At China Highlights, we know that for first time visitors to China, the country, the people and the language barrier can seem rather mystical, if not intimidating. If you are planning a trip to Shanghai - one of the most modern, cosmopolitan cities in the world today - as a tourist, you may have certain reservations and questions about what's OK and what's not OK in terms of tourist behavior towards the local norms and culture.
This article is to set the record straight with focus on Shanghai. You will find a mix of travel pointers pertaining to Shanghai as well as cultural norms that you should keep in mind. Read on.
1. Don't spend all your time in the most popular tourist areas.
Xintiandi, Nanjing Road or Huaihai Road, People's Square, the Yuyuan gardens, Tianzifang, Jing'an Temple and The Bund are the top tourist spots in Shanghai. No doubt these places are beautiful, but all tourists flock here, adding to crowds, especially on weekends.
Don't go sight-seeing in the evenings on a weekend. When visiting Shanghai Museums or the Bund, if possible, pick a week day, before lunch - best way to experience what you see. This holds for shopping on the very busy Huaihai Road and West Nanjing Road as well as the fake markets.
There are many other amazing spots in the city for you to explore such as Shanghai Old Town (Fangbang Lu and around) Duolun Road, walks around the French Concession (streets such as Anfu Lu, Wukang Lu, Wulumuqi Lu), checking out local wet markets (a large one is at the intersection of Zhenning Lu and Xinzha Lu, Jing'an area), farmers' markets (Jiashan Market is a hot favorite for tourists, locals and expats) and the Caojiadu birds and flowers market.
2. Don't miss out on visiting Shanghai's museums and art galleries.
Shanghai is a city home to some of the most riveting and wondrous galleries and museums in the world. For an amazing artistic experience and to view some underground local artists, two places are a must - M50 Art District (Moganshan Lu) and Painter's Street (212 Wending Lu, near Nandan Lu; 文定路212号，近南丹路) - where you can buy artwork without paying through the nose. To experience some unique art museums, you must check out Red Town, Power Station of Art, Rockbund Art Museum, among others.
For other historic museums, some of the best ones are covered in this article, which includes information on Shanghai Museum, Natural History Museum, Science and Technology Museum and the Propaganda Poster Art Museum.
3. Don't miss out on the beautiful temples.
Some temples in Shanghai are not as popular on the web as Jade Buddha or Jing'an Temple. Make sure to visit Longhua Temple especially to view and climb the pagoda. The other ones we recommend you check out are (a) Confucius Temple or Wen Miao at 215 Wenmiao Lu; 文庙路215号近中华路, open 9 am - 5 pm; and (b) Chenghuang Miao in Shanghai's Old Town, Fangbang Zhong Lu, Anren Lu; 方浜中路249号.
4. Don't spend all your cash at expensive stores.
For example Shanghai Tang or Madame Mao's Dowry. Check out small boutiques or one-of-a-kind stores, which are sprinkled around the French Concession area (Julu Lu, Fumin Lu, Changle Lu). You will stumble upon some really interesting pieces of furniture or apparel or home ware which you won't see anywhere else.
5. Don't just eat at famous restaurants - Chinese/Shanghainese ones especially.
Shanghai has a thriving street food scene, most of which comes alive late at night, usually around 9 pm. Some of the best street food in Shanghai are scattered across the city, near clubs mostly.
6. Don't mix up your airports and/or train stations.
Shanghai has two airports - Pudong and Hongqiao - and two main rail stations. You should be very clear and specific when it comes to knowing which airport you are catching your flight from (Shanghai has two airports) and which train station (there are three major train stations) you need to be at to get on a high speed or normal train for your trip. It's not uncommon for tourists to miss their flights and trains because of this confusion.
7. Don't fall for scams targeting foreigners/tourists.
Don't fall for people who come to asking random questions about where you live, how long you are in Shanghai and so on, especially around People's Square. You may grant them their request of taking a photo with you, but don't give in to any offers about going to some tea exhibition or some pearl market.
Don't respond to or make conversation with people trying to sell you "weed" on Yongfu Lu, right outside the club The Apartment. Just walk away.
Don't pay asking price for anything at the tourist markets in Shanghai (Han Market, Fabric Market) without driving a hard bargain. Best practice is to quote 50% less of cost price and go from there. Don't be shy!
As a city it is very safe, and if you are out partying till the wee hours of dawn, you don't need to be worried about safety.
8. Don't get stressed in public transport.
Don't be brave and take the local city bus to commute. Buses are confusing, signs are all in Chinese at bus stops and it will just mean you will run late. Stick to taxis, which are cheap and aplenty in Shanghai.
Don't get into the metro at rush hour - 8:30 am to 9 am and 6 pm to 6:30 pm - in Shanghai. Especially Line 2. Just don't.
Don't get out of your hotel without having their card or a way to ensure you have the Chinese address written down or on the phone. Cab drivers do not speak or understand English. Good bit is that if you can show them your destination in Chinese, you are guaranteed a fuss-free ride all the way.
9. Don't Ignore the Local Culture/Ways
If you are in a situation where you need to exchange or give gifts to Shanghainese, it's better to take two of something (good wine, cigarettes, etc) instead of one. Two is more auspicious. If you receive a gift from a Shanghainese, you may want to open it later, and not in front of the gift giver.
This may not be new to you but avoid a direct conversation about the "three Ts" i.e. Taiwan, Tian'anmen, and Tibet. This applies to wherever you are in China, Shanghai included.
Shanghai is different from other Chinese cities, and here it's common to come across people who speak fluent English. Don't compliment them on how good their English is - chances are they have gone to amazing schools in Shanghai or abroad and this would sound seem like an offensive comment to them.
10. Don't miss out on our personalized service for your own unique Shanghai tour.
We hope you found the above pointers helpful, before you visit Shanghai.
Shanghai's location makes it really great to explore not only the city but also locations that are perfect getaways. We specialize in tailored tours, and below are our top four recommendations, which can all be customized to suit you:
- 2-Day Charming Shanghai and Watertown Tour
- 4-day hanghai and Suzhou Tour
- 5-day Shanghai– Hangzhou–Wuzhen Tour