41 fantastic things to do with kids this summer in Shanghai

From summer camps to ice cream shops, here's everything you need to survive (and thrive) this season

Photograph: Cat Nelson (Strictly Cookies cookie sliders)
A big family vacation abroad might be off the cards this year, but there’s still loads happening in the city to get you in the summer spirit. From camps and classes to fantastic parks and pit stops at ice cream shops, here’s your guide to all the sizzling things to do with the fam this season in Shanghai.

Venues all over the city have introduced various measures to help prevent the spread of coronavirus in line with local government regulations. From requiring advanced bookings, to providing original ID and green health QR codes, to adjusted opening hours and limited capacity, rules vary from place to place and can change quickly, so remember to check before you head out for specific requirements at your destination.

Cool off with some of the city's coldest tasty treats at...

Photograph: courtesy Al’s Diner

With three generous scoops of Gracie’s vanilla bean, dark chocolate, and balsamic strawberry and buttermilk ice creams drizzled in sea salt caramel and hot fudge sauces and topped with banana, Amarena cherries, graham cracker crumble and whipped cream, Al's banana split (108RMB) is an over-the-top treat big enough for the fam to share.

Towering at an impressive height, this Taiwanese eatery’s signature dessert the Bellagio Breeze (39RMB) is a sight to behold. The mountain of shaved ice covered in sweet red and green beans and studded with tapioca, pineapple and taro cake is almost healthy – except for the can of condensed milk it’s swimming in. For something a bit simpler, the peanut smoothie (33RMB) is also a winner.

Photograph: courtesy Gelato Dal Cuore

This artisanal gelateria turns out super-rich Italian gelato and fresh sorbets (35RMB for a small) in flavours that range from classics like 70% dark chocolate, strawberry and cookies and cream to more offbeat, seasonal flavours like Shanghai watermelon, kaya toast, pear oolong and pineapple Sichuan pepper that will satisfy adventurous eaters.

Nothing screams summer like sticky fingers from an ice cream sandwich. Strictly Cookie’s lil’ cookie sliders (50RMB for four) are the perfect treat size and one that shouldn’t have kids bouncing off the walls from a massive sugar high. Four packs come with cookie and ice cream combos including chocolate chip with vanilla, brownie with mint, oatmeal raisin with vanilla and peanut butter with strawberry.

Let little ones DIY it at this fro-yo spot. Get a base of the house-made ultra-creamy, tart frozen yogurt (from 31RMB) and top with your choice of fresh fruits or sweets. Looking to keep it even healthier? Opt for Greek or fresh yogurt, both made in house.

Staying healthy? Shanghai’s hottest months bring out nature’s candy in full force

Photograph: Nikolai Chernichenko via Unsplash

6. Dragonfruit
火龙果 Huǒlóngguǒ
While you can find this Instagrammable fruit in markets pretty much year-round, summer’s its peak. Covered in a vibrant hot pink skin, its contrasting, black-speckled white flesh is extremely mild in flavour. Low in calories and rich in fibre, iron and vitamin C.

7. Lychee, Longan and Rambutan
荔枝 lìzhi, 龙眼 lóngyǎn, 红毛丹 hóngmáodān
These three have a similar vibe: jelly-like insides with a hard pit in the middle. Sweet and bursting with juice, lychee hit markets in early summer while rambutan and longan, both drier and more tart, come towards mid to late summer.

Photograph: Jim Teo via Unsplash

8. Durian
榴莲 liúlián
Love it or hate it, the ‘king of fruits’ is not something you can be dispassionate about. Its creamy and highly nutritious flesh is also infamously stinky. If fresh is too much, try it in pastry or ice cream. Certainly a conversation starter for the family.

9. Waxberry
杨梅 yángméi
These deep red fruits are eaten fresh, pickled, used in jam or even made into wine. They are sweet and a little tart with a unique texture, much like a strawberry.

Keep your kids active and engaged while school’s out at these summer camps

4.USE-CCS Greenwoods
Photograph: courtesy Camp Greenwoods

10. CCS-Greenwoods Boarding Camp
Community Center Shanghai is teaming up with Camp Greenwoods Shanghai for a bilingual all American-style boarding camp – think dodgeball, kayaking, baking, camp res and more. Located at Sun Island Resort in Qingpu district (about 60km from downtown), the week-long programmes will get kids physically active and outdoors, help build self-esteem with the support of camp counsellors and develop new skills. Register online or call 136 2191 9351.

Ages: Seven to 15 years old.
Dates: Every week from July 19 to August 22 (Sun-Sat).
Price: 9,000RMB.

11. China Sports United Boarding Camp
Your little ball of energy can choose between basketball, swimming and waterpolo, jazz dance or a whole mix of sports (basketball, football, volleyball, American football and baseball) at CSU’s boarding camps. This year, the five-day and -night programmes will be held at the Veritas Collegiate Academy Meihua campus next to Dianshan Lake. To register, call 6199 4816, add WeChat ID ‘paulinesisi’ or email pauline.shi@ chinasportsunited.cn.

Ages: Five to 14 years old.
Dates: Every week from August 3 to 26 (Mon- Fri, check-in on Sun night).
Price: 8,999RMB.

Photograph: courtesy ICONX

12. ICONX Summer Skateboard Camp
A camp for keen skateboarders, ICONX’s summer programmes are designed for all levels and cover everything from the basics to cool tricks. There are also extra activities to really get your kids into skate culture like skateboard DIY and painting. The sessions (9am-3pm) are held across all the ICONX skateparks – Crystal Plaza Mall, ‘The Cave’ at Himalayas Center and Jingan Sports & Fitness Center. To register, call 183 2148 6071 or add WeChat ID ‘iconxhelper’.

Ages: Six to 15 years old.
Dates: Every week until August 28.
Price: 3,299RMB (five days).

13. Craft’d Sewing and Craft Camps
The creatives over at Craft’d Shanghai will help your kids explore their crafty sides with two- or three-day sessions that cover sewing in the morning followed by general arts and crafts in the afternoon. Previous years’ activities have included tailoring pillowcases, making slime and baking cake pops. To sign up, call 136 4183 7908 or add WeChat ID: ‘craftdshanghai’.

Ages: From six years old.
Dates: Every week until August 14.
Price: Three-day camps 1,200RMB (half- day); 2,100RMB (full-day). Two-day camps750RMB (half-day); 1,400RMB (full-day). Discount available for siblings.

Photograph: courtesy Calin Fashion Academy

14. Calin Fashion Academy Fashionista Summer Camps
CFA’s two-week courses are tailored to teach budding designers how to sketch silhouettes, spot trends, create storyboards, drape and sew and much more. By the end of the ten sessions (10am-2pm), campers will have designed and sewn an original piece which they’ll then model down a runway and take part in a photoshoot. Visit catalinacalin.com or email info@catalinacalin.com.

Ages: 13 years old and up.
Dates: Every two weeks until July 24.
Price:1,200 RMB per day.

15. ELG Summer Program
Designed for children with special needs, Essential Learning Group’s (ELG) week-long courses are all about catering to the needs of individual students. Led by ELG’s team of educators and therapists, they offer a mix of hands-on activities like cooking, science experiments and music and movement that help kids to develop social skills, motor planning, communication and more. Call 5206 6273, email services@chinaelg.com or follow ‘elgchina’ on WeChat.

Ages: From three years old.
Dates: Weekly until July 31.
Price: 6,000RMB per week.

16. Shanghai City Ballet Summer Camp
Got kids who love to dance? At this camp, your troupe will learn a combo of ballet, jazz, contemporary and hip hop. At the end of the week, participants will put on a mini-performance to show off new skills. To sign up, add ‘SCP-admin’ on WeChat.

Ages: Three-12 years old.
Dates: Weekly until August 21.
Price: 1,800RMB (half-day, 9am-midday); 3,600RMB (full day, 9am-4pm).

And check out some one-day workshops and classes

Photograph: courtesy Multisport

17. Multisport Sunday Morning Camp
From gymnastics to help build strength, control and coordination to boxing classes in partnership with Golden Gloves, youngsters can try their hand at a whole mix of sport at these Sunday morning sessions. To sign up, call 5465 5715, email admin@multisport.com.cn or follow ‘MultiSport’ on WeChat.

Ages: Four years old and up.
Dates: Every Sun (9am-midday).
Price: 200RMB (one-hour class); 500RMB (full morning with three one-hour classes).

18. Green Steps Outdoor Activities
Get your nature lovers into the great outdoors with this eco-group. Workshops include the likes of wild cooking and ‘Plastic Pirates’ that teaches about the journey of waste and its impact on the local ecosystem (while doubling up as a cleanup). Follow ‘Green_Steps’ on WeChat.

Ages: Three to 12 years old.
Dates: Times and dates vary by session.
Price: 400RMB (one adult and one child).

19. PWS Kids Club
Where better to fine-tune your young artist’s motor skills and creative thinking than the pottery wheel? Ceramic studio PWS encourages kids to get hands-on (and messy) while making something from scratch. Add WeChat ID ‘13564377882’ or follow ‘pws-sh’.

Ages: Five to 13 years old.
Dates: Sat and Sun mornings (10.30am-midday).
Price: From 1,200RMB for four sessions to 14,400RMB for 48.

When the sun's shining, explore the great outdoors at these parks

Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe

An all-round classic Chinese park, Zhongshan has requisite leafy walkways, ballroom dancers and tai chi groups. It’s also got plenty of grassy space to fly a kite, chuck a frisbee around or put a rug down and settle in. It often gets busy, but since many come to let their children go wild (or let loose themselves), no one minds a few more running around.

Easy to reach from most of downtown Shanghai (hop on Line 2 wherever you are and it won’t be long before you arrive), this huge Pudong park is a popular spot for families for good reason. It’s got all kinds of activities to help kids burn off some of that youthful energy – green spaces to run around in, pedal boats on the lake, even a running track. If you’re looking for some quiet time with little ones, take a relaxing stroll through the flower gardens.

Photograph: Grey Elf

Escape the big-city vibes for a day of bucolic bliss at this verdant forest park. Unlike many of its more central counterparts, you can do what you want on the grass (though there are designated kite-flying areas) and it’s got barbecue pits.

A green escape in the heart of downtown Shanghai, what Fuxing Park lacks in size it makes up for in character. The charming French-style park is usually abuzz with dancing ayis, musicians and tai chi groups. If you’re looking to picnic away from the action that surrounds the main lawn, head towards the (slightly quieter) northeastern corner of the park by the Marx and Engels statue and you’ll be able to base yourself just a short walk from the Yandang Lu cafés and convenience stores for extra supplies.

One for future naturalists, this impressive botanical garden in Songjiang district covers a whopping 200 hectares (or two million square metres) and houses over 9,000 species of plants. It’s the perfect place to soak up some natural beauty.

Get to know the city from all angles with top family-friendly tours

Photograph: courtesy Shanghai Insiders

Cover serious ground cruising through Shanghai’s old neighbourhoods and hidden gems in a vintage Beijing Jeep with one of the city’s coolest tour companies, Shanghai Insiders. The guides are well-practised in recounting interesting tidbits and lesser-known history while winding through the city’s streets from sight to sight. They’ve also got child car seats if needed and can tailor itineraries for younger guests (kids below 12 need to be accompanied by at least one adult).

In a bid to help preserve and raise awareness of Shanghai’s vibrant past, heritage society Historic Shanghai has been piecing together and passing on stories from the city’s Golden Age and beyond for two decades. Hosting talks and walks that sprawl all over the city and cover everything from the revolutionaries who shaped Shanghai to the history behind the old lanes, they’re great for history-mad teens.

The customised tour specialists over at Bespoke Travel Company are putting on a special lineup of family-friendly activities to get your youngsters exploring the city and beyond this summer. Currently, there’s a DIY Bundside scavenger hunt in the works – a booklet that offers a guide to the neighbourhood with questions to answer and info to hunt down. They’re also planning a series of kid-friendly mini-breaks, including the Secret Suzhou day-trip that winds around the backstreets of the city with a local tour guide, as well as longer breaks like the Guilin Getaway that offers hiking, biking and more.

Rainy days dampening your spirits? Let your kids blow off some steam at indoor play centres

Photograph: courtesy Mini Mars

Organised chaos reigns at sprawling play paradise, Mini Mars. Found beneath sports bar Cages on the first floor of Jing’an Sports Centre, it’s got obstacle courses, foam pits, slides, dressing-up areas, circuit tracks... basically everything kids need to throw themselves about for a couple of action-packed hours. There’s also a less rambunctious baby zone for tots under two.

29. Kerry Adventure Zone
Kerry Hotel Pudong’s Adventure Zone is the sort of play area that makes you wish you were eight years old again. There’s a great jungle gym, ball pool, three fun slides and a range of various themed party rooms for kids to run riot in. A small café next door provides a more sedate spot to unwind for waiting parents. Pair it with brunch at The MEAT for free one-time entry.

Photograph: courtesy Twinkle Premium Kids Club

30. Twinkle Premium Kids Club
A treat for parents and kids alike, Twinkle Kids is a high-end indoor play area and quality café (with actually decent coffee and food) that should definitely be on your hitlist. There are a few locations dotted across the city, including an expansive flagship in the Shanghai Centre and its ever-popular Xintiandi space (pictured). The play areas have bouncy castles, ball pits, mini mock supermarkets and kitchens, karaoke stages and so on.

31. Peppa Pig World of Play
If you’ve got little ones obsessed with Peppa and co, this 1,100 square-metre play area is a winner. It’s ten zones are set up to look like scenes from the programme – Peppa’s house, George’s fort, Grandpa Pig’s garden and the ‘mud puddle’ (a firm favourite). It’s also got a load of activities to keep kids entertained while teaching about responsibilities, like helping Mummy Pig with the shopping, delivering mail for Zoe Zebra or learning to recycle in Peppa’s kitchen.

... and some of Shanghai's best kid-friendly museums

Photographs: Exhibition View of Epson TeamLab无界美术馆: TeamLab Borderless Shanghai, 2019, Shanghai, China © TeamLab. TeamLab is represented by Pace Gallery.

Explore the whimsical wonderland that is Tokyo-based digital art collective’s first outpost outside of Japan. A sensory overload of interactive exhibitions (think brightly coloured ‘forests’ of owers) this is one you and the kids will easily lose yourselves in.

This colossal museum is perhaps the best place in the city (and maybe even the country) for kids to discover all corners of the natural world. With interactive exhibits for young kids to more in-depth exhibitions for older ones, it houses fossil and taxidermy collections, panoramas on ancient agriculture, ethnic minorities’ traditional clothing and much more.

School might be out, but you can still put your kids’ (and your own) brains to the test at the immersive Museum of Optical Illusions. Here nothing is quite as it seems: rooms go topsy-turvy, heads float on platters, you can see your own face in kaleidoscopic patterns and more. There are also a load of puzzles to solve. Make sure your phone is fully charged – this one's all about the photo ops.

Part of the Shanghai Museum of Glass Park, KMoG is set up as a ‘glass city’. Upon entry, little explorers are given their own map so they can move about the space independently. A trip here is supposed to be an intuition-based experience, all in a supervised setting where touching something won’t end in tears.

The perfect hangout for history buffs in the making, this oldie-but-a-goodie packs in a huge collection of propaganda poster art and old Shanghai commercial posters from 1949-79. The original pieces on display were created by some of the best artists at the time.

Or settle in for a movie marathon with the whole family

5.USE-inside out
Image: courtesy Pixar Animation Studios

37. Inside Out
Prepare for a roller coaster of emotions is this Pixar flick. The key characters are actually a little girl’s feelings – Disgust, Joy, Sadness, to name a few – who accompany her on an unexpected move. Clever, charming and gut-bustingly funny, this is a movie for the whole crew. Available on Disney +.

38. My Neighbor Totoro
Studio Ghibli’s ageless movie is a delightful way to spend a couple of hours as a family. Two little girls move with their father to a remote new home in the country, and gradually become aware that something’s stirring in the trees outside. Available on Netflix.

39. Labyrinth
In this cult classic fairytale, a teenage girl is forced to enter a fantasy world and solve a wild labyrinth in order to rescue her brother from the Goblin King. It sounds dark, but the plot is really just for director Jim Henson to delight us with all manner of strange puppet creatures and musical numbers (little ones will be singing 'Magic Dance' for weeks). Available on Netflix.

40. Fantastic Mr Fox
Wes Anderson takes on Roald Dahl’s tale of Mr Fox – a dapper chap trying to protect his family from danger and his foes, three cider-swilling farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Available on Amazon Prime.

41. Boyhood
One for teens, Boyhood is a sweeping portrait of childhood, the teenage years and parenthood in all their glory, pain and messiness, it’s a uniquely relatable movie whether you’re 15 or 50. Available on Netflix.

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