Shanghai was once a hub of international activity, trading, and commerce — which is exactly how it earned the nickname “the Great Athens of China.” Today, Shanghai is a city that showcases both the ancient and the modern, enchanting visitors from China and beyond. There are a host of activities in this city, and we’ve compiled a list of the best for your trip to Shanghai.

Take a Train Ride

Though it may sound like a somewhat anticlimactic experience for those who’ve already experienced the power of high-speed trains, the Shanghai Maglev Train is quite the ride. While it’s unlikely that you’ll joy-ride all day, it is an incredibly efficient — not to mention fun — way to access Shanghai proper from the international airport. The train reaches speeds of 267 miles per hour (430 kilometers per hour) and takes only eight minutes to cover the 18-mile distance. If you can deal with a little whiplash, buy a ticket! A single ride will cost about 50 Chinese Yuan (less than $8 USD).

Photo by Tim W

Walk the Bund

For picture-perfect views of the Shanghai waterfront, stroll along the Bund — and don’t forget your camera! Located on the Western bank of the Huangpu River, the Bund, meaning “embankment,” was initially used as a British settlement and trading post back in the 1800s. As you walk along its edge, you’ll be able to people-watch, spot the Pearl across the bay, and gaze at beautiful buildings that line the walkway. Architecture enthusiasts will be able to identify 26 different architecture styles along the way, including Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, and Renaissance.

Photo by Daijena Wang
Photo by Daijena Wang

Gaze at a Garden

Step back in time with a visit to Yu Yuan Garden, the most famous in Shanghai. Located in the center of the Old City, the garden’s serenity is a welcome respite from the bustle of the city streets, though it itself is a tourist attraction. After enjoying the picturesque pagodas, lush green vegetation, and rippling ponds, head to the nearby bazaar, which features narrow, winding alleys where vendors sell fresh food, homemade goods, and other local products.

Photo by Iva Tasic
Photo by Iva Tasic

Check out the Creative Scene

Photo by Daijena Wang

While Shanghai presents an elegant and restrained facade, it is also home to a colorful and quirky art scene. Wander Moganshan Road, near Suzhou Creek, and find a line of previously unoccupied warehouses that now function as Shanghai’s trendiest art galleries. There’s also an added bonus if you’re a fan of artists like Ding Yi and Zhou Tiehai. They — and many other creatives — have studio spaces in this artsy corner of the city. You may even be able to visit their studios and pop in to observe the artists at work if you plan ahead.

Eat the Local Grub

If you haven’t tried the local fare, have you even visited Shanghai? We’re going to go with an emphatic “no” on this one. Food from Shanghai (also called Hu cuisine) is heavily influenced by the surrounding Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. The result is a complex, yet delicious, collection of dishes best sampled at local dive, Jishi. Tiny, bustling, noisy, and practically perfect, Jishi offers phenomenal food at reasonable prices. Can’t decipher the menu? Try the tofu skin with mushrooms (fuzhu), the dried tofu with wild greens (malantou), the fish confettied with scallions (congbao yutou), or the crab with vermicelli (xiefen fenpi).

Photo by Ferdy Irawan

See a Show

Photo by Arturo Alanis Garza

particularly fun element of Shanghai’s storied past is its history with acrobatics. Spend a night out on the town and see one of the city’s legendary shows — you’ll be awed by the contortionism, juggling, plate-spinning, and general gravity-defying feats. Need recommendations for shows? Check out the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe, created in 1951, or visit the Shanghai Circus World performers at their stunning venue on New Gonghe Road. Shows generally run every night and last for about two hours, but check the schedules before you make plans!

Header image by Tereza Mohelnikova.

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Camille Danielich
Camille is a writer, traveler, and visual storyteller from New Jersey. She has lived in the Czech Republic, Thailand and in New York. She's always looking forward to her next adventure and probably won't stop instagramming her food anytime soon. Follow along on instagram