I really enjoyed living in Shanghai for a month: this vibrant cosmopolitan city has tons to do and has become one of my favorite cities in the world. Many of Shanghai’s hotspots cater to Chinese people and expats alike, making for an interesting international experience. Throughout my time in Shanghai, I met people from the US, England, Germany, Italy, France, Canada, New Zealand, and, of course, China. I was lucky enough to stay at an Air BnB on Fumin Road, right between the neighborhoods of Jing’an and the French Concession, two ideal areas for young expats. After exploring all corners of Shanghai, I wanted to consolidate my experiences into a pleasant one-day itinerary that breaks down the best things to see, do, and eat in this lively city.
An itinerary for a day in Shanghai:
10 am – 12 pm: Rise and shine at Jing’an Temple. I had already visited quite a few temples in Japan before visiting Jing’an Temple, but I must say this temple is one of my favorites. Jing’an Temple was relocated to its current location in 1216 and is now nestled among Shanghai’s soaring skyscrapers, creating an interesting visual juxtaposition between the old and the new. The architecture of the temple is beautiful: I loved the contrast between the wooden structures and the glittering gold rooftops. The temple has many small halls where you’ll find different Buddhist deities, as seen below. I really loved the murals on the back side of the main hall. The picture below does not do the mural justice, but it includes intricately fashioned images of temples and Buddhist deities made of jade, a stone revered in Chinese culture.
12 – 2 pm: Brunch, lunch, or munch in the French Concession. The French Concession is the area of the city that was ceded to the French government from 1849 to 1943. European-esque locales like this helped Shanghai earn the nickname “Paris of the East.” This trendy neighborhood is still an expat hub, and its tree-lined avenues, restaurants, and shops make for a great place for a stroll. Here are some options for brunch or lunch in the area:
Fumin Road. The endlessly popular resto-bars on Fumin Road are always buzzing with expats – while here, you’ll probably overhear at least three Western languages. The outdoor seating at these venues is popular for both meals and drinks throughout the day. Check out these spots, which are all next to each other: Funkadeli, Chicken & Egg, and Cantina Agave.
Julu Road. Julu Road is home to many restaurants, but Loonfung House stands out as a huge hit among locals. This popular restaurant dishes out some tasty Hong Kong-style Cantonese dim sum, which is often served as brunch. You’ll see the place start to fill up in the morning as people wait for a table, and then it’s pretty much packed from 11 am to the afternoon. I recommend you arrive early or make a reservation.
Donghu Road. This cool little street connects some of the larger thoroughfares of the Concession, but it is not to be missed. Donghu offers a range of eating options, including Sichuan Citizen, which serves up specialties from Sichuan province; Gemma, a cozy Italian eatery; and Shanghai Brewery, a popular gastropub for craft beer lovers.
2 – 3 pm: Take a walk through Jing’an. Once you’re well fed and a little boozy, walk back up Fumin Road and turn left on Yan’an Road. Along Yan’an Road on your left, you’ll find a small park with a pond. It’s nice to take a short stroll through this area. Then walk up the stairs to cross the overpass above Yan’an Road. It’s worth it. Why? Because you get a jaw-dropping view – my jaw literally dropped – of Jing’an Temple’s golden rooftops sparkling in the sun. After gawking, walk down the stairs and head through the entrance of Jing’an Park on the corner of the street. Upon entering, you’ll stumble upon a beautiful pond where people are having lunch. As you meander through the park, you’ll find people playing instruments on benches and – best of all – elderly locals engaging in guang chang wu to the tune of Chinese music. Guang chang wu, which literally translates to “square dance” because it is usually done in public squares or plazas, is a kind of casual dancing done by locals in public areas throughout China. It is so fun to watch! Haha. I actually saw guang chang wu in various cities during my travels throughout the Middle Kingdom.
3 – 5 pm: Explore People’s Square and Nanjing East Road. People’s Square and Nanjing East Road are some of the most well-known tourist sites in China. Take Line 2 of the metro from Jing’an Temple station to People’s Square. The Shanghai metro is actually very easy to use: signs and announcements over the speaker are in English. When you got off the metro, wander around People’s Square, which is really more like a park. This area is home to two cool museums, the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall and the Shanghai Museum. You won’t have time for them as part of this itinerary, but I recommend visiting another day. I especially loved the Shanghai Museum because it houses a wide range of exhibits on Chinese art and culture. After roaming People’s Square, head down Nanjing East Road en route to the Bund, Shanghai’s most iconic sight. Neon-lit Nanjing East Road is unabashedly touristy and not my favorite place in the world, but it’s a one-time must-see – kind of like New York City’s Times Square.
5 – 7 pm: Catch the sunset on the Bund. The Bund is the waterfront area along Zhongshan Road. It was known as the city’s “Wall Street” in the heyday of the foreign concession era, so you’ll notice that the buildings here look very European. Pudong is the name of the more modern area across the river from the Bund, where some of Shanghai’s most famous skyscrapers are located. Eye-catching edifices on the Bund include the Custom House, an iconic building modeled off London’s Big Ben; the Fairmont Peace Hotel and its emerald pyramid-like top; and the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank Building, with its beautiful neoclassical dome. Highlights of the Pudong skyline include the Oriental Pearl Tower, the futuristic-looking tower often associated with Shanghai; the Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world; and the Shanghai World Financial Center, nicknamed “the bottle opener” for its top. Pro tip: Arrive to the Bund just before sunset to catch the fading light on Pudong’s skyscrapers. Then wait for darkness to fall to see both the Bund and Pudong all lit up. When I was there, the buildings on both sides were lit up at 6 pm on the dot.
7 – 9 pm: French Concession fab for din. There are a few things you could do for dinner in the Concession. Here are some options:
Option 1: Tianzifang. Tianzifang is a hip complex of traditional shikumen houses turned artsy shops and restaurants. The uniquely Shanghainese aesthetic of the brick shikumen, elegant and reminiscent of the past, adds a nostalgic touch to the bustling area filled with more modern establishments and faddy food stands. As you browse the food stalls in the narrow alleyways between the shikumen, you’ll find all kinds of stuff on skewers (If you’ve spent any time in China, you know these skewer options can be quite, shall I say…creative?), stinky tofu (Yup, it tastes just like it smells), and super trendy cheese teas (Yes, cheese tea is a thing and it’s good. The “cheese” is kind of like a sweet custardy cream on top of the tea. So, no, you’re not drinking mozzarella matcha). As you snack on goodies from the stands, you can walk around and find a place for a more substantial meal – Kommune is a popular spot.
Option 2: Xintiandi. If Tianzifang is the cool hipster younger sis, Xintiandi is the classy put-together older sis. Xintiandi is less about the charm of food stand-studded alleyways and more about the comfort of higher-end dining. Like Tianzifang, Xintiandi is also a complex of repurposed shikumen homes, now filled with boutiques and well-known restaurants. Many restaurants offer outdoor seating, where you can ponder the interesting juxtapositions in a place where a Wolfgang Puck restaurant and a Starbucks are the modern tenants of traditionally Shanghainese housing.
Option 3: Head back to the Fumin and Donghu area where you had lunch. Return to Jing’an Temple station on Line 2 from Nanjing East Road station, a short walk from the Bund. As you exit the station on Nanjing West Road, you’ll notice Jing’an Temple all lit up by night – and it is BREATHTAKING. After gawking at the temple – for at least the second time in the day – head to one of the places I mentioned above in the French Concession for dinner and drinks. Many of these places will have happy hour specials until 8 pm, so take advantage!
This itinerary for a day in Shanghai gives you a taste of the city’s most famous sights along with some go-tos for expats and locals. I hope you enjoy Shanghai as much as I did!