Ride the Pearl Tower's roller coster, visit old Shanghai, off beat museums, cycle routes, day trips and attractions. The best activities, attractions and things to do in Shanghai
Ride the roller coaster inside the Pearl Tower
Though now dwarfed by its neighbours, this bonkers,
bulbous landmark (the design was based on a Tang dynasty poem) arguably remains
iconic building and is worth a visit for the sheer kitsch value of the
entertainment within. Tickets are priced according to floor access, so skip the
‘space capsule’ sightseeing floor in the uppermost ‘pearl’ and the mediocre
buffet at the 267m-high
revolving restaurant. Instead, take the lift up to the 259m-high skywalk – a 360 degree transparent
observatory where the floors, as well as the walls, are made of glass, which
makes for some hilarious ‘falling’ photo opportunities for those not prone to
attacks of vertigo.
The real draw, though, is the surreal roller coaster located
at 98 metres (claimed to be the world’s highest indoor ride). It’s not well
signposted: to get there you need to descend to ‘Game City’,
an eerily deserted, pink-neon lit arcade stinking of rancid popcorn. The ride
itself is short but surprisingly thrilling, especially for younger kids, and
for 30RMB extra you can take home a photo of yourself mid-squeal. The fun
doesn’t stop there, as you descend to ground level via a glass elevator on the
Take in the view from the SWFC Observatory
While every Shanghai
resident has seen the Shanghai
Center from multiple
perspectives and angles, surprisingly few have actually made it inside. The
Bottle Opener stages several fun events throughout the year – such as a yoga
workshop and a vertical marathon – so it’s worth teeing up your visit to
coincide with one of those, but if you’re strapped for time it’s still worth
the (admittedly steep) entry fee just to stroll around the Garden Observatory.
The world’s second highest viewing platform at 474 metres, topped only by Guangzhou’s Canton
Tower, it’s a dizzying
The outing begins with a basement exhibition hall that contains a
brilliant scale model of Lujiazui and the Bund area with a 24-hour time lapse
lighting effect. A lift then whisks you up at warp speed (5 metres/second) to
the first observatory (94th floor; 423 metres), which is the cheapest option, but
it’s worth paying the extra 40RMB to access the Garden Observatory on the 100th
floor for truly jaw-dropping floor-to-ceiling views.
Key landmarks, from 1933
Old Millfun to Three on the Bund, are handily marked on photographs displayed
alongside. If you visit during daylight hours, you might even spot a window
cleaner or two dangling on the other side of the glass. If you’re looking to
enjoy a drink with the view, there is a bar-café on the 94th floor, but you’ll
get a far superior tipple in nicer surrounds just two floors down at the Park
Hyatt’s 100 Century Avenue.
Join the old folks dancing in the park
Perhaps one of the most charming aspects of Shanghai nightlife are the early evening dances that spring up in parks and public spaces across the city. Chances are you already know where one of these goes down in your neighbourhood, but some of our favourites include the packed Sichuan Bei Lu strip (head to the eponymous metro station and you can’t miss the crowds) or the sedate ballroom twirls at Huashan Green Space, between Huashan and Xingfu Lus.
For some daytime
dancing, the always enjoyable Fuxing
Park provides plenty of
entertainment, as should Hongkou’s Lu Xun Park when it reopens fully later this
Get on your bike
Despite the rise of the car, Shanghai is still an
incredibly bike-friendly city and there are few better ways to explore it than
on two wheels. For some great cycle routes around lesser-travelled parts of
town, including Fuxing Island, Suzhou Creek and more see our guided cycle routes around the city.
Find out where to buy the best bike for you, from Shanghai classic frames to slick fixed gear cycles in our guide to the top bike shops in Shanghai
Watch a bird singing contest at Guilin Park
The classical gardens of Guilin Park on Caobao Lu in Xuhui district are home to the area’s biggest gathering of bird keepers every May. Twitchers from across the region flock to the park to show off their prize pets. Physical battles, where the birds peck at each other through bound-together cages, can be cruel and often result in one of the creatures being injured, but a gentler competition can also be seen among the crowds – a Pop Idol for birds, with judges marking the contestants on volume, change of tone and length of song.
Can’t wait until May? The Shanghai Bird Association holds regular meets at the City of God Temple, while keepers often head to parks such as Yichuan Park just north of Zhongtan Lu metro station and Jiuzi Park beside Chengdu Bei Lu bridge and Suzhou Creek to hang their cages.
...or see crickets do battle
If insects are more your thing, then you’re
in luck: cricket fighting season is nearly upon us. Although the ‘sport’ is on
the wane in Shanghai,
there are a number of associations, sellers and practitioners who keep it alive (purely
for entertainment purposes of course, gambling is banned here after all). The
Wanshang Flower and Bird Market on Xizang Nan Lu is a regular haunt for owners
of fighting crickets with matches usually taking place from August until
Take a trip on the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel
Shanghai is full of naff
tourist attractions, but The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel (45RMB one way) is one of
those so-bad-it’s-good experiences that everyone should try just once. Bizarre, trippy audio-visual effects play as you travel in an automated
car 'into the core of the Earth' under the Huangpu river and though the whole
journey is somewhat baffling and devoid of any actual sightseeing, you’ll come
away with photos that look like they were taken in the 2001: A Space Odyssey wormhole and a story for your friends.
Check out Chongming Island
While it’s best not to harbour any visions
of quaint island life – pastel coloured beach huts or pretty little fishing
boats nestled in the harbour – when undertaking a trip to Chongming, that
doesn’t mean there’s not plenty to do on what’s often referred to as China’s third biggest island (that count
You can visit organic farm Mahota, go birdwatching among the reeds at the eastern Dongtan nature reserve,
go barbecuing or grass skiing (basically donning elongated rollerskates to
descend a hill) at the Dongping Forest Park, or unwind at the newly opened
Hyatt Regency resort if you decide you want to make a weekend of it (the hotel
even offers special ‘Puppy Getaway’ packages so you don’t have to leave your
dog at home).
Shanghai loves an expo, and we’re not just talking about the gathering of global clichés that took over a swathe of the city back in 2010. Practically every weekend there’s an expo of some sort taking place here. Sure, not all of them are particularly exciting (such as Annual China International Roofing and Waterproofing Expo and Pet Expo for example), but every year provides us with dog shows, wedding extravaganzas, sexpos, car and boat fests and all sorts of consumer craziness to gawk at. Sitting pretty at the top of the expo pile however, is ChinaJoy, which takes place at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre every August.
The computer game and cosplay
spectacular features gaming launches, exotic costumes and hordes of
photographers snapping away greedily at it all. Yes, there are some
questionable outfits and use of ‘models’, but it’s still an incredible
Shinjuku-esque assault on the senses that really has to be seen.
Stand with the ultras at a Shanghai derby
The Chinese Super League now features three of the city’s
top flight teams in action. There’s the long-standing Shanghai Shenhua who play
at Hongkou Stadium, the largely unloved Shanghai Shenxin and, while they may
have dropped off the pace a little after their early season table topping
performances, East Asia are still top of the Shanghai pile so far this season.
While attendances for games, and often the quality of
football, fall short of major international leagues, the fans are passionate
and friendly, especially if you sit (or more likely, stand) with the hardcore
supporters. If you only go to one game, make it a Shanghai
derby (preferably involving Shanghai Shenhua and East Asia)
or Shenhua versus hated rivals Beijing Guoan for the fieriest atmospheres. Here's a fan's guide to Shanghai's Shenhua. See
the full season fixtures.
Give something back
There’s really no excuse for not volunteering or donating to charity in Shanghai – every month there are plenty of events that enable you to do both, while there are dozens of non-profit organisations based in the city doing fantastic work who are in need of a helping hand. For more details of how you can get involved, click here.
Take a cruise on the Huangpu
Taking to the water is still one of the best ways to gaze upon both The Bund and the skyscrapers of Lujiazui. Though there are numerous overcrowded and often over-long tourist cruises (tickets for which can be purchased from sellers along The Bund or at the tourist desk beside Jinling Lu), you can enjoy views of the best bit just as well by taking the ferry between Jinling Lu and Dongchang Lu or vice versa. Tickets cost just 2RMB and the journey is over in only a couple of minutes, giving you more time to tick off the other items on your bucket list. We recommend going early evening as the sun goes down and the lights come on. Check out the ferry routes across the Huangpu.
you’re after something a bit more upmarket, a trip out on the Huangpu doesn’t
come much classier than on The Peninsula hotel’s yacht. Up to ten people can
board the 15 million RMB vessel for private cruises (from 8,000RMB/person) with
additional extras such as afternoon tea (580RMB/person including one glass of Champagne) and even on
board yoga sessions (from 1,100RMB/50 minutes) available. Contact The
Peninsula’s concierge for more details.
Cycle the streets of Hongkou
Hongkou’s former Jewish quarter is one of our favourite parts of town to explore on two wheels and while modern developments are increasingly encroaching upon its old streets, there are still plenty of fascinating historic sites to see. Highlights include the Jewish Refugee Museum housed in the Ohel Moishe synagogue, the adjacent Zhoushan Lu where you can often see residents playing carrom (an old Shanghainese game that’s a cross between snooker and Chinese chess) and the Tilanqiao Prison, once the biggest in Asia and still in use today. Here's a guide to cycling around Hongkou.
Head to the Propaganda Poster Museum
topping our list of recommendations to new Shanghai
residents or out-of-towners, the Propaganda
is a must for anyone with a couple hours to spare in the city.
Founded by Yang
Peiming, the museum has been run out of its apartment tower basement setting
for over a decade, but was only given official recognition two years ago and
still maintains an air of secrecy (especially when it comes to the half-hidden
Red Guard denunciations). The vast
collection of over 5,000 propaganda posters, many rescued from recycling
centres and rubbish bins and spanning from the early days of the founding of
the People's Republic of China in 1949 to the end of the Cultural Revolution in
the late 1970s, is absolutely fascinating and more than worth the 20RMB
Wander Nanjing Dong Lu at dawn
Dong Lu may be a tourist-filled nightmare much of the time, but head there just
as the sun comes up and you’ll find it empty of the matching baseball cap
wearing hordes and people trying to sell you wheels to stick on your shoes.
Instead, nearby residents creep out onto the pavements to do a spot of tai chi
(often with fans and swords) or play badminton. Start at People’s Square and
head south toward The Bund (where you’ll find another clutch of early risers
performing) and you’ll see the street in a completely new light. Here are some photos of the city in its morning glory.
Check out an off-beat museum
Shanghai has some fantastic museums – the Animation Museum, Urban Planning Exhibition Centre and Science and Technology Museum are all worthy of a visit – but some of our favourite institutions are the more unusual ones. The Museum of Public Security features everything from old police cars to gruesome murder weapons; the Municipal History Museum features some brilliant scale models of old Shanghai; and the Tobacco Museum details the history of China’s favourite product. Visit just one and we guarantee you’ll learn something new.
Head to a water town
it’s Zhujiajiao for its convenience or Xikang for its beauty, everyone has
their favourite watertown.
Ours is Nanxun. It may mean a little more travelling time than suburban spots
such as Qibao of Fengjing, but the rewards are relatively fewer tourist hordes
and a pleasantly laidback feel throughout the two sections of old streets
crisscrossed by waterways. We like
the tranquil Little Lotus Garden, a grand former residential house with a small
lake at the back, and the Jiayetang Library, home to a large collection of
ancient tomes and tree-covered grounds, where locals sip tea and play cards
beside the water. The main
Shanghai Long Distance Bus Station (from 6.50am) and the South Station (from
10am) have regular services to Nanxun, costing 46RMB one way. The buses
continue to Huzhou, so make sure your driver knows you want off at Nanxun. Here's our guide to the best canal-side towns worth a visit in Shanghai.
Tour Shanghai by sidecar
another side of Shanghai
by touring the city from the sidecar of a vintage
750cc Changjiang motorbike with Shanghai Insiders.
All Insider guides are extremely
capable; completely at ease dodging Shanghai’s
notorious traffic whilst recounting interesting tit bits of local history. It’s
a unique way to see the city. See more alternative tours of
the city, including bike, food and photo tours.