The first thing I should really say here is that one day in Shanghai is really not enough! After all, it is one of the biggest cities on the entire planet.
However, I do understand that time is not always a luxury that everyone has when travelling, and therefore sometimes you need to cram as much as possible into a very short time frame.
During my recent trip to China, I unfortunately only had one day to explore Shanghai during a short stopover on the way home from the southern city of Guiyang. So this one day Shanghai itinerary will show you how I managed to see as much of this fascinating city as possible…
This is how to spend one day in Shanghai:
Shanghai Old City
Start your day in Shanghai in the Old City, the collection of narrow streets, magnificent temples, charming teahouses and traditional Chinese architecture preserved inside the ancient walled city of Shanghai.
Despite the area becoming somewhat of a tourist attraction over recent years, it is undeniable that the Old City is still one of the most picturesque areas of Shanghai and the best place to catch a glimpse of ‘traditional’ China.
Here’s how to spend a morning in Shanghai Old City…
Shanghai Old Street
Shanghai Old Street is an ancient business street in the Old City, dating all the way back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Shanghai Old Street is an important cultural artefact of Shanghai, being home to the city’s first bank, gold shop, tea house and more.
Today, many of the shops cater more towards tourists, selling cheap knick-knacks and souvenirs, however, you will still find some traditional teahouses, food stores, antique shops and embroidery houses which give a more authentic glimpse back into the history of the area. Plus the traditional buildings they’re located in are more than worth the visit.
How to visit:
Enter through the Old City gate and take a wander down Shanghai Old Street until you reach the Yu Yuan Garden.
Jiu Qu Qiao Bridge & The Huxinting Teahouse
Just before you head into the Yu Yuan Garden you’ll come across a small pond, upon which are two important structures within the Old City.
Firstly is the Jiu Qu Qiao Bridge, or Nine Bend Bridge, famous for its zig-zag shape which is said to provide protection against evil spirits and stop them from entering the Garden and Pavillion.
Partway across the bridge, you’ll also find the architectural marvel which is the Huxinting teahouse floating elegantly above the water on stilts. Huxinting teahouse is the oldest and most famous teahouse in all of Shanghai and serves some of China’s finest teas. If you have time, head inside to check out the equally impressive interior decor and enjoy a cup of local tea.
Yu Yuan Chinese Garden
The Yu Yuan Garden, which translates to ‘Garden of Happiness’, is a classical Chinese garden in the Old City. It was built in the late 1500s by Ming-era governor Pan Yunduan for his parents to enjoy in their old age.
The extensive garden, which is now open to the public, covers a 5-acre area in the heart of Shanghai and is a maze of traditional buildings, pavilions, dragon walls, lush gardens, grand rockeries and emerald lakes filled with exotic koi fish.
On a quiet day, the Yu Garden is a serene oasis of tranquillity in the centre of one of China’s busiest cities. However, like most popular attractions, it can get a little crowded with tourists during peak seasons. Mornings tend to be the quietest time to go, hence it being one of the first stops on my Shanghai itinerary.
How to visit:
You’ll find the main entrance of Yu Yuan Garden over the Nine Bend Bridge. Tickets can be brought from the windows right next to the entrance.
Opening Times: 8:45am – 16:15pm.
Admission Fee: 40 Yuan (April-June, September-November), 30 Yuan (July-August, December-March).
Yu Garden Bazaar
Coming out of Yu Garden you’ll more than likely stumble straight into the hustle and bustle of busy Yuyuan Bazaar, home to hundreds of shops selling jewellery, clothes, antiques, arts and crafts, souvenirs, local snacks and more to both tourists and locals alike.
The Bazaar is a great place to pick up souvenirs and gifts to take back home, just don’t forget to bargain for a great price.
The Old City God Temple
Also neighbouring the Yu Yuan Garden is the Old City God Temple (Chenghuang Miao Temple). Dating back to the Ming Dynasty, it is the largest and most elaborate temple complex in the Old City and the most significant Taoist temple in Shanghai.
The temple has a number of halls in which you’ll find shrines dedicated to many different Gods including the God of Wealth and God of Good Fortune. Both locals and tourists enter the temple to pray to the gods and burn incense at the altar in the outside courtyard.
How to visit:
To enter the main temple itself you’ll need to buy a ticket from a small hole in the wall next to the entrance. The temple is located to the south of Yu Garden.
Opening Times: 8:00am – 16:30pm.
Admission fee: 10 Yuan.
Lunch in the Old City
The large Bazaar surrounding the Yu Garden and Old City God Temple is probably most well known for its delicious local snacks, making it the perfect spot to grab lunch in the Old City.
One of the most popular culinary offerings is xiaolongbao, or ‘soup dumplings’, which can be found at a number of restaurants in the Bazaar.
Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant supposedly serves the best xiaolongbao in China. However on a busy day, the queue to get your hands on some of these tasty buns may take over an hour and therefore maybe not the best spot if you’re trying to see all of Shanghai in a day.
Instead, try close by Lu Bo Lang which is another famous restaurant serving Xiaolongbao. You can order your bun from the window, watch the buns being made right in front of your eyes, wait for your number to be called and enjoy on the go.
People’s Square & People’s Park
People’s Square is a huge public square in the central Huangpu district of Shanghai and is often referred to as the heart of the city, making it a must on every Shanghai itinerary.
Some of the main features of the large modern square include the Shanghai Municipal Government Building, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art and the giant glass Grand Theater. You can also pop into the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall where you’ll find a miniature model of the city of Shanghai… the only real way to see the whole of Shanghai in a day!
Plus, don’t just stay above ground. Head underneath the square and there’s a number of underground structures, including Hong Kong shopping centre, the longest underground commercial street in Shanghai filled with designer brands, shops and restaurants.
Surrounding the central Square you’ll also find People’s Park, a large park filled with trees, shrubbery, pavilions and many open spaces where locals meet to dance and exercise together in the warmer months (a common occurrence all across China).
During the weekends you might also stumble across the famous ‘Marriage Market’, an old tradition of parents helping to find their children a spouse by handing out resumes.
Dinner and Shopping on Nanjing Road East
From People’s Square, you can head straight onto Nanjing Road East.
Nanjing Road East is not only the busiest commercial shopping area in Shanghai but also one of the busiest shopping streets in the world.
But don’t let this put you off!
Walking down the street as the sun sets of an evening, taking in the buzzing atmosphere and sea of bright neon lights, is one of the best ways to experience modern Shanghai and its lively culture. In fact, there is a saying that says that ‘you have not ever been to Shanghai unless you go to the Nanjing Road’.
As well as plenty of modern designer shops and large department stores including Number 1 Department Store, Hualian Department Store and Shimao Plaza, the street also has many traditional shops selling local products such as silk, artwork, handicrafts and even traditional Chinese medicines.
Then when you need a break from shopping, pop into one of the streets numerous restaurants to try some more local delicacies for dinner. Zhen Lao Da Fang is one of the city’s most famous pastry shops and serves delicious traditionally decorated moon cakes.
How to visit:
Nanjing East Road connects People’s Square with the Bund over a distance of 5.5km, so will take roughly 40 minutes to walk without any stops. The actual time it will take to walk depends entirely on how many shops you plan to stop in and where you stop to eat – just remember that to see as much as Shanghai in a day as possible you need to be cautious of time.
Wander Down The Bund
Once you reach the end of Nanjing East Road, you will come to Chenyi Square on the Bund.
Chenyi Square is a public plaza along the waterfront where you will be able to admire the iconic view out across the Pudong’s many skyscrapers – the mesmerising postcard image of Shanghai.
Don’t forget your camera for this view!
However, the Bund itself is a stark contrast to the modern skyscrapers on the Eastern bank of the Huangpu River.
The architecture you’ll find along the Bund is a throwback to Shanghai’s colonial history dating back to the 1800s, with a number of charming colonial-era buildings lining the waterfront in differing western styles including gothic, baroque, and neo-classical (giving the area its nickname ‘the museum of buildings’).
One of the most iconic buildings along the Bund is Customs House, which features a large clocktower nicknamed “Big Ching”. Customs House is located just to the right as you approach the Bund from Nanjing East Road.
How to visit:
From Nanjing East Road walk south down the Bund to admire the colonial buildings until you reach the East Jinling Road Ferry Terminal. From here you can get a ferry across to Pudong for just 2 Yuan which takes around 10-15mins.
Views and Drinks in Pudong
Pudong is the district of Shanghai located on the East of the Huangpu River and is home to the city’s many world-renowned skyscrapers.
There are three main towers to visit in Pudong:
- The Shanghai Tower – At 632m, Shanghai Tower is the world’s second-highest building and the tallest building in China. The building has the worlds joint highest observation deck, the fastest elevator in the world and is home to the Guanfu Museum, the first private museum in China.
Opening Times: 8:30am – 22:00pm, ticket sale stops at 21:30pm. Price: 180 Yuan.
- Shanghai World Financial Center – Also known as the bottle opener because of its unusual shape, The World Financial Centre in Shanghai is the 12th tallest building in the world at 492m high. The public can visit the towers observation deck at 474m above ground level.
Opening Times: 08:00~23:00, tickets sales stop at 22:00pm. Price: 180 Yuan.
- The Oriental Pearl TV Tower – Despite not being the tallest, the Oriental Pearl Tower is probably Shanghai’s most famous tower owing to its unique design which has become a symbol of the Chinese city. At 468m it is the world’s 6th tallest TV and Radio Tower. With the all-inclusive ticket, visitors can visit all three of the towers spheres, including the space capsule at the very top and the glass-floored walkway and revolving restaurant in the second sphere.
Opening Times: 8:30am – 9:30pm, ticket sales stop at 21:00pm. Price: 220 Yuan.
With just one day in Shanghai, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to make it up all three towers so you’ll need to choose one to visit. An important thing to factor in is the fog and visibility levels on the day you’re visiting. During my day in Shanghai, the heavy fog was drastically reducing the visibility from the taller Shanghai Tower and SWFC, hence our decision to visit the Oriental Pearl Tower instead.
Another option is to head for drinks at Park Hyatt’s ‘Living Room’ bar on the 87th floor of the Shanghai World Financial Center. You may not get quite as high up as the observation decks but you won’t have to pay an entry fee and you’ll still get fantastic views.
BONUS: What to do in Shanghai when it rains?
One thing you’ll notice about this itinerary is that the majority of the activities are outside. Now I’m not saying that a bit of rain should mess up your only day in Shanghai – that’s what coats and umbrellas are for – however if you’re looking for a little respite from a torrential downpour, here’s what you should do in Shanghai in the rain:
As you may have noticed from my lack of photos, our time in People’s Square was cut short by a heavy downpour (we did visit in December after all). But instead of letting this ruin our afternoon, we jumped in a taxi and headed to teamLab Borderless instead.
A concept which originally started in Tokyo, teamLab Borderless recently opened in Shanghai and is an interactive digital art museum where the artworks form one borderless world. The artworks move out of rooms, communicate with other works, influence, and sometimes intermingle with each other with no boundaries.
Whether you’re usually an art lover or not, teamLab Borderless is an exciting hyper-modern immersive art experience and is unlike anything you might have experienced before (unless you’ve been to Tokyo that is!).
A great alternative for a rainy day in Shanghai.
How to visit:
Tickets need to be purchased online in advance. However, we turned up without tickets and were able to buy them online at teamLab and use them straight away.
Where to stay in Shanghai if you only have one day?
If you’ve only got one day in Shanghai, you’re going to want to be staying somewhere pretty central.
Budget: Blue Mountain Bund Youth Hostel – I personally couldn’t recommend this hostel enough, whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or a family travelling on a budget. The hostel is in a great location close to the Bund and Nanjing East Road and is walkable to all of the main attractions on this itinerary. While the hostel itself has both dorm rooms and affordable private rooms with ensuite bathrooms, a cosy common area with its own bar, and friendly and helpful staff who speak English (not always a given in China). It is also easily accessible to the airport by either taxi or metro.
Find the best rates on Booking.com
Mid-Range: SSAW Boutique Hotel Shanghai Bund – A great value boutique hotel with spacious private rooms and great facilities including a breakfast buffet, fitness centre, library and outdoor patio with stunning skyline views. The hotel is also centrally located just on the outskirts of the Old City, extremely close to Shanghai Old Street and Yu Garden, making it a great spot for starting this one day Shanghai itinerary.
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Luxury: The Shanghai EDITION – A luxury 5* hotel located right on Nanjing Road East itself. As well as a number of extremely modern and stylish rooms with gorgeous views over Shanghai, the hotel has 3 high-end restaurants, a fully landscaped tropical rooftop garden with bars and open-air cinemas, a sunken pool overlooking the city, plus a gym and spa.
Find the best rates on Booking.com