48 Hours in Shanghai 上海 for a weekend getaway

Last Updated on 13 May, 2021

Shiny surprising Shanghai 上海 – I first visited this cosmopolitan city in 2014, my first ever visit to China, and returned again in 2019 for a business trip. Both times that I visited, I only had a very limited amount of time to explore, so I put together this weekend getaway guide to Shanghai if you only have 48 hours to spare and want to see the highlights.

Day 1

Experience a slice of local culture at People’s Park 人民公园

Shanghai Spring - Marriage Market Peoples Square
What market is that in the background? A people market…

Start your weekend in Shanghai with a morning stroll through People’s Park 人民公园, a nice green space at the end of the busy Nanjing Road and great for a leisurely walk. There’s a small lake in the middle of the park and even a funfair to entertain the kids. Mornings also see lots of locals exercising, from brisk walkers to groups of Taichi and Qigong practitioners.

Shanghai Marriage Market 人民公园相亲角

As I entered the park, I noticed a little crowd surrounding a bunch of tables and rows of posters lining the walkways and paths. This was no ordinary weekend flea market but the Shanghai Marriage Market, a place where concerned Chinese parents and seasoned matchmakers come together to find a perfect match for their offspring or clients.

Shanghai Spring - Marriage Market Many
Just one of many, many rows of bulletins found around the park! Some enterprising individuals just stuck their bulletins on their open umbrellas instead

There are hundreds, or possibly thousands, of these bulletins in the park. Each bulletin consists of basic information about each individual person, from their age, job, personality and even stuff like whether they own a house. It’s usually text-only – few of these bulletins have pictures (for good reason perhaps?) and feature both younger and older people.

Shanghai Spring - Marriage Market Close up
A close up of the bulletins – The middle sign translates as “Matchmaking guaranteed to succeed, but you must fulfil the criteria before we matchmake you”. Around it are various advertisements for older men
Shanghai Spring - Marriage Market sheltered
Even with the persistent drizzle, there were lots of people milling around – these lucky folk were in the shelter, but there were even more booths set up in the open air area!

I overheard one lady excitedly setting up a meeting for her kid, I wish I could have found out a little bit more.

How to get there: Take the subway to People’s Square Station 人民广场 on Line 1, 2 or 8.

Appreciate the traditional at Yu Garden 豫园

Shanghai Yuyuan Crowds
Shanghai Yuyuan Crowds, even on a rainy day

Yu Yuan 豫园 or Yu Garden is one of the more popular places to visit in Shanghai. This classical Chinese garden has over 400 years of history, dating back to the Ming dynasty. With beautiful and intricately designed pavilions, halls and lots of intricate rocks and a surprising number of 100-year-old trees, it’s a nice way to start off your exploration of Shanghai, though it may get a little crowded with eager tourists wanting to do the same thing.

Surrounding the gardens is the Yuyuan Bazaar where you can find lots of restaurants, eateries and souvenir shops housed in reconstructed traditional architecture.

Shanghai Yuyuan Gardens
Wandering around the Yuyuan in the rain

How to get there: Take the metro to Yuyuan Station on Line 10. Entrance ticket to the gardens costs 40 CNY

Old Shanghai Street 上海老街

East of Yuyuan is the Old Shanghai Street 上海老街, just outside the tourist market area on Fangbang Middle Road 方浜中路, a stretch filled with lots of little tourist shops and street food. Walk all the way down and it will eventually lead you towards the Huangpu River and The Bund.

Shanghai Yuyuan Old Shanghai Street
Old Shanghai Street arch under construction

Nanxiang 南翔

One of the more popular things to do in Shanghai is head over to Nanxiang 南翔 and eat their famous Xiaolongbao 小笼包, which are basically pork and crab meat dumplings with soup in them. This 3-level structure each contains a different xiaolongbao eating experience, and the higher you go, the better the service standards and the more you have to pay!

  • Level 1 is takeaway style served in boxes which you eat while standing along the side of the road. It has the longest queues and lots of people just standing around wolfing down xiaolongbaos
  • Level 2 (where we ended up) is casual eatery style with a bit more selection of food – you grab a table, place you order at the cashier who gives you the relevant tokens, and someone with a cart will come around eventually to serve you.
  • Level 3 is the classier restaurant joint with a whole menu range, xiaolongbaos with fancier ingredients and table service
Shanghai Yuyuan Nanxiang xlb
xiaolongbaos galore! The small ones are xiaolongbaos, the big one in the plastic container with the straw is the guantangbao

We tried the traditional xiaolongbao soup dumplings (25 CNY for 8pcs) which were quite good, but the more unusual one which I haven’t seen before is something called a tangbao 汤包, literally translated into ‘soup dumpling’, which is a large dumpling around the size of your palm filled with soup that you drink through a straw. Pretty novel, and you can eat the dumpling skin after you consume all the soup though frankly, it’s not that tasty. Each tangbao costs 15 CNY.

Shanghai Yuyuan Starbucks
East meets West – Starbucks fans will be happy to know that it’s pretty readily available here in Shanghai

There are other street food options in the area, so if you’re not too fussy, just wander around and try whatever catches your fancy. If all else fails, Starbucks is always an option >_<

Old meets new at hipster Tianzifang 田子坊

Shanghai Tianzifang Street Name
The logo of Tianzifang can be found on the floor

What was once a rather run-down residential area consisting of unique Shanghai houses called Shikumen (stone gates) has since become a gentrified hipster zone with shops galore lining both side of the narrow stone-paved lanes and alleyways.

Shanghai Tianzifang Entrance
The Tianchengli entrance to Tianzifang

I was first introduced to Tianzifang by Sue Anne of Shanghai Street Stories as an example of how Shikumen, the rapidly disappearing traditional Shanghainese housing, was transformed into a modern arts enclave through local community efforts.

Shanghai Tianzifang Narrow Alleyway
Just one of many alleyways lined with shops and tourists in Tianzifang

The maze-like lanes of Tianzifang can be a bit of a nightmare to navigate sensibly as there are plenty of random cul-de-sacs and corners to surprise you. On my first visit, I thought it had a pretty quirky vibe with lots of little stores selling quirky knick-knacks and snacks, but it’s since become a tad touristy and too crowded for my liking.

Shanghai Tianzifang Mailboxes
This cute little shop sold postcards which you could mail out in one of many mailboxes!
Shanghai Tianzifang Colourful Flowers
Sometimes surprises came from above – people still lived in the residences above the shops, though this one happened to be some sort of teddy bear cafe!

Tianzifang is a part of the French Concession, an area west of the Bund that was once governed by the French for almost 100 years. Many of the roads in this area are typically marked by some of the prettiest boulevards, covered by shady green tree canopies.

How to get there: Take the metro to Dapuqiao station 打浦桥站 (Line 9) and walk towards Taikang Road 泰康路.

Party the night away at Xintiandi 新天地

Xintiandi is an area popular with expats, and also supposedly known for having a large number of traditional Shikumen architecture. That said, locals told me that Xintiandi isn’t very authentic as most of the original structures were torn down and reconstructed, compared to Tianzifang which maintained and built around most of its original structures.

These days, Xintiandi is a nightlife area, with lots of little restaurants and bars line the main roads and small lanes, so just walk around till you find a good place to settle down. Most of the action happens along Madang Road and Taicang Road 太仓路.

Shanghai Xintiandi Night
Xintiandi by night
Shanghai Xintiandi Fuwa Pulu
We found this instagrammable cafe called Fuwapulu on my first visit. I had a delicious Hot Chocolate and chocolate cake while others had tea, though I’m not sure if it’s still there.

How to get there: Take the metro to Xintiandi station (Line 10 and 13) and walk north along Madang Road 泰康路, or stop at South Huangpi station (Line 1) and walk south.

Day 2

1933 Millfun

Shanghai Spring - 1933 Facade
Hard to miss this building! Built by the British in 1933, it languished for a long time before being restored

1933 Old Millfun or Laochangfun 老场坊 along Shajing Road in the historic Hongkou district 虹口区 was built to be a slaughterhouse back in the day, but after restoration in 2008, is now mostly a rather atmospheric piece of architecture. It’s a little bit out of the way from the main tourist attractions

Shanghai Spring - 1933 Building
So many nooks and crannies to explore! It’s an open air space and the various levels are connected by ramps, air bridges and spiral staircases

There’s a rather random mix of some shops, restaurants and even a pet cafe and wedding photo shop in this 4-storey commercial space, but the main draw is really being able to wander freely amidst the impressive concrete Art Deco structure and experience the gloomy cavernous feel of this building. I spotted a fair number of local tourists all with their fancy cameras trying to get good shots of the place while I was there.

Shanghai Spring - 1933 Stairs
Be careful of the step, says this warning sign

Have a look at this post on La Casa Park for more pix and info of this strange building.

How to get there: Take the subway to Hailun Road station 海伦路 (Line 4 or 10), and then walk about 10mins to find this building along a little river.

Duolun Road 多伦路

You can then walk about 15mins along Hailun road (grab some bites in any of the small noodle shops along the way for some local street food) or if you’re coming by subway from elsewhere, to Dongbaoxing Road station on Line 3 over to Duolun Road, or noted on my map as Duolun Famous Cultural Person Street, because back in its heyday in the 1920s and 30s, many famous Chinese left-wing writers and other prominent figures took up residence along this street.

Shanghai Duolun Road Sign
Duolun road in the rain
Shanghai Duolun Statues
These bronze statues and other monuments are a common sight all along Duolun street

You’ll find much of its history and famous people, like Chinese writer Lu Xun and Ding Ling among others, memorialized in statues and wall frescoes as you walk along the streets, so it’s a nice way to pick up a little bit of local history – Duolun is quite a charming area to explore with lots of little shops to poke into. If you’re keen to spend more time here, there is a Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art which you can check out.

Shanghai Duolun Chinese Church
This building with traditional Chinese architecture is actually a Christian church! Hong De Tang is a church that still functions today – quite an unusual mix of East and West!
Shanghai Duolun Street
Rather charming, mostly pedestrianized street for a leisurely stroll

How to get there: You can walk over along Hailun Road from 1933 Millfun, or take the subway to East Baoxing (dongbaoxing) Station (Line 3).

Shop till you drop at Nanjing East Road 南京东路

Shanghai Nanjing East Road Pedestrian Night
This pedestrianised street is so busy and crowded

Perhaps the busy commercial area in Shanghai and what I call ‘downtown’ Shanghai, this famous road is perfect for an evening stroll and a haven for shopaholics. You are greeted by neon billboards, towering shopping centres and a veritable sea of people strolling through. It’s worth walking through even if you don’t plan to buy anything.

Nanjing Road actually consists of a East and a West section with People’s Park right in the centre. You can read more about the shopping along this stretch if that’s your thing, but I personally just enjoyed soaking up the busy city vibes and walking around the area. I suggest starting from the pedestrianised section in the evening and then walking eastwards until you hit The Bund which I’ll talk a bit more about below.

How to get there: Take the subway to People’s Square Station 人民广场 on Line 1, 2 or 8 which takes you right to the pedestrianised area. Alternatively, Nanjing East Road Station 南京东路 on Line 2 or 10 is located on the end much closer to The Bund.

The Bund / Waitan 外滩

Shanghai Bund Skyline Night Clear
2019: I managed to get a clear night view of the Lujiazhui Skyline
Shanghai Spring - The Bund evening grey
A rather foggy evening at The Bund around 7pm

You can’t leave Shanghai without having seen The Bund. This famous waterfront stretch is located along the west bank (Puxi) side of the Huangpu River 黄浦江 in the evening and where you can enjoy an unblocked view of Shanghai’s iconic skyline.

The best times for a shot of the skyline by night would be between 6 -10pm when all the building lights are switched on – the Oriental Pearl Tower’s lights go off at 10pm, so don’t miss that if you want a great shot! Also, remember to turn away from the water and admire the buildings along Zhongshan Road 中山路, which are quite pretty and fairly historical as well.

Shanghai Spring - The Bund no pearl tower
This is what happens when you reach the Bund at 10.05pm and they switch off the Oriental Pearl Tower’s lights!
Shanghai Spring - Bund Buildings
Remember not to just look out over the water! Turn around and admire the architecture behind as well.
Shanghai Spring - The Bund promenade
Super long stretch of The Bund facing the south end. Expect lots of tourists!

The Bund itself is quite a long stretch – around 1.6 km or 1 mile long. I suggest starting from the North end where Huangpu Park 黄浦公园 and the Monument to the People’s Heroes 上海市人民英雄纪念塔 is located, and then walking down South.

Shanghai Spring - Bund Memorial Wall
One of the memorial walls in Huangpu park

How to get there: The closest subway station to The Bund is Nanjing East Road station 南京东路站 on Line 2, about 5-10 mins walk to the Northern end. This line also brings you across the river to Lujiazui station 陆家嘴站, very close to the entrance of the Oriental Pearl Tower across the river.

The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel

To cross the river, you could go via the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel that connects to the opposite riverbank via little unmanned train carriages and a rather psychedelic tunnel with light effects. In my opinion it’s a bit of a cheesy tourist trap and rather expensive at 50 CNY for a one-way trip, but you do end up right in front of the Oriental Pearl Tower in around 15-20mins.

Shanghai Spring - Bund Sightseeing Tunnel Entrance
Entrance to the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel… yeah you can skip this
Shanghai Spring - Bund Sightseeing Tunnel Effect
You sit in a cable car like cabin and ride through a tunnel with light effects like “MAGMA” and “GALAXY” and… I can’t even~ Thankfully it’s not a long ride.

A properly scenic and much cheaper way to cross the river is by ferry, and on the south end of The Bund is Jinling East Road Wharf 金陵东路渡口, where you can catch a ferry across the river to Dongchang Road Wharf 东昌路渡口 on the southern end of Lujiazui for just 2 CNY, which seems like a really cheap and nice way to cross the river, though it involves a fair bit of walking if you’re headed to the Oriental Pearl Tower, around 15mins of so fron the Dongchang road wharf. I wish I had done this instead, but unfortunately was a little short on time.

Shanghai Spring - Pearl Tower and Me
Selfie with the Pearl Tower

Get a view from up high at the Oriental Pearl Tower 东方明珠塔

There are plenty of towering viewpoints to choose in Lujiazui. I decided to go up the 468m tall Oriental Pearl Tower with its unique balls-on-stick architecture is quite a sight up close, and it is also a viewing tower for you to admire Shanghai from up high.

You pay extra to go up to the Space Capsule (that’s the smallest ball which is also the highest up at 342m) or for dining in the revolving restaurant. As with major tourist attractions, be prepared for a fair bit of queuing inside; the lift system isn’t the most efficient, as you have to transfer lifts in between the Lower and Upper Ball levels.

Shanghai Spring - Pearl Tower Price List
The various packages consist of the different levels of the tower, whether you wanted to dine in the restaurant or do a sightseeing cruise as well

You’ll start your journey right at the top in the enclosed Upper Ball galleria and walk around for a 360 view of Shanghai below, with labelled buildings and short descriptions on prominent ones.

Shanghai Spring - Pearl Tower Upper Ball View
263m – View from the Upper Ball of The Bund and Huangpu river

What’s more interesting (or freaky, depending on you) is the Transparent Observatory level just below it – look for the staircase leading downstairs – which as its name implies, is where the walls and floor of the deck going around the tower – definitely not for the acrophobic! The glass walls are pretty high but it’s technically open air and can get quite cold and windy, so hang on to your stuff.

Shanghai Spring - Pearl Tower Glass Floor People
259m – Just one section of the transparent glass floor that goes around the tower. Not great for photos in the day because of all the lights reflecting below!

After that experience, the open air platform (covered only by netting) in the Lower Ball is less of a thrill, but it does give you the chance to take pretty skyline shots without being blocked by glass.

Shanghai Spring - Pearl Tower Lower Ball Corridor
98m – enjoy the air in the Lower Ball balcony

Alternatively, if you don’t want to go up the Pearl Tower, get a drink at the Vue Bar on the 32nd and 33rd floor of Hyatt on the Bund over on Huangpu Road which also commands quite amazing views of the Bund and the city below, and it closes late at 1.30am most weeknights (2.30am on weekends). I didn’t get a chance to check it out, though the other bloggers on the trip loved it!

How to get there: Take the subway to Lujiazui station 陆家嘴站 (Line 2) or the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel. There are several options for tickets, I bought Category C for 160 CNY, which includes a visit up to 263m Sightseeing Galleria in the Upper Ball, the Transparent Observatory at 259m and the open air balcony in the Lower Ball at 98m.

Getting around Shanghai

By Metro

Shanghai Public Transport Card
Pick up a public transport card for 20 CNY and then add some charge credit to it

Shanghai’s Metro system is very extensive and probably the easiest way to get around in downtown Shanghai. There are 16 lines in total, and with lots of English signage and announcements in the train so it’s easy even for non-Chinese speaking tourists to find their way around.

A single trip ride on Shanghai’s metro ranges from 2-4 CNY. I recommend picking a Shanghai Public Transport Card 上海公共交通卡 for 20 CNY that you can use to tap in and out of fare gates as well as on buses. You can download the official app and use the card via your smartphone as well.

By Taxi / Didi

Taxis are pretty cheap in Shanghai and worthwhile if you’re travelling in a group. Hailing a cab these days can be a bit challenging as they’ve gotten quite strict about rules as to where taxis are allowed to stop, especially in busy areas.

If you are taking a taxi from Shanghai Pudong Airport to the downtown area, it should cost you anywhere from 180-240 CNY. On my first trip if cost about 200 CNY to get to our hotel in Xuhui, but recently when we took an official cab from the taxi stand, we somehow still ended up with a metered fare of 425 CNY so we definitely got fleeced somehow :( Most of our trips around the main Puxi area cost around 50 CNY average. Some will try to throw you a price, but it is usually way, way more expensive than using the meter.

I would recommend downloading the Didi app (it comes in English!). It works like Uber or Grab where you can easily hire a car or a taxi to pick you up. You can use your Wechat or international phone number, though having a local number would be quite useful in case the drivers need to ping you. For payment, you can opt to pay in cash or use the slightly premium option where you can link your international credit card and make a prepayment for each ride.

By Maglev

For airport transfer, you can consider the Maglev, which is a super-fast Magnetic Levitation train system that reaches speeds up to 300+km/h! I got from Longyang Station to Shanghai Pudong Airport in just 8 minutes. No worrying about traffic jams on this super-fast train.

Longyang Road station isn’t particularly central, though it can be reached conveniently by the Subway via Line 2 or 4, about 20-30 minutes from the downtown Shanghai area. A 1-way Maglev ticket typically costs 50 CNY, but if you show them your flight ticket for that day, you can get a ticket for 40 CNY. Round-trip tickets cost 80 CNY.

This post was first written in 2014 on a sponsored Media FAM trip with Spring Airlines, a budget airline that provides a non-stop route from Singapore to Shanghai.

Did I miss out any must-sees in Shanghai that you’ve experienced? Tell me about it so I know where to go if I ever head back there!

In 2019 I visited on a business trip and flew via China Eastern Airlines. Singapore Airlines also flies non-stop to Shanghai’s Pudong Airport.

Looking for more inspiration to visit China? Why not see the Shikumen I found in Shanghai, or my posts for Beijing or Xiamen.

15 thoughts on “48 Hours in Shanghai 上海 for a weekend getaway”

  1. Great article with detailed information! I’ve been in Shanghai for a week-end and I followed a similar itinerary. 2 days were quite short, I would have loved to have a few more days to go to Hangzhou for example.
    I was so confused in People’s Square (I did not know about the week end “event” before going), so I thought parents who lost their children were looking for them… Had to ask around to understand!

  2. Excellent guide. Fortunately I am in Shanghai and will stay here for quite some time as I am employed here. It’s only been 3 months since I arrived here, but did not find time to roam around. Now I have a reason! Thanks!

  3. I have just arrived in Shanghai for a weekend and googled “weekend in shanghai”. You come up number 1 in the google search – for good reason, excellent guide! I will be following it for the next couple of day, thank you!

  4. Ah, now I’m sad! We had a chance to go last year and postponed it :/ It looks like a perfect city break, but I think I’d probably take a week to do what you did in 48 hours. Since I’d be stopping to eat all the things :)

  5. I’ll have to hand this to my dad. He visited there last year for business but the Americans he goes with completely avoid interacting with culture. This is a great list to help him go roaming himself.

    1. Heh not that many people in Shanghai speak English, and while they’re more brusque as Chinese folk, they are also surprisingly friendly :)
      But yeah I hope this helps him explore a little, and maybe lets him have mini adventures!

  6. Woah! This is so comprehensive!! I can’t wait to visit Shanghai, and when I do, I’m using this as my guide! My sister and I would like to go next year sometime!

    1. A weekend is definitely a bit short – wish I had more time to eat Shanghainese food and see some of their temples and museums… well we gotta save some for the future i suppose :)

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