- Main Airports – Hongqiao International (SHA) and Pudong International (PVG)
- Language – Mandarin
- Population – 14.4 million
- Currency – Chinese Yuan
- GDP (China) – $10.4 trillion (2nd Overall)
City of lights, Paris of the Orient – any alias that Shanghai goes by is a depiction of its liveliness, diversity and intrigue. The city is divided into two parts: Puxi and Pudong, separated by the Huangpu River. During the 19th century, Shanghai gained European recognition of its favorable port location and economic potential, and has since then flourished as a center of commerce between East and West and has become the established financial hub of the Asia Pacific. The largest Chinese city by population, Shanghai is the true melting pot of the country and is the place to go for those who seek excitement, have a curiosity for colorful history, and an appetite for urban adventures.
When preparing for departure to this glamorous city, it’s important to consider the weather conditions. Shanghai winters tend to be a very brisk and sharp cold, although it rarely snows. On the opposite end of the spectrum, summers in Shanghai are exceptionally humid, and temperatures can go up to about 40 degrees Celsius or 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so pack accordingly.
Pudong International Airport (PVG)
- 25 miles from city center
- Transport Options
- Maglev ($10-$15, high-speed train), Subway ($2), Taxi ($30-$40), Shuttle Bus
Hongqiao International (SHA)
- 10 miles from city center
- Transport Options
- Subway ($2), Taxi ($10-$15), Shuttle Bus
Currency & Costs
Shanghai uses the general Chinese currency RMB, which is also called yuan (元). The conversion rate is about 6.46 RMB for 1 USD. You can exchange your money at the airport in the city of your departure or at the Shanghai airport when you arrive. One thing that makes traveling to China great is that prices are a fraction of most other Western countries. The most expensive purchase of your trip will be your flight, no doubt. Other than that, you don’t have to worry about taxes or tipping. In fact, if you leave a tip for a waiter, he or she will probably call you back to retrieve the money you “forgot.”
Don’t stress too much if you don’t know Mandarin. Because of the recent heavy foreign influence on the city, most service providers will be able to speak some English. However, it would be helpful to look up an address online and either print it out or transcribe the Chinese address on paper before going somewhere so that you can just show it to the taxi driver as they typically don’t know any English whatsoever.
Electronics & Internet Access
Don’t forget to pack a power adapter for all your chargers and electronics! You can find inexpensive universal adapters that work worldwide. While on the topic of electronics, you’ll have to purchase a Chinese SIM card once you arrive so you have a way to communicate with others. You can find ones for as cheap as 50-100 RMB and repurchase as needed. And of course, don’t forget a camera to capture all of your exciting moments.
Unfortunately, social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Snapchat are blocked in China. However, you could get around this by purchasing and downloading a proxy to your phone and computer that will allow you to use other country’s servers so you can access these applications. I would highly recommend Astrill or ExpressVPN. You can get monthly or yearly subscriptions.
One of the most popular tourist attractions is The Bund (外滩). You’ve probably seen this part of skyline used as the backdrop for a number of movies without even realizing it was Shanghai. The Bund stretches for about a mile along the bank of the Huangpu River and is the perfect place to take your new Facebook cover photo of the distinguished Shanghai skyline. It’s lined with many buildings of various architectural styles, including a handful of beautiful high-end dining options as well as bars and clubs.
Another popular tourist attraction is People’s Square (人民广场). This is a large public square that is often used as the standard reference point to measure distance in the Shanghai municipality. Here, you have anything from the Raffles City mall to the People’s Square Park. On the basement level is a crowded marketplace with various stands and a great place for you to practice your haggling skills!
Xintiandi (新天地) is a district located in the city’s center that is composed of reconstructed traditional mid-19th-century houses aligning narrow alleys. During the day, it’s the ideal spot for an outdoor brunch when the weather permits and at night it sparkles with evening diners and clubgoers.
The French Concession
An absolute must-see part of Shanghai is the French Concession. This trendy area was established in 1849 and started as a settlement for the French. It is truly eye-opening to see the rich European influence on the architecture juxtaposed with the native people of the city. The area is filled with unique restaurants, cafés, delicate boutiques, bars, and so on. My personal recommendation? Taking a twilight stroll through the glimmering, tree-shaded streets. It’s a wonderfully peaceful way to unwind in the busy and exciting city.
If someone asked me what my favorite place in Shanghai was, I would immediately respond with Tianzifang (田子坊). This district is located within the French Concession and, like Xintiandi, has been developed from a residential area and is now a popular tourist destination occupied with bars, restaurants, and boutiques. You can easily distinguish Tianzifang from any other area by its narrow stone alleys and twinkling fairy lights. I’ve often come to this area with friends and spent the afternoon relaxing window-side at a small shisha café called Bell, which has carries rustic, yet enchanting urban vibe with its interior design.
Now, on to the important part – the food! Like any other major city, you can find pretty much any cuisine you’re craving in Shanghai. Nonetheless, if you’re traveling to a new place you have to try their native food at least once on your trip! And I promise, Shanghainese food will not disappoint. Dintaifung and Ye Shanghai are great locations to sit down, have a conversation, and enjoy impeccable Shanghainese food. But to truly have the local experience, you need to try the street food!
Typically, along streets such as Wukang Road or Wulumuqi Road, you’ll find humble vendors selling fresh steamed buns (baozi, 包子), soup-filled dumplings (xiaolongbao, 小笼包), fried dough sticks (youtiao, 油条) and the list goes on. And don’t forget the small restaurants run by local families. Soup noodles, fried rice, curry, you name it. The best part? The food is fast and the prices are unbelievably inexpensive. Expect to spend about 5 – 15 RMB ($2 – $2.50 USD) for a very filling meal!
And we can’t forget about what Shanghai is really known for as the city that never sleeps – the nightlife. It’s not unusual to see the streets still bustling with expats and locals alike at 2 a.m., which is definitely one of my favorite things about the city. There is always something to do, people are open to new things, and more importantly – places stay open well into the morning. You will never be hungry coming back from a night out because right across the club, even at 4 a.m., is the same guy making fresh noodles or rice on the spot every night, or grab a seat at the small restaurant nearby and enjoy a nice, hot bowl of wonton noodles.
And if that wasn’t enough, here are a few bonus suggestions I recommend you check out on your trip!
- Coffee Tree
- Liquid Laundry
- Simply Thai
- Fat Cow
- Mr. & Mrs. Bund
- Senator Saloon
- Bar Rouge
- Dr. Wine
- Shanghai Brewery
- Perry’s Café