Thanks to Spring Airlines, I visited China for the very first time and the city of Shanghai 上海 really surprised me, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly even thought I was only there for 3 days and it was rather wet most of the time. If you are flying up to Shanghai and only have the weekend to spare, here’s my guide on what you can do in Shanghai in just 48 hours.
People’s Park / Renmin gongyuan 人民公园
Start your getaway in Shanghai with a morning stroll through People’s Park. I took the subway to People’s Square station on Line 1/2 which brings you right outside one of the park’s many entrances. As I entered People’s Park, I noticed a lot of booths and paper sheets lining the walkways and paths, as well as a general crowd milling around like it was a weekend market; but this is no ordinary weekend market, but the Shanghai Marriage Market – It’s been around since 2004 as a place where Chinese people come together to find a perfect match, whether they are parents concerned about their offspring, or seasoned matchmakers with impressive resumes and clientele.
There are hundreds, or possibly thousands of these bulletins in the park, and they consist 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 while you think they mostly cover young folk, a number of them actually feature more mature folk as well!
Sit around and listen to the conversations if you understand Mandarin, or talk to the folk to find out more if you have the time – I overheard one lady excitedly setting up a meeting for her kid, I wish I could have found out a little bit more.
The rest of People’s Park is a nice green space to just have a leisurely walk around – there’s a small lake in the middle of the park, and oddly enough, a fun fair as well so you can entertain the kids. Morning also sees exercising local folk, look out for the taiji and qigong happening as well.
For those looking for a broader perspective and understanding of Shanghai’s history and culture and with more time to spare, there is quite a lot for you to see and do around this area:
- Shanghai Museum 上海博物馆: A museum of ancient Chinese culture and history. Free all year round, 9am – 5pm (last entry 4pm)
- China Art Museum 中华艺术宫: Chinese and International art exhibitions. Free for permanent exhibitions, but prior booking still required. 9am – 5pm (last entry 4pm)
- Museum of Contemporary Art 上海当代艺术馆: It’s name is pretty direct. Has a rather interesting looking upturned roof. 10am – 6pm on weekdays, 9am – 7pm on weekends, 50CNY entrance fee
- Shanghai Grand Theatre 上海大剧院: home to the Shanghai Opera House Company and where you can watch various performances, concerts and recitals
- Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall 上海城市规划展示馆: Shows the development of urban Shanghai city, including a large scale model of the city.
I was introduced to Tianzifang by Sue Anne of Shanghai Street Stories as an example of how Shikumen, the rapidly disappearing traditional Shanghainese housing, has been transformed into a modern arts enclave through local community efforts.
How to get there: This block of low stone houses in the French Concession area is also known as Taikang Road 泰康路 and is pretty conveniently located on subway station Line 9’s (light blue) Dapuqiao station 打浦桥站.
What was once a rather run-down residential area has since become a gentrified hip arts scene which still maintains quite an authentic local flavour – as you walk through the narrow stone-paved lanes and alleyways, take the time to look up and admire the mostly intact original stone architecture of the Shikumen. The maze-like lanes can be a bit of a nightmare to navigate sensibly but super fun if you like discovering hidden treasures and surprises, as the place is packed with a variety of creative retail stores selling quirky knick knacks, photography and art galleries as well as restaurants and food joints.
It has a great vibe overall, and while stuff isn’t necessarily cheap here (it gets more tourists these days!), it’s great fun to just walk around and explore.
You could technically walk to Xintiandi, I’ll talk about that below.
The Bund / Waitan 外滩 and Oriental Pearl Tower / Dongfang mingzhu ta 东方明珠塔
You can’t quite 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.
How to get there: If you’re coming from the subway, the closest one is Nanjing East Road station 南京东路站 on Line 2 (light green), but it’s still around 10 mins walk at least and you’ll end up closer 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.
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.
One thing you’ll also pass by is the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel that connects to the opposite riverbank via little unmanned train carriages and a rather psychedelic tunnel with light effects, but in my opinion is a hugely cheesy tourist trap and rather expensive at 50 CNY for a one-way trip. The one thing it does have going for it is that you end up practically in front of the Oriental Pearl Tower in around 15-20mins without having to walk to the subway, ferry or take a cab.
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.
The 468m tall Oriental Pearl Tower and 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
1933 and Duolun Road 多伦路
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
How to get there: you can take the subway line 4/10 to Hailun Road station 海伦路 to get there, and then walk about 10mins to find this building along a little river.
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.
Have a look at this post on La Casa Park for more pix and info of this strange building.
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.
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.
Yu Gardens / Yu Yuan 豫园
Yu Yuan or the Yu Gardens is one of the more popular places to visit in Shanghai, a classical Chinese garden that has been restored and these days sees quite a lot of tourists. Surrounding the gardens and what you’re likely to encounter first once you exit the subway Line 10 at Yuyuan Garden station is Yuyuan Tourist Market, lots of reconstructed traditional Chinese structures and naturally, a whole bunch of tourists to boot. It was pretty crowded, even in the rain, so brace yourself for the crowds.
One of the more popular things to do here 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
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.
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 >_<
The Yu gardens itself requires a separate admission fee of 40 CNY. Lots of pavilions, rock structures, as well as a surprising number of labelled 100-year old trees, it’s a pretty park if that’s your sort of thing.
When you’re done with Yuyuan, Old Shanghai Street 上海老街 is just outside the tourist market area on Fangbang Middle Road 方浜中路, a stretch filled with with lots of little tourist shops and street food, which will eventually lead you towards the Huangpu River and The Bund if you walk all the way along it. You will see a very large Din Tai Fung here, which though technically is a Taiwanese restaurant that we get in Singapore as well (excellent fried rice and pork chops), is known to serve up really good xiaolongbao.
Xintiandi is an area popular with expats, and also supposedly known for having a large number of traditional Shikumen architecture, though locals say that despite their claims, Xintiandi is not very authentic – most of the original structures were torn down and reconstructed, as compared to Tianzifang which actually maintained most of its original structures. 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.
One cafe we settled in which was this lovely Fuwapulu (164-166 Huichang Road, in Meiguifang Shopping Centre), which is a cafe actually located in a part of a large shopping mall complex but with a great alfresco feel. Great place to just chill out at, hipster heaven and completely instagrammable type of place but with decent drinks thankfully, a much needed respite for us who’ve been in the pouring rain all day! Besides cakes and coffee, they also seem to specialize in flavoured jelly desserts.
At night, the Xintiandi area still continues to buzz – we kinda chanced upon this enclave along Taicang Road 太仓路 by accident when we decided to turn down an ‘interesting looking alley’ and found a whole bunch of bistros, bars and restaurants packed with people. Great nightlife vibe, but as it caters mostly to tourists and expats, don’t expect to get super cheap food here. See the SmartShanghai listing for places you could check out – it was really late so we ended up eating pizza at a rather quiet spot called Barcini, not quite a Chinese experience at all, but good enough to fill our bellies after a long day out.
For Shanghainese food, Jesse or Xinjishi 老吉士酒家 is a pretty popular option and also comes highly recommended by our contact at Spring Airlines, and while I didn’t get to try it myself, the other bloggers loved it immensely. You have to make a booking though because it gets so crowded, and they do have several outlets these days including one at Xintiandi, though the original one is at 41 Tianping Road (in Xuhui).
Shanghai’s Metro system is very extensive and probably the easiest way to get around in downtown Shanghai. There are 11 lines in total, and fairly well organized and well labelled so it’s easy even for non-Chinese speaking tourists to find their way around. Not all the signage when you exit is in English, so you might still have to ask your way around. I paid 3-4 yuan for a single trip ticket which you can buy from the English/Chinese ticket machines near the gate. If you have to make a transfer, buffer in some walking time because some stations are surprisingly large! Also, sometimes they X-ray scan your bags when you enter the station.
Taxis are pretty cheap in Shanghai, especially worthwhile if you’re travelling in a group. From the airport down to our hotel in Xuhui, it cost about 200 CNY, and on average most of our trips around the main Puxi area cost around 50 CNY. Make sure you use the meter – most of them do so without asking, though some will still try to negotiate price with you but it’s definitely not worthwhile.
For airport transfer, one thing you can also consider is the Maglev, which is a super fast Magnetic Levitation train system that reaches speeds up to 400+km/h! However, the station closest to downtown Shanghai is in Pudong, where you can take the subway to Longyang Road station on Line 2/4, which is still around 20mins at least from most of the popular areas. Not the most convenient, but an experience to consider, especially if you are concerned about traffic jams en route to the airport!
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!
Thanks to Spring Airlines for flying me up there. Spring Airlines is one of the few airlines that provides a direct route from Singapore to Shanghai.