How to Spend 48 Hours in Shanghai
Ever wondered what China’s unique travel experience is really like?
In May, I got the opportunity to visit the city of Shanghai for 10 days, it was my first time experiencing the country and getting to embrace the culture within it. Whilst I went with my University to work on a project with students from Shanghai Normal University, I still had plenty of free time to explore. The students even took us on a tour around the city on one of the first days, so we got to see all the best spots from a local!
It was incredible to see how different the culture was from what I was used to at home, I spent the entire trip learning new words, foods, and activities - I even mastered how to use chopsticks after years of unsuccessful attempts! Although, I think when you use them 3 times a day for over a week, it would be hard not to.
So you can find my best things to do in Shanghai, if you're limited to 48 hours. You can also check out my Shanghai travel guide video to see my highlights.
Day 1, 10am - The Bund
Let’s start off with the most obvious one; the Bund is a must-see when visiting Shanghai.
Located on the Huangpu River, the Bund is the waterfront area that looks out to some of the most incredible modern skyscrapers I have ever seen. A morning walk along here is definitely the best possible way to start your day.
Despite the fact that I had looked at pictures online, nothing prepared me for how impressive it was in person, it’s a breathtaking experience. During the daytime I kept saying how it didn’t look real, it genuinely looked like it could have been a backdrop on a film set.
With this being said, the Bund completely transforms when it’s dark, the skyscrapers light up in different colours and create an extraordinary display.
Day 1, 12pm - East Nanjing Road
Next on the list is perfect to do straight after the Bund, as it’s actually the road that leads up to it.
East Nanjing Road is the main shopping street in Shanghai, packed with billboards, electric signs and people all day and night, it's an area of the city that you should not miss. Spending a few hours here is a shopping addicts dream! It’s also a great spot to grab some lunch in the many restaurants that are hidden away on its side streets.
The buildings there were so much taller than anywhere I have been before and even though I have never actually visited, the whole street reminded me of New York (or what I think New York would be like). They even have their own version of the empire state building on the Bund!
I should note that it gets extremely busy here, especially at night, they have a square one way system when it comes to crossing roads to try and control it.
Day 1, 3pm - Tianzifang
The historical town Tianzifang is the best place to see your adventure into the evening.
Part of the French Concession area in Shanghai, this place has developed into the arts hub of the city. Laid out like one huge market place, you’ll find all sorts from quaint shops and cafes to studios and bars.
Some of our group spent 30 minutes in the local cat cafe, whilst the rest of us went to explore the most bizarre arcade we had ever seen, filled with huge inflatable aliens and covered head-to-toe in pink.
This area ended up being one of my favourite spots in the entire city, I loved the traditional architecture and decorations that lined the streets, which were more uncommon in the other areas of the city.
There’s lots of restaurants surrounding the main market streets here, so you’ll definitely be able to find somewhere nice for dinner.
Day 2, 10am - Yuyuan Markets
To contrast the calm start of the day before, your day two should begin by visiting Yuyuan Markets, one of the craziest places that I went to during my entire trip.
Here you can find lines of street shops, all selling the typical tourist souvenirs. The shop keepers will shout their deals out to the crowd and try and draw you into their store, meaning the noise around here was insane. Once you make it into a store, always remember to haggle, the original prices are way more than they should be. I would usually be able to half the asking price, as they know themselves that it’s a lot.
There’s something about this place that gives you a huge adrenaline rush mixed with complete awe seeing the incredible traditional buildings that these shops are tucked into. If you need to do any gift shopping this is the place to come, they offer tea pot sets, chopsticks, toys and anything else you can probably think of. I managed to find some lovely pieces amongst all the madness.
Before you head off to the next spot, how about you try some of the traditional market food they offer here. How does octopus on a stick sound?
Day 2, 1pm - Yuyuan Garden/Guilin Park
It wouldn’t be a complete list if I didn’t mention some of the parks throughout Shanghai, you will most likely find one in each area of the city.
The biggest is Yuyuan Gardens and, for a 48 hour guide, is definitely the best to go to. However, the one I visited was Guilin Park.
Either way, these gardens are a great way to escape the bustle of the city. You can explore ponds and trees, intertwined with beautiful traditional Chinese architecture. They are a great place to switch off for a bit and truly take in the magic of the place you’re in. They will usually have a cafe or two at the middle inside a traditional Chinese building if you fancy a little pick me up.
These gardens were definitely one of my favourite spots that I went to.
Day 2, 4pm - Oriental Pearl TV Tower
The final spot I recommend is an activity that you will have to book, which is the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, but it is definitely worth every penny.
Located opposite The Bund, you can travel up to the top of the tower for a 360 degree panoramic view of Shanghai and its surrounding area. The views from the top are amazing and it doesn’t stop there. On the lower level, there’s a glass floor that will make you feel completely exhilarated (definitely a little anxious too!) - but it’s worth every moment.
If you can conquer your fears, you’ll be treated to the most incredible way to see the whole city and feel as if you’re floating above Shanghai.
Day 2, 8pm - Night cruise on the Bund
I know this is a guide to 48 hours in Shanghai, but there is one more place I couldn’t resist talking about, which is Shanghai’s Disneyland.
If you get the time to visit here on your travels I recommend you do. It’s one of the cheapest parks you can go to and also has the biggest castle! Coming from someone who unfortunately had never been to a Disney park before and my friend who had been to many, we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Who can resist a bit of Disney magic?