China: 3 Things to Do in Shanghai

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Shanghai is a popular travel destination in China. If you only have a day to spend in this wonderful city, here are the top things to do in Shanghai.

The Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai seen from The Bund sidewalk

Things to do in Shanghai for a day

My last destination in China was Shanghai and I only had 24 hours to spend in this city so I wanted to make sure I made the most out of my layover.

Shanghai is very different from Beijing. It is European and cosmopolitan. There are old parts, but parts of it are very modern and hip.

If you are only there overnight, these are the 3 things to do in Shanghai that you just can’t pass up!

[ 1 ] Stroll the Bund

The Bund

The Bund is the large sidewalk that hugs the harbor of Shanghai and provides exceptional views of the skyline as well as the Oriental Pearl Tower.

Pedestrians crossing street at The Bund neighborhood in Shanghai

After you take in the sights of Shanghai from the Bund, take the funkadelic glass subway car built underwater to the other side of the bay that displays light and music reminiscent of an Austin Powers movie.

It’s pricier than the ferry, around U$10, but it only takes minutes and for novelty, I think it’s worth the money.

 Oriental Pearl Tower subway

[ 2 ] Spend the day at the French Concession

One of the best things to do in Shanghai if you just want to chill is to head over to the French Concession area.

This area, as the name suggests, was designated for foreign settlement for over a century. Because of its European influence, it retains the architecture and feel of an European city.

Restaurant and fountain at the french concession in Shanghai

On the weekends, it is bound to be busy with residents and travelers alike. Eat at one of the many restaurants in the area, stroll the side streets where you can find antique treasures or local eats. This is a great place for people watching!

The French concession neighborhood in Shanghai
antiques tins for sale in China

When visiting the French Concession, don’t forget to visit the free Museum of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party ( all the names in China are super long).

This museum shows the founding and evolution of the communist party in China. It includes documents and even life-size wax replicas of the  founders of the movement.

Interestingly enough, the communist party started with privileged students in China, one Dutch and one Russian national. If you are into conspiracy theories, it would be easy to make a leap to a KGB influence, wouldn’t it?

The communist party organizers of China Wax museum

[ 3 ] Visit the Yu Gardens

Yu Garden architecture

If you want to relax in a more natural area of Shanghai, Yu gardens is the the place to go.

Yu Garden

An extensive Chinese garden that sits in the heart of Old City Shanghai, the Yu Gardens provides relaxation and to some extent some distance from the ever present crowds of Shanghai.

For a more comprehensive history of the folklore of the Garden, take a tour.

Yu Garden dragon head detail on wall
Yu Garden bridge

If shopping is more your thing, don’t worry. All around the garden is a major shopping area with vendors, restaurants and tea houses.

You can buy a personalized name stamps, paper cutouts and other souvenirs to take home.

Also try a soup dumpling which in the summer is served on top of ice. This one in the picture below had a long line at all times.

People waiting in line at Soup dumplings store in Shanghai

For something different, watch a puppet show through a hole with a narrator. The whole thing is done in Chinese, but it’s very entertaining!

People watching puppet show in Shanghai China
Little boy looking into the water at Yu Garden

If you are visiting China sometime soon, don’t miss these 3 things to do in Shanghai!


If you enjoyed reading this travel guide on what to do in Shanghai, then you might want to read on these other things to do in China:

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Shanghai Yu Garden

Published Oct 2016. Updated Jun 2020.

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