Discover Shanghai: Top 10 Essential Guide Attractions


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Welcome to the pulsating heart of China, a mesmerizing blend of the traditional and ultra-modern – welcome to Shanghai. From the breathtaking skyline decorated by architectural marvels like the Oriental Pearl Tower to the charming tranquility of the Yuyuan Garden, Shanghai truly is a city of contrasts.

This dynamic city, thriving at the intersection of East and West, offers an abundance of experiences that bring together the best of both worlds. In this guide, “Discover Shanghai: 10 Essential Attractions,” we will delve into the vibrant rhythm of Shanghai, revealing its top attractions that effortlessly encapsulate its rich culture, compelling history, and futuristic ambition.

Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler, this guide promises to help you make the most of your Shanghai adventure. From timeless temples to bustling markets, opulent palaces to iconic skylines, we’ve got you covered. So buckle up, as we take an exciting journey through the fascinating tapestry that is Shanghai. Let’s embark on an unforgettable journey of discovery, filled with excitement, wonder, and the irresistible charm of Shanghai. Enjoy the ride!

Here are the 10 best places to visit in Shanghai:

1. The Bund (Wai Tan)

Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

Immerse yourself in the pulsating heart of Shanghai at The Bund, or as it’s locally known, Wai Tan. Revered as the city’s iconic symbol, The Bund is more than just a waterfront promenade; it’s a living museum of the colonial history and the gateway to Shanghai’s future.

Located on the western bank of the Huangpu River, The Bund gives you a glimpse into two distinct eras of Shanghai. To the east, you’ll witness the future in the form of the Pudong District’s futuristic skyline, featuring architectural marvels like the Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center, and the Shanghai Tower, China’s tallest building. Contrast this with the view to the west, where a spectacular array of colonial-era buildings proudly stand, reminiscent of the city’s prosperous past.

These historical buildings, referred to as the “Museum of Architecture,” showcase a wide range of architectural styles from Gothic to Baroque, Romanesque to Renaissance. Each structure has its unique tale, woven into the intricate fabric of Shanghai’s rich history.

But The Bund’s magic isn’t limited to daytime. As dusk falls, the area transforms into a spectacle of light, with buildings illuminated against the night sky, their reflections dancing on the river’s surface. It’s a mesmerizing sight, offering a sense of serenity amid the city’s bustling pace.

In addition to its stunning visuals, The Bund also hosts a number of notable attractions. These include the historical Peace Hotel, famous for its unique blend of Eastern and Western architectural styles, and the Huangpu Park, one of the city’s oldest public parks.

Whether you’re keen on photography, history, architecture, or simply want to take a leisurely walk soaking in Shanghai’s vibrant atmosphere, The Bund is a must-visit. It’s not just an attraction; it’s an experience – an integral chapter in the story of Shanghai, waiting to be explored.

2. Shanghai Tower

Shanghai Tower
Shanghai Tower

Towering above the cityscape of Shanghai, the Shanghai Tower stands as a symbol of the city’s rapid growth and development, reaching an astonishing height of 632 meters. With this formidable height, it proudly holds the title of the second tallest building in the world and the tallest in China, an unmissable monument to the city’s rise.

Designed by the American firm Gensler, the tower’s spiral form is more than an aesthetic choice; it is a smart engineering solution, reducing wind loads on the building, a significant factor considering Shanghai’s typhoon-prone climate.

Inside, the Shanghai Tower is a microcosm of the city itself. The vertical city, as it’s often called, is designed for far more than just business. It is a vibrant hub of activity, housing retail stores, restaurants, conference spaces, a luxury hotel, and much more. It’s a world in itself, encapsulating the essence of the city’s thriving commercial and social life.

One of the most unforgettable experiences for any visitor is a trip to the top in the world’s fastest elevators. Within just 55 seconds, you’ll find yourself at the planet’s highest observation deck, offering an unparalleled panoramic view of the sprawling city beneath. From this unique vantage point, you can truly grasp the magnitude of Shanghai’s impressive urban landscape, stretching as far as the eye can see.

The Shanghai Tower is more than a skyscraper. It’s a testament to the city’s ambitious spirit and a beacon of its future-forward vision. A visit to Shanghai would indeed be incomplete without experiencing the awe-inspiring grandeur of this architectural marvel.

3. Oriental Pearl Tower (Dongfang Mingzhu)

Oriental Pearl Tower (Dongfang Mingzhu)
Oriental Pearl Tower (Dongfang Mingzhu)

If there’s one sight that captures the futuristic pulse of Shanghai, it has to be the Oriental Pearl Tower. This architectural marvel, located in the vibrant Pudong district, stands out with its unique design featuring eleven connected spheres or “pearls”, hence its name. Towering at a height of 468 meters, it not only contributes to the city’s iconic skyline, but also offers visitors a breathtaking panoramic view of the metropolis from its observation decks.

But the Oriental Pearl Tower is not just about the stunning vistas. Inside, it boasts a revolving restaurant where you can enjoy a meal while admiring the city from 267 meters above the ground. The tower also features a shopping mall, exhibition facilities, and the captivating Space Capsule for an immersive visual experience.

As a final tip, make sure to visit the Shanghai History Museum, housed at the tower’s base. It provides an insightful look into the city’s past, perfectly complementing the futuristic experience the tower offers. The Oriental Pearl Tower, combining awe-inspiring views, architectural innovation, and cultural enrichment, is definitely a must-visit spot on your Shanghai itinerary.

4. Yu Garden (Yuyuan)

Yu Garden (Yuyuan)
Yu Garden (Yuyuan)

Ah, the Yu Garden – an absolute oasis amidst the bustling city of Shanghai. Located in the Old City of Shanghai, this exquisite garden is an embodiment of classical Chinese garden design. It’s a serene refuge filled with beautiful pavilions, winding corridors, rockeries, ponds and the enchanting atmosphere of China’s Ming Dynasty.

The Garden’s history is as rich as its landscape – built in the mid-16th century by a wealthy Ming Dynasty official, Pan Yunduan, as a peaceful and luxurious retreat for his parents. Today, it’s open for the public to appreciate its harmonious layout, stunning craftsmanship and the poetic charm that it encapsulates.

One of the highlights in the Yu Garden is the “Exquisite Jade Rock”. It’s a 5-meter tall rockery that has a captivating appearance with its 72 holes. What’s really fascinating is when you burn incense near the rock, the smoke will magically puff out from all the holes. Similarly, when you pour tea at the top of the rock, the water will flow out from each hole creating a spectacular sight to watch.

As a quick side note, the bustling Yuyuan Bazaar located near the garden is a great place to explore. With its numerous shops selling traditional Chinese arts and crafts, antiques, and souvenirs, along with a wide range of local snacks, it’s the perfect ending to your visit to the Yu Garden. The mixture of tranquillity within the garden and the vibrant energy of the nearby market truly captures the essence of Shanghai.

5. Shanghai Disneyland

Shanghai Disneyland
Shanghai Disneyland

Are you ready for a dash of magic? Welcome to Shanghai Disneyland – where imagination meets reality. As the first Disney theme park in mainland China, Shanghai Disneyland offers a blend of classic Disney magic with distinct Chinese culture, creating a unique experience that stands out from other Disneyland parks around the world.

The park boasts of six themed lands, each meticulously designed to transport you into incredible worlds of fantasy and adventure. Experience the swashbuckling adventures in Treasure Cove, delve into the future in Tomorrowland, or explore the Enchanted Storybook Castle in Fantasyland, the tallest and largest Disney castle yet.

Notably, Shanghai Disneyland is home to some exclusive attractions that you won’t find in any other Disneyland park. Be prepared to have your mind blown by Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure, an immersive boat ride that uses multimedia effects to create a captivating undersea journey.

For those wanting to meet their favorite Disney characters, don’t worry, Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and the whole gang are there to greet you! From classic Disney fairy tales to thrilling attractions, spectacular live entertainment, and scrumptious dining experiences, Shanghai Disneyland offers a day of enchantment and fun that will leave you and your loved ones with lasting memories.

Remember, Disney magic is timeless, but the experiences are always fresh and exciting at Shanghai Disneyland. So, come make your own magic!

6. Shanghai World Financial Center

Shanghai World Financial Center
Shanghai World Financial Center

Reaching for the sky in Shanghai’s booming Lujiazui financial district is the magnificent Shanghai World Financial Center. Standing at an impressive 492 meters, it is one of the tallest buildings in the world and a true icon of Shanghai’s skyline. Its distinctive shape, resembling a bottle opener, is recognizable from far and wide, giving it a unique place in the architectural landscape.

This modern skyscraper isn’t just a marvel from the outside; inside, it houses a variety of commercial spaces, including offices, hotels, conference rooms, observation decks, and ground-floor shopping malls. It’s a dynamic hub of economic activity during the day and a beacon of lights and energy by night.

One of the major attractions of the Shanghai World Financial Center is its Sky Walk observatory. The breathtaking views from the 100th floor observation deck are unparalleled. The deck is equipped with high-definition telescopes, allowing visitors to zoom into the cityscape below, and on a clear day, you can see all the way to the Yangtze River!

Whether you’re a lover of architecture, a fan of awe-inspiring views, or just curious about modern China’s rapid urban development, the Shanghai World Financial Center is a must-visit. Don’t forget to bring your camera – the photographic opportunities are endless.

7. Zhujiajiao Ancient Town

Zhujiajiao Ancient Town
Zhujiajiao Ancient Town

Step back in time with a visit to the charming Zhujiajiao Ancient Town, located on the outskirts of modern Shanghai. This 1,700-year-old water town, often referred to as Shanghai’s Venice, offers a delightful glimpse into the region’s past, with its well-preserved Ming and Qing dynasty architecture, winding waterways, and stone bridges.

Stroll through its narrow lanes and you’ll be taken by the timeless scenes: traditional houses standing shoulder to shoulder along the canals, locals going about their daily routines, and boats lazily navigating through the waterways. It’s a world away from the bustling metropolis, yet only an hour’s drive from downtown Shanghai.

Highlights of a visit include Fangsheng Bridge, a landmark five-arch bridge offering fantastic views of the town, and Kezhi Garden, a classical Chinese garden full of ornate pavilions and tranquil lotus ponds. Don’t miss the opportunity to take a scenic boat ride along the canals, a wonderfully relaxing way to soak up the atmosphere of this ancient town.

Complete your visit by sampling local delicacies at the many teahouses and restaurants that line the canals. Zhujiajiao Ancient Town is more than just a tourist site; it’s a living, breathing window into China’s rich history and culture. Plan your visit and experience the enchanting allure of this water town for yourself!

8. Huangpu River

Huangpu River
Huangpu River

Unravel the essence of Shanghai with a journey down the city’s lifeblood – the Huangpu River. This 113-kilometer-long river is more than just a body of water; it’s a silent storyteller of Shanghai’s transformation from a small fishing village to a global metropolis.

The Huangpu River divides Shanghai into two parts – Pudong (east bank) and Puxi (west bank), each representing a distinct face of the city. Pudong is a symbol of China’s rapid modernization, with its striking skyline marked by towering skyscrapers like the Shanghai Tower and Oriental Pearl TV Tower. Puxi, on the other hand, retains a more traditional charm with historic sites such as the Bund, a waterfront promenade lined with colonial-era buildings.

A river cruise along the Huangpu is a must-do for any visitor. As you glide along the water, you’ll be treated to a visual feast – from the neon-lit skyscrapers of Pudong to the historic buildings of the Bund. This contrast is what makes Shanghai so unique and a cruise gives you a front-row seat to this extraordinary urban spectacle.

But the Huangpu River isn’t just about the sights. It’s a bustling artery of commerce, with cargo ships and ferries plying its waters day and night. Whether you choose a daytime trip to enjoy the cityscape, or an evening cruise to capture the mesmerizing night view, a journey on the Huangpu River provides a perspective of Shanghai that you won’t get anywhere else. Come experience it for yourself!

9. Shanghai Museum (Shanghai Bowuguan)

Shanghai Museum (Shanghai Bowuguan)
Shanghai Museum (Shanghai Bowuguan)

Embark on a journey through time at the Shanghai Museum (Shanghai Bowuguan), an absolute treasure trove of Chinese art and history. Nestled in the heart of Shanghai, in the People’s Square, this museum houses an impressive collection that narrates the compelling story of China’s cultural heritage.

The Shanghai Museum’s architectural design is a work of art in itself, symbolizing the ancient Chinese philosophy of a round heaven and a square earth. But the real marvel lies within its walls, where over 120,000 pieces of ancient Chinese art are waiting to be discovered.

The collection is divided into eleven galleries, each dedicated to a specific category, including Ancient Chinese Bronze, Ancient Chinese Sculpture, Ancient Chinese Ceramics, Calligraphy, and more. Not to miss is the stunning gallery of Chinese jades, where you can marvel at intricate pieces dating back to the Neolithic period.

Take a stroll through the museum and immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Chinese history, from beautifully preserved Ming and Qing dynasty furniture, to ancient coins that tell tales of China’s varied past. The Shanghai Museum is not just a museum; it’s a time machine that transports you back through China’s grand historical epochs.

Don’t forget to take advantage of the museum’s free admission and the availability of English descriptions and audio guides to enhance your visit. Whether you’re an art aficionado, a history buff, or a curious traveler, the Shanghai Museum promises a rich and rewarding experience.

10. Jade Buddha Temple

Jade Buddha Temple

Experience a peaceful retreat in the heart of bustling Shanghai at the Jade Buddha Temple. Established in 1882 during the Qing Dynasty, this active Buddhist monastery offers visitors a unique chance to observe and even partake in traditional Chinese Buddhist rituals.

This sanctuary is famed for its two magnificent statues of Buddha, both carved from whole, rare white jade. The seated Buddha, adorned with precious gemstones, depicts Gautama Buddha in a state of meditative tranquillity. The larger, reclining Buddha portrays the ‘parinirvana’ – the death and entry into Nirvana of Buddha – and is a truly awe-inspiring sight.

The temple is a veritable feast for the eyes with its bright saffron walls, intricate carvings, and incense-filled prayer halls. But it’s not just a visual spectacle; here, the peaceful chants of the monks, the soothing fragrance of incense, and the calming sight of flickering candles contribute to an atmosphere of serenity that is sure to calm even the most restless souls.

Don’t miss the chance to explore the on-site vegetarian restaurant and tea house. The delicious dishes, prepared by monks, and the fragrant traditional teas offer a sensory extension of your cultural exploration.

Whether you are a spiritual seeker, history enthusiast, or a curious traveller, the Jade Buddha Temple stands as a symbol of Shanghai’s historic charm and cultural depth, offering a tranquil and enlightening experience amidst the city’s urban rush.

Feel free to explore these pages as well:

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And there you have it, explorers! Our whirlwind journey through Shanghai’s vibrant cityscape and rich cultural history has come to an end – for now. From standing atop some of the world’s tallest buildings to wandering in serene temples, from embracing the magic of Disney to stepping back in time in the ancient water town, we’ve only scratched the surface of what this incredible city has to offer.

Shanghai is truly a city that never sleeps, with its dazzling lights, vibrant markets, and bustling street life. It’s a place where the past and future blend seamlessly, offering experiences that are as diverse as they are thrilling. Every corner tells a story, every sight brings a new surprise, and every moment you spend here adds a new thread to the colourful tapestry of your travel experiences.

I urge you to dive in, immerse yourself in the experiences, and let the city’s charm sweep you off your feet. Whether you’ve fallen for the modern marvels or the ancient allure, remember that this is just the beginning, and Shanghai always has more to surprise and inspire you. Until next time, keep exploring, keep discovering, and keep adding to your personal travel story.

Shanghai awaits you, fellow adventurers. Are you ready for the journey? Safe travels, and see you soon in the next city on our must-visit list!

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