Sensational Shanghai: Immerse yourself in fine dining, incredible history and unforgettable sights
Make the most of your time in Shanghai by exploring the sprawling food scene, fascinating architecture and hidden neighborhoods. | By Alina Dizik | October 3, 2022 (Updated February 22, 2023)
As one of the world’s fastest growing cities, Shanghai offers visitors a glimpse into the country’s past while serving as a testament of how quickly it has transformed into a city of the future. Roam the central areas, experience otherworldly skyscrapers and take in the waterfront views. With an unparalleled mix of ancient temples and modern architecture, there’s plenty to discover. Here’s how to make the most of mainland China’s crown jewel.
See the city from above – and below: Visit one of the many skyscraper observation decks for a bird’s-eye view before sailing along the Huangpu River
Sample the food: Explore endless dining options from Michelin-starred restaurants to specialized street stalls and one-of-a-kind experiences
Wander the neighborhoods: Get lost amid Shanghai’s storied neighborhoods and be dazzled by the city’s glitzy shopping mecca
Take in the old – and the new
Start with an impromptu photoshoot along the Bund – a raised promenade on the banks of the Huangpu River that is nearly a mile long and one of the city’s most iconic sites.
Peek into the City God Temple, aptly named for the three Chinese figures honored as the city gods, for a glimpse of where it all started in Shanghai’s Old City. The temple is connected to the five-acre Yu Garden, one of the city’s most revered green spaces with pavilions dating back to the Ming dynasty. Don't miss the exquisite sculptures and garden architecture before taking a break at the garden’s storybook Huxinting Teahouse, a pagoda-style building in the middle of an artificial lake.
Later in the day, head to Zhujiajiao Water Town in the Qingpu District – known as the Venice of Shanghai – for a unique view of canals and waterways that were once used for trading. Take a cruise to experience this ancient area by water. Stroll along Bei Dajie — a preserved ancient street — for a glimpse into the past, with some buildings dating back to the Qing dynasty era. Stop by the local shops and dumpling-making stalls for an authentic feel of the area.
Consider the thoughtfully restored Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund as a home base. The elegant 1911 building provides unparalleled views of the Huangpu River and is a convenient 10-minute walk from Shanghai’s Old City. Retreat to the comfort of a colonial-style suite featuring a walk-in closet, an elegant clawfoot tub and plush amenities. For even more of a rest, head to the high-design hotel spa and choose from a selection of relaxing therapies.
Explore through food
Shanghai’s dining scene will intrigue even the most adventurous eater. From street stalls to Michelin-starred restaurants, the patchwork of offerings are sure to delight.
Start with the most essential Shanghai street food, xiao long bao, the city’s famous soup dumplings. Originally created in the Shanghai suburb of Nanxing, xiao long bao are often filled with pork or crab as well as a broth that makes these dumplings warm and comforting. To work your way through other traditional fare, save room for steamed buns, eel, rice balls and pan-fried dumplings. One of the best places to taste it all is along the city’s famous food streets: Wujiang Road, South Yunnan Road and Huanghe Road. With skewers of every kind of seafood, fruit desserts and even fried scorpions, there's a culinary delight for every palate.
Toast to your day with a sophisticated nightcap (and some spectacular riverfront views) at Waldorf Astoria Shanghai's Long Bar, which occupies the former home of the Shanghai Club. The venue is famed for its impressive 111.5-foot (34-meter) long bar that has been reproduced from photographic records.
Save time to wander
Exploring Shanghai’s different neighborhoods on foot is the ideal way to truly experience the city. Start at the Shanghai Museum, a great place to learn the background of the area, with ancient Chinese art and a large collection of jade and other rare cultural pieces on display.
Don’t miss the People’s Square, situated between the People's Mansion and Shanghai Museum in the heart of the city. The surrounding Huangpu District includes the pedestrian Nanjing Road, which is the city’s central hub for shopping with hundreds of global brands and most of Shanghai’s oldest and largest department stores. Consider a ride on the vintage Dangdang tram along Nanjing Road for a fun way to experience the retail epicenter.
Nearby, Conrad Shanghai is the ideal spot for easy access to the city’s most picturesque spots. The sleek 66-story building sits opposite the People’s Square and has floor-to-ceiling windows. Sip afternoon tea or handcrafted cocktails at HU Bar, located on the 65th floor with panoramic views of the Bund and People’s Sqaure. Looking for something a little heartier? Refuel with authentic Chinese cuisine and seasonal culinary creations at Enclave Eight before heading out to further explore the sights and sounds of the city.
A must-include addition to any itinerary is the former French Concession, an expat haven known for its renovated lane houses, hip cafes and tree-lined streets. Be sure to also check out 50 Moganshan Road, or M50, the city’s burgeoning contemporary art district. Just across the Huangpu River, ascend to the heavens at Shanghai Tower, the tallest building in China and the third tallest building in the world.
In the mood for a city respite? Get lost in Century Park in the heart of Shanghai’s Pudong area. Built in 2000, the city’s largest park has idyllic lakes and greenery, and even a small amusement park for kids. No matter what you have planned in Shanghai, you’re bound to uncover sensational sights around every corner that will leave you wanting to come back for more.
Alina Dizik is a lifestyle journalist, covering travel, real estate, work trends and food. She lives in Chicago.