The world’s most populous city packs a variety of experiences in a relatively small area. One moment you can be bustling among hordes of tourists in the mazes of the Yu Garden bazaar, and less than an hour later you can be savoring a cocktail at a rooftop bar in Pudong.
Shanghai is a pedestrian-friendly city, with villa-lined streets and plenty of parks and green spaces. Here’s how you can make the most out of 43 hours in the city.
Day 1, Morning: Jing’an Temple and the French Concession
Start your trip with a visit to Shanghai’s handsomest temple, Jing’an Temple. Its elegant towers made of wood with golden roofing stand out against the surrounding blue skyscrapers on West Nanjing Road. The temple has beautiful architecture and decorations. It was first established during the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280), but its current incarnation was built in the 1980s. The 100 yuan entrance fee includes free incense, which visitors can burn in the main courtyard.
At the center of the temple’s main yard is a tall metal shrine where visitors throw coins for good luck. The temple also features China’s largest jade Buddha and a bronze bell from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).
After leaving Jing’an Temple, walk the streets of the former French concession. The leafy streets are lined with boutiques and tea houses, and also with old residences where people hang laundry to dry outside their windows in true Shanghai fashion.
Day 1, Afternoon: Fuxing Park and Xintiandi
Have a rest at Fuxing Park, one of the city’s many parks. It is a round-the-clock gathering place for Shanghainese of all ages, from children who blow soap bubbles to retirees who play cards or sing Chinese opera. At the center of the park, couples practice ballroom dance.
A few blocks away from Fuxing Park is Xintiandi, one of Shanghai’s high-end commercial squares. The shopping district features cafes, restaurants and shops, which are located in restored mid-19th century shikumen houses on narrow alleys.
The dining options are plentiful. One of the most popular eateries is Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese chain that serves xiaolongbao, the famous Shanghainese soup dumplings. The Xintiandi branch is often crowded and might require a wait, but its dumplings are delicious – if not a bit costly at 40 to 60 yuan for a set of five.
Day 1, Evening: The Bund
Probably the most famous spot in Shanghai, the Bund is worth a visit. The waterfront area along Huangpu River is where you can see the iconic skyline of Shanghai’s business district, Pudong. Amble along the waterfront, and then toast the city at M on the Bund, located in one of the 1920s-era buildings by the riverfront.
Day 2, Morning: Shanghai Museum
The Shanghai Museum is considered one of the best museums in China. Located in the People’s Square, the museum hosts ancient collections of bronze, sculptures, paintings, ceramics and jades as well as more modern collections of furniture and ethnic clothing. The entrance to the museum is free, and the waiting lines are often long. That said, the collections are worth it. But don’t aim to see everything on one visit; instead, choose one or two exhibits and take your time.
Day 2, Afternoon: Nanjing Street and Yu Garden
After taking in all that art and history, walk over to Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street, a large commercial artery adjoining the Bund, for a meal. But the most interesting restaurants are located on the smaller side streets. Wander away, and you might run into a quaint sushi bar located in a train car.
From there, walk south to Yu Garden. This exquisite imperial g
arden ruined its founder, Ming-era governor Pan Yunduan. Today, the garden is located within an extensive bazaar, which is overtaken by tourists, especially around national holidays. Although it can feel overwhelming, finding your way through the labyrinthine streets among thousands of Chinese visitors is an interesting experience. To make it easier on yourself, it’s good to know that you should take entrance 2 to reach Yu Garden, and that the last tickets are sold at 4:45 pm.
Day 2, Evening: Pudong
From Yu Garden, take the subway two stations across the river to Pudong, Shanghai’s gleaming business district. You can go up on the Oriental Pearl Tower for 160 yuan per person. Alternatively, you can enjoy a cocktail at Flair Rooftop, a bar located on the 58th floor of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which offers a magnificent view of Shanghai including the Oriental Pearl Tower.