How to See Shanghai in Just 1 Weekend
A breathtaking gateway to China and home to 24 million, Shanghai's cutting edge vibe is evident from the moment you land at the airport. Opt to hurtle from Pudong International into the city on the 267 mph Maglev train — how's that for making an entrance? Once you've arrived, here's your guide to shopping, making every meal memorable, and immersing yourself in both Shanghai's rich heritage and futuristic architecture, even if you have just 36 hours to do so.
Kick off your weekend with a visit to the Power Station of Art, China's first state-run museum dedicated to contemporary art. Housed in a one-time industrial power plant, the museum opened its doors in 2012 and boasts impressive views of the Huangpu River from its fifth-floor deck.
Splurge on your first night in Shanghai with an upscale Cantonese dinner and cocktails with skyline views at chic hotspot Hakkasan. Favorite menu picks include the dim sum platter and crispy duck with caviar. For a showstopper of a cocktail, try the Smoky Negroni (complete with Grand Marnier "smoke"). Afterward, hit up the legendary Jazz Bar at the Fairmont Peace Hotel for a throwback to glamorous 1920s/30s Shanghai. The Old Jazz Band, which performs daily from 6:30 p.m., features six members with an average age of 82. Most impressive.
Hit the famed Yu Yuan Garden as early as possible to avoid major crowds, which can detract from the experience. Explore koi ponds, rockeries, classic Chinese pavilions, and souvenir shops galore at the adjacent bazaar. It's also a great place to sample Shanghai's famed street food scene (again, the earlier you go, the less line-waiting you'll encounter). For a comprehensive list of Shanghai specialties, check out CNN Travel's rundown of foodie eats. Head to Nan Xiang Dialing Mantou near the City God Temple for what are arguably the city's best xiaolongbao (soup dumplings). The third floor offers table service, a good stop for an early lunch.
Stroll down to The Bund and purchase tickets for a boat tour of the Huangpu River, offering relaxed views of both the Pudong and Puxi districts. It's a nice way to get a lay of the land and take in the city's varied architecture, which ranges from art deco buildings that date back to the 1920s and '30s to Buddhist temples to the Jetsons-esque Oriental Pearl TV Tower.
If you're still up for more, pay a visit to the Jìng'an Temple, which dates back to AD 1216 and offers a starkly spiritual contrast to its largely commercial surroundings on Nanjing Road, Shanghai's premier shopping destination.
Take a brief pause from all of that delicious Chinese food with a visit to Barbarossa, a Moroccan lounge set on a pond in the middle of People's Park. Stay for postdinner cocktails, dancing, and a hookah lounge (or just stroll the park if that's more your speed).
A trip to Shanghai isn't complete until you've strolled the leafy streets of the French Concession. Shop and explore the offbeat boutiques of Tiánzifáng, and chow down at Jian Guo 328 for authentic Shanghainese eats. If time permits, UnTour Shanghai offers a variety of culinary tours in the area, including the "Street Eats" breakfast tour and "Dumpling Delights."
Know Before You Go
- Shanghai is divided in two halves by the Huangpu Rive. The Puxi (West) region is the old part of Shanghai and home to the Bund, Old City, and historic architecture. Pudong (East) boasts a futuristic landscape and is a primarily business district.
- Taxis are cheap, but not always easy to flag down (and drivers rarely speak English). Always have your hotel concierge write your destination in Mandarin to help the process.
- Download an app like WayGo — it offers the English translation for anything you aim your smartphone at, even when you're not connected to the internet.
- Pollution levels vary from day to day and can impact the quality of your stay in Shanghai. You can check the air quality on this site, and it's not a bad idea to stash a few face masks in your luggage.