renovated in traditional style Chinese architecture with curving tile eaves that make you feel like you've finally found "Chinatown". Wander through the lanes and alleys and find everything you might want to take home as souvenirs from silk pajamas to chopsticks. Eventually, you'll come to the Huxingting Tea House that supposedly inspired the design in the famous Blue Willow china pattern. Across the way is the entrance to Yuyuan Garden itself where you can follow crowds through a classical Ming garden.

4. Moganshan Road Art District

© 2007 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.
If you'd like to see what's happening on the contemporary art scene in China, take a taxi to Moganshan Road near Suzhou Creek. Once just factories and warehouses, the area is now a thriving art colony full of galleries of all sizes. There's a café near the entrance to the lane where you can have a nice coffee once you've seen the scene. Not to be missed:
  • Art Scene Warehouse, Building 4, 2F
  • EastLink Gallery, Building 6, 5F
  • Shanghart, Building 16 & 18
Moganshan Road #50, near Suzhou Creek

5. Sundowners & Snacks at the Glamour Bar (M on the Bund)

© 2007 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.
After fronting the crowds on the Bund promenade - it's a rite of passage - there's nothing more relaxing than slipping up to the sixth floor of 5 on the Bund where the Glamour Bar sits and looks out over the Huang Pu. Open at 5pm for cocktails, you'll likely be one of few inhabiting the place during week days and you can relax with your friends, or your guidebook, and take in the view. You'll see the sun (if you're lucky) bouncing hot pink off the Oriental Pearl Tower across the river.

6. Xin Tian Di

Xin Tian Di is a restaurant, bar, club development that utilizes Shanghai's traditional shikumen architecture. Shikumen buildings are recognizable by the gray and red brick facades, numerous ornamental front gates and low two to three story heights. Originally built by the thousands in rows for middle-class Chinese, these classic Shanghainese houses are being destroyed and replaced by modern skyscrapers. Enjoy the restaurants and shopping, but don't miss the small free-entry museum that educates visitors on what life was like in the lane-houses of the past.

7. Birdseye View - Visit a Skyscraper

The Shanghai World Financial Center (or SWFC) is Shanghai's tallest building (for now) as well as China's (for now). There are multiple viewing platforms, one of which has a glass floor. Beware if you have vertigo! It's quite a fun experience to see Shanghai from so far above but it is rather pricey. If you just want to go up high, try the Jin Mao next door. At 88 floors, its remarkable architecture is recognizable on a clear day from all over the city. Enjoy great views over a cup of coffee or a cocktail in the Grand Hyatt hotel (inside the Jin Mao). You can do the same from within the SWFC's resident hotel, the Park Hyatt, but they have a table charge in the lounge (boo!).

8. Tianzifang (田子坊) Taikang Road Art, Cafe & Shopping District

© 2007 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.
If you're in the mood for some shopping but are tired of touts shoving fake watches in your face, head to Taikang Road. A walk down the road lets you see local Shanghai life at its best: street vendors selling pancakes and fruit, kids scampering about and women hanging up laundry. Then find alley 210 and wander down the lane. It's full of shops and cafes selling everything from traditional Chinese qi pao dresses to funky silver jewelry.

Cross-street/intersection: Taikang Road and Sinan Road | 泰康路近思南路

9. Dong Tai Road "Antique" Street

© 2007 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.
This small road, not far from Xin Tian Di, is Shanghai's answer to Beijing's Panjiayuan Market. While tiny in comparison to Panjiayuan, Dong Tai Road is lined with stalls and shops selling all that is junk and treasure in chinoiserie. You can find all kinds of items including Mao memorabilia, porcelain, old wooden rice buckets and brightly painted opera masks. It's worth a wander just to see what's on offer but don't forget your bargaining skills.

Cross-street/intersection: Dong Tai Road near Fuxing Road and Xizang Road | 东台路近复兴东路和西藏路

10. Tea at Yongfoo Elite

Supposedly this building used to house the British Consulate. Whoever the former residents, the building and gardens are superb and the current occupant spent over two years refurbishing the villa with period European and Chinese pieces. The villa houses a Shanghainese restaurant. But the gardens are so lovely, it is nice to take advantage of the terrace or garden seating by taking tea and cake outside. Gurgling fountains and relaxing swing chairs help complete the feeling of tranquility – it's a nice end to a busy day and a good break before heading out for dinner.

Yongfoo Elite, 200 Yongfu Road | 永福路200号 | Tel: 021-5466-2727

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