Shanghai the Bund
Home China Travel Guide How to Plan a Trip to Shanghai: A Step-by-Step Travel Planner

How to Plan a Trip to Shanghai: A Step-by-Step Travel Planner

Shanghai, well-known as the “Paris of the East”, is one of the most prosperous metropolises in China. Here, visitors can feel the fusion of history and modernity, arts and futurism. If you are planning a trip to Shanghai, this article could be your Shanghai travel guide introducing essential attractions, best traveling time, recommended itineraries, and other useful tips on the arrangement stage.


Top Attractions & Best Things to Do in Shanghai

1. The Bund & Lujiazui: Stunning Skylines along Huangpu River

The turbulent Huangpu River is like a natural line between the past and present of Shanghai City. On the western bank is the Bund, a waterfront pedestrian street lined up with 52 European-style mansions built during the early years of the 20th century, which lets visitors enjoy the prosperity and elegance of this former commercial block in a glimpse.

Across the Huangpu River is a totally different world. Lujiazui District, one of the most influential financial centers in China, gathers numerous stylish skyscrapers, with Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center, and Jinmao Tower being the most eye-catching buildings. You are highly recommended to go to the viewing deck on the top of the high-rises. The panoramic view of Shanghai City and Huangpu River will definitely take your breath away.

the Bund
The Bund Shanghai

2. Yu Garden: A Peaceful Retreat in Bustling Blocks

Yu Garden, with a history of more than 450 years, is regarded as the most celebrated historical site in Shanghai. While strolling around, you will be amazed by the elaborate layout and graceful landscape of the garden with lush plants, tranquil ponds, and exquisite bonsai harmoniously blending in with elegant structures like halls, pavilions, bridges and rockeries.

Once you get out from the garden, it is suggested you hang out at the nearby Yuyuan Bazaar. It is a quaint block for shopping and dining. Here, you will have a culinary exploration of various Shanghai cuisines and snacks, and select souvenirs at distinctive handicraft stores.

3. Shanghai Museum: A Feast of Ancient Chinese Artworks 

As is known to all, China is an ancient civilization with a history dating back over 5,000 years. The profound history and brilliant culture have left the country with a wide variety of artistic masterpieces. In Shanghai Museum, you can appreciate more than 120,000 pieces of artistic works created in different periods, with bronze ware, paintings, and calligraphy works being the most characteristic.

4. Experience Leisure Lifestyle at Zhujiajiao Water Town

Zhujiajiao Water Town is a great destination for visitors traveling to Shanghai to have a one-day relaxing tour. The town is crisscrossed with canals and connected by 36 ancient stone bridges. Hundreds of traditional buildings constructed during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911) stand along the water lanes. Staying in the town, you will feel like being brought back to hundreds of years ago.

There are a lot of ways to enjoy yourself. You may roam along flagstone-paved alleys to feel the beauty of the ancient buildings, take a boat ride to obtain a special sightseeing experience, sample local snacks and specialties, and enjoy leisure time at a quaint tea house by the water…

Shanghai Zhujiajiao Water Town
Zhujiajiao Water Town

5. Tianzifang: Feel the Artistic Ambience of Shanghai

Tianzifang is a historical and cultural block developed from traditional Shikumen residences. It will be a special visiting experience to wander along maze-like alleys here with featured boutiques and artistic workshops jumping into your sight at every step. Most stores are owned by independent designers and craftsmen, selling traditional handicrafts like Chinese Qipao, handmade leather goods, and original-designed jewelry.

Tianzifang is also full of vintage restaurants serving delicacies from around the world, including Italian pizza, French bread and Japanese sushi. Why not have a drink after a big meal? Chic cafes and bars in Tianzifang are great places for rest and leisure.

Recommended Shanghai Day Tours:


How Many Days Will Be Suitable for a Trip to Shanghai?

1. Spend at least 3 Days to Visit Highlights in Shanghai

Generally speaking, a 3-day Shanghai travel itinerary is enough to cover the essence of the city. Most visitors would like to spend 2 days having a city exploration around the downtown area and spare 1 day to take an extended trip to Zhujiajiao Water Town on the outskirts. The following is a recommended itinerary for your reference:

  • Day 1: The Bund, Lujiazui, Nanjing Road, Huangpu River night cruise
  • Day 2: Zhujiajiao Water Town
  • Day 3: Shanghai Museum, Yu Garden, Tianzifang

If there is still time left, you may consider putting the attractions below on the to-do list based on your interest in seeking more delights in Shanghai:

  • Shanghai Disney Resort: Take a one-day immersive journey into the cartoon world to interact with Disney characters, play on thrilling rides, enjoy wonderful performances…
  • Jade Buddha Temple: Steeped in rich Buddhist culture, it is praised as “a pure land” in the midst of the bustling city, enshrining jade statues of a sitting Buddha and a reclining Buddha.
  • Seven Treasure Town: Delve into the traditional cultural life in the old town and have a feast on delicious cuisines around the Yangtze River Delta.

Recommended Shanghai Tour Packages:

Shanghai Huangpu River Night Cruise
Huangpu River Night Cruise

2. A Side Trip to Nearby Cities is Highly Recommended

The high-speed railway network of China makes it much more convenient to reach other popular tourist cities in China from Shanghai. A lot of visitors would like to spend another one or two days extending their Shanghai trips to nearby cities.

Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Huangshan are the most popular destinations, which can be accessed by high-speed train in around 30 minutes, 1 hour, and 3 hours respectively.

  • Suzhou is a picturesque city boasting the most elegant classic gardens nationwide and a long history of silk culture. Visitors can also have a leisure day wandering around “China’s No. 1 Water Town” – Zhouzhuang Ancient Town.
  • Praised as the “heaven on earth”, Hangzhou is one of the most poetic places in China, attracting numerous visitors with the surreal landscape around the West Lake. It is also the home to Longjing Green Tea. A visit to a tea plantation will offer a memorable exploration of the profound tea culture.
  • The Yellow Mountains is the most representative attraction in Huangshan, featuring five natural wonders: strange pines, oddly shaped rocks, the sea of clouds, hot springs, and winter snow. Around the mountain lie several ancient villages which present graceful rural landscapes against Hui-style residences.

Recommended Shanghai Side Trips:


Best Time to Visit Shanghai  Spring & Autumn

It is highly recommended visitors set out on their trips to Shanghai during spring (March-May) and Autumn (September-November) when Shanghai enjoys moderate temperatures which is suitable for going sightseeing.

Besides, you can take in the most colorful scenery in spring when the grass sprouts out and flowers are in their full bloom, while hairy crabs are in season in October and you should never miss the chance to get a treat of fat crabs when you travel to Shanghai in autumn.


Shanghai Weather: Four Distinctive Seasons

  • Spring (March – May): The weather in spring is comfortable with an average temperature of 16℃. But the climate might be a little dry with frequent windy days.
  • Summer (June – August): Shanghai has a rainy period from mid-June to early July. And July and August are the hottest month of the year with an average temperature of 32℃.
  • Autumn (September – November): The weather is pleasantly cool in autumn with low rainfall, more bright days, and fresh air.
  • Winter (December February): The winter in Shanghai is not very cold with an average temperature of around 10℃ in the daytime.


Where to Stay in Shanghai

As an international metropolis and popular tourist destination in China, Shanghai provides visitors with a great range of accommodation choices, from luxurious hotels to youth hostels. Hotels that are close to metro stations are recommended in order to make your trip to major attractions more convenient. Here, we have a few selected areas for your reference:

  • The Bund Area: The Bund offers visitors a great perspective to enjoy the stunning skyline of Lujiazui across the Huangpu River, and houses many upscale hotels.
  • People’s Square Area: People’s Square is located in the heart of Shanghai City. The region is full of department stores and restaurants, making shopping and dining much more convenient.
  • XintiandiArea: Xintiandi is a vintage block featuring traditional Shikumen residences. You can find a lot of chic cafes, bars, tea houses, and restaurants around the place.
  • Pudong Area: Pudong New Area is located opposite the Bund on the eastern bank of Huangpu River and is home to numerous stylish mansions and skyscrapers.


How to Get to Shanghai: Flights, High-Speed Trains, Cruise

1. Taking a Flight to Shanghai

There are two 4F-level airports in Shanghai – Shanghai Pudong International Airport and Shanghai Hongqiao Internation. Pudong Airport operates international flights from major cities around the world while Hongqiao Airport is the hub of frequent domestic routes and some international short-haul flights.

Both airports can be easily accessed by metro lines and there are even Maglev trains shuttling between Pudong Airport and the downtown area.

2. Taking a High-Speed Train to Shanghai

Housing 6 high-speed railway stations, Shanghai is one of the major transportation centers in southern China, with the high-speed rail network stretching out to almost all the major cities in China, such as Beijing, Suzhou, and Hangzhou, which enables visitors to reach Shanghai in hours.

3. Taking a Cruise to Shanghai

Lying at the estuary of the Yangtze River, Shanghai can also be accessed by international cruises from Japan and South Korea. Besides, visitors traveling in Chongqing may consider taking a Yangtze River cruise to traverse the magnificent Three Gorges all the way to Shanghai, which will definitely create an unforgettable memory during the China tours.

4. Travel from Beijing to Shanghai

Flight: Frequent flights from Capital Airport or Daxing Airport in Beijing to either airport in Shanghai with a duration of around 2.5 hours

High-Speed Train: Frequent trains from Beijing South Railway Station to Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station with a duration of 4.5~6 hours

5. Travel from Xian to Shanghai

There are around 20 high-speed trains departing from Xi’an North Railway Station to Shanghai everyday but a one-way train ride takes around 6-9 hours. Therefore, taking a flight from Xianyang Airport in Xi’an to Shanghai could be a time-saving way, which shortens the journey to around 2.5 hours

6. Travel from Hangzhou to Shanghai

Hangzhou East Railway Station, Hangzhou South Railway Station and Hangzhou Railway Station all operate frequent high-speed trains to Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station. And visitors can reach Shanghai in about 1 hour.


Do I Need a Visa to Travel to Shanghai?

In general cases, foreign visitors are required to show their China tourist visa (L-visa) when taking inspections at Chinese customs. However, the 144-hour visa-free transit policy makes it possible for visitors coming from 54 countries to stay in Shanghai for 6 days without a visa. Transits just need to go through the temporary entry application process at the airport with a passport and airline ticket to the third country, and then they can start a memorable tour in Shanghai!

Recommended China Tours from Shanghai:

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