With nearly 30 million people living in Shanghai, the city is the third largest metropolis in the world. And true to its nickname — the “Magic City” — this former fishing village turned urban wonder is packed with delicious cuisine, lush botanical gardens, age-old temples, and luxe-to-organic shopping.
Here’s the tricky part. If you’re a Shanghai newbie, deciding how to spend your time may feel overwhelming since it’s a multi-layered city steeped in culture and traditions dating back hundreds of years — but with a modern twist so evolutionarily relevant that even a longer stint ensures there’ll be more to explore next time.
The good news? This beginner’s guide showcases the best places to eat, play, and stay, so you don’t have to overthink your pre-trip planning. Rest assured, follow this and you won’t leave this stunning gem wanting. (Though, trust us, you’ll be back.)
Eat: Best Bites in Shanghai
From soup dumplings to rice balls, hairy crab, egg crepes, and scallion pancakes, Shanghai is a mecca for foodies.
This gastronomic hub features a whopping 11 three- and two-star Michelin restaurants, all with seasoned chefs who have perfected their personal take on traditional Chinese fare. For a truly treat-yourself experience, detour to the newly awarded two-star 102 House for its mouth-watering staple: Sweet and sour pork. Just this year, accolades for the 2023 Michelin Sommelier trophy went to its vino enthusiast Ms. Demi Lei for her intriguing wine pairings — the city’s first ever honor in this esteemed category. (Reserve in advance.)
Beyond fine dining, Yang’s Fry-Dumplings, a Shanghai institution with over 20 locations, is idiosyncratically named for its soupy pork-filled pockets fried to a crunchy golden-brown. And don’t miss Jia Jia Tang Bao. It doesn’t have a website for good reason: Locals line up around the block for its xiao long bao (traditional steamed buns) day and night, which are very much worth the wait.
Play: Pack Your Days Full of Fun
Poised at the mouth of the Yangtze River and buttressed by the coast of the East China Sea, this waterway divides two of the most distinct districts in Shanghai.
Pudong, formerly referred to as the “Glass City” thanks to its architecturally stunning skyline, is home to the iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower. Ride an elevator to the multi-level observation deck a quarter-mile high to catch bird’s eye views of the city below. Tickets cost less than $40 and it’s easy to access from the Lujiazui metro stop.
Across the river, Old Town’s famous Bund riverwalk — a waterside pedestrian path that snakes alongside its protected historical district — is an area dating back to Shanghai’s original walled city. If you’re an architecture and history buff, take a walking tour, and if not, simply people watch and soak in the striking views of Pudong’s skyline from afar.
Go deeper into Old Town and you’ll find Nanjing Road — a stimulating pedestrian street with some of the best shopping in the city, from luxe designs to trinkets and oddities.
If you’re aching for flora and fauna in a concrete jungle, head further south to the Shanghai Botanical Gardens. Here, in spring, you can catch blooms of peonies, magnolia, fern, and budding rose and cymbidium gardens. Plus, don’t miss the memorial temple originally built in the early 1700’s for a Chinese farmer who brought the cotton industry to Shanghai.
Bonus tip: Because Shanghai is so big, and traffic can be a nightmare, the city built a state-of-the-art urban rail transit system which gets you from point A to point B in half the time it takes to drive, for less than the cost of $1 one way.
Stay: Relax in Shanghai’s Hustle and Bustle
After a day of skipping around the city, a poolside regeneration session sounds pretty good, right?
Nestled in the heart of Pudong, Kimpton Qiantan Shanghai — a cozy but chic fusion of art and east-west culture — curates a spa-like atmosphere that’s near impossible to replicate. Grab a robe, a good book, a clink-worthy cocktail, and a chaise lounge to unwind.
Plus, if you’re famished, Le Chloé’s French Brasserie fuses Asian and European dishes on site, and you can head to its upper deck for a wide variety of spirits. Because, as the saying goes: When in Shanghai…
Where to stay: Kimpton Qiantan Shanghai