8 Must-See Places in Shanghai

November 22, 2016

From the bustling business centre of Pudong to the arty backstreets, expat and Shanghai resident, Gaetan Reuse knows Shanghai like the back of his hand.

As one of the main entry ports into continental China, Shanghai – also called the “Paris of the East” or the “Pearl of the Orient” – is a bustling international megalopolis that attracts millions of visitors every year. Whether you are looking to experience the cosmopolitan side of the city, walk in the middle of shiny skyscrapers, get in touch with China’s multi-faceted spirituality or explore quaint neighborhoods, Shanghai has what it takes to touch the soul of every traveller. In order for you to experience the multiple facets of one of the world’s largest and busiest city, here are eight places you do not want miss during your visit. Plus, with an ever-expanding, efficient and user-friendly subway network and signage in English, Shanghai is increasingly an easy city to visit. 

Swiss Expat, Gaetan Reuse, the man behind the blog: Travelcathay.com has made Shanghai home for more than 10 years. Knowing the city front to back, he lets us in on the best things to see while there and the subway lines to hop on.

1. The Bund 外滩

The Bund at night, Shanghai

Shanghai's waterfront, the Bund, is a symbol of the city’s international legacy. It consists of a long promenade that stretches along the Huangpu River. Called ‘wai tan’ (pronounced ‘why-tan’ in Chinese), the Bund is famous for its early 20th century Art Deco buildings, which are home to the city’s finest and most exclusive restaurants, hotels and boutiques. Most visitors come here for its view of the awe-inspiring and ever-changing skyline of Pudong. At dawn, the early risers will see locals in their daily practice of tai chi. Why not tour the area from the river on a cruise with Viator.

Closest subway stop: line 2 to East Nanjing Road station.

2. Pudong 浦东

Pudong, Shanghai, China

Opposite the Bund, across the Huangpu River, Pudong is a bustling business district that emerged at the turn of the 21st century. What was once agricultural land has been turned into a forest of futuristic skyscrapers, which are home to luxury malls, high-end hotels like the Mandarin Oriental and international companies. One of the main reasons to go to Pudong is to climb into the observatory deck of the Jin Mao Tower, the Oriental Pearl Tower, or the Shanghai Financial Center to admire the city from above. Take Viator's engineering tour to see Pudong and hit the observation deck on 88th floor of Jin Mao Tower. 

Closest subway stop: line 2 to Lujiazui station.

3. East Nanjing Road 南京东路

East Nanjing Road in Shanghai

Stretching from the Bund to the People’s Square, East Nanjing Road is a 5.5 kilometre-long pedestrian street where we find Shanghai’s most famous shopping district. Home to the city’s oldest department stores, East Nanjing Road is one of the busiest shopping street in the world and constitutes a quintessential experience of Shanghai. When the crowds tirelessly walk in an endless stream under the flashy neon lights making you dizzy, remember that you are partaking in the epitome of modern, 21st Century China. 

Closest subway stop: line 2 to East Nanjing Road station.

4. The French Concession 法租界

French Concession in Shanghai

The Shanghai of 19th and early 20th century was divided into several spheres of foreign influence or “concessions”. Much like the Bund, the French concession is a well-preserved neighborhood with a distinct architecture and charm. Note that on Chinese maps, you'll never find the name “French Concession” which is mainly centred on Central Huaihai Road and Hengshan Road. Once you leave these main roads, you'll find quiet streets lined with old trees, century-old art deco residential buildings, retail stores and restaurants popular among the foreign expats. Wander the area on a private day tour.

Closest subway stop: line 1 to Hengshan Road or line 1 / line 7 to Changshu Road.

5. Tianzifang 田子坊

Tianzifang Lu in Shanghai

Located within the French Concession, Tianzifang is a cluster of narrow lanes lined with a mix of design studios and art galleries owned by local artists, small boutiques - where you will find anything from ethnic artifacts, contemporary Chinese tea wares and hand-wrapped teas to retro Mao-era posters - and a plethora of trendy bistros and coffee houses all offering free Wi-Fi. With its artsy vibe, its distinct character and the local community atmosphere, Tianzifang is a fun place to explore and to escape the bustling Shanghai. Based near this neighbourhood, make the cool Hiroom Xuhui Branch apartment your base for your stay. 

Closest subway stop: line 9 to Dapuqiao station.

6. The Yuyuan Gardens 豫园

Yuyuan gardens in Shanghai, China

A wealthy family of local officials originally built the Yuyuan Gardens in the 16th century. They are a masterpiece of carefully manicured landscape that consists of a succession of ponds, gardens, Chinese pavilions and halls separated by dragon walls. If you want to experience the quiet zen-like atmosphere the Yuyuan Gardens were meant to convey, avoid visiting during weekends. To complete your journey in the area, don't miss the Huxingting Tea House adjacent to the gardens. In this popular tea house located in an ancient building, you'll be able to experience an authentic Chinese atmosphere while sipping on local green teas. Take a private tour of the area to hear more about the history of these stunning gardens. 

Closest Subway stop: line 10 to Yuyuan Gardens station.

7. The City God Temple 上海城隍廟

City God Temple in Shanghai

Located next to the Yuyuan Gardens, the City God Temple allows visitors to gaze into the complexity of Taoism and Chinese folk religion. Built more than six hundred years ago, to honour the protective deities of Shanghai, the City God Temple is a complex that consists of several temples. After walking through a hall lined with the statues of the 60 heavenly generals - divinities who help the Jade Emperor to take care of the human world - you will find several other temples dedicated to Caishen, the god of wealth, or to Wenchang, the god of culture. It is particularly interesting to visit around the Chinese New Year, when Taoist clergymen perform complex religious rituals to bring peace and good fortune to the city. Take a walking tour of old town Shanghai which includes the temple. 

Closest subway stop: line 10 to Yuyuan Gardens station.

8. Jing'an Temple 静安寺

Jing'an Temple in Shanghai

With its golden slanted roofs that contrast with the cold beauty of the skyscrapers that surround it, the Jing’an Temple is an oasis of Buddhism that allows visitors to escape the bustling city and to capture the continuity of long ancient traditions. Originally built during the 13th century, the Jing’an Temple was transformed into a plastic factory during the Cultural Revolution, when religions were forbidden by the Communist rule. Rehabilitated in 1983, the temple now features China’s largest sitting jade Buddha statue and an impressive 6-metre tall wooden statue of Guanyin, the goddess of Mercy.

Closest subway stop: line 2 or line 7 to Jing’an Temple station.

Ever been to Shanghai? Tweet us @travioor or post a comment on Travioor's Facebook page and tell us about your experience. 

Gaetan Reuse
For the past 12 years, Gaetan has had a strong focus on China where he studied, worked and travelled extensively. He is interested in the unique cultural heritage China has to offer and knows his way into authentic off-the-beaten path travel destinations. See what he has to say on Twitter @TravelCathay.