In a mere 25 years Shanghai has emerged as global financial center and trendsetting modern metropolis. Glittering skyscrapers dot the skyline in Lujiazui. Across the Huangpu River stately architecture dominates the Bund. Chic cafes and restaurants intermingle with street vendors and classic gardens. Known as the “Paris of the East,” Shanghai garnered a reputation for noir and intrigue in the 1920s and ‘30s. The image of Art Deco buildings, gangsters with tommy guns, and cabaret never faded. As China’s undisputed financial capital, Shanghai is a city on the cutting edge. Money talks and glamor abounds; yet the past is never far away. Come along as we visit this amazing destination. Here is our guide to the top-10 best things to do in Shanghai for 2021.
Table of Contents
2. Oriental Pearl Radio & Television Tower
7. Shanghai Science and Technology Museum
8. Shanghai Disney Resort
9. Former French Concession
10. Nanjing Road Pedesterian Area
Stretching along the western bank of the Huangpu River is The Bund, a waterfront promenade and historic business district. Arguably Shanghai’s most-famous tourist attraction, The Bund was long the city’s financial and commercial center. Between 1843 and 1941, The Bund was part of the so-called Shanghai International Settlement, an extraterritorial treaty possession jointly under British and American jurisdiction. As a major customs port, colonial authorities helped construct banks and other institutions designed to facilitate commerce. Today, visitors can see the architectural legacy as they stroll along the redeveloped waterfront. The main pedestrian area extends just over a kilometer from Waibaidu Bridge to Yan’an Road. Start at either end and enjoy the view. The natural curve in the Huangpu River helps bring the many impressive facades into relief and glittering skyscrapers in Lujiazui create a stunning urban skyline. After sunset The Bund is illuminated with golden light in an impressive visual display. Standing here, one cannot fail to appreciate the scale of China’s economic miracle. Look for the former Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC) building and the Customs House. Stop in to see the interior décor at the Fairmont Peace Hotel and visit the cafes and galleries that are part of the RockBund redevelopment. Even today The Bund remains the heart of Shanghai. A visit here is absolutely one of the top-10 best things to do in the city.
The iconic Oriental Pearl is a radio and television broadcast tower completed in 1994. For many years the tallest structure in China, the tower has several observation levels, museums, and a revolving restaurant. The futuristic design comprises 11 spheres with varying diameters arranged in a space needle configuration. Take a moment to admire the tower from the pedestrian walkway above the Lujiazui Ring Road. Head inside and explore the Shanghai Municipal History Museum located on the tower’s lower levels. With its combination of life-like wax figures, scale models of Shanghai’s past architectural landscape, and various multimedia sections, this is one of the more entertaining museums in Shanghai. The collection covers Shanghai history from the Ming and Qing dynasties, through the colonial era, and up to the communist take-over in 1949. Old style teahouses, Chinese opium dens, and classic shikumen structures let you return to those halcyon days in Shanghai’s past. Ascend the tower and visit the transparent glass floor and observation deck in the large upper sphere. Further up is the so-called “space capsule” observation deck. Enjoy the view from 351 meters. After dark, the tower is illuminated with an impressive LED color-changing light show. Set against the other buildings in Lujiazui, the glittering Oriental Pearl is an impressive symbol of modern China. Come discover why this is one of the city’s top-10 best attractions.
Located on the southern side of People’s Square, Shanghai Museum is a large and comprehensive museum dedicated to showcasing Chinese art and history. Originally founded in 1952, Shanghai Museum has expanded over the years. It played a critical role in saving historic artifacts during tumultuous periods in Chinese history such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Its current building is a distinguished architectural landmark combining traditional and modern styles. The museum collection contains over 140,000 precious relics, including bronzes, ceramics, paintings, and calligraphy. Rotating exhibitions showcase art from around the world. The museum's 10 galleries give visitors a broad perspective on Chinese history and culture. Explore the exquisite porcelain and ceramic works created by China’s most famous kilns in Jingdezhen. See ancient bronze works dating back as far as the 18th century BCE. Shanghai Museum offers something for everyone, whether it be jades, ancient coins, weapons, or sculptures. Audio guides are available in English and several other languages. We recommend spending time in the gallery showcasing art from China’s many ethnic minority communities. Here you will find an amazing collection from places like Tibet and Xinjiang. As one of the premiere history museums in China, the Shanghai Museum is a true culture treasure and one of the top-10 best things to do in Shanghai.
Tips: Shanghai Museum is now only open to visitors with reservation.
In line with the effort to contain the Covid-19, all domestic and overseas visitors (including children) must have a green "Shanghai QR Code" before making online reservations and for entry into the museum. Upon arrival, you will need to show the ID document you used for online reservation, the reservation QR code and the real time "Shanghai QR Code". For more information about the "Shanghai QR Code," please call 12345.
Yu Garden is a classic Chinese garden located in Huangpu District just south of The Bund. Originally built as a private garden for Ming Dynasty officials, it is the city’s only classic garden in the downtown area. Pathways, pavilions, and lovely flora cover the roughly two hectare garden. This is a great place to escape the city scene and find a moment’s peace. Yu Garden is set within the boundaries of the former Old City, a Chinese settlement dating back to the 16th century. Note the hundreds of plaques and inscriptions written by well-known individuals, as well as the park’s collection of stone carvings. Wander the paths and see the ponds filled with lotus and koi. Yuyuan Bazaar, located nearby, is fun place to browse for antiques and souvenirs. Stroll across Jiuqu Bridge and stop at the teahouse for a refreshing cup of jasmine tea. The Old City area contains many important temples. Among these are the Shanghai City God Temple, a Taoist place of worship. Here you can fully appreciate Shanghai’s folk traditions and sample authentic Shanghai snacks. Every night, golden lights on the ancient-style buildings make an excellent backdrop for photos. Here you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d traveled back to a Ming-era market, which is why Yu Garden is one of the top-10 best things to see in Shanghai.
Jing’an Temple is a Buddhist temple complex that traces its history as far back as 247 CE. Much of the current structure dates to 1983, however. This follows the site’s reconversion back to a temple, which had ceased to exist and was largely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Southern Chinese influence is evident in the architectural design choices, especially the decorative wood and stone work. Notice the use of classic roof supports and the elaborate carvings on various doors and windows. Enter through the main entrance off West Nanjing Road and explore the courtyard. Snap some pictures in front of the large pagoda built in 2010. Afterwards, visit the temple’s three main halls: Mahavira Hall, the Hall of Heavenly Kings, and Three Sage Hall. In the Mahavira Hall, you can see the largest jade Buddha in Mainland China. The enormous Buddha weighs more than 11,000 kg and required completely removing an entire wall when it was installed. Find the 3.3 meter tall Peace Bell, cast in 1999 to celebrate the turn of the millennium. Beautiful calligraphy and artwork is on display throughout the temple. At night, artificial lighting bathes the entire complex in a radiant golden glow. This makes for a wonderful contrast with the modern buildings in the background. As one of the city’s most important temples, visiting Jing’an Temple is one of the top-10 best things to do in Shanghai.
Located across the Huangpu River from The Bund is Lujiazui, the epicenter of the world’s fifth-largest financial industry and the only place where you can find three adjacent super tall skyscrapers: the Jin Mao Tower, the Shanghai World Financial Center, and the Shanghai Tower. The latter currently stands as the world’s second-tallest building. Take a ride on the world’s second fastest elevators as you rocket up to the Top of Shanghai and enjoy panoramic views from the Shanghai Tower observation deck. Explore the exhibition detailing the tower’s planning and construction. Alternatively, head for Jin Mao Tower where you can see the tower’s spectacular internal atrium at the Grand Hyatt Shanghai. Those with a penchant for adventure can try the Skywalk Experience, an outdoor glass walkway on the 88th floor! All three skyscrapers are linked by a lovely elevated walkway and host an impressive range of shopping and dining options. Families will want to visit the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium and explore magical wonders beneath the waves. Kids can enjoy the Shanghai Natural Wild Insect Kingdom, located next to the Oriental Pearl tower. As night falls, the skyscrapers in Lujiazui come alive with light, creating a breathtaking backdrop. This is the best place to see modern Shanghai, which makes it one of the city’s top-10 attractions.
Located near Century Park, the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum (SSTM) is dedicated to enhancing public engagement with science and technology. The museum’s large collection covers everything from geology and plate tectonics to space exploration and human health. Dozens of interactive exhibits make SSTM a great place for families with young children. Considered a top-tier tourist attraction by the Chinese government, the SSTM is well-resourced and offers a vast array of educational entertainment and fun. Before heading inside, take a moment to enjoy Century Square, a popular location with Shanghai’s skateboard-obsessed youth. Wander through the SSTM’s permanent exhibits where you can learn about efforts to create sustainable development and how information technology is reshaping the world around us. Experience Einstein’s discoveries linking space and time in the Relativity Theater. At the Space Navigation gallery, channel your inner astronaut (or taikonaut as the Chinese say) and see a full-scale model of China’s Shenzhen V spaceship. The Shanghai Science and Technology Museum hosts many rotating and temporary exhibitions so there is always something new on offer. No matter who you are, you’ll find something to spark your curiosity at the SSTM. Take it from us when we say, this is definitely one of the top-10 best things to do in Shanghai.
Tips: Go for a walk through neighboring Century Park. The large urban park has lots of lovely walking paths surrounding a large central late. It's lovely in the summer.
Shanghai Disney Resort is a world-class attraction where Disney magic blends with Chinese characteristics. The resort complex features Shanghai Disneyland Park, an entertainment district, two themed hotels, recreational facilities, a lake, and associated transportation hubs. Enjoy the themed areas at Shanghai Disneyland Park including Mickey Avenue, the Gardens of Imagination, Fantasyland, and more. As one of the world’s newest Disney theme parks, Shanghai Disneyland incorporates advanced technology to creating thrilling, immersive experiences. Ride the TRON Lightcycle Power Run, a semi-enclosed steel roller coaster with adrenaline-pumping music, lights, and 3D graphics. Traverse TRON’s electrifying multi-sensory environment as you speed, dip, and dive your way through to grid. Make a stop at Disneytown, the large shopping, dining, and entertainment area built to resemble a charming, cosmopolitan neighborhood. Grab a table at one of the many restaurants with unique views across the resort. There is also plenty to enjoy outside the park. Shanghai Disney Resort is set in a larger development that includes the Momchilovtsi Herb Garden. The garden’s rolling hills fill with incredible lavender and other flowers during the summer months. This is a great place for a walk or if you want to avoid crowds clamoring for pictures with Mickey. It’s no surprise a city as large as Shanghai would attract the likes of Disney. Share a bit of your Shanghai adventure with your favorite Disney characters and enjoy one of the city’s top-10 most entertaining attractions.
Tips: Shanghai Disneyland is limiting daily visitors due to COVID-19 pandemic control measures. Make sure you reserve tickets online ahead of time and verify park hours before your visit.
Despite laying claim to the title of world’s largest city, Shanghai can feel downright provincial. Outside the financial district, Shanghai displays its softer, more historic side. Long boulevards lined with French Plane trees shade European-style villas as people from all walks of life enjoy simple pleasures in neighborhoods along Wukang Road. A constantly evolving mix of cafes, small stores, art galleries, and residential units predominate. During spring and fall, the areas in the Former French Concession could easily be mistaken for some outer Parisian arrondissement. Be sure to visit one of Shanghai’s historic residential buildings, known as shikumen. The Shikumen Wulixiang Museum in the hip Xintiandi neighborhood provides a fantastic look at these dwellings during Shanghai’s Golden Age in the 1920s. Countless shikumen were demolished as part of redevelopment projects, though certain quarters have managed to preserve and enhance this intimately Shanghainese architectural style. Another place to go is Tianzifang. Developed from a renovated residential area, Tianzifang features more than 200 diverse small businesses such as cafes, bars, restaurants, art galleries, craft stores, design houses, and studios. The narrow alleys are great places to get lost while you hunt for a bargain. You will instantly recognize why people fall in love with a city so relentlessly modern, yet so unapologetically traditional. A visit to the Former French Concession is one of the top-10 best things to do in Shanghai.
Linking People’s Square and the Bund, Nanjing Road Pedestrian Area can be thought of as Shanghai’s Fifth Avenue. Here you will find a vast collection of upscale retailers, great restaurants, and various souvenirs shops of all sorts. Make sure along you way to spot famous Shanghai landmarks like the Shanghai No 1 Department Store and the Fairmont Peace Hotel. The city just finished a major renovation of East Nanjing Road, converting it to pedestrian use and effectively extending the pedestrian areas all the way to the Bund. This welcome enhancement dramatically improves the visiting experience. During your visit, expect lots of people jostling for pictures, particularly if you visit on the weekend or during public holidays. Budget time to visit the many department stores along the route if you’re looking to do some shopping.
Tips: To avoid the crowds, use the streets running parallel to the pedestrian areas. These are much less trafficked and also have a great local flavor to them.
There’s a saying that whereas Beijing is China’s capital, Shanghai like to think it is. Shanghai is a city that recognizes its importance and acts accordingly. The dynamic business environment means there is always new stores, restaurants, and entertainment venues. With a large and vibrant international workforce, Shanghai is one place in China where foreign visitors don’t feel out of place. Come discover all the great things the city has to offer. Enjoy the many fabulous experiences in the Paris of the East. We hope you enjoyed this look at the top-10 best things to do in Shanghai for 2021.