Oh Shanghai! It’s been more than 10 years since I’ve visited the city, and the metropolis is still as beautiful, as old, as stylish, and as bustling as I remember it to be. The most populous city in China (and maybe the world), it is located on the east coast of the country in the Yangtze River Delta. Shanghai serves as the face of modern China with its slick and towering superstructures; but somehow manages to retain the feel of old China in its historic buildings and classical gardens.
One Day in Shanghai
There were just so many things I wanted to do on my trip back to Shanghai. I was visiting with my friend Abby — and we only had one day allocated in our itinerary to see the city. Not nearly enough, I know… but I guess we still managed to include all the city’s major sights into that one full day. So if you’re like us and only have a day in Shanghai, check this itinerary out!
Arriving in Shanghai
Our AirAsia X flight from Kuala Lumpur to Shanghai touched-down at 5am in the morning. There were no trains running out of the airport at that time, so we grabbed a cab to our accommodation in Shanghai — the Holiday Inn Pudong. Upon arriving at the hotel, we freshened up and left our bags at the counter (room was not ready yet)…. before heading out for our full day in Shanghai. We took a quick walk to the nearest metro station to our hotel in Pudong, Century Avenue.
It was about 8.30am when we arrived (exiting at Yu Yuan Garden metro station on Line 10) at the Old City of Shanghai. Situated across the river from Pudong, I believe this is the best place to begin a tour of Shanghai. It was still relatively quiet this early in the day — most of the shops were yet to open for business, so our first stop for the day was at:-
Yu Yuan Garden
This garden in the middle of Old City of Shanghai has got to be the most famous garden in all of Shanghai. Built during the Ming Dynasty in 1559, Yu Yuan Garden stretches over an area of two hectares — and is filled with fish-filled ponds, lush trees, uniquely shaped rocks, cultural relics, and traditional huts and buildings. It was just so calming and peaceful walking around the garden in the early morning. Entry cost us RMB¥40 ~ US$6 per person, and our visit took almost 2 hours.
Old City of Shanghai
The Old City of Shanghai was packed with visitors when we came out of the tranquil Yu Yuan Garden. The restaurants, snack stalls and shops were in full swing, and there was hardly any space to walk around! The buildings in the old city are beautiful traditional brown buildings with Chinese detailing and curved roofs — carefully preserved from the olden days when it was the county seat of Old Shanghai from the 11th century. There used to be defensive walls but it was demolished in 1912. Now the old city is just super crowded and touristy — taking away all the charm it probably once had.
Shanghai City God Temple
Another notable site in the vicinity of the Old City of Shanghai is the Shanghai City God Temple (Chenghuangmiao). It is a Taoist Temple built to protect the safety of the people of Shanghai; and dedicated to the three patron saints of the city, referred to as the city Gods. To me, it’s just a simple temple (nothing too impressive) — but there is an old saying that goes, “One who fails to visit the City God Temple, never really visited Shanghai”. I guess that’s how important this temple is. Entry costs RMB¥10 ~ US$1.5.
Nanxiang Mantau Dian
And finally, time to eat! We decided to skip breakfast (after eating in the plane), and opted for a delicious brunch of the popular Shanghai Xiao Long Bao (Chinese steamed dumplings). It is believed that the very first restaurant to sell these dumplings is the Nanxiang Mantau Dian in the Old City of Shanghai — so it’s a little commercial now, but is a must-visit nonetheless.
There are 3 floors in the restaurant, all a little different — ground floor is for takeaways (with super long queues), the 1st floor only offers one dish (the xiao long bao), and the 2nd floor gives diners more food options (and a better dining experience). We opted to head to the 2nd floor — and had the xiao long bao with pork stuffing, the steamed bun with crab roe soup and some creamy custard baozi. I have to admit I’ve had better — but the dumplings were still delicious, and we were happily fed girls.
After a filling brunch, it was time to hit the streets! We could have grabbed a cab or the metro to our next destination (the Shanghai Museum), but we decided to take a stroll around Shanghai instead, to take in the sights and sounds of the city.
Walking in Shanghai
The autumn weather was wonderful, so we had a lovely saunter about Shanghai — passing busy streets, unkempt narrow lanes with clothing lines hanging above, modern skyscrapers, busy shops and restaurants, and crowds of locals and tourist. We also passed by the popular Yunnan South Road food street, lured by the smell of delicious food in the air. I felt like I got to know more about the city just by strolling its streets, and witnessing life behind the bustling metropolis.
Less than an hour later, we arrived at People’s Square. It is a large public space where locals and visitors were gathered — people were riding around in their bicycles, taking their dogs for walks, sitting under the shaded trees in the parks and lawns, and then there was us, taking lots of pictures~! Huge fountains and beautiful floral decorations adorn the square, flanked by the Municipal Government Mansion on one side, and on the other, the Shanghai Museum — our next destination of the day.
Entry to the Shanghai Museum is free — and I have to say, is extremely impressive. The 4 floors of this building (shaped like a bronze Chinese cooking pot) features over 120,000 pieces of ancient Chinese art — calligraphy, furniture, jade, paintings, sculptures, ceramics; you name it, they have it. We only had a limited time to explore the museum, and with 11 galleries and 3 exhibition halls, I wish I allocated more time. Maybe another visit the next time I’m in Shanghai?
After having to pull myself away from the museum, it was time to hit the shopping streets! And there’s no better place than the busy Nanjing Road. Stretching 5.5km long, the road is divided into the East and West — and we began our walk from between these 2 roads, walking through the pedestrianised Nanjing Road East towards the Bund (where it ends/starts). And the street was packed. Absolutely packed. Surrounded on both sides by fashion outlets, luxury retails stores, traditional shops and tons of restaurants — the street was a colorful and vibrant feast for the eyes. The street defines Shanghai.
Shanghai Bund in the Day
And at the end of Nanjing Street, we reached the Shanghai Bund — Shanghai’s famous waterfront and the city’s most famous tourist destination. With a history dating back to the 19th century, it winds about 1.6km along the Huangpu River and is lined by historical buildings from the city’s colonial past — and these buildings are absolutely majestic and stunning. We walked up the bund walls along the river bank — and joined in the bustling crowd to admire the buildings on the Bund, and the gorgeous view of modern Pudong and its record-breaking skyscrapers on the other side.
Huangpu River Cruise
We strolled quite a distance along the Bund walls (can’t get enough of the sights), and finally reached the ferry terminal to get to the other side of the river. Most people opt to take a full 1 or 2-hour cruise along the Huangpu River to admire the views of Pudong and the Shanghai Bund (I did the night cruise during my last visit to Shanghai) — but we decided to just take a quick ferry ride across the river. We still got to ride on a boat, and admire the views too! The trip took about 10-15 minutes, and only cost RMB¥2. Only problem — it was a little difficult getting a taxi from the terminal on the Pudong side.
When we finally managed to get a ride, we headed to our last stop for the afternoon — the Shanghai Tower. Before heading up, we had a quick meal at the Paradise Classic Restaurant (in the mall below the tower) and had the most delicious Shanghai pork belly bun. It was soft and succulent and it melted in my mouth!
After our very late lunch, it was time to admire Shanghai from the tallest tower in China and second in the world (2018). Opened in 2016, the Shanghai Tower stands at 632 meters with 128 floors — and the observation deck on the 119th floor offers the most amazing views of Shanghai all around. The sun was almost setting during our visit, so we had a beautiful golden glow on the city below us. Entrance costs RMB¥180 (US$26).
Other skyscrapers of note in the Pudong area are the Shanghai World Financial Center, the Jin Mao Tower, and the Oriental Pearl Tower.
After visiting Shanghai Tower, we headed back to our hotel in Pudong to rest and freshen up before our night out in the city! Our friend in Shanghai, Diana, had booked us a table at a historic bar in the city — so a little later on in the night, we took a taxi back across the river to the Shanghai Bund.
Shanghai Bund at Night
To me, Shanghai Bund was even more stunning at night. The colonial buildings were brightly lit, and the view of Pudong on the other side was so so beautiful. The buildings were lighted up in a myriad of colors, giving the whole area a magical glow. As usual, the boardwalk along the Bund walls was packed with people — but it didn’t take away the beauty of the Bund. It’s no wonder that this place is Shanghai’s pride, and national showcase.
The Old Jazz Bar at Fairmont Peace Hotel
We ended our night (and our day) in Shanghai at Peace Hotel’s Old Jazz Bar. Located along the Bund, the historic bar inside the hotel features the Old Jazz Band, made up of 6 veteran musicians, all aged above 80 years old. It was amazing watching them perform (jazz, and olden Chinese songs) in a bar that felt as if its been around since the old Shanghai times (it probably has been). I felt as if I was transported back in time — and half expected women in Qipao and feathers in their hair, and men in full suits to walk in the door. Food and drinks were good, the atmosphere was nostalgic, and the music was fantastic. We had a great night out.
Our full day in Shanghai was packed indeed… we walked so much, saw so much and experienced so much — it was worth every second. There was more of China to be seen though, and the next few days of our visit to Shanghai were spent outside the city centre at the Shanghai Disneyland Park and the beautiful ancient watertown of Xitang.