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How to Plan a Trip to Shanghai

How to Plan a Trip to Shanghai

Written by CindyUpdated May. 26, 2023
Shanghai NightviewShanghai night scenes from the Pudong towers are spectacular.

Shanghai is a splendid metropolis blending the West and the East, the modern and the ancient. No matter which aspect of Shanghai you are interested in, it will not disappoint you.

If you are planning a tour of Shanghai, read on to get the best from your time, and some tips on planning the itinerary.

The Best Things to Do

The main attractions of Shanghai are its skyline views, historical sites, and nearby water towns. Some of the activities that we would recommend include:

The Oriental Pearl TV TowerThe Oriental Pearl TV Tower, seen from the Bund
  • Stroll down the Bund promenade or board a cruise boat to enjoy Shanghai's classic skyline views.
  • Enjoy a panoramic view of the city from one of the world’s tallest buildings, the World Financial Center, The Oriental Pearl TV Tower or the Shanghai Tower.
  • Immerse yourself in Yuyuan Garden, which is the only surviving Ming Dynasty garden and famous for its exquisite layout, beautiful landscaping, and the artistic style of the garden architecture.
  • Take a leisurely stroll or boat ride around Zhujiajiao, a water town with fascinating canals, bridges, and architecture.
  • Experience the old Shanghai at Xintiandi, a place full of the historical and cultural atmosphere of Shanghai.
  • Take a ride on the world's fastest train— the Maglev, to feel super-modern Shanghai.
  • Night activities: Take a Huangpu River night cruise; watch some cultural performances like an acrobatic show and Shanghai’s Peking Opera.
Things to Do in Shanghai
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How Long to Stay — 2–4 Days

It depends on your schedule and your interests. Usually people spend 2–4 days there. The longer you stay, the deeper you will understand this city.

Tongli Water TownTongli Water Town

If time permits, taking an extension tour to Suzhou or Hangzhou is highly recommended.

Here are some suggested itineraries for your reference, or you could see more detailed itineraries and options in Ultimate Shanghai Itineraries: How Long to Spend in Shanghai

1-Day Tour: Shanghai Highlights

The Bund, Yuyuan Garden, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Shanghai Museum

2-Day Tour: Shanghai Highlights + a Water Town

Day 1: The Bund, Yuyuan Garden, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Shanghai Museum
Day 2: Zhujiajiao Water Town or Xitang Water Town

3-Day Tour: Shanghai + Hangzhou + Nanxun Water Town

Day 1: The Bund, Yuyuan Garden, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Shanghai Museum
Day 2: Travel to Hangzhou, Lingyin Temple, West Lake, a Tea plantation
Day 3: Nanxun Water Town

4-Day Tour: Shanghai + Hangzhou + Suzhou + Tongli Water Town

Day 1: The Bund, Yuyuan Garden, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Shanghai Museum
Day 2: Travel to Hangzhou (1 hour by bullet train), Lingyin Temple, West Lake, a Tea plantation
Day 3: Travel to Suzhou (2 hours by bullet train), Humble Administrator's Garden, Tiger Hill, the Garden of the Master of Nets
Day 4: Tongli Water Town
See detailed itinerary.

See more our Shanghai tours.

Recommended 2-Day Shanghai and Watertown Tour

  • Price: From $349 p/p
  • Depart: Daily

Day 1. Explore the Charming City of Shanghai

Your private guide will be waiting for you at the airport arrival hall or in your hotel lobby. A comfortable vehicle (non-smoking) with an experienced driver will be ready for you to explore Shanghai.

The day starts from the highest landmark of Shanghai — the Shanghai Tower. Take the fastest elevator in the world, and have a bird's-eye view of the entire city of Shanghai.

Then explore the ancient part of Shanghai — Yu Garden. It is representative of Shanghai’s old town. Try to find the five dragons.

The Propaganda Poster Art Centre recently became one of the top 15 things to do in Shanghai on TripAdvisor.

The last part of the day will be on the Bund. Walk slowly to observe the sharp contrast between the old and new buildings on both sides.

Day 2. Zhujiajiao Water Town

Zhujiajiao Water Town is the nearest water town to Shanghai and it takes about 40 minutes to drive there.

Walk along the bridges and by the river, and relax in a rowing boat. This lovely town will make you forget that you are by a big city.

After Zhujiajiao Water Town, your tour guide and driver will escort you to the airport or train station and wave goodbye.

If this has sparked your interest, read a more detailed intro to this 2-Day Charming Shanghai and Watertown Tour; or get started with a Shanghai tour inquiry (our consultancy is free)…

Click here to plan your tailor-made tour now. Your 1:1 travel consultant will reply within 1 working day.

Your Tour Can Be Tailor-Made...

If the above tour isn't what you're looking for, just tell us your interests and requirements and we will help tailor-make a unique Shanghai tour to suit you.

Best Time to Visit Shanghai
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Getting a Visa… or No Need to Get a Visa?

Usually foreigners need to apply for a visa before travel to China. Read on how to apply for a China visa.

If you meet the relevant qualifying criteria of the 144-hour visa-free transit policy, you won't need to obtain a visa in advance.

See How to Make the Most of Your 144-Hour Visa-Free Stay in Shanghai.

The Best Time to Go

Zhujiajiao Water TownZhujiajiao Water Town

The best times to visit Shanghai are March–May and September–November, as the weather is comfortable.

Mid June to early July is the rainiest period in Shanghai. The hottest time in Shanghai is from July to August. The coldest period is from late January until early February. Read more about Shanghai weather.

We recommend that you book well in advance, and are prepared for huge crowds if you plan to visit during these Chinese holidays:

  • China's summer holiday season (July and August)
  • Labor Day (May 1–3) and National Day (October 1–7)
  • Spring Festival (late January or early to mid February)

How to Get to Shanghai?

Shanghai has two international airports: Pudong (PVG) and Hongqiao (SHA). It is easy to get to Shanghai with international flights. There are direct flights to Shanghai from most major world cities.

If you are already in China, you can reach Shanghai by plane conveniently, and bullet trains are increasingly becoming a viable, quick option. See more information about Shanghai transportation.

Shanghai map

Recommended Hotels

Learn to make dumplings at the hutongs. Get in touch with Chinese culture.Learn to make dumplings at a local family. Get in touch with Chinese culture.

There are numerous accommodation options in Shanghai, ranging from 5 star hotels to youth hostels. The price is generally higher than elsewhere in mainland China.

If you want to enjoy Shanghai's classic skyline views, you can choose a hotel near the Huangpu River.

Below are some hotels recommended by our local specialists:

  • 5-star hotel: Les Suites Orient Bund Shanghai
  • 4-star hotel: Narada Boutique Hotel Shanghai Bund (SSAW Hotel Shanghai)

If you want to interact with local people, we can arrange a home stay for you. You will have the opportunity to:

  • Learn how to make dumplings and enjoy dinner with the host;
  • Join in local people's morning exercises;
  • Visit a local food market with the host.

Contact us for more information.

Famous Local Food You Should Try


Shanghai has a wide range of restaurants, which not only serve local cuisine, but also dishes from all over China and all over the world. So you can easily find a restaurant in Shanghai to fit your tastes.

If you want to try some local food, here are some recommendations:

  • Iconic dishes: steamed crab, crayfish, red-braised pork,
  • Famous snacks: Xiaolongbao (steamed buns), Soup Buns, Fried Mantou

See more Shanghai dishes you should eat.

Discover Shanghai with Us

Travel with a Travel Company.Take a private tour with us, and you will be taken care of by our guides.

If you want no hassles, we recommend you to travel with a professional local guide, who will show you the real Shanghai and lead you to experience the lives of local people.

Here are some sample itineraries. Treat them simply as inspiration, because your trip will be created individually by one of our specialists to match your tastes and budget.

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