If you are passing through China and find yourself with just 24 hours in Shanghai, how do you make the most of your time? Shanghai is a great stopover city, and this short guide will help you enjoy one day in Shanghai, on a budget.
ShanghaiShanghai has been a commercial hub for many, many years. The deep, natural harbour made it an attractive prospect for those who ran the world with their naval might. Money and goods flowed in and out of the city, attracting the biggest business barons and entrepreneurial marketeers, along with the less savoury pirates and ne’er do wells that go along with all that wealth. Traders flocked in from all over the world, creating layers of different cultures, and self-contained little “concessions” for different nationalities of ex-pats. Sadly, the influx of new residents often treated the native Chinese as second class citizens. China reclaimed the city as it own in the 1940s and transformed it into the modern city we see today. These days, most visitors arrive from the sky rather than the sea, and luckily Shanghai has kept pace with a huge International airport (PVG). Whether you are arriving in Shanghai by plane, or on a high-speed train, if you only have one day in Shanghai, you are going to hit the ground running.
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Breakfast on the MoveHunt out the most popular breakfast snack in Shanghai! Jianbing is a savoury crepe/omelette mash-up. Thin batter is swirled into a round pancake and then topped with eggs and spring onions/scallions before rolling into a hand-friendly wrap. You’ll probably see them listed as scallion pancakes (if you come across a stall with any English on the sign). Some stalls also add other textural bits and bobs, like little rice crackers, crunchy veggies and sauces.
Yu Gardens (YuYuan)Yu Gardens (the Garden of Happiness or Garden of Peace and Comfort) are a little escape from the hectic city over the walls. In fact, it has always been designed to calm the nerves. It was built in the mid-1500s by a young man called Pan Yunduan to cheer up his parents. He was so keen to please that construction took him almost 20 years and basically bankrupt the family…not so calming after all. As you wander along the paths, look up at the infamous dragon walls. The white walls that divide the garden into sections are all topped with a unique wiggle, ending in amazing dragon heads. Yu Gardens has been renovated, restored and repainted numerous times. Neglect, war and politics have all taken their toll but like a Pheonix, it keeps coming back, looking nicer than ever. TOP TIP: Entrance isn’t free for Yu Gardens, it costs 30 CNY in winter, 40 CNY in summer, but as most of your other activities are free, it is worth dipping into your wallet for this one.
An Early Lunch – Eat Your Way Around Yuyuan Garden BazaarJust South of Yu Gardens, there is a collection of shops and other commercial enterprises. As you people watch, you’ll notice some serious retail therapy going on in the shops full of handicrafts, plastic tat and fun fashion. Dotted throughout the “traditional buildings” are plenty of street food options. From giant xiao long bao dumplings to Japanese teppanyaki, so if you are already peckish you will find plenty to nibble on without spending a fortune. TOP TIP: Avoid the Huxinting teahouse. It is great to take a few photos with its picturesque facade over the reflecting pools, but it is an expensive dining option.
Gucheng ParkWalking between Yu Gardens and The Bund, you can take a path through this small patch of green. At first glance, there isn’t too much to see but if you do a quick look about, you’ll find a sunken stone area full of people chilling out, a little bamboo hideaway with a tea house, and a preserved old-style stone kitchen.
The BundBuilt along the West Bank of the Huangpu River, this protected historical area is a striking contrast to the more modern skyline across the water. A walk along this busy riverside is a step into history. As you stroll past the 52 building that make up The Bund, here are a couple of stops that are worth making.
Pop to the Bank – No. 12No, this isn’t to cash those old traveller’s cheques. The HSBC (Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank) building is a fine example of neoclassical architecture. Heading through the spinning wooden doors, try to avoid neck strain as you gaze up to the ceiling. Above is an astonishing mural. Around the dome, you’ll see eight mosaics of cities that house HSBC branches and frescos of the twelve signs of the zodiac. Most astonishing of all is that it still exists. During the cultural revolution, it was due to be ripped down, but a clever architect who was fond of the work, convinced the Red Guard that covering it up would be less work. It preserved it beautifully. Stephen and Stitt, the two British bronze lions that flank the doors were moved to a museum nearby, so the two you’ll see are replicas. They represent strength and stability. Bear in mind that HSBC moved out in 1956, and it is now home to Shanghai Pudong Development Bank.
The Long Bar, Waldorf Astoria – No. 2This is a stretch on a budget, but nobody is stopping you poking your head into this Shanghai institution or ordering a soft drink to share with your travel buddy. If you’re lucky, they may also throw in some free nibbles?! This neoclassical building was finished in 1910 as the home base for the Shanghai Club, the most exclusive gentleman’s club for British expats and business moguls. The Long Bar is not the original but it has been painstakingly reproduced from the beautiful wooden panelling to the iconic 34-metre mahogany bar that was once the longest in the world…it’s not hard to guess how it got its name.
Customs HouseCustoms House is the only building that still operates in the same capacity in which it was built. Ships bringing goods into the city were taxed and recorded here. There has been a customs building on this spot for over 170 years but this iteration was built in 1927. Atop the building is a clock tower. Both the tower and clock face were odelled on Big Ben and the clock was actually shipped over from the UK. Sadly it is now silent, no longer chiming but it does retain the title of the largest clock in Asia.
The Pudong SkylineShanghai has one of the most recognisable skylines in the world. It is impressive in both the daylight when the sun sparkles on the towers of glass and at night when the buildings put on LED light shows. These are the tallest buildings in Shanghai and they are clustered together for your viewing pleasure. TOP TIP: If you only have one day in Shanghai, it is worth coming back after dinner to see the skyline again but do bear in mind that the lights turn off at 22:30 or so. Included in the skyline is the Shanghai World Financial Center, Shanghai Tower, Oriental Pearl TV Tower, and Jinmao Tower. Probably the most famous building is over to the left, the space-age Oriental Pearl Tower. It is distinctly Jetsons-esque and glows a charming purple after dark. Towering above it all is the cleverly named Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world. The little wedge-shaped tower below it is the Shanghai World Financial Center is the 11th highest in the world. It really puts these things into perspective!
Huangpu River CruiseForget the tourist dinner cruises, if you are in Shanghai on a budget, you can still take to the water by catching a Shanghai ferry. These have been ploughing the Huangpu River since 1911. At just 2 CNY a hop, or 12 CNY for a full circuit, you can take in the sights without breaking the bank. Combine it with a Shanghai guidebook and you can run your very own riverboat tour!
A Late Lunch – Nanjing RoadThis pedestrianised stretch of street is Shanghai’s most famous shopping hub. Strolling down this busy thoroughfare, you’ll pass over 600 shops. You’ll recognise a fair few of your favourites shops but there are lots of unknown places to browse. If you’re on a budget, try not to loosen your purse strings too much. There are some food stalls dotted along East Nanjing Road offering all kinds of fried goodies, but, if like us you fancy some free wifi, hop into one of the famous fast food “restaurants”. We found some fun blue ice creams under some golden arches which gave us a sugar bump and allowed us to keep sightseeing with bad jetlag.
People’s Square & Shanghai MuseumPeople’s Square is a large park at the heart of Shanghai both physically and culturally. From dawn till dusk, locals gather here for group exercise, dance tai chi, or just a really good gossip. If your one day in Shanghai, falls on a weekend, find the People’s Square Marriage Market. This meeting of mothers is all about matching up their children, in hopes of a great marriage. Bear in mind that this is the last-ditch attempt to hook their children up so it is not polite to giggle.
Shanghai MuseumWithin People’s Square, The Shanghai Museum is stuffed full of cultural artefacts from China’s past. With over 120,000 exhibits from huge furniture pieces to delicate jade carvings and ink calligraphy, there is lots to see…and it is all free. If you are planning to travel through China, then this could probably be skipped, but if this is your only stop (as a stopover en route to another country) then it is definitely worth going in. TOP TIP: Only 8000 tickets are issued per day so if you are sure you want to visit, mix up this itinerary and turn up early. ANOTHER TOP TIP: The audioguide costs 40 CNY but you’ll also need 400 CNY or your passport to leave as a deposit at the desk.
Read about our other travels in China