Shanghai Travel guide - Reccommended tours and hotels
Writen by: Orad Eldar Bar
Shanghai is a harbor
city in eastern China and the second largest city in
China. There are 24 million people living here and
turned it into one of the largest populated cities in
the world. The city has a long history and a glorious
culture, and today it is considered the top of the
westerly and modernity city.
To get impressed by the beauty of the city, its culture, colors and everything it has to offer – it is recommended to come to Shanghai for a period of about 4 days. In this article, you will find tips and recommendations for a once in a lifetime trip to Shanghai.
Every visit in Shanghai begins with “The Bund” , a spectacular promenade, stretching along the western bank of the Huangpu river. For many years now, The Bund promenade has been the trade mark of the city. The promenade, which is 1.5 km long, is the lookout point over the impressive skyline of the city.
On one side of the promenade you can find 26 impressive buildings, European style and amongst them the China Merchants Bank Building, built back in 1897, the Shanghai Foreign Exchange Trade Center, built back in 1901 and many more hotels, banks and department stores. The other side of the promenade is even more impressive, it has crazy skyscrapers that became very identified with the city.
The skyscrapers are located on the eastern side of the river, in the finance and commerce district, Lujiazui, known also as “the Wall Street of China”. In an area of 28 square kilometers, you can find 100 tall impressive buildings, that many of them became a symbol of the city. The Lujiazui area is the largest financial area in China and in it there are over 400 banks and local and international financial institutions, such as HSBC, City Bank etc. In addition, about 70 huge international companies have their head offices, alongside the offices of 5,000 other companies engaged in trading, investments and banking services. The total transactions in the stock market in Shanghai ranks it as the 2nd place in the world, bypassed only by the New York Stock Exchange.
Shanghai financial district
A spectacular visual angle of the
city is the observation decks located on the upper
floors of the skyscrapers. Here is an overview of the
four most famous giant buildings in the city and their
view seeing from them.
Oriental Pearl TV Tower – a communication tower designed by a modern architectural company. Its construction began in 1990, and was completed in 1994. The tower is 468 meters and since its construction was completed until 2007 it was the tallest building in China. The tower has 3 observation floors and a conference center which displays an exhibition about the history of the city. In the tower there are two spheres: in the lower sphere there is an observation deck 90 meters high, which gives an overview of the Bund promenade and the Huangpu river. Visitor can also go up to the observation deck 259 high, overlooking a panoramic view of the entire city. The highest observation deck, called Capsule Sightseeing Floor, is 351 meters high. The tower is located at the end of the Lujiazui area, and it is further away from the rest of the skyscrapers.
TV and communication tower
Jin Mao Tower – the tower rises 420.5 meters high, to which you will reach with a fast elevator where the ride takes only 45 seconds. A new and exciting attraction opened on July 2016 and it is called the Wander in the Cloud. If you are especially brave, you could go in fact “outside” of the observation floor and along 60 meters of promenade without railing (tied with safety rope), made of glass floor. The promenade is located on the 88th floor of the tower and offers a breathtaking view of the banks in the Haungpu area.
A tour on the clear deck without a railing at the top in the Jin Mao tower
Shanghai World Financial Center – the tower rises to a height of 492 meters and is titled: the tallest tower in the world with a flat roof. The tower has 101 floors with an overview of the city you can start seeing from the 94th floor up to the 100th floor, at a height of 474 meters.
The Financial Center Tower
Shanghai Tower – today, it is the tallest building in China and the second in the world, it rises to a height of 632 meters. It has a spiral shape and on each floor the angle curves one degree, in order to decrease the effect of the wind. The building has 5 basement floors and another 127 floors above it. A super-fast elevator will take you from the ground floor up to the 119th floor in only 55 seconds. Highly recommended! This tower is a part of a large complex which includes a hotel, a conference center, hanging gardens and other surprises which are still under construction (2016).
The eastern area of the city is a relatively new area. In the past, the area was muddy and uninhabited. The border of Shanghai reaches the western side of the Bund promenade. In the western area, there is the old city and many fascinating sites to visit:
People’s Square - the main square in Shanghai
In the square, you will find a fountain and around it key buildings, such as the City Hall and the Shanghai Museum.
It is a large
museum for ancient Chinese art. The museum is spread
over four floors and inside includes 11 permanent
exhibits that displays the Chinese art in all its forms.
In the People’s Square, you will also find the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, a 6-floor exhibition hall displaying the development and urban planning.
Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall
The museum displays, amongst others, models of the historical development of the city. The building was built in the form of a large theater covered with aluminum. The main hall of the museum is a large model of the city in which you will find the city’s buildings all minimized, including buildings that are yet to be built and are in the process of being built.
A model of Shanghai
Recommended hotels in Shanghai
Hotels in a good location in the old city by the Bund:
One of the most prestigious and impressive hotels in the city, across the road from the Bund promenade, has 235 rooms, some with a view of the river and some with a view of the city. The hotel has an indoor pool, a gym and spa, free internet and parking, restaurants and a bar.
A 5-star hotel from the Marriott chain, close to the Yu Gardens, the hotel has 341 modern and spacious rooms, an indoor swimming pool with a panoramic view of the city, a gym, restaurant and bar, free internet and parking.
A suite hotel in a wonderful location on the Bund promenade with 168 suites, some with a view of the river and some the view of the city. The hotel has a free internet, a gym and a restaurant.
A 184-room hotel located on the Bund promenade. Some of the rooms have the view of the river and some a view of the city. The hotel has free internet, free parking, indoor pool, a gym, bar and a restaurant.
A boutique hotel with 165 rooms, 3-stars, in a central location in the old city near the Bund. The hotel also has family rooms, free internet, bar and a restaurant.
The old city of Shanghai
Shanghai, as mentioned, is careful to combine old with the new. Even when next to you there are modern skyscrapers, you cannot miss the traditional Chinese gardens and ancient temples. Spend a full day in this part of the city, and remember to learn about the fascinating culture of the city, the population and their customs. In the old city, there are many shops, stands, restaurants, varied supermarkets and tea houses, all located in ancient buildings in a typical construction style. It is especially beautiful to wonder around in the evening when everything is lit. It is a wonderful place to buy local souvenirs and gifts at a decent price.
The old city
The old city of Shanghai at night
The Yu Yuan gardens – this beautiful traditional garden, was built originally by a wealthy government official family during the Ming Dynasty, and its construction took 18 years. However, during the First Opium War, which occurred in 1842, the garden was destroyed by a British bomb. The garden was reconstructed later on, to serve as haven for tourists seeking peace and quiet from the loud city. There are temples in the garden with wooden chairs designed in a unique way, statues for guarding the roofs and fences. In addition, there are rockeries and ponds, alongside decorated trees and bushes.
Yu Yuan gardens in Shanghai
Near the gardens, is located the most
important temple in the city, the City God Temple. The
temple was built during the Ming Dynasty, between
1368-1644, in order to protect and keep the safety of
the local residents.
Another famous temple in the city is the Jade Buddha Temple.
The Jade Buddha Temple
There are 2 main statues in the temple:
the statue of Buddha sitting down at 1.94 meters high
weighing 3 tons. The lying down Buddha statue, leaning
on its hand and symbolizes peace and tranquility. The
statues were brought from Burma in the 19th century, by
a monk called Huigen. The temple was destroyed at the
beginning of the 20th century, when there was a
revaluation which eventually led to the fall of the Qing
Dynasty, who ruled China between 1644-1911, and was the
last imperial dynasties in China. Fortunately, the large
statues survived the destruction and were placed in the
new temple built in 1928.
The Jade Buddha temple is a little bit distant from the old city and located in the western part of Shanghai.
In order to be impressed by the interesting sites in the
old city, it is recommended to join a guided tour.
The Shanghai Lander company offers interesting tours with a local guide who speaks English. The tour, 3 hours long, passes by major points such as the Yu Gardens, antique markets, flowers and bird market etc. In the birds market, you will be surprised to find that the main attraction is rather the grasshoppers. The Chinese buy them for games and gambling. They run fights between grasshoppers and gamble on the winner.
It is possible and recommended to take from the Shanghai Lander company, a day tour including destinations outside the old city and other tourist services, such as shuttles to the airport or harbor and tickets to various shows.
From China to France in a few steps – a visit to the French Quarter
The French quarter is a s
short distance drive from the old city but the
atmosphere there is completely different. Between the
picturesque boulevards, the European cafes, for a tiny
moment you will forget that you are in Shanghai. Up
until 1943, the French quarter district was a colony
controlled by the French, who arrived in Shanghai in
1846. Although the area was handed to the Chines
government, there is a little of the Parisian atmosphere
still rooted in it.
The main promenade in the quarter is the Xin Tian Di which is all an urban, cultural and historical attraction. It is a modern promenade filled with style – on one hand, there are old buildings that were preserved over the years and on the other side, there are quite expensive galleries, bars, cafes, boutiques and many restaurants. During a visit to the promenade you could with one breath feel the Shanghai of the 20’s and lifestyle of the 21st century.
Made in China – shopping in Shanghai
The label “Made in
China” appears on almost all the products we buy today.
From clothes to appliances, currently China controls the
world production. If once shopping in China were
considered cheap and low quality, today the Chinese
labels control the markets and malls. China is often
being described as the largest mall in the world and in
Shanghai, you will understand why.
In the Bund area you will find the Nanjing Road, a shopping street which is considered the best in China. In the street, which is 5.5 km long, you will find over 600 shops, in which there are on average 1.7 million people a day. In the shopping street, you could buy anything you like, from cheap souvenirs to clothes of designs by luxurious international brands.
In the Yu Garden area you can find a variety of stand and colorful shops selling souvenirs, toys, bags, cloths, silk scarfs and other trinkets. Do not be fooled – the prices on the items are not final and the locals themselves know that bargaining is a national sport.
The Jewish Shanghai – not what you think
Many of you probably do not know, but the
Jews have a long history in Shanghai. The acts of
atrocities by the Nazi in Europe in the 20th century
caused thousands of Jews to escape to Shanghai, where
they found refuge. According to statistics from that
period, between 1933-1941, Shanghai took in about 20,00
Jewish refugees that escaped the burning Germany and
neighboring countries that were occupied by the Nazi
In early 1943, the Japanese occupation authorities declared the establishment of “a territory designed for stateless refugees”, to which were transferred forcefully the Jewish refugees who arrived in Shanghai. Later, the territory was named – “the Jewish Ghetto”. The ghetto, which was less than one square kilometers, was especially crowded and included also about 100,000 Chines residents.
The Jewish Ghetto
The relationship between the locals and the Jews were good, but the freedom of movement of occupation of the Jews was limited and their financial situation was poor. The memories of Jewish life are still preserved in the area where once stood the ghetto, the Tilankio area. Here stands the museum of the Jewish refugees in Shanghai, which talks about the special history of the Jewish refugees in China. The museum is also the previous location of “Moses Temple” synagogue, one of the only two synagogues in the city.
The memorial wall for the Jews of Shanghai
the museum, you can find exhibition halls describing the
flight of the Jews from Europe to Shanghai, the
politics, economy, culture livelihood and life alongside
the local neighbors.
Near the Jewish ghetto, you can find the ancient Hosan park, established in 1917. During World War II, the Jewish refugees visited the park often or gathered there for some purpose. In the park there is a monument in memory of the Jewish inhabitant s of the ghetto.
But long before World War II Jews have arrived in Shanghai from Iraq who managed to flourish and thrive in the city and built some of the most impressive building in the city.
Another wave of immigration that arrived in Shanghai was of the Russian refugees who came after the many pogroms, bloodsheds and persecutions in their country.
It is strongly recommended to join a guided tour by Dvir Bar-Gal, an Israel journalist living in Shanghai since 2002. The tour, about half a day long, passed all the major Jewish sites in the city and tells the fascination story of the Jewish community.
To taste Shanghai – food tours in the city
The culinary scenery in Shanghai
is the most prominent in China, where the prominent
style in it is called “the red cooking”: cooking of meat
or chicken in water with soy sauce and spices. Amongst
the popular and authentic dishes in Shanghai you will
find steamed “bans”, soup dumplings with a vinegar sauce
base, noodles with green onions etc. You should join the
food tour in order to know more deeply the Chinese
The Shanghai Foodie company offers a 3 hour tour called Authentic local food tour in which you will learn and taste the local food. The tour passes by the major street of the city and through a few local authentic restaurants. Through food, you will be exposed to the history and culture of the fascinating city in which you will discover that even today laundry is being hung up to dry in the middle of some streets on public racks.
Hanging up laundry in the street
The company is owned by Jim, a young and energetic man
who will be happy to show you the gastronomical side of
the city in non-touristic restaurants where you will
meet mainly locals. He knows how to suite the dishes
with your western life and chose dishes that will suite
Another popular tour of his is the Shanghainese Cuisine and Sichuan hot pot dining experience where the main attraction is a meal at the Hot Pot restaurant where you will cook for yourselves various soups on a special table and you will watch how to prepare long noodles in front of you with some kind of dance.
Hot Pot restaurant in Shanghai
If you are more about the sweets, join the authentic
dessert tour, during which you will learn about the
traditional tea ceremony.
Another recommended night food tour in the markets is the Night Markets Food Tour by the UnTour Shanghai company. In the tour you will taste more than 20 dishes from six restaurants and different stands accompanied by beer, liqueurs and local wines. While eating, and tasting you will learn a lot about the local authentic food and discover new dishes. Whoever dares will also receive a water snake fried as one of the dishes…
The company has a variety of tours, such as “dumpling” tour, a street food tour during the morning hours etc. The guides are excellent, many of them are foreigners (Australian, Americans etc.) who settled in the city, fall in love with it and its dishes and deliver (in a clear western English) their love and passion to the local food and culture.
Dishes in the food tour
Suitable for all ages – Shanghai for kids and families
Shanghai is not
just temples, skyscrapers and markets, but it also has
attractions that defiantly suite the entire family. From
small to big, everybody can find interesting and special
The highlight for children, like anywhere else in the world, is for sure Shanghai Disneyland. The park opened to the public in the summer of 2016 and since then it became the “pilgrimage” site for locals and tourist alike. In the center of the park and across the famous castle of Disney, you will find the “imagination gardens”, 44 acres of a “green lung” in which there are authentic Chinese garden and many famous facilities such as the flying Dumbo the elephant. In addition, you will find in Disneyland a variety of designs and facilities inspired by the classy characters of Disney such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck etc., and also inspired by famous movies such as the Lady and the Tramp, Aladdin, Peter Pan etc.
Besides the facilities, there was also built in the park a hotel with 800 rooms inspired by the big hit of Disney Pixar “Toy story”. And like any “temple” by Disney, also here they didn’t give up the shopping experience – close to the park, there is a shopping center in which you can buy toys and souvenirs from the best favorite Disney character.
A different and very popular attraction in Shanghai is the popular acrobatic show, ERA Intersection of Time. The show takes place every evening at 19:30, at the largest circus in China, Shanghai Circus World. The ERA show is considered the leading in the city and even in the whole of China. The spectacular show combines acrobatic stunts, special effects and original music. Highly recommended for the whole family!
More for children and families:
a visit to the Chocolate Factory Zotter. Correct, Shanghai may not be famous for its chocolates, but here you can expect a European surprise. The Austrian chocolate factory by the Zotter family opened a branch in Shanghai and managed to bring the Austrian chocolate tradition to the faraway China. At the chocolate factory that serves the local market, there is a very successful tasting tour and even a café that serves chocolate drinks and apple strudels. During the tasting tour you will pass by 16 stations in the factory where you will also taste the raw and especially bitter cocoa beans as well as tasty chocolates with fruits, spices and a variety of special flavors. It is recommended and especially – delicious!
Samples of chocolate for tasting at the Zotter factory in Shanghai
The guide at the Zotter factory and the production lines at the factory
The chocolate factory is located at the heart of the Shanghai International Fashion Center in which you can find a variety of restaurants and outlet stores of the best international designers such as Nike, Gap, Levi’s, Adidas etc.
Finally, they say that a billion Chinese do not make a mistake and it is true also in regards to the tourist who arrive in the city. What is left for you is to check for yourselves and be impressed by everything the city has to offer.
and combine it with a cruise
Shanghai has a large harbor which is a starting point to various cruises in Asia so after a visit in this city I recommend taking a nice cruise in Asia from there.