And here we are at our final stop in China during our trip around the world! We wanted to put a brilliant ending to our last days in this huge country, and we Shanghai was definitely up to the challenge!
Shanghai is an extremely dynamic city with crowds of people everywhere, and loads of shopping possibilities! When we arrived, we felt like we were no longer in China, but rather in a European country! Why? First, because it was the only place in China where we felt we were surrounded by tourists. Secondly, because Chinese people in Shanghai have a totally different style: they don’t spit, they don’t honk their way out, they dress like western people, restaurants and boutiques are prepared for tourists (you’ll find all the big chains like KFC, McDonald’s, Starbucks… as well as thousands of boutiques deluxe. And if that was not enough, everybody speaks English here, and that guys, that helps! Even waiters at little restaurants can speak some words, and man, it feels good to speak to someone who understands you!
As you may have remarked by now, Shanghai is not a very good destination for backpackers like us, mainly because it’s an expensive city, touristy and luxurious. But wait and see, Shanghai has so many cool things to offer! You’ll find lots of lovely places if you know where to look. We loved getting lost in this big city!
Where to sleep in Shanghai ?
We booked a private ensuite room at the Mingtown Nanjing Road Youth Hostel, next to Nanjing Road, the main street in the city. The main asset of the hostel is its location. We could visit the whole city on foot, which was really nice. Prices in Shanghai are a little higher than any other place in China, but it’s still affordable and we stayed for four nights (900 RMB for the two of us, which is about 120€).
Here’re the activities and places we visited during our stay in Shanghai
The Bund is no doubt the most representative quarter in the city, the postcard picture you’ll see everywhere. Our hotel was located at a 10-minute walk from there, so we could enjoy the place during the day and the night. Both moments of the day are impressive, but we believe the night lights add up to the beauty of the place! It’s a crowded place, but if you walk a hundred meters away from the main lookout area, you’ll be able to take great pictures without many tourists.
Nanjing Road East
It’s THE road in Shanghai, with all the shops, shopping malls and things to see all along the street. It’s a pedestrian street but lookout for scooters and tourist trains! There’re also places to eat (though not as much as in other cities in China), many international food chains and fewer little foods stands.
People’s Square is located next to Nanjing Road, and it’s a great square with little gardens and surrounded by skyscrapers. It also serves as an exchange station for many subway lines, and it’s therefore quite crowded at times. Sunday morning there’s a “Wedding Market” where Chinese parents try to find a future husband or wife for their children! Isn’t that nice?
Probably one of the most famous museums in the world thanks to its great collection of ancient Chinese art. You’ll find sculpture, bronze, panting, calligraphy, furniture and much more. We spent just one hour there but you’ll need much more time to explore all the floors! The entrance is free, and there’s also a restaurant-café inside. We liked the museum, it’s really big and it holds many pieces of art, but we think it wasn’t dynamic enough – meaning there’s a lot of reading and not enough videos or interaction.
Shanghai Grand Theater (or opera house)
With its modern architecture, it’s worth a little detour. It’s just in front of Shanghai Museum. You’ll easily recognize it thanks to its inverted roof!
Thai Gallery restaurant
We stopped for lunch at the Thai Gallery, next to Jing’an Temple. The restaurant is nicely located in a little park in front of a lake – which makes the place really quiet and relaxing. The atmosphere is nice and service is good. The food was also very tasty – a little spicy though – and prices were affordable. If you want to have a break from your day visits and relax, this is the perfect place for you! It’s a little away from the rest of tourist attractions, and we loved the quiet atmosphere – plus, we LOVE Thai food! If you haven’t read yet our article about Thai food, click here!
One of the few temples we saw in Shanghai, but man you can’t miss it! We passed in front to have a look and take some pictures, and we must admit it’s really beautiful! It’s covered in gold – which we hadn’t seen much before in China. We guessed it went perfectly with the city, since a couple of blocks away we found a lot of luxurious boutiques! We didn’t want to visit the interior of the temple because we had already seen many in China, but if you know Jing’an Temple don’t hesitate to share your thoughts with us in the comment section!
Old Town of Shanghai
We went for a walk around this unique area, which doesn’t look at all similar to the other parts of Shanghai. It’s a series of pedestrian streets and alleys in Chinese architectural style – though everything has been remodeled. Everything here is prepared to attract tourists, from the thousand restaurants to the million souvenir shops. There’s a little pond where you’ll be able to take some cool pictures. Here you’ll also find the famous Yu Garden! The place is nice but we didn’t stay for a long time because of the number of people there, plus the weather wasn’t that nice.
We were recommended to visit this area but we still don’t understand why. Apart from the pedestrian alleys with lots of (foreign) restaurants, which we found cute, and shops, we couldn’t find anything attractive to the area. Go to Xintiandi if you want to go shopping. Otherwise, it’s uninteresting. The area is filled with expats, you’ll find a lot of Western people.
Tianzifang is full of nice cute little streets. It’s a nice place to go for a coffe, a snack or a drink. You’ll find a lot of little shops. The area is really charming, so don’t hesitate to spend some time wandering the alleys.
Not far from here you’ll also find the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum.
These two last quarters (Tianzifang and Xintiandi) are part of the ex-French Concession – note that the locals don’t like to say the French Concession, though many guides still use this name. The former French Concession was a big part of the city that was given over to the French, in the same way there existed the British Concession.
Pudong: the financial district
For our last day in Shanghai, we wanted to see the skyscrapers from up close! We took a ferry for 2RMB – many lines cross the river at different points, but the best choice for us was to take the boat from the Bund. The journey takes about 10 minutes, just be careful because the captains are not very tactful: they’ll bump onto the dock when they land, so hold onto something!
After getting to Pudong, we walked along the river to see the views from the other side. It’s much less modern and shiny, and there are not as many buildings. We headed towards Pearl Tower and wow, it’s impressively high! If you want to go up, you’ll be able to do so for 220RMB (~30€). Near Pearl Tower, you’ll find big shopping malls and the financial area of the city. We felt as if we were walking through New York City with all those buildings! By the way, your article about New York is just a click away!
Two hours were enough for us to discover the place (you could stay longer if you want to go luxury shopping, as you can usual in Shanghai).
Generally speaking, we liked our stopover in Shanghai, even if we didn’t have the feeling of being in China. It’s one of those places you need to see once in your life, but one or two days should be enough. We had never before seen such a concentration of luxury boutiques in any other city in the world, so if you have some money to spend, you know where to go!
It’s under the lights of the towers in the Bund that our trip through China’s East coast comes to an end. If you want to read our trip report of China, click here.