Top Five Free Things to Do in Shanghai

Shanghai is increasingly becoming an expensive city. With certain Shanghai attractions charging over 200 yuan for a family of four, a day out in the city can be depressingly expensive. But it needn’t be. This article will guide you to several brilliant things to do for free in Shanghai. Check out how to plan a day trip in Shanghai

1. Visiting the Top Two Free Museums

shanghai museumCultural relics displayed at Shanghai museum

Shanghai has lots of museums, including some museums which are free of charge. China Highlights recommends the top two museums which can be visited for free.

Shanghai Museum (上海博物馆): It is one of mainland China's best collections of ancient Chinese artifacts. The four-floor museum has collected more than 120,000 precious historical relics, including bronze ware, china ware, calligraphy works, paintings, jade articles, ancient coins, ancient furniture, and sculptures. You can easily spend a half day or more on learning about Chinese culture there.

  • Opening time: 9am–5pm (last entry 4pm)
  • Address: 201 Renmin Road, Shanghai  (人民路201号)
  • Transportation: Take bus 46, 71, 112, 123, 145, 916, 925, or Tunnel Line 6 and get off at People's Square Station (人民广场)

Shanghai Natural History Museum (上海自然博物馆): It can be a nice destination for a family with kids. The museum is one of China's largest museums of natural sciences, showing the history of ancient animals, human history, and the evolution of animals and plants, with specimens of animals and plants, mummies, fossils, models, unearthed historical relics, and ancient literature.

  • Opening hours: 9am–5pm (closed on Mondays)
  • Address: 260 Yan'an East Road, Huangpu District (黄浦区延安东路260号)
  • Transportation: Take subway line 2 to Yuyuan Garden (豫园), leave the station from Exit 3, and walk about 2 minutes to the museum.

2. Appreciating Chinese Artistic Works

Shanghai Art Palace (中华艺术宫): It is a free museum, located in the China Pavilion of the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. With 27 exhibition halls, the museum shows the origins and development of Chinese art, with plenty of art treasures (mainly oil paintings, printmaking, Chinese paintings, and sculptures). It is said that if you want to appreciate every exhibition there, at least one day is needed.

  • Note: Entry to the electronic edition of the Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival (清明上河图) in Exhibition Hall 5 is 20 yuan (it is the only hall of China Art Palace with an entrance fee). 
  • Opening hours: 9am–5pm (last entry: 4pm, closed on Monday)
  • Address: 161 Shangnan Road, Pudong New District (浦东新区上南路161号)
  • Transportation: Take subway line 8, and get off at Yaohua Road (耀华路).

50 Moganshan Road Contemporary Art Gallery: It is the place with the best contemporary artistic creations in Shanghai. A lot of modern Chinese artists thrive there by displaying their works, running their art businesseses, communicating and brainstorming with other artists, and meeting their audiences. It is said that more than 400 foreigners visit daily.

  • Opening hours: daily (approximately) 10am–6pm
  • Address: 50 Moganshan Road, Jing’an District (静安区莫干山路50号)

Recommended tour: Essence of Shanghai with Chinese Language Learning Experience

3. Leisurely Strolling the Best Streets

If you want to see Shanghai, there is no better way than by taking a leisurely strolling along the roads, especially those unique ones which have witnessed the changes in the city.

the bundThe Bund

The Bund (外滩): On the south bank of the Huangpu River (the mother river of Shanghai), the Bund is representative of Shanghai. There are Shanghai’s sky-scraping landmarks: Jinmao Tower, Oriental Pearl TV Tower, etc., and 52 unique buildings with retro architectural styles, like Gothic, Romanesque, and Baroque.

Tianzifang (田子坊): It is very popular with expats and tourists. You can appreciate 1930s architecture, strolling around to find your favorite arts and crafts, and enjoying some leisurely coffee time there.

Wukang Road (武康路): Built in 1907, it is said that Wukang Road has concentrated within it Shanghai’s 100 years of modern history. There are 14 excellent architectures and 37 historical sites.

Xintiandi (新天地): It is a pedestrian street combining a traditional Shanghai style with modern elements. Shopping, catering, entertainment, retracing the roots of "old Shanghai" in the early 20th century, and experiencing the fashionable Shanghai of today are all available there.

Recommended tour: 4-Day Shanghai Memories Tour

4. Visiting Ancient Water Towns

zhujiajiao cruiseZhujiajiao Watertown

There are several ancient water towns around Shanghai. Some of them have free entry (but some attractions within the towns charge an entry fee). The scenery and the ancient atmosphere in these water towns are no worse than the commercialized ones with tickets costing over a hundred yuan.

Qibao Ancient Town (七宝古镇): It is the nearest mini water town to central Shanghai, being accessible via subway (line 9) and public buses.

Zhujiajiao Ancient Town (朱家角古镇): Like the picture shown on the left, this graceful ancient town is well-decorated with water ways, 36 ancient bridges, traditional Chinese-style residences, and a natural lake — Dianshan Lake.

Fengjing Ancient Town (枫泾古镇): It is the most well-preserved ancient water town in Shanghai Prefecture. Architecture with hundreds of years of history is easy to come across there.

Recommended tour: Shanghai Memories & Zhujiajiao Ancient Lakes and Canals

5. A Personal Experience of Chinese Culture: Shanghai's Parks

Shanghai has lots of parks. Most of the parks are free of charge (only about 10 parks aren't; they usually charge over fifty yuan).

Parks are great places to get a close look at and take part in Chinese culture, especially the life-style of Shanghai people. Folks head to parks early for morning exercises: doing tai chi, dancing, sword dancing, and practicing erhu (a two-string bowed instrument), and various other unique Chinese-style morning activities.

The most popular Shanghai tour: Three-Day Essence of Shanghai Tour

Related Links

Questions and Answers About Top Five Free Things to Do in Shanghai

Kiran Zafar 2013-06-28
Show Answer
We r a group of 2 adults and 2 kids(6 and 13 age). Planning to come to china shangai on 20 July for 10 me plan a good vacation for my kids and tell me where can I get halal food. We r interested in theme parks and shopping and little bit of site seeing. Will there be shopping sales in china in July.? Are all kids clothing uk brands like H&M, mother care and Next available in china.what r children''s attractions in shanghai and are the tickets to these attractions cheap or expensive.waiting for your reply

Hi Kiran, as you have 10 days, besides Shanghai, I also recommend Beijing to you. Your kids will have lots of fun in Beijing.

I don't know if there will be shopping sales in china in July, but our tour guide will show you the best place for shopping.

A lot of UK brands like H&M are available in Beijing and Shanghai, no worry.

The Happy Vally and the Great Wall are the children's favorite. I can also arrange some interesting activities for them.

I would like to make a proposal for you if you don't mind telling me below the information:

1. Entry/ departing city

2. Class of hotel: 3 / 4 / 5 star

3. Estimative total budget per person

In both cities, halal food is no problem to get.

Whitney Liao replied on 2013-07-01
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I updated this article on March 1, 2014
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