Planning a solo trip to Shanghai? Here’s everything you need to know for your visit:
- Largest city in the People’s Republic of China, with a population of over 28.5 million.
- One of the fastest growing cities, Shanghai is the busiest commercial port in the world.
- With a history of foreign exposure and Western influence, the city is China’s financial, technological, commercial, and technological powerhouse.
- Thanks to massive influx of migrants and constant construction, Shanghai is sinking at a rate of 1.5 cm a year (over 1.8 meters since 1921).
- Nicknames: Pearl of the Orient, Athens of China, Paris of the East.
- Currency: Chinese Yuan Renminbi (CNY).
- Spoken languages: primarily Mandarin, Shanghainese, and other Chinese dialects. Small English speaking community (mostly expats).
- Best time to visit: from February to May, and from August to November. Hot summers and cold winters.
- Arriving from Pudong International Airport: your options are to take a taxi (~150-200 Yuan), metro (subway), bus, or Maglev (high speed magnetically levitating train). The Shanghai Maglev Train is a unique experience that everyone should try at least once – at an average speed of about 225 km/h (140 mph), the train will get you downtown (Longyang Rd Station on Metro Line 2, the Green line) in just 8 minutes for 80 Yuan (about $13 USD). Taxis charge ¥140 for Pudong and ¥170 for the city centre.
- Keep in mind that buses and subway will be very crowded during rush hours.
- If you’re arriving from Hongqiao airport, your options are to take a taxi (~100-150 Yuan), bus, or subway.
WHERE TO STAY
- Best hostel for solo travelers in Shanghai: Meego Youth Hotel. There may be better hostels out there – but this one you can actually pre-book online in English. Clean rooms and bathrooms, friendly & helpful staff, and in a great location for exploring the city. Just a bit hard to find (it’s on the 4th floor).
- Avoid little street-side hotels – try to stay in the large ones (such as international chains). For convenience, book a hotel downtown.
- Jing’an is the modern, high-end neighbourhood serving as the core of the Shanghai urban area, while Huangpu district is commercial and tourism hub, encompassing the People’s Square, the Bund and Nanjin Road.
- The French Concession area, enveloping Xintiandi and Tian Zi Fang, is a favourite for dining and accommodation thanks to its sycamore tree lined boulevards and Tudor mansions.
- The Shanghai Jiaotong Card is a contactless rechargeable cash card that allows access to the bus, metro, ferry, taxi, car park and toll roads.
- The Shanghai Metro network is a fast, cheap and reliable service operating 13 lines with fares starting at ¥3. While it can get very congested, the Metro has station signs in English. Buying tickets might be tricky, so ask a worker for help if needed.
- While transportation by bus is cheaper, it’s also slower due to traffic. Buses can also get very crowded, and the whole experience may be confusing for non-Chinese speakers.
- Taxis run on a starting meter of ¥14 with successive kilometres priced at ¥2.40 and a supplement of ¥2.10 for every 5 idle minutes. Taxis can be ordered by phone: 96961 (JinJiang), 96963 (HaiBo), 96840 (BaShi), and 96822 (DaZhong).
- Tip: be sure to write down (in Chinese) the exact address you’d like to go to, as most taxi drivers do not understand English. It is also likely that taxi drivers will try to drive you around in circles to rack up the fare – unfortunately, there is very little you can do to mitigate this if you’re not already familiar with the routes.
- A ferry service runs from The Bund to Lujiazui in Pudong, and is the cheapest and fastest way to cross the river (one-way tickets are just ¥2).
- Drinking age is 18 (not enforced at all), last call is never (some clubs stay open all night).
- The French Concession quarter has a swath of low-key bars and lounges for weekday entertainment or casual Saturday nights.
- The Bund is home to a variety of bars and their drinks lists, with swanky hotel terraces claiming stake of the VIP crowd.
- Xintiandi is the mecca of live music, outdoor patios and insane dance floors.
- Great bars for foreigners in Shanghai: Constellation Bar (top pick), The Glamour Bar (best views), Perry’s Cafe (budget dive bar), and Mingo.
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- Note: Shanghai is going through rapid modernization – you will find traditional Chinese gardens amidst modern skyscrapers and developments. While you’re in town, observe the contrast. This is China at it’s most extreme!
- Pearl Tower (Oriental Tower). With its two distinctive spheres, this communications tower is a very visible part of the city’s skyline.
- Jin Mao Tower. An 88-story skyscraper, the Jin Mao Tower used to be the tallest skyscraper in China (now eclipsed by the World Financial Center).
- The City God Temple (Chenghuang Miao), a historical temple complex.
- Shanghai Yuyuan Garden, a 5-acre classical garden completed in the Ming Dynasty (1577).
- Chong Ming Island. An island in the Yangtze River (the longest river in Asia). The National Marshlands Wildlife park is located on the island.
- Zhangjiang High Technology Park, the “Silicon Valley of China.”
- The Shanghai Museum holds over 120,000 works of ancient Chinese art, displayed throughout 11 galleries and several exhibition halls.
- Walk along Nanjing Road, a pedestrian-only road full of shops and markets. Nanjing Road is the epitome of Shanghai lifestyle and its first commercial street with modern shopping malls, specialty shops and international cafés.
- The wharf section of The Bund along the Huangpu River is one of the most famed waterfronts in Shanghai. Spy the early 20th century architecture, made all the more spectacular by floodlights illuminating the night. Also known as “The Mother River,” the Huangpu River is postcard perfection at dusk when contrasted with the glittering lights of the city.
- Take a stroll through the Yuyuan Garden. Dating back to the Ming dynasty, the garden is sprawled over 5 acres and boasts unique pavilions, ponds, and cloisters.
- Tip: even though Shanghai is one of the most Westernized Chinese cities, not that many people speak English. It may help to learn a few basic phrases in Mandarin, or to bring along a pocket dictionary. Don’t be surprised if no one seems to understand English!
- Use the Dianping smartphone app for the latest restaurant reviews. If you can’t read Chinese, the SmartShanghai app is your best bet!
- Craving Indian food? Go to Lotus Land Hongqiao Nanfengcheng Br (best in town). For Italian, head to SEVE Italian Restaurant or Roma.
- Where to find good cheap eats: all over town! Shanghai is full of delicious restaurants – take this chance to try as many local dishes as possible (especially Shanghainese dumplings). Yuyuan and Fangbang Lu feature many stalls selling BBQ meat, steamed buns, dumplings, and hot bowls of fine noodles.
- Tipping is not customary in Shanghai, although Western influence is spreading the practice. 3%-5% of the total bill is more than acceptable.
- Dangerous areas: it is not likely that you will encounter danger as a foreigner. In any case, practice common sense as in any big city: avoid dark alleys and small side-streets at night. Mao Ming Road has a bad reputation (robberies); pickpockets and scam artists trawl the pedestrian streets of Nanjing Road. Watch out for scams targeting foreigners. Avoid talking to anyone trying to offer you random services.
Recommended trip duration: 3-4 days