Shanghai just might be my favorite city I’ve visited in China so far. The city lights at night are unbeatable, there’s a Taco Bell, and I was also able to find Mountain Dew, which really helped to quiet my cravings for sodas other than the Pepsi, Sprite and Coca-Cola available where I live in Southern China. Full discretion though, if hiking, rock climbing and river rafting is what you’re after, you’d probably be better off in Yangshuo, and if historical sites and traditional architecture is what you seek, you’d be better off in Beijing. But if you have your sights set on amazing shopping, theme parks and city life, Shanghai just might fit the bill. In this post I’ve compiled a list of the places I was able to visit in my short time in Shanghai, where I stayed and how I got around, in the hope that you’ll be able to find it useful if you’re planning a trip to this bustling city.
Our group decided to take a cheaper route and stay at a hostel for the two nights we were in Shanghai. We always book our hostels through hostelworld.com, which is an awesome resource for finding and communicating with hostels. Although hostels have a bit of a bad rap, the ones that I’ve stayed at in China thus far have been safe, clean, and overall pretty awesome, the Mingtown Nanjing Road Youth Hostel being no exception.
This hostel is located in the central area of Shanghai, and it’s only about a two-minute walk away from the subway, so getting around the rest of the city is fairly easy. We had enough people in our group that we were able to book an entire room of bunk beds at no extra cost, as we weren’t technically booking a “private” room, so we managed to avoid rooming with strangers. Be forewarned if you do choose to book a bed at Mingtown, there are a couple of small things you should know: firstly, the Wi-Fi was pretty spotty during our stay, meaning most of the time there was none. This was a little off putting, as the hostel’s webpage does boast free internet access, but at the end of the day people don’t usually go to Shanghai to surf the web anyway. Secondly, the hostel has no clean drinking water on site, so be prepared to bring your own water with you and buy more throughout the duration of your stay.
My fellow ILP teachers and I were only able to spend a few days in Shanghai, so to get around quickly and save some money we invested in three-day metro passes. These passes cost around 40 kuai (about $5.60) and could be used as often as necessary within the three-day span. If you plan to take this route when it comes to transportation, make sure to look up the metro schedule posted online or inside the metro station, as there was a night where we attempted to take a train after the metro had closed, and we ended up having to pay a pretty penny for a taxi back to our hostel.
While we’re on the subject of subways, it might be in your best interest to buy a ticket, as some of the knockoff markets are located within metro stations. I was only able to make it to the one in the line 2 metro station, under the Science and Technology museum, but let me tell you it was wild.
There are vendors selling just about any brand you could wish for, for a fraction of the regular price. We were able to find Lululemon, Beats, Fjallraven Kanken, Adidas, Nike, Prada, and Michael Kors, just to name a few. While these items are knockoffs, they are still made of very similar materials to their authentic counterparts, so they are usually of a good quality. You have to be able to barter with the vendors as they will try to sell you items for over-inflated prices, especially if you’re a foreigner. A good rule of thumb is to try to talk the seller down to at least half of their original price, because that’s generally what closer to what the item is worth.
The Bund/Pearl Tower
The Pearl Tower was our very first stop in Shanghai (apart from Taco Bell). We ended up only viewing the tower from the outside, as it ended up being a little too expensive to go inside,
but if you have a little extra money and time on your hands the tower offers a roller coaster, fine dining, and great views all for various prices. The Bund was about a 5-minute subway ride from the Pearl Tower, but I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t be a long walk from one to the other. The views at the Bund are incredible. Although it was pretty packed with tourists like ourselves, my friends and I still managed to get some great pictures, and enjoy the view. One little tip: try to eat before visiting the Bund, as restaurants around the area hike up their prices
exponentially to price gouge tourists. We learned this the hard way when we tried to find an ice cream shop after taking in the views, and we couldn’t find a cone for less than $6.
This is by far my favorite Disney park I have visited in my 20 years of life. Shanghai Disneyland first opened its doors in 2016, so the park is still brand new. I shelled out around 50 USD for an entrance ticket, which is practically a steal in comparison to the steeply priced U.S. Disney parks. Tickets can be purchased online here, and make sure you bring your passport with you when you go to pick them up. Once you’re inside the park though, be aware that concession and souvenir prices will match those that you’d find back at good ol’ Disneyland in Anaheim, but hey, at least your ticket was cheaper right? When I visited, it was fun to see a more modern take on some of the classic Disneyland rides like Peter Pan’s Flight and Pirates of the Caribbean, and to hear my favorite characters speaking in Mandarin.
Although I’d highly recommend stopping by the Shanghai park if you’re a Disney fan like myself, there are a few things you should watch out for if you plan on making the trip: due to the fact that the only time my friends and I had to go to the park was over a Chinese holiday, the park was obviously packed.
Our plan to combat the crowds was to acquire as many Fast Passes as possible, so that we could walk on to certain rides after waiting in the hour plus lines for others. We were able to get two Fast Passes apiece in the morning, before the entire park was out of them for the rest of the day. We were confused at first, because in all of our experience at Disneyland in California this had never happened so early in the day. We eventually realized that a few of the other park guests had somehow gotten all of the Fast Passes, and were now selling them for money. This was pretty annoying, so be prepared for something like this happening to you if you attempt to brave the park on a crowded day.
Additionally, although it is technically illegal for independent vendors to sell goods on Disney property, it happens pretty commonly in the Shanghai park. Watch out for people selling merchandise at drastically discounted prices, and if it doesn’t have the Disney logo on it, don’t buy it. But if you’re not a stickler for authenticity, make sure you barter for those bootleg Mickey ears, you rule-breaker you.
Lastly, lines can get pretty crazy in China. It’s common practice for people to push their way to the front of whatever line they’re waiting in, so just make sure to hold your ground. Our group had two of us stand shoulder to shoulder in lines to prevent people from pushing past us, which helped a lot. Personal space is also not a very common Chinese concept, so be prepared to have an elbow in your back and someone breathing down your neck pretty much the entire time you’re in line.
Shanghai Wild Animal Park
This is a must for any animal lovers visiting Shanghai. The entrance fee is pretty inexpensive (your park ticket is also valid for two days, and it’s 50% off if you present a student ID), and the park also has interactive experiences that you can purchase with various species of animals. You can ride elephants, camels and horses, feed giraffes, hippos, lions, tigers, kangaroos, etc. I purchased three extra experiences in the park, the first one was an elephant ride which cost 50 kuai (around 7 USD), and let me tell you, after getting to interact with these beautiful giant creatures, they are definitely my second favorite animal (second to alligators, which I just have a weird fascination with).
Secondly I did a hippo feeding for 25 kuai (around 3 USD), which was definitely a crazy experience. The zoo workers simply have you toss vegetable slices into the hippo’s open mouths, with nothing separating you from one of the most dangerous animals on earth. The last extra experience I participated in was the lion and tiger feeding, which cost 30 kuai (around 4.50 USD). After you pay the zoo employee, you will be given a sword and a cup of raw meat, which you use to feed the lions and tigers through a chain link fence. That’s right, there’s nothing but a chain link fence separating you from these huge cats. Other than signs pretty much saying, “hey buddy, don’t be stupid and you can keep your hands,” you’ll be unsupervised in the feeding area. With a sword. And raw meat. And tigers and lions. For the sake of yourself and the animals, you’ll definitely need to use your common sense if you choose to participate in this experience.
Even if you don’t participate in any extra animal interaction experiences, the wild animal park is still a great place to visit. At nine every morning the park hosts a welcoming celebration at the front gates, in which there is singing and dancing, and many of the animals are brought out to interact with the guests for free. There are also a few rides within the park (which do cost an extra fee), and open areas where you can pitch a tent to make the most out of your two-day ticket.
Hopefully you found this post useful, or maybe just a fun read. Where is one place you’d love to visit in Shanghai, or where is your favorite place if you’ve already been? Let me know in the comments below!