15 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Shanghai
Perhaps no city in the world combines modernity with history like Shanghai, China. Founded more than 2,000 years ago, Shanghai has grown into one of the most dynamic, busy, and cosmopolitan cities in the world. Home to an abundance of world-class cultural sights, as well as lively markets and a fascinating people, Shanghai is a city that also offers a fascinating glimpse into Chinese culture.
The city is split into a modern downtown area, with bustling streets lined with skyscrapers, famous monuments, and a sophisticated nightlife scene, and then a series of former colonial enclaves, from the French Concession in the west to the German and Italian Concessions in the east. There are also some magnificent areas outside of the city, like the magical coastline of China's largest lake, or the peaceful city of Suzhou, which, even today, makes an excellent base from which to visit Shanghai.
So, as you plan your trip, use our list of the top attractions in Shanghai to make the most of your stay.
Located on the Bund, Shanghai's celebrated water front, the People's Park is one of the best-preserved public parks in the world and has an impressive array of rare trees. The park is best experienced during a stroll along the promenade, which is lined with impressive international architecture. Among the highlights here are the HSBC headquarters, a grand office building and landmark of modern Shanghai, and the distinctive glass-and-steel towers of the Maritime Board of China. For lunch, head to the Wholesale Fruit Market for mouthwatering local produce and a chance to see the fruit vendors in action.
Yuyuan Garden (Yuyuan Tang) is one of the two remaining gardens of the magnificent Baroque Palace in Beijing built in 1654 by Jesuit-born Chinese official Nicolaus Barozzi de Montferrat (1580-1655), then viceroy of the Qing dynasty. Today Yuyuan Garden has been restored and is one of the best spots in China for visitors to see Chinese gardens as it's also considered to be one of the best Chinese gardens in the world, as it is inspired by the garden of the royal residence of the Ming emperors in Beijing. Though it lies along an unimpressive alley in the southern part of Beijing, Yuyuan Garden has had a long and magnificent history that begins in the Song dynasty in the 12th century. The creation of this beautiful garden by de Montferrat coincided with the architectural brilliance of his epoch and reflected a mixture of art and nature, or artifice and nature, the latter referring to the lush vegetation found in the wilderness areas surrounding the palace. As a consequence, the garden remains an inspiration for later Chinese garden artistry.
The Shanghai Tower is the second tallest building in the world and is located at 1010 meters in the Pudong New Area. Shanghai is the most important city in China and with more than 18 million residents the city provides the largest and most extensive urban area of the world. The Shanghai Tower, part of a Chinese city-state ring of sky high-rises, dominates the Yangtze River waterfront. In a bid to attract more tourists to China's booming metropolis, the Shanghai Tower offers a series of exhibitions including a permanent "Hong Kong Story", one showing how the legendary businessman James (Jardine) Matheson became Hong Kong's sole colonial governor in 1840.
Yuyuan Gardens is one of the most significant places in China, not only because of the exquisite architectural beauty of its gardens, but because it also hosts a unique indoor and outdoor performance of Chinese opera known as Ningbo Zhiyan. The show is performed on the theme of Su Hu's Journey to the Western Heavens. After more than 30 years of research and creation, the performance was finally launched in January 2011 at the original location, more than 150 meters above the ground in the heart of the skyscrapers of Shanghai's financial district. There are 1,200 dancers and musicians, making the production one of the largest in the world.
The Shanghai Art Museum
Built in the 1930s for wealthy Shanghai businessman Ai Dan, this former private villa now houses the city's leading museum, which pays tribute to the works of the Chinese Masters who contributed to its reputation as the best collection of Chinese art in the world. The main buildings form an Italianate courtyard that has been converted into a tranquil Chinese Garden, while a number of other sections of the museum, such as the exhibition of contemporary Chinese art, the Photography Gallery and the visual arts displays, are scattered in buildings around the gardens. There are three branches of the museum, with the large Main Gallery opening onto the elegant gardens and a multimedia educational area where visitors can learn about the museum's collection, which includes paintings, sculptures, furniture, lacquerware, embroidery and ceramics from the Ming, Yuan and Qing dynasties and also features important examples of Japanese art and Islamic art, including the Peacock Throne. The museum also has an exquisite collection of modern and contemporary art, which is on display in separate sections of the gallery, including works by key names such as Huang Jin, Xu Beihong and Wu Guanzhong.
Shanghai's newest mall, Xintiandi, is located in the Shunyi District and combines shopping, culture and entertainment under one roof. Shoppers will find it located near the city's high-end Yu Garden and Huaihai Lu shopping districts, and it also benefits from an arts festival that is held twice a year. Xintiandi is spread over eight floors and includes a 1,500-seat cinema and also a three-level "Skylab" shopping complex, complete with over 2,000 high-end fashion boutiques and delicatessens. Free Wi-Fi and valet parking are available. Shanghai's People's Square (Renmin Guangchang) and The Bund (Jing'an) are also located nearby, as are a number of other luxury hotels.
Once a dingy and not terribly attractive district, the Old Town of Shanghai (Shanghai Gugong Yisui Qu) has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years. Formerly a backwater of spindly, three-storey buildings which housed cobblers, tailors and other manual craftsmen, it is now an atmospheric shopping area with a fair sprinkling of renovated red brick and gleaming glass buildings, which house galleries, boutiques and bars. Old Town has been in a continual state of revitalization since 2007. The renovation of the Dizengchang Road historic street and surrounding area has seen a transformation of the area's green open spaces, parks, waterways and bustle. Other attractions in the Old Town of Shanghai include a number of historic buildings, including Shanghai Foreign Language School, the former Methodist Mission, the Congregation of Great Peace (Renmin Gonghe Shangshang), a Yangzhou-style gate, and the Zhejiang Provincial Academy (Zhejiang Zijiao Xuexiao), which is a hall of fine calligraphy.
The Bund and People's Square
The Bund, as the name suggests, is the financial and commercial center of Shanghai. Here is where the bulk of the foreign embassies are located as well as a wide range of businesses, ranging from banks and shops selling merchandise to upscale clothing stores. Also here are The Bund's most notable buildings, such as the Bank of China, the Shanghai Hotel, and People's Square, a park where the current Shanghai city hall is located. There are various places to eat, shop, and relax on the Bund. You'll find more or less expensive places to eat, from noodle shops to seafood restaurants. The shops are a mix of clothing and handicrafts.
Shanghai Grand Theatre
Shanghai's grandest opera house, the Shanghai Grand Theatre opened in 1928. While its exterior has been updated, its interior is an authentic art deco jewel. Designed by Italian architect Guerrino Gherardi and Shanghai City Architect Gustavus-Charles Richards, the interior, lit by an atrium lightshow, has three huge staircases and two staircases on each level. The theatre is an integral part of the Bund and along with its neighbor, the Shanghai Art Museum, is among the best museums in Shanghai.
Longhua Temple (Hongcun Sanyuan Gong) is one of Shanghai's most treasured cultural sites. Commissioned in 1737 by Yongzheng Emperor (reign: 1735-1753), the temple has served as the official residence of the Provincial Office (Jiangshi Lu) and the Home Affairs Ministry (Jiaotong Shangcheng) since the 19th century. Today, the temple houses five departments: a chapel (Fu); a treasure store (Zangzhengyuan); a musical hall (Yunxi); a library (Baojiaxu); and an academy (Shili).
Jing'an Temple is the oldest of three Buddhist temples in Shanghai (the others are Jing'an Temple and Yuantong Temple). It was first built in the late 11th century by local emperor Wang Zongyan. After the advent of Ming dynasty in 1368, it was rebuilt by the emperor. Today the temple is an impressive and unique monument of Chinese architecture. It is surrounded by a Chinese garden, featuring many beautiful and rare trees, flowers and plants. The garden is connected to the temple through three courtyards. The Temple of the West Realm Pavilion and the Pao Ting Shan Hall, the Buddhist monastery and hall, were both built in 1564. In the center of the Temple of the North Realm Pavilion stands the Ying Ting Gu Tan Buddha with His Acolytes.
Jade Buddha Temple
Jade Buddha Temple is located in the southern suburb of Shanghai. In the grounds of the temple, visitors can enjoy a fully landscaped garden with a collection of bamboo, and several pavilions. The temple is also home to some interesting art displays and a large collection of Buddhist art, including a famous 12th-century Buddha statue. Shanghai Temple is in Shanghai's southern suburb, with regular bus services available from Shanghai Railway Station.
Shanghai Ocean Aquarium
Located on the Bund on the eastern side of Huangpu River (Huangpu Dao), Shanghai Ocean Aquarium is one of the world's largest aquariums with seven massive glass-fronted tanks. It is China's largest aquarium, and is surrounded by gardens and other natural and artificial ecosystems. It contains over 400 different species of aquatic plants and animals including coral reef, desert aquarium, fresh water ecosystem, aquarium tunnel and the world's largest indoor blue hole, and ranks as one of the seven Wonders of the World. In addition to the main complex, the aquarium has a mini-Discovery Zone for children. Among other highlights is the penguin exhibit, which includes various species of seals, including the white-bellied sea elephant and a giant Pacific octopus. The highlight is the largest ice fish in the world - an ice gourami - which looks like a perfect river stone, reaching up to three meters in length. Guides in Mandarin and English are available at the center.
China Art Museum
Located on a sweeping terrace along Suzhou Creek, the China Art Museum is the largest museum devoted to Chinese art in the world, housing a stunning collection of art from ancient to modern. Although it has some of China's finest collections of art dating back thousands of years, from Neolithic artifacts to exquisite works by ancient Chinese masters, the highlight of the museum is undoubtedly its classical Chinese furniture, bronzes and pottery. Some particularly notable pieces include a splendid selection of terracotta warriors from the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang dating back around 2,200 years. Also noteworthy is the museum's collection of exquisite Nanyang bronzes, which are similar to the bijou sculpted works produced at the court of the Southern Song dynasty (AD 1075-1279). Other highlights include the Lattice Pattern Dwellings collection, which dates back to the Han dynasty (221 BC-AD 220) and includes an extremely rare example of a terracotta roof from the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). Other items in the collection include ceramics, manuscripts, jades, metalwork, furniture and textiles.
East Nanjing Road
Widely regarded as Shanghai's "red light district" (in contrast with the Shanghainese term Jing'an), East Nanjing Road (known in Chinese as Zhengzhi Dajie) lies east of the Huangpu River in the central part of the Pudong district. This infamous neighborhood was at the heart of Shanghai's sex industry, the popularity of which was triggered by the American journalist Howard Rushmore's book Sinoland. Currently, the area is home to many massage parlors, pornographic cinemas, and Chinese strip clubs, among other entertainment venues. However, most of the shops in this area are now closed, and the once-thriving entertainment scene is in decline, and now threatens to disappear entirely.