Why do The 2 Idiots recommend Shanghai?
We cannot rave enough about Shanghai! Actually, we rank Shanghai one of our top five cities in the world. After visiting the more traditional and old-school Beijing, Shanghai was such a change of scenery. The city is very cosmopolitan, like New York City, Mumbai or Tokyo, and incredibly organized. This is a city that wants to be the financial capital of modern Asia and that goal is pretty evident in everything they do.
With a desire to be an international business city comes people from all around the world and from all over China. This means the food in Shanghai is to die for, coming from all the regions of China, as well as around the world! We had some of the best foods we have ever eaten while here. From its beautiful harbor, the energy of the city and its people, the illuminated skyscrapers and, again, the food (we seriously cannot say enough about it), Shanghai should be on everyone’s travel list. This is a city you do not want to miss. Go, now. We mean it!
CREATING AN IDEAL ITINERARY
As a thriving modern city, English is more commonly found in Shanghai than in Beijing, and the public transportation system is easy to navigate. You won’t feel as out of your element in Shanghai, and we recommend you spend four days here. Even if you only have a couple of days, it is well worth a visit, and we suggest the main places you visit be Old Shanghai, the harbor and the water towns.
We stayed in a place called Xintiandi, an extremely urban, upscale and cool neighborhood that’s within walking distance to Old Shanghai. Located near the subway systems, there are lots of shops, restaurants and a huge shopping mall, so you know the energy is family-friendly. We definitely don’t recommend staying in Pudong, which is the new Shanghai and filled with skyscrapers. This is where everyone works and there isn’t much to do there, especially in the evening.
We made the mistake of avoiding the subway until the end of our trip. Admittedly, Natasha finds taking public transportation a lot of work and so exhausting, but after one ride and discovering how easy it was, we definitely say take it one time and find out for yourself how easy and clean they are. (Then use it!)
|Day 1||Visit Old Shanghai
– Shanghai Old Street (Baodai Long)
– Visit City God Taoist Temple in Old Shanghai
– Yuyuan Garden
– Have lunch in the markets by Old Shanghai
Go on top of one of Shanghai Tower/Shanghai World Financial Center/Oriental Pearl Tower (Donfang Mingzhu)
Bund and Harbor Cruise
Walk alongside the Bund
|Day 2||Enjoy Shanghai Shopping:
– Visit Tianzifang (Former French Concession Area)
– Visit Xintiandi to experience some of new Shanghai
Spend time at Fuxing Park in the afternoon
Experience Nanjing Street in the evening
|Day 3||Visit Ancient China Water Towns (Jinze, Xitang)|
|Day 4||Visit People’s square
– Visit Shanghai Museum
– Try to visit Marriage Market on the weekends (12 p.m. – 5 p.m.)
Take Shanghai Food Tour in the evening (Shanghai Night Eats Tour)
Visit the Old and See the New
On your first day in Shanghai, you’ll definitely want to start in Old Shanghai. What used to be called the Chinese City, this old city was walled and became the heart of Shanghai. Here awaits the City God Temple, which is connected to the Yuyuan Garden, or Yu Garden. You’ll pass through the old gates of the city and then see the juxtaposition of old and new Shanghai — in new, there are skyscrapers; here, there are not. And, unlike many of the areas we visited in China, we were surprised to see an old temple. Throughout our travels, we often saw places of worship on every street, but not in China. So, here, this ancient temple remains and surprised us.
Hordes of tourists were visiting the Tao temple and Old Shanghai during our visit, much of them domestic tourists (rarely did we see non-Chinese tourists). The temple was created for the Han Chinese and their immortal gods and protectors, based on the philosophical traditions of Taoism, which teaches piety and humility. Gilded in gold, the temple dates back to 1403 and the Ming dynasty. Because it was so crowded, we choose to take turns entering, knowing Aarav wouldn’t be interested and it would be too difficult to get through the crowds.
The Yu Garden next to the temple is one kids will definitely love. Aarav loved seeing all of the fish in the pond. “Yu” means “garden of happiness” and features the 5-ton Jade Rock boulder. The unusual rock and its great size is rumored to have been a gift for the emperor in the 12th century, originally sinking into the Huangpu River. The garden, however, wasn’t built until 1559, also in the Ming Dynasty, and you can just imagine the work it took to retrieve this boulder from the river!
Also in Old Shanghai is a market that is very touristy but still incredible to walk through. Enjoy lunch in Old Shanghai, there are no shortage of great places and meals you will have. (See our recommendations of foods to try in the tips section below.)
After Old Shanghai, make your way to one of the three tallest towers in the city, each more than 100 stories tall, and take in the amazing views. The top-rated is Shanghai Tower, which is 2,073 feet tall, and the second tallest building in the world after Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Or, try Shanghai World Financial Center, which is 1,555 feet tall, or the Oriental Pearl Tower, which is 1,535 feet tall.
When you come back down, enjoy a harbor cruise and see Shanghai from the water. This was, to us, the best harbor to cruise in the world — even better than Budapest. While Budapest’s lighting of its buildings at night is beautiful, Shanghai takes it to another level. Shanghai knows exactly what they are doing and does it well — the lighting is incredible in size, scale and colors.
After your cruise, visit the Bund, which is the waterfront also known as the Waitan. Stretching along the west bank of the Huangpu River, the views are incredible. There are a ton of restaurants, and you’ll find plenty of places to have dinner at the end of your day.
Shop Until You Drop
Shopping in Shanghai is definitely something you don’t want to miss. The Chinese have such a sense of classic style and the stores are some of the largest we have seen. Start in Xintiandi, the “New Heaven on Earth” and the hip place for the young for shopping and entertainment. However, the best shopping is in Tianzifang, the former French Concession area. More than 200 souvenir shops, craft shops, intimate restaurants and cafes fill the alleyways that make up this area of town.
After you’ve exhausted yourself shopping, make time for a picnic and relaxing in Fuxing Park. Located in the former French Concession, it’s the only French-style garden in the city and harkens back to the French colonial area. It was a private garden of the Ming Dynasty until the French took it over, and now it serves as a quiet spot in the bustling city. You’ll want to take a breather because in the evening, it’s back to the excitement of Shanghai on its popular Nanjing Street.
The energy of Nanjing Street makes it feel like a festival or a holiday every day. The pedestrian street had people dancing while we were there and it was just fun and chaotic. This is one of the busiest shopping streets in the world and very much like Times Square in New York, minus the cars. We couldn’t resist going into an extra-large Forever 21 to see the differences in the clothing. We could have spent all evening sitting and watching the people in this upscale pedestrian district that has the energy of 5th Avenue in New York. Do some more evening shopping and then enjoy dinner at one of the multitude of restaurants here.
Explore the Venice of China
On your third day (unless you only have two days, by all means swap out your shopping day for this!), visit one of the ancient Water Towns of China. Considered the Venice of the East, these ancient towns are filled with canals, rivers and lakes, and you can ride the canals on Chinese gondolas. We hired a private tour guide for this day outside of Shanghai, as it can take an hour to reach the towns and it’s much easier to have an English-speaking guide show you around and explain the history.
We chose to visit Jinze, which is more than 1,300 years old. During our tour, we walked to a temple and then our guide took us to the most amazing tea house, which was run by our guide’s sister. You won’t find Wei Wei Tea House on a map and yet the food here was our favorite meal we have ever had in the world. In a high-end restaurant, this would be the most expensive meal you ever had, but here, you are in a low-key environment and the food is an experience. We highly recommend it.
After visiting Jinze, we continued on to the water town of Xitang, one of the most famous of these ancient towns—Tom Cruise filled one of the “Mission Impossible” movies here. This town is 2,500 years old, built during China’s Warring States Period between the three kingdoms after the fall of the Hun Dynasty. Here, we found uncrowded markets and we attempted to haggle and some accepted our offers and some didn’t, but we tried! We also tried a rice wine tasting, despite the fact we had a great meal at the tea house, we kept trying more foods – it was like we struck gold, everything was delicious and it was just the best experience!
In the evening we discovered a nightclub area. Aarav had fallen asleep and we were shocked he didn’t wake up to the music, the lights and the craziness. There was karaoke, American Idol-like contests, and bars that seemed to be disco bars on acid. If you have young kids and think you shouldn’t take your children to this kind of place, it’s worthwhile to walk around and take in the craziness from the outside. It was so surprising!
Dive Deeper Into Shanghai
If you have an extra day to enjoy Shanghai, use it to visit more of its popular sites. Begin with People’s Square, just south of Nanjing Road. Here, there are cheap souvenirs, street foods, parks and museums you can enjoy, in another of Shanghai’s hubs. One of the museums here is the Shanghai Museum, one of the best museums in the city. Showcasing ancient Chinese art, the museum is free and considered a must-visit if you want to learn more about the Chinese culture.
If you are visiting during a weekend, make your way to the Shanghai Marriage Market at the People’s Park. Between noon and 5 p.m., singles and/or their adult parents visit the park to discuss possible dating and marriage. Actually, in Chinese, the park’s name equates to “blind date corner.” Parents advertise their unmarried adult children here, almost like Internet dating in person, where parents share details like education, careers, age and zodiac sign — it’s an ancient custom and so interesting to see.
And then, we have saved the best for last: the Shanghai Night Eats Tour. Taking a food tour of Shanghai is simply a must. China is such a huge country with so many different regions and foods. This food tour will introduce you to foods from all over the country, for example, we thought some foods were Turkish but discovered there are western parts of China where kebabs and skewered meats are common foods. We experience a lot of travel through food and really loved trying all of the different foods, from the more common dumplings to snake. Yes! We tried snake! And, no, we didn’t like it. But trying new things are part of the adventure!
Seriously, we cannot say enough about a visit to Shanghai, and we really hope our adventure inspires you to visit!
- Take your good stroller everywhere because there is a lot of walking around. It can also get very crowded in some places and it will be easier to move through crowds with your child in a stroller.
- Shanghai’s pollution is not nearly as bad as in Beijing and you won’t need a mask, although you should have masks visiting areas of China, just in case.
- Kids may not enjoy the unique foods of China. Feed them prior to eating out, and have snacks as a backup, should they not like the foods.
- The Chinese are very kid-friendly and love kids. They are very accommodating and friendly — your children may become little stars, as the Chinese love taking pictures with children.
- Read our article around Preparing for China to help you prepare before you go.
- Use the metro in Shanghai to get around, especially if you have a data plan to help you navigate. Trying to use a taxi was as troublesome as in Beijing. There was less English-speaking and communicating where you want to go or negotiating a price, which you do in some areas, can be troublesome.
- Hire a private tour to visit a water town because it might be hard to figure it out on your own, The water towns are about an hour away, and having a English-speaking guide to get you there and back, as well as show you around will be much easier and worth the price. Read our guide to Finding the Best Private Tour When You Travel.
- There is less language barrier in Shanghai but download the Google Translate with the offline translating in the event you need help translating menus or speaking to someone.
- Eating in Shanghai is amazing, here are some of our favorites:
- Xinjiang cuisine from the western part of China reminded us of Turkish menus with kebabs and skewered meats.
- Junan cuisine from the Southwestern part of China reminded us of Burmese/Indian food with lots of curries.
- Soup dumplings in Shanghai was off the charts — have some at least one!
- Seafood is a must because Shanghai is on the coast and the seafood is fresh and delicious. We tried hairy crab and crawfish.
- Hotpot is also amazing in China; it’s like fondue but much better.
- We enjoyed rice liquor called Baijui. It is like grappa in Italy. Make sure to have it with a mixer because it is super-strong.