18 brilliant things to do in Shanghai before you're 18

Start checking these must-do experiences off your family bucket list

Photograph: courtesy Chongming Tourism Bureau
We live in a city of endless experiences – many of which will stay with you for the rest of your life. Here are the must-dos to cross off before becoming a grown-up.

1. Get up for morning tai chi training on The Bund

Early risers try to make it down to The Bund for this one if you can. The famous landmark – one of the city’s busiest tourist destinations – is almost unrecognisable in the wee hours of the morning, when you can watch residents practising tai chi, dancing with swords, playing badminton and flying kites.

2. Check out Chongming Island

When you’re looking to soak up some nature, Chongming Island is a sure bet. Often referred to as China’s third biggest island, families can visit organic farm Mahota, go birdwatching among the reeds at the eastern Dongtan nature reserve, fire up the barbecue at Dongping Forest Park and lots more.

3. Take in a Shanghai derby

Got a football-obsessed kid on your hands? If you only go to one game, make it the Shanghai derby. That is, Shanghai Shenhua taking on Shanghai SIPG. The atmosphere is great with crowds made up of passionate (but friendly) fans – just be warned, getting tickets for the game can be an experience in itself. A difficult one at that!
Shanghai Stadium, 666 Tianyaoqiao Lu, near Lingling Lu (sipg-fc.com).
Hongkou Football Stadium, 444 Dong Jiangwan Lu, near Sichuan Bei Lu (shenhuafc.com.cn).

4. See the world from above at the Shanghai Tower

41.used-courtesy Eriksson Luo on Unsplash
Photograph: Eriksson Luo via Unsplash

Satisfy your inner shutterbug from the dizzying heights of the Shanghai Tower – also known as the world’s second tallest building. On a clear day you can skyrocket up 118 floors to its observation deck. From here, you’ll be sitting 546 metres in the sky with incredible unobstructed 360-degree views of Shanghai below. It’s probably the closest most of us are going to get to feeling on top of the world (literally).

5. Cheer on the Dragon Boat racers at Suzhou Creek

Blazing into the city every May or June, the dragon boat racing spectacle at Suzhou Creek is not to be missed. Watch the rowers in their auspicious, dragon-resembling boats while snacking on zongzi, the festival’s traditional glutinous rice treat. To get to Suzhou Creek, take Line 1 to Xinzha Lu and head out of Exit 1, crossing Xinzha Lu to get to the water.

6. Experience the bright lights of Lantern Festival at Yuyuan

41.used-Lantern Festival - courtesy Yang Xiaozhe
Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe

Insanely crowded it might be and during Spring Festival even more so but with good reason: Yuyuan really does Chinese New Year right. Dazzling light displays adorn this genuinely beautiful space, with centrepieces revolving around the year’s new lunar zodiac sign. It all ends with the Gardens’ Lantern Festival where hundreds of lanterns are put on show to mark the final act of the festival. Yuyuan, 137 Anren Jie, near Fuyou Lu.

7. Pretend you’re in Japan and check out the cherry blossoms in spring

You might be based in Shanghai but that doesn’t mean you can’t get away from time to time, even if it’s just spiritually. Make like you’re in Kyoto in March and visit one of Shanghai’s public gardens to take in its cherry blossoms. The city’s largest green space at Chenshan Botanical Gardens is one of the best for admiring them – and for taking pretty pink selfies.

8. Reinvent yourselves with bespoke threads at the fabric market

41.used-Fabric Market 4
Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe

There’s never a bad time to get that well-loved, outgrown pair of jeans replicated or to go all in and get yourself a whole new look at the South Bund Fabric Market. Here, tailors will happily make or replicate items for all ages and at reasonable prices – matching mother and daughter qipaos, anyone?

9. Traverse the great Puxi-Pudong divide via ferry
Both Puxi and Pudong neighbourhoods rock and because of their geographical distances, we get to take advantage of a smashing ferry service between them. For 2RMB, hop on from either side and watch the Pearl Tower glide by on the short, direct journey. We love jumping on at night when the city lights are brightest. Take the metro to Xiaonanmen for the Fuxing Dong Lu Station or Lujiazui for the Jinling Dong Lu Station.

10. Lose yourself in the Kids Museum of Glass

Photograph: courtesy Kids Museum of Glass

For a day of artistic discovery, ‘glass city’ the Kids Museum of Glass should be on every Shanghai kids’ bucket list. Part of the Shanghai Museum of Glass Park, upon entry, little explorers are given their own map so they can move about the space independently exploring areas like the glass zoo, a mirror maze and tons of Instagram-worthy art.

11. Throw yourself around for a few hours at Mini Mars

Photograph: courtesy Mini Mars

Organised chaos reigns supreme at sprawling play paradise, Mini Mars. Found beneath sports bar Cages on the first floor of Jingan 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.

12. Watch live tennis at the Shanghai Rolex Masters

Come October Shanghai turns into the tennis capital of the world and (unlike Wimbledon) getting tickets to see the best players here is a pretty straight forward task. With appearances from Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and co, tons of fan interaction opportunities and state of the art arenas, the tournament is a slice of heaven for tennis fans. Visit en.shanghairolexmasters.com for more.

13. Eat and learn how to make Shanghai's best food

"First Stop - potstickers & shengjianbao 11"
Photograph: courtesy UnTour

One for budding foodies, UnTour’s three-hour Hands-On Dumpling Delights tour takes families on a walking tour of Shanghai’s best-kept dumpling restaurants to try over half a dozen different varieties of the cultural icon. Their expert tour guides will then explain the history of each one, after which students head to a professional kitchen to try their hand at making their own. Visit untourfoodtours.com or follow ‘UnTourFoodTours’ on WeChat.

14. Explore the colossal Shanghai Natural History Museum

The Shanghai Natural History 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.

15. Splash around in a waterpark

41.used-Playa Maya 1
Photograph: courtesy Playa Maya

Pool time is always welcome in the summer when the weather’s humid and sweltering. Saunter down to Dino Beach in Minhang for its huge wave pool and numerous water slides. Or, check out Sheshan’s Playa Maya that boasts a double-track roller-coaster as well as almost every aquatic activity under the sun.

16. Buy a pair of Feiyues

Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe

An iconic local footwear brand founded in Shanghai in 1963, Feiyue is an obvious choice for sneakerheads in Shanghai, and you’ll find them in all shapes and styles at Culture Matters (there are stores all over the city). As well as the originals, here you’ll find ‘I HEART SH’ high-tops, a hand-painted collection and more.

17. Go all out at Shanghai Disneyland on Children's Day

Photograph: courtesy Shanghai Disney Resort

Children’s Day in China is kind of a big deal. So big in fact that kids practically get bombarded with enough online promotions and sales discounts to warrant a second Christmas. Well, we say tune out the noise and just spend the day at Shanghai Disneyland. The park is celebrating its five-year anniversary in Shanghai this year, and what better way to mark a public holiday all about children than on the Tron, Pirates of the Caribbean and Roaring Rapids rides?

18. Treat yo’self to a swanky staycation

Shanghai sure does cater to the finer things in life, so get a taste of the good living early at one of the city’s many high-end hotels. The fancy facilities at the Sofitel Shanghai Sheshan Oriental will have you thinking you’re Kevin McCallister in Home Alone 2 in no time – we’re talking a series of giant outdoor pools (covering 4,400 square metres!) paired with faux sandy beaches for parents to kick back, an indoor playground and mini golf room. Just don’t forget to order room service.

Read more