Shanghai, China is one of the most exciting cities in the world. It has developed as fast as any city I can think of and is constantly striving to develop further. I’ve been to Shanghai a handful of times now and really feel like I have a firm grasp on the city-I even named it one of the 30 best cities in the world. While often overlooked by tourists for Beijing and Hong Kong: Shanghai is probably my favorite of the three-even after my recent 3-day trip where it rained each day. Here are 5 awesome things to do in Shanghai, China!
1. The Bund
The Bund is the most famous area of Shanghai. It was established as the center of trade years ago and has developed into the coolest place to hang out at night or day in Shanghai and the one ‘can’t miss’ tourist spot in town.
When I first came to Shanghai back in 2008, The Bund was the first place I went. Each subsequent visit, The Bund has been the first place I’ve gone to visit. I must say the view across the river of Pudong has changed in 8 years and now it is on par with the skylines on New York, Hong Kong, Las Vegas and Chicago.
Walking The Bund in either direction is sure to be entertaining just people watching. Chinese tourists flock here to take selfies. I’m not even joking at all, there are so many of them and they’re all taking selfies. At night especially but even during the day it is a non-stop photo shoot for Chinese tourists vacationing in their own country.
There is a great museum right at the end of The Bund detailing the history of Shanghai. It’s very cool seeing the old photos and reading the captions of how the “Wall Street of Asia” began.
The best views of The Bund are seen from above as you can see. These photos were taken from the roof or from my room in the Fairmont Peace Hotel; which offers the best views, as it’s right in the middle of The Bund.
2. Yu Garden
I went to Yu Garden back in 2008; which seems like forever ago but I didn’t really appreciate it. I just thought it was crowded; which it is. But there’s a reason the crowds are there. Old meets new at Yu Garden and there’s a lot more above the surface.
First, you can tour the gardens and they are lovely. It has very typical Chinese architecture and koi ponds to boot. But there are a lot of cool things you have to really look for to see like dragons and other carvings all over the place.
In the main part of the garden is a very popular and busy pedestrian area with shops and restaurants. They even have McDonalds and Starbucks of course and it can get pretty crowded. I suggest looking up.
High above on the rooftops are places where you can have a tea ceremony where you will be taught more about tea than you ever thought possible. I had no idea what I was getting myself into but basically I now believe that tea is the healthiest thing on the planet to drink and everything else will kill you! That said, it was highly entertaining and also quite tasty.
I didn’t buy any tea of course but you can buy everything you taste and they’ll give a special discount just for you! If you’ve been to Asia before you’ll get that joke!
3. Jade Buddha Temple
I found the Jade Buddha Temple fascinating and not in the least because of the Jade Buddha itself. It is a very nice Buddha but in a dark room all alone where you cannot take photos does not intrigue me.
Surrounding the Jade Buddha’s lair are tons of other Buddha’s doing typical Buddha things like smiling, laughing, reclining, being fat, happy or just plain adorable. But what I finally realized on this visit to see Buddha was that it had a swastika on its chest. Almost all of them did.
It got me thinking that was weird and I asked my guide about it and she explained the differences between the flat swastika going counterclockwise that you see pictured and the Nazi swastika that is angled and goes clockwise. The swastika is actually an old ancient symbol of compassion, courage and all things good, unlike the Nazi swastika, which is essentially the symbol of true evil. Sadly most westerners including myself know it best for that.
Close to the Jade Buddha Temple is also the Confucius Temple; which is worth a look as well. Get there early and there will be no others tourists-just a few locals praying. Confucianism is a staple of ancient Chinese belief and a visit to his beautiful temple and gardens is definitely worthwhile.
Shanghai has some of the world’s top hotels and all the major chains have at least one property in Shanghai. With a population of 25 million and Shanghai’s status as a business hub you’d expect great hotels. When I was in Shanghai for ILTM Asia 2013 I stayed at and went to many hotels in Shanghai and to be honest many were just par for the course. I like a little history with my luxury hotels. This is why I love the Fairmont Peace Hotel.
The Fairmont Peace Hotel has the best location in Shanghai-period. It is smack dab in the middle of The Bund and has the best views across the river to Pudong-the iconic Shanghai skyline that you always see.
The Peace Hotel has been around since the 20’s and since Fairmont took it over back in 2007 and renovated: it has reclaimed its former art deco glory and really is pretty fantastic. It has a very similar story to The Plaza Hotel in New York in terms of Fairmont realizing there needed to be some renovations, shutting it down and making it awesome again.
The rooms are great of course and have all the modern amenities you’d expect from a Fairmont. The restaurants are spectacular with the best views in Shanghai-not to mention the lovely spa and pool. I highly recommend the energizing 90-minute deep tissue massage!
With the Peace Hotel’s status as historic, there is even a museum of the history of the hotel in the hotel itself. Charlie Chaplin used to frequent the hotel and 3 US Presidents have stayed at the Fairmont Peace Hotel and if Hillary wins it’ll be 4!
But to me, the highlight is the Old Jazz Bar. This is not just any bar. It has been around for decades and the same guys who are now in their 80’s and even 90’s in some cases stull rock out in jazz nightly! It’s a true pleasure to see it in person. In fact, I went all three nights I was in Shanghai for a scotch. I love jazz and I must say it’s highly unusual to see old Chinese men playing jazz-but very cool!
Food in Asia is phenomenal. I could literally eat Asian food every day of my life and as long as I also had some pizza thrown in there; I’d be pretty happy! Shanghai is a food lovers dream. There are so many great places to eat and there’s food around every corner. I haven’t even scratched the surface with restaurants in Shanghai but here are a few good ones I have eaten at.
Dragon Phoenix is a delicious and historic restaurant in the Fairmont Peace Hotel on the 8th floor. The décor alone is worth a visit but the food trumps all. Accompanied by the hotel management, I was treated to a tasting menu that would make you drool.
I won’t embarrass myself and pretend like I know what everything is called but it was all amazing. From the hot and sour soup to the shrimp and Shanghai beef through to dessert-it was a culinary delight served in a clean, first class establishment.
Another amazing place for lunch is Nanxiang. Nanxiang is famous for steamed dumplings and there are outposts all over Shanghai but you wouldn’t know about it unless a local told you about it. I enlisted a guide to take me on a food tour to find the best dumplings and this is where she said was best. I have to say it was pretty awesome.
The crab and pork dumplings were the best with pork dumplings second. The other dishes she ordered were killer as well. Again, the menu is not in English so it’s hard to say the names of the dishes but braised duck and a spicy green bean dish were off the charts!
Finally, Cathay Room on the 9th floor of the Fairmont Peace Hotel was superb. The chef is actually an American guy from Michigan but cooks Asian fusion like he was born in China.
I did a tasting menu with beet salad followed by shrimp and then a steak course finished off with an excellent dessert. It was all delicious but again it’s the ambience and the view that make it so special. It’s very popular with locals and tourists.
Obviously there are a ton of things to do in Shanghai, a city of 25 million people. However, these 5 things are pretty essential to a great stay in Shanghai to make sure you don’t get Shanghaied. You have to actually go to Shanghai to find out what that means!
Also, don’t forget to check out the customs house, 12 Bund, the French Concession, and the Nanjing walking street to buy everything you didn’t know you needed. Plus going over into Pudong is a must as well to check out some of the world’s tallest buildings-in fact the second tallest; Shanghai Tower and have a cocktail on the roof of Shanghai in Pudong. Just a few more awesome things to do in Shanghai, China!
Disclaimer: My stay at The Fairmont Peace Hotel is part of an ongoing campaign with Fairmont Hotels and Resorts; which takes me around the world to several different Fairmont properties. I receive financial compensation for these stays and my stays are fully hosted. All opinions expressed are solely my own, based on my personal experiences during my stay and visit to the city. These have not been influenced in any way.