What an incredible city. Shanghai is this cultural epicenter in China with over 26 million residents! It’s located on the Huangpu River and is known for its epic skyline and modern sky rises cloistered all over the city.
I highly recommend visiting this city and I think it’s a great introduction to China because it is so westernized. I’ve gathered some ideas on what to do if you’re spending two days in this magnificent city.
Day 1: Old Shanghai
Start your day off by heading to Old Town. My hostel was close enough to walk, but if you want to take the Metro hop on Line 10 until you reach the Yuyuan Garden Station.
Grab some breakfast on your way. Try a Sesame Pancake, DA BING (大饼), or a Scallion Pancake, SHOU ZHUA BING (葱油饼)! This is a beautiful part of the city to begin with because it is so nostalgic.
Take in the magnificent buildings and get lost in the streets lined with souvenirs and trinkets.
This is also a great place to sample food, like sticky rice and yogurt. The yogurt is originally from Beijing and one of my favorite take-away foods I had! It’s simple, but delicious.
Head into Yu Yuan Old Street. This is a great market and you can spend hours winding your way through the alleys, admiring the scarves, calligraphy pens, tea pots and other items displayed on the shelves. I just adored this area and could have spent hours here browsing in each store front. There are more little restaurants and prayer houses in the area too.
This will eventually lead you directly to the Yu Gardens, which will be the highlight of today. The entrance fee to these gardens were 40 CNY ($6) and they are expansive, covering 5 acres. This garden dates back to the Ming Dynasty, 1559.
Yuyuan means Garden of Happiness and that is what you will feel as you walk through these tranquil grounds. There are temples, ponds with coy fish, and flowers blossoming (in the spring). If you’re lucky, you might even make a furry friend!
The entrance to the gardens is right next to your next stop: the Huxinting Teahouse. Located on a beautiful pond and on the second floor, you can enjoy tea and overlook the gardens and the tourists below. The tea here is pricey – $165 CNY ($25) per person – because you’re also paying for the location and the experience.
Tea is a very important part of Chinese culture. It’s a staple and has been since the 3rd century when Buddhist monks would drink it! Each type of tea, cha (茶), has an intended effect to help your health, so do your research before you arrive so you know which type of tea to choose!
(If tea’s not your thing, there’s a Starbucks around the corner!)
There’s one more temple to explore today: City God Temple. This is a folk temple dedicated to three “gods” or protectors of the city who lived hundreds of years ago. It’s neat to walk through, but it’s not one of the best temples I’ve seen. It’s central location to Old Shanghai is what draws in so many tourists.
If you have time, you can pop over to the Jade Buddha Temple. It closes at 4:30 p.m. and I ran out of time to see it!
End your day by experiencing Hot Pot. This is a really unique style of dining found in Asia, where you choose ingredients and they’re brought to your table raw. A cook top and pot of broth is placed in the center and you add in the meat and veggies and let them boil until they’re ready to eat. It’s yummy, and best enjoyed with a group of people!
I really enjoyed the pork belly with a variety of veggies like broccoli, potatoes and mushrooms! Of course I had a cup of warm tea with my meal.
Day 2: New Shanghai
We’re starting off the day right by heading to the Bund. This is the iconic skyline in Shanghai where you can see the Pearl Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Tower. These are some of the tallest buildings in the world, and they’re right on the water!
So this place is really neat because the side of the Bund that has the walkway is bordered by buildings constructed when there was a lot of European influence in the city. It actually used to be divided into four sectors: British, French, American & Chinese. Once the city was reunited under Chinese rule, they decided to keep these buildings, and that’s why we see European architecture downtown.
Right off of the Bund of East Nanjing Road. This is such a fun spot and cannot be missed. It’s a pedestrian shopping street and it has stores like Miniso (one of my favorites!) and H&M. It’s a really beautiful street and it’s fun to walk down it.
I also like it because there are tons of good food places in this area. I discovered this cool underground food court (right next to the Miniso).
I really fell in love with Egg Tarts! The blueberry were my favorite. It’s a great breakfast option for today. I recommend trying a bunch of different foods when you’re walking around this area.
People’s Square and People’s Park are located just off this street as well, so you can pop over and see that area while you’re here.
Up next, we’re heading to Tianzifang. This is the Arts District and it was my favorite part of exploring Shanghai! This is a beautiful area of Shanghai with alleyways winding through quite a few blocks. There are gorgeous store fronts, food stalls and cute shops.
You can try and buy tea here for reasonable prices (50 CNY per bag!) and she let’s you sample the teas for free. This is also a great place to purchase post cards and art work from local artists.
This is also one of the few places you’ll find coffee shops similar to what we’d find in America. Coffee culture in China is very different because coffee beans don’t grow naturally in China. It wasn’t until Starbucks opened that coffee culture started to spread.
Coffee is a bit expensive here, and it’s seen as an afternoon treat. Some coffee shops don’t even open until 10 or 11 a.m. Tea is also an afternoon or celebratory drink, and instead it’s hot water that the Chinese start their day with.
There is a fantastic bar here called the Friends Bar. You sit right in the alleyway and enjoy your drinks! They are playing music, the bar tenders are really nice and it’s a great happy hour location that you can’t miss.
For dinner tonight, we’re heading back to the Bund. This is a place you need to see during the day and at night. It’s a night when there are crowds of people milling about, food stalls are open and all of the buildings light up. Both the European buildings and the sky scrappers across the river are beautiful. Some even change color and have text moving across the faces of the buildings!
End the night people watching, tasting delicious food and enjoying this city of 26 million people! Head up into a sky scraper if you want, and view the city from above.