Weekend in Shanghai: 15 Reasons Why It Became My Favorite Asian City

April 19, 2017

Shanghai China

“You’d better hurry!” said the concierge.

We’d just returned to our hotel after at the end of our weekend in Shanghai. We wanted to see the Bund at night but had just been informed that the lights go out at 10:00 pm. Prompt.

With a mere 15 minutes before lights-out, we took a right turn out of our hotel and sprinted down the alley with several blocks to cover to reach the Bund. Not an easy task for a woman with a foot-long titanium rod in her leg and a repaired diaphragm, but I’m nothing if not tenacious.

The Bund at night is just one of the marvels of Shanghai during my Viking River Cruise “Imperial Jewels of China” tour.   With a population of 24 million, it’s the third most populous city in the world. China is an epic trip, and while sites like the Great Wall and Terra Cotta Warriors are Bucket List worthy, Shanghai, the stunning hotbed of growth, culture, and diversity, was my favorite. The sparkling city exudes a vibe of vivacity and an interesting juxtaposition of ancient traditions and spectacular modern architecture.

1.  Walk the Bund during the day.

Shanghai China

The heart and symbol of Shanghai is the Bund, an upscale riverside boardwalk that runs along the western bank of the Huangpu River. 26 colonial-era buildings of different western styles on one side lend a distinctly old European flavor. Lined on the other side of the Huangpu River is just the opposite – a sci-fi looking skyline.

2.  Now go back to the Bund at night.

Shanghai China

Yes, we did make it before the lights went out, with 5 minutes to spare.  It was probably the most amazing five minutes in Shanghai.  Across the Huangpu River, the uniquely-shaped high rise buildings were lit up in a dazzling array of neon colors.  Oriental Pearl Tower, World Financial Center, Jin Mao Tower, and Shanghai Tower, dominate the skyline forming the iconic Instagram backdrop.

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3.  Wander around the Yuyuan Gardens

Shanghai China

Yuyuan Gardens is an extensive Chinese garden in the northeast of the Old City of Shanghai. Located in the center of Old Shanghai, the rambling gardens are saturated with traditional pavilions, winding paths, rockeries, towers, bridges, grottoes and ponds dating back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)  . Yu Garden is composed of six scenic areas: Sansui Hall, Wanhua Chamber, Dianchun Hall, Huijing Hall, Yuhua Hall, and the Inner Garden. The Exquisite Jade Rock is one of the three most famous rockeries in south China.

4.  See the bell show in Old Shanghai.

Shanghai China

On one of the narrow alleys in Old Shanghai, is the shop which has bellowing bells at various times of the day. You’ll hear it before you see it. Follow the sound and take a few minutes to listen to the way bells were played in ancient China.

5.  Backstreet souvenirs.

souvenirs in China

Away from the bustling crowds, tucked into the alleys from Old Shanghai to the Bund is where you’ll find the best bargains. From silk and textiles, Chinese lanterns, fans, handmade dolls, or a propaganda poster, you can find just about anything.

The Bazaar in Old Shanghai is also a great place to find traditional hand-made souvenirs as well as the ubiquitous touristy gadgets. The vibrant bazaar dates back to the Ming Dynasty and is a must-do for your weekend in Shanghai.

If you prefer more upscale shopping, head over to Nanjing Road, a six-mile string of international retailers, local shops, and department stores. Reminiscent of New York’s Fifth Avenue, it’s a crowded area, and though bargains are scarce, the frenetic atmosphere alone is worth the venture.

6.  Sample authentic street food.

chinese street food

Shanghai is the nation’s food epicenter, so don’t miss the street food. It’s delicious. Some specialties include sheng jian bao (pan-fried dumplings), chai pan wonton, cong you bing (scallion pancakes), tofu flower soup, guo tie (pot stickers), stir-fried noodles, kebabs, and man tou (steamed buns). Spicy, sweet, oily, and pungent, there are so many choices, so be prepared for sensory overload! The best thing to do is to try a very small sample of a very lot of foodstuffs. If you’re daring, try the stinky tofu – a Chinese form of fermented tofu that has a strong odor.  It’s also fun to take a food tour in Shanghai!

7.  Visit the Shanghai Museum.

Shanghai China

Located in the center of Shanghai in People’s Square, Shanghai Museum is considered one of China’s first world-class modern museums. It’s filled with more than 120,000 pieces of ancient Chinese paintings, sculptures, furniture, calligraphy, bronze, textiles, and coins. There are live demonstrations of styles of ancient art-making such as painting and textiles.

8.  Marvel at the acrobat show.

Shanghai China

The classic Shanghai Acrobatic performers are considered amongst the best in the world. The show is popular with tourists and sells out fast. We were mesmerized by the death-defying feats and spectacular lighting. In fact, I was so spellbound, I actually forgot to take photos of some of the acts. I don’t remember that ever happening!

9.  Ride the Maglev.

Shanghai China

Photo by orange Brompton

The Maglev, the fastest train in the world, hits a maximum speed of 267 mph – twice the speed of the average roller coaster, and does it without touching the tracks, using magnetic levitation technology.

10.  Get a bird’s-eye view of the city.

weekend in shanghai

Photo by D.H. Parks

Shanghai is a vertical city, so climb to the sky for an eye-popping view. Just opposite the Bund, the 1,535 foot high, pink spherical Oriental Pearl Radio Tower is one of the most recognized landmarks. The Pearl has an upper observation platform that includes an outside area with a 1.5-inch glass floor. The other building for observation is the modern twisting Shanghai Tower, which as of 2015 is the world’s tallest building (by height to highest usable floor – 127) with the world’s highest observation deck.

11.  Eat French fries with a view.

Shanghai China

One of my weaknesses is French fries, and along with ice cream, I try to find them in every country I visit. We hit the jackpot in finding a tiny-but-charming café with a third-story balcony offering an impressive view of the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Bund. Add a steaming mug of cappuccino…..heaven!

12. Explore the French Concession.

Different than the skyscrapers and glitz of modern Shanghai, the idyllic former French Concession encompasses leafy sycamore-lined boulevards, spotless flower-lined pathways,    Colonial French architecture dates back to the late 19th century to mid-twentieth century, and in the 1920s, it was the richest residential area in Shanghai. Concessions were the lands given to individual governments and controlled by those governments. The Chinese took back the French Concession in 1943.

An entire day could be spent wandering the spotless streets in this large area in the middle of Shanghai. The Shanghai Arts and Crafts Museum and Former Residence of Dr. Sun Yat-sen are here, along with myriad dumpling sellers, bistros and tea houses.  If you get to Fuxing Park early in the morning you can witness (or join) a tai chi class.

13. Take in the Vibe of Tianzifang.

Set in narrow alleys surrounded by architecture that were once stone-framed-door homes and factories, Tianzifang is now an artsy rabbit warren with hundreds of shops selling art, crafts, and silk, cafes, bars, and tea houses.  Business owners joined together with homeowners to prevent redevelopment and preserve the original architecture. It’s less touristy and the place to go, frequented by trend-setters and ex-pats, and as such, we found the quality and prices here higher than in other parts of Shanghai.

14. Stay at the Yangtze Boutique Hotel.

The perfect place to stay for a weekend in Shanghai is the Yangtze Boutique Hotel, conveniently located in People’s Square, just steps from Nanjing Road, the main pedestrian shopping area of Shanghai, and one of the world’s busiest shopping streets. Founded in 1933, the hotel was dubbed “the third-largest hotel in the Far East,” and was a popular haunt for Shanghai movie stars and celebrities. The Art Deco interior design of the hotel includes a grand carved staircase and exquisite stained glass, artfully combined with traditional Chinese furnishings.

15.  Take a photo with a local.

weekend in shanghai

Everywhere in Shanghai, especially on the Bund, locals would ask if they could take their picture with us. Perhaps it was two blondes in the midst of a sea of dark hair, or maybe they were just friendly. Sometimes I’d have a baby thrust into my arms; other times it was a family portrait. One young man asked us to sing happy birthday on his video to his girlfriend. On another occasion, I pulled out a prop for a photo op, and within a few seconds, at least 50 Chinese had pulled out their cell phones. Click, click, click, click, they took photos of me holding the prop for around 20 seconds. Of course, I was glad to oblige and just stood there smiling. My proverbial 15 minutes of fame!

My weekend in Shanghai stole my heart. I did not have enough time. That sci-fi skyline is burned into my memory, and if I could beam myself up (Scotty), that’s where I’d go.

If you have more time than a weekend in Shanghai, it’s is the perfect base for exploring more of China. Here’s info about visiting Nanjing, here’s a fascinating day trip to the canal town of Tongli, here’s more info about a day trip from Shanghai to Hangzhou, and here are 12 cities in China you won’t want to miss!

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Click below to PIN so you can find a weekend in Shanghai again!


You may also be interested in:

Headed to Beijing? Don’t Miss These 12 Experiences

9 Cities in China Tugging on Your Wanderlust

Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of Viking River Cruises and the Yangtze Boutique Hotel (a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide) during her stay in Shanghai, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.

About the Author

Patti MorrowPatti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.”  Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal.  She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.


  1. Comment by Rebecca

    Rebecca Reply April 24, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    My! I would love to experience that train – and that Bund view both at day and night is pretty impressive.

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply May 1, 2017 at 6:24 pm

      The Bund is one of my favorite places in the world!

  2. Comment by Jane

    Jane Reply April 25, 2017 at 8:10 am

    I love your before/after day/night shots of Shanghai, and the overview at night of the city all lit up. Looks like you packed a lot in on your visit!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply May 1, 2017 at 6:23 pm

      We sure did see a lot, but I would absolutely love to go back because there’s even more!

  3. Comment by Leyla Giray Alyanak

    Leyla Giray Alyanak Reply April 25, 2017 at 8:22 am

    Just goes to show you should always give a place a second change. I spent several weeks in Shanghai about 20 years ago and I never saw the sun shine… I can’t remember the season but it was obviously the wrong one. Because it rained or was foggy (and HUGE) I didn’t visit as much as I should have and now I can see I missed plenty! So maybe it’s time for a second visit…

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply May 1, 2017 at 6:22 pm

      Oh, do give Shanghai a second chance! It’s wonderful!

  4. Comment by Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields

    Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields Reply April 29, 2017 at 7:23 am

    Shanghai is on our bucket list. We have always been a bit put off by the sheer size of the city. I am amazed that it is only the third largest city in the world. Where on earth are numbers 1 and 2?

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply May 1, 2017 at 6:22 pm

      It is pretty big, but it actually feels very cozy and do-able. Especially in comparison to an even larger city like Tokyo, which was very intimidating to me when I was there.

  5. Comment by Lyn @ A Hole in my Shoe

    Lyn @ A Hole in my Shoe Reply April 29, 2017 at 8:19 am

    We are going to Shanghai in June and very happy to read this post and give us some ideas on what to see and do

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply May 1, 2017 at 6:21 pm

      Lyn — you are going to love it! Can’t wait to hear about your adventures!

  6. Comment by Mike Hinshaw

    Mike Hinshaw Reply May 5, 2017 at 11:56 pm

    We are thinking about one of the Viking China cruises for next year. I am guessing you recommend it young lady?

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply May 6, 2017 at 8:45 am

      I highly recommend Viking, Mike. They really know how to do it. You get a great deal of luxury and extras like excursions, but at an extremely affordable price. It’s the only way to see China, which is logistically a challenge to get from place to place.

  7. Comment by oursweetadventures

    oursweetadventures Reply May 30, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    Are you serious with that skyline!!!!! incredible! I can’t wait to go to Shanghai. The street food would be very interesting and would take a little bravery and a leap from my comfort zone. I wonder what the other side of the river looks like?

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply May 30, 2017 at 10:53 pm

      I’m so jealous! You are going to LOVE Shanghai! I can’t wait to go back!

  8. Comment by ada

    ada Reply May 31, 2017 at 7:47 am

    The Bund at night looks fabulous! I am a big fun of skylines and this one is one of the best ones! I bet street food was amazing! You cant go wrong with Chinese food in China 🙂 But I love your little story about french fries haha So in what country did you found the best ones?

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply June 5, 2017 at 8:06 pm

      I’d go back to the Bund any day! Shanghai is fabulous, and Viking really does it right. BTW, the best French Fries are definitely in the US!

  9. Comment by Rachelle

    Rachelle Reply May 31, 2017 at 12:50 pm

    Love this! I’m so glad that you were able to make it to see the lights in time! Of course, one of my biggest draws to visiting Shanghai is the food! What was your favorite new find? Did you try anything “weird?”

  10. Comment by Daniela || Ipanema travels to

    Daniela || Ipanema travels to Reply May 31, 2017 at 6:42 pm

    I have never been to China… So much hope one day I will be able to visit this country.

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply June 5, 2017 at 8:08 pm

      There’s so much history and culture and fabulous places to visit. I hope you get there. Do consider Viking River Cruises.

  11. Comment by Wanderlust Vegans

    Wanderlust Vegans Reply June 2, 2017 at 1:11 am

    Shanghai looks fun to wander around. I like the high speed train. That sounds fun to ride.

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply June 5, 2017 at 8:09 pm

      You can’t go wrong anywhere in Shanghai!

  12. Comment by Riely

    Riely Reply June 3, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    There are many reasons to visit Shanghai The bund during the day and night seems like a highlight of the trip. How interesting the different architecture from opposite sides of the river. The acrobat show would be at the top of my list as well for activities. Thanks for sharing.

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply June 5, 2017 at 8:10 pm

      I was so fascinated at the acrobat show that I forgot to take pictures for part of it! Love, love, love the Bund!

  13. Comment by Kellyn

    Kellyn Reply June 4, 2017 at 3:27 am

    Beautiful photos. I’ve never thought about visiting Shanghai, but you certainly make a case for it. Thanks for sharing. Seems like a place to check out at least once.

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply June 5, 2017 at 8:11 pm

      It’s my favorite place in China. You’d love it!

  14. Comment by Chiara

    Chiara Reply June 4, 2017 at 4:38 am

    Even if Shanghai has never been on top of my list, I would love to visit it one day, I’ve gotten curious about it 🙂

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply June 5, 2017 at 8:12 pm

      Shanghai was even better than I thought it would be!

  15. Comment by James

    James Reply June 4, 2017 at 6:05 am

    The Bund is definitely bucket list worthy, I have visited the Terracotta soldiers and the Great Wall, but the Bund is definitely up there with them! It was worth running for from the hotel to catch the light show at 10 pm. When I see the Bund, it reminds me of the Bond film, Skyfall, in which it features heavily, I think there was a Tom Cruise film filmed there recently too.

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply June 5, 2017 at 8:13 pm

      Lol, there was no way I was going to miss the Bund at night! We were quite a site, sprinting through the city! I’ll have to check out those movies again just to see the Bund!

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  17. Comment by Cadu

    Cadu Reply September 24, 2017 at 11:04 am

    It’s difficult to choose only one favourite city, but you gave us really good reasons to visit Shangai. And it’s so funny how the photo 11 has a Paris mood, not only because of the tower. Nice shoot!

  18. Comment by claus andersen

    claus andersen Reply August 14, 2018 at 12:24 am

    Shanghai is a fantastic city with an excellent vibe. I really love this globalised city and enjoy it every time I return.

  19. Comment by Agness

    Agness Reply January 13, 2019 at 8:46 pm

    Oh this is wonderful Patti. I always love to walk at the Bund at night. By the way, have you tried Taipei?

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply January 17, 2019 at 5:55 pm

      I haven’t been to Taipei yet! Would love to visit someday.

  20. Comment by Michele Peterson

    Michele Peterson Reply May 27, 2019 at 12:42 pm

    I too love Shanghai and was surprised at how green and clean it was! I was expecting polluted air and traffic but instead found parks, museums and cycling paths. After reading your post si wish I’d spent more time there

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  22. Comment by Suzanne Fluhr

    Suzanne Fluhr Reply May 27, 2019 at 10:29 pm

    We’ve been to Hong Kong, Singapore and Taipei, but for some reason, I can’t get Mr. Excitement interested in visiting mainland China. I’m saving this post to my newly created China Pinterest board and maybe I’ll make him take a look. It actually reminds me of our experiences in the 3 cities I mentioned all of which we enjoyed.

  23. Comment by Carol Colborn

    Carol Colborn Reply May 28, 2019 at 11:11 am

    I’ve been to Shanghai for a business trip so I had time only for those backstreet souvenirs and a little of the Bund since we stayed at the Hyatt. I would love to go back and experience that fastest train in the world, for example!

  24. Comment by Carole Terwilliger Meyers

    Carole Terwilliger Meyers Reply May 30, 2019 at 9:53 pm

    Love your 15 reasons. One thing I saw in Shanghai but had no idea what it was is the bell display. I still don’t quite understand what it is all about, but I took a picture, too. Riding the Maglev was perhaps the most surprising thing I did.

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  26. Comment by Martian_Mike

    Martian_Mike Reply November 27, 2019 at 7:55 pm

    shanghai is the place i grow up, take all my feelings to you. Welcome all abroad visitors come to visit!

  27. Comment by Nomadicnava

    Nomadicnava Reply February 14, 2020 at 6:12 pm

    Wow! I’ve never been to Shanghai, it looks alot nicer than I would have thought!

  28. Comment by Kaylini Naidoo

    Kaylini Naidoo Reply June 16, 2020 at 11:25 am

    Shanghai looks so incredible. Very modern on the one side yet charm, character and tradition too. I’ve always found whilst travelling in China especially in the North people wanted to take pictures with me too. I was so intrigued because although I’m south African I’m Indian by ethnicity so I thought there couldn’t be much special about me why would people want pictures . Thanks for the great list!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply June 16, 2020 at 8:27 pm

      Shanghai is amazing and I’d love to go back someday. The people are so friendly so I’m not surprised that they wanted pictures of you, too!

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