Discover what downtown Shanghai is defined as and what it offers for travelers. Check out our tips for planning a trip to explore Shanghai’s downtown.
Shanghai has for many decades been one of the most well-known and attractive cities in Asia, for both tourism and business. It is renowned for its unequivocal blend of traditional and modern cultures, with influences from both within and outside China. Being one of the fastest-growing cities in China, its vibrant energy can be felt in the air. That special thrill grows a hundred times more powerful when arriving in downtown Shanghai.
Downtown Shanghai is a place where life comes to life - a center for people from all backgrounds, and a memorable experience for any visitor. With magnificent sights of the modern metropolis lifestyle - crowned by the glorious cluster of skyscrapers above - this is the ideal place to witness the extent of China’s development.
Location: What is “Downtown Shanghai”?
(Click to enlarge this map.) Downtown Shanghai is just a small part of Shanghai's huge municipal area.
It may be hard to pinpoint exactly what constitutes “Shanghai Downtown”, and the definition could differ depending on the purpose (business or travel). Generally speaking - in terms of travel - it is the area in Huangpu District that stretches between People’s Park and the Bund (Waitan) - situated on the West bank of the Huangpu river - and the skyscraper cluster across the river.
The downtown area can also be said to include anywhere within the Inner Ring Road of Shanghai.
In a bend in the Huangpu river directly across from the Bund, is the Lujiazui CBD, the more business-oriented center. This futuristic scene may not be officially labelled as “Shanghai downtown” by some, however it is easily accessible by road (bridge), metro, or a ferry ride from the Bund. There are plenty of attractions for tourists in this area as well.
Things to See and Do in Downtown Shanghai
Downtown Shanghai does not lack attractions for both locals and tourists alike. It can appeal to all ages and types of travelers.
The most notable downtown highlight is the Bund; a historic stretch of ancient colonial architecture along the Huangpu River. Referred to as "the museum of buildings”, this attraction is considered a must for new-comers, and can be enjoyed by either walking along the promenade, or taking a relaxing cruise on the river.
There is a large variety of ways to explore the Bund, and any one of them is highly recommended for a fulfilling visit to downtown Shanghai.
One of the most iconic features of the downtown area, are its majestic skyscrapers, which not only can be used as great props in the background of your photos, but in fact can be the very location to capture photos from. The main skyscrapers which attract tourists are located in the Lujiazui area, which as mentioned earlier; is not technically in the downtown area (across the Huangpu river).
There are three main skyscrapers worth a visit, namely:
- Shanghai Tower - tallest in China, second tallest in the world.
- Shanghai World Financial Center - Tallest building in the world with a hole.
- Jin Mao Tower
All three of these giants give access to the roofs, with splendid observation decks (“Skywalks”), and other attractions such as shopping malls, hotels, and dining options.
It is also important to note the famous Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower, one of the most iconic structures of the city, and likewise deserves a visit to one of its fifteen observatory levels which overlook the downtown area.
Museums and Art
Shanghai is the undisputed art capital of China, and has retained this title for centuries. Modern and contemporary art displays of world-renowned artists are exhibited here, alongside local traditional art galleries, symbolic of the region.
One of the most favored exhibitions is the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, where visitors can take pictures alongside themed wax figures of famous icons.
If the sight of enormous concrete skyscrapers gets heavy on the eyes, the downtown area provides its visitors with a number of refreshingly green and serene parks, the most notable being The People’s Park, and Huangpu Park.
Nanjing Road is one of the most popular shopping streets in Shanghai.
For many, Shanghai serves as the ultimate shopping destination in China, and even Asia. From luxury-brand boutiques or megastores, to vibrant flea-markets and bazaars, any product that one can imagine, can be found for sale here. The city as a whole offers many unique specialized markets, such as the well-known Silk Market, or Porcelain Market. The downtown area in specific, however, has a more modern appeal, and showcases some of the newest fashion items in the market.
Along the Bund, many luxury-brand flagship stores can be found. To the South of the Bund, the South Bund Fabric Market is stationed - the ideal place for custom-made clothing items for a good bargain.
For mall-goers, there are no better locations than the shopping malls situated along Huaihai Road, and Nanjing West. Both of these romantic boulevards boast enormous action-filled shopping centers with plenty to offer.
The French Concession
The inclusion of The French Concession in the downtown vicinity is debatable, due to its expansiveness (about 8 km wide) which stretches outside the accepted “borders” of Shanghai downtown. It does, however, deserve an honorary mention.
A whole day can be used for exploration along the cozy green avenues of this unique area, without having experienced even a fraction of what it has to offer.
Shanghai Downtown Dining
With the seemingly endless amount of food variety Shanghai restaurants have to offer, the downtown area in particular has something that suits everyone’s flavor. Fine-dining here is served with superior quality, and is bound to leave visitors craving for more. Around the Bund, several big names can be found, such as Jade on 36, or M On The Bund, both of which cater exquisite cuisine with flawless service. For an even more memorable meal, having a bite in Shanghai’s first and only Michelin star venue - Stillers might just be the right choice.
If such high-end options are not your cup-of-tea, no need to worry! By simply strolling around the city center, one cannot walk more than a few steps without stumbling upon local delicacies in small food stands, or scattered around shopping malls. It will be a real-challenge to leave downtown Shanghai with an empty-stomach!
Downtown Shanghai Hotels and Accommodation
Spending a night in downtown Shanghai means spending a night in one of the most exciting cities in the world. This area offers some of the most pristine lodging options in the country. Naturally, hotels around the Bund and the rest of the central area are bound to be pricier, though budget options do exist as well. One recommendation of a wallet-friendly hotel that can still provide comfort, is the Captain Hostel, which also has a highly recommended rooftop bar.
For those wanting to get the “full Shanghai experience” of being surrounded in wealth, there are plenty of higher-end options in the area, such as the prestigious Grand Hyatt Shanghai atop the Jinmao tower.
Shanghai Downtown Nightlife
A trip to Shanghai’s downtown area, without a visit to the glamorous nightlife scene it has to offer, would be incomplete. Whether you are looking for a high-class cocktail bar, an energy filled dance-floor in a club, or just a local hang-out bar, the best of all worlds can be found here. The experience is sure to leave a lasting impression, as the area consistently draws in weekend-crowds from all corners of Shanghai (and even other cities), just for a taste of the dazzling experience.
The Bund homes many classy venues, perfect for a romantic evening of drinks and live music. Bear in mind that prices of drinks here are extremely high, especially in locations that offer unique views of the area. One such place is House of Roosevelt - said to be the best wine bar in Shanghai. For a more upbeat vibe, Unico club and Bar Rouge are both great choices for exotic cocktails, dance parties, and performances.
For the true music-lovers, House of Blues and Jazz is a reputable European-style jazz bar with excellent artists and a mystical atmosphere.
Downtown Shanghai Travel Tips
The Shanghai Metro
With a population of 24.1 million people, Shanghai is the most populous city in the world. As can be expected, this puts a heavy toll on transportation within the city. While taxis might be a convenient form of transportation in many parts of China, in Shanghai - because of the large area and heavy congestion - the trip times and fares might reach extreme highs. Therefore, the most recommended mode of transport in and out of downtown Shanghai is the Metro (Lines 1 and 2).
Not only during festivals and weekends, the downtown area tends to be crowded all-year-round, so travelers are advised to exercise caution with valuables being carried, and pay extra attention if travelling with children.
Shanghai is one of the most expensive cities in China, and the prices of food and drinks are even higher around the center. Be ready to spend almost twice as much for food and drinks as what you might spend in other cities in China.
Best Times to Visit
Shanghai’s weather is notoriously known as unfavorable, to say the least. The summers can be scorching hot, and its close proximity to the ocean means a lot of rain and heavy precipitation.
When choosing the perfect time for a visit in Shanghai, there are two main points to consider. Firstly, it is recommended to go visit Shanghai in transitional seasons (spring and autumn), to avoid extreme weather conditions. Secondly, in order to avoid unbearable waves of people at the popular travel destinations, it would be wise to avoid going during Chinese public holidays, or peak travel seasons.
Planning a Trip to Downtown Shanghai
Choosing to tour Shanghai is obviously an excellent choice, but one that may be challenging to plan for, as the size of the city - combined with an endless amount of attractions - may be overwhelming.
It is recommended to spend at least 2 days of sightseeing in order to get a decent sense of the area. If shopping is a major part of the agenda, an additional day set aside for it may be necessary.
Suggested Downtown Shanghai Day-Tour Itinerary
Start the morning with a relaxing stroll through the French Concession, and have a light lunch in one of the many small restaurants in the area.
- In the afternoon, move over to the Bund area, and explore the unique architecture.
- Stick around until sunset for gorgeous views of the waterfront scene, and take incredible pictures of the skyscrapers.
- Go for dinner at one of the Bund’s recommended restaurants.
- Finish the night with a walk through either HuaiHai Road, or Nanjing West Road, for some simple shopping and snacking, or to find a cozy local bar to have a drink at.
For more tips and ideas for planning a Shanghai downtown tour, check out our Shanghai Trip Planner.
Touring Downtown Shanghai with Us
Here at China Highlights, we provide a state-of-the-art solution for planning the perfect trip in China. Our Create My Trip service means we design the perfect tour for you from your ideas and requirements.
For recommended itineraries and further information on various tours around Shanghai, see our Shanghai tours.
For 1–2 days tours, check out:
If a whole day still seems too long for a tour, then our Shanghai Chic by Night tour is the perfect choice!