Shanghai China Weekend Travel Guide
Updated: Nov 11, 2020
Shanghai China is an ultra-modern fast paced city full of dazzling modern technology and skyscrapers mixed around old-world Chinese culture. If you only have one weekend to explore Shanghai, this travel guide will help you make the best out of your time in this one-of-a-kind place. For this weekend travel guide of Shanghai, I primarily walked everywhere except for an extremely high-speed train and a couple taxis. Choosing a central location to stay close to what you want to see the most is critical in maximizing your limited time. For this reason, I stayed in an area close to the iconic Bund area and Yu Garden at the Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden hotel by Marriott Inc.
Getting in From the Airport:
Most visitors will arrive at the Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG), which is a bit of a distance from central Shanghai, around an hour by car. You have quite a few options and an opportunity take a ride on the fastest commercial train in the world! The Shanghai Maglev train levitates off the track using a strong electro-magnetic field allowing it to travel at an extremely fast speed, 431 km/h (268 mph)! This trip takes under 8 minutes to complete, and costs about ¥80 ($12.80) round trip. The only drawback, it goes to the Longyang road station, and you would need to get a taxi or transfer to the Shanghai metro line to get into the center of Shanghai. Fortunately, taxi’s in Shanghai are extremely reasonable. For a one-way trip from central Shanghai to Pudong airport, you can expect to pay around ¥170 ($27). The added benefit of a taxi dropping you off directly at your hotel or destination can be worth it when carrying luggage. There are also buses available, but these will take much longer to get to your destination and limit your time to explore this amazing city!
Day One: Yuyuan bazar, Yu Garden, The Bund and Shanghai Soup Dumplings
You will know immediately once you’ve walked into the area of The Yuyuan Bazar when you see the spectacular architecture of the ornate buildings and shops built in traditional old Chinese style. The Yuyaun market (Fangbang Middle Road, Huangpu District) is great place to wander and admire the beautiful buildings and watch the mix of locals and tourists alike. The area is even more spectacular at night with each building illuminated in millions of brilliant lights. You can even catch a free traditional Chinese mini play in a swan boat in the centrally located Koi pond. One interesting side trip in this area is the City God Temple (Chenghuangmiao as locals know it) located withing the YuYuan market area. Everyone is welcome to enter for a small fee of ¥10 ($1.50). It’s now a Taoist temple, but it’s long history stretches back to the Ming dynasty built around 1400AD!
This area is also known as the “Shanghai Old Street” and is a great place for street food. Dumplings are the main attraction, and no visit is complete without a round of Shanghai’s famous soup dumplings. There are many small fast food shops specializing in dumplings ranging from traditional fast soup dumplings to larger crab soup dumplings. All are delicious and extremely cost effective, with five dumplings in a paper bowl with soy for less than two dollars! If you want to be a traveling local, grab a quick snack of dumplings, some chop sticks and keep walking. These are also extremely popular later at night after a few drinks. For a more formal experience, try Lo Bo Lang and Nanxiang Steamed Bun restaurants. Both are more of a traditional sit down restaurant and while very reasonably priced, each has been selected as a Michelin restaurant in the past.
Yu Garden recently reopened after renovations in December of 2019. The Garden was built during the Ming dynasty in 1559AD and is an example of Chinese Suzhou style. Although it has been damaged many times over history, it has been restored to its former glory and is filled with many picturesque spots. I was lucky enough to be there the day it opened after restoration and many locals were there in traditional clothing for various picture opportunities and Instagram shots. It was ¥40 ($6) for a single ticket and it should not be missed on your weekend travel in Shanghai.
The Bund at night is the one thing you must experience while in Shanghai. This area was formerly a central district to the United Kingdom during their time in Shanghai and most of the original buildings are still present. The real attraction is the spectacular display of technology that can be enjoyed while strolling the long river front esplanade. Most of the already insanely impressive buildings along the Pudong side come alive with colorful animations and a kaleidoscope of colored lights. Vibrant cruise ships and traditional Chinese junks cruise up and down the river adding to the array of lights reflecting on the waters surface. This must be one of the most photographed spots in the world, and during your weekend in Shanghai, spend an evening walking the water front with the locals and tourists alike.
One word of caution, westerners, especially those traveling alone will most likely be approached by several women under the guise of practicing their English. You may be asked to go to a bar and have a drink to discuss learning English or you may be asked to join for a traditional tea party. Leaving with any stranger is probably a very bad idea, and there are numerous stories of people paying extreme prices in this scam. While you most likely won’t be physically assaulted, your wallet or purse will be, and maybe your pride too. But at least you will have a cool story, it just may be the most expensive thing you do in Shanghai. Note: this practice seemed to be focused mainly on men, but I saw women being approached as well. All were very polite interactions, and a stern, polite “No Thank You” while you walk away seemed to work just fine.
Day Two: Getting Lost in Shanghai, Buy a Tailored Suit, Pudong, Ocean Aquarium
After spending your first day of your one weekend in Shanghai, cross over the river and explore the ultra-modern Pudong side. But before heading over, you may want to indulge in one of my favorite past times, getting lost in a new city on purpose. To travel like a local, you have to explore the parts of your destination that are less traveled by the masses of tourists. Only when you get to the more out of the way areas can you start to understand what the locals do, eat and drink. I started out walking east from the Yuyuan area and wandered the streets and was quickly in an area where I became the only tourist. This was perfect, this is where you start to find the real food. I stumbled across a warehouse with endless fabrics and tailors in individual stalls. I had always wanted to have a tailor made suit since I missed both previous opportunities in Hong Kong, so I jumped at the chance. With a limited amount of time, it was going to be difficult to pull this off. I settled on a fabric I liked, and discussed the situation with the tailor in my extremely limited and broken Mandarin and the tailor agreed to have it prepared and actually delivered to my hotel that evening! It was taking an extreme leap of faith to pay half up front and expect that this person would actually show up that evening with my suit, but for a custom tailored suit for $100, I threw caution to wind and paid my deposit. She took my measurements and in very broken English explained how I was a bit too fat and needed to lose weight. In fairness, she's correct, and I've found people in east Asian countries tend to be fairly blunt about what you look like. After getting my hand written receipt in Mandarin and being told I was too fat, I thought it was a great time to get some lunch. I love finding places where the locals eat, and in China, trying to decipher what the English translated menu is offering can be a challenge. Actually, I find some of the translations hilarious and sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and pick. Anyone up for some stool meat noodles or fleshy foam noodles?
I believe I ended up picking the "Delicious Thing Noodles". How could it not be great, it's main ingredient is a "delicious thing", right? And for less than $2, it was worth the gamble. I usually like to drink what the locals drink, and in this spot most were drinking cold beer, and I was certainly going to join them. It turned out to be a great spot for lunch, and the delicious thing noodles were just that, delicious.
Pudong was an easy taxi ride through the tunnel under the river and you emerge in an ultra-modern, extremely clean area of Shanghai. The buildings on this side of the river are truly impressive, and the iconic Oriental Pearl Tower easily stands out as one of Shanghai's most recognizable landmark. The Pudong side features a lot of high end shopping areas and much more fancy sit down restaurants as you walk along the well manicured gardens and parks. I was very impressed by how clean everything was, and the area is very well kept.
The Shanghai Ocean Aquarium is located next to the Oriental Pearl tower world renowned for its displays of marine animals. The entrance fee is ¥160 ($26). Inside the aquarium, you walk through several different "zones" representing various environments of the world. These include areas of China, Australia, South America, Africa and Southeast Asia and a walk through tube featuring large sharks and stingrays. If you enjoy wildlife as much as I do, the aquarium is a great experience during a weekend in Shanghai.
My weekend in Shanghai was coming to a close, and after a short taxi ride back across the river, I spent the last evening wandering around the Old Shanghai neighborhood. During my exploring I came across several open air plazas with hundreds of people performing ball dancing for exercise, people playing badminton on the street, and countless more Shanghai soup dumpling shops. There were even shops specializing in Durian fruit, which I didn't realize was popular in this part of China, even though it's immensely popular in Southeast Asia. I've you've never tried Durian, it can be an overwhelming experience as this fruit tastes like nothing you've ever tried before. be adventurous and give it a try! I had my last fast food round of soup dumplings and headed back to my hotel to wait for my tailor to deliver my custom suit. As the set meeting time expired and minutes piled up, I began to think I was just another tourist that got ripped off. But then, in through the hotel door walks the tailor and my new suit! I tried it on and the fit was cut perfectly to me, even if she thought I was a little too fat.
A robot ended up coming up to my hotel room later that evening as I had called down to the front desk to ask for a bar of soap. The door bell rang and when I opened, the automated robot spoke in Mandarin, gave me my requested items, turned around and left down the hall. You can see the video of this unique experience above. Shanghai is an incredible place to spend a weekend, a unique city with so many vibrant sights and delicious street food. I can't wait to come back and spend more time.
Where we stayed: Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden Hotel by Marriott Inc. ($135)