a guide to Shanghai, China

Shanghai is an unexpectedly diverse urban destination in China, well worth visiting. There's international cuisine, ancient history, a mix of old and new architecture, and too much to see in a single trip! 

Here's a guide to Shanghai, China...


Where to stay? 

My travel companions and I opted for my favourite style of accommodation-- AirBnB! In Chinese culture, the people place a great deal of importance on generosity and wealth, which is a really good thing for foreign travelers who like to stick to a budget. My Chinese friend, Cooper, said it better than I ever could: "In China, AirBnBs are for poor people. Chinese people want you to think they have the money to stay in fancy hotels, so you'll always find AirBnBs for half the price and they're always specially tailored to Western visitors."

Use my code for $40 off your AirBnB stay! 


How to get around? 

Taxis in China are inexpensive, but you'll need to have your address in Chinese to guarantee the driver drops you off at the correct location. If this is the method of mobility you prefer, make sure you take screenshots of your intended destinations before you head out. 

One thing the Chinese nail is the Metro system. Shanghai's underground is cheap and will take you anywhere you could possibly want to go across the city.  

I always suggest walking around any new place, but Shanghai is large city and crowded streets and sidewalks make taking the metro from Point A to Point B the best option for making most out of your time. I fully recommend walking around neighborhoods once you get there via Metro though, by all means! 


What + where to eat?

Shanghai is incredibly international! Just about any kind of food you're craving can be found if you turn down the right street. For fantastic cafes and trendy street food {Chinese + Western}, head to the French Concession or Tian Zing Road. Both locations offer a variety of eateries offering everything from ramen to burgers to bagels to Peking duck. 

If you need some carbs in your life {and the perfect soundtrack playing}, try Spread the Bagel in the French Concession. Next door, there is a Chinese restaurant with tables ideal for people-watching {you'll find heaps of expats eating here}. 

If you need a reminder of the Western world you left behind, or an inside look at the fascination the Chinese have with American culture, check out Friends Cafe {Central Perk Shanghai}. I recommend Joey's Pizza, but Katie suggests the Creamy Mushroom Parmesan. The food is good, though a bit spendy, but the atmosphere is worth the stop! 


What to do? 

Walking through the French Concession is a must. The old architecture sits in perfect juxtaposition against the trendy coffee shops, international cuisine, tattoo parlours, and finely curated antique stores. I took approximately a million photos while we wandered the streets. 

Pop into Garden Books to browse their selection of English literature and magazines. This isn't your run of the mill Barnes + Nobles, where you are sure to find every author on your list. It's a bit of a scattered collection of English language reading, kind of like whatever the owner could get their hands on. You'll see Jane Eyre sitting next to Fifty Shades of Grey. I instantly loved the place when I found Kinfolk Magazine sitting in the window. 

Speaking of books, check out the beautiful Shanghai Library. 


Tian Zi Fang is another great place to stretch your legs. The old buildings sit tightly together in a maze of boutiques, tea shops, bars, and unique 'ma + pop' stores. While you're there, check out "Jo + Jo Vintage + Retro Shop." Some of the prices are listed higher for actual vintage pieces, but you'll find second-hand pieces that are more suited for a tighter budget. I bought myself a pair of earrings and red wool socks and spent the equivalent of USD $7. 

Have dinner at a Pyongyang. You're probably like, "Tara, shouldn't this be in the 'Where to Eat' section?" No. I wouldn't suggest eating at the North Korean sanctioned restaurant chain for the sake of having a delicious meal-- even those who enjoy Korean food agreed it's mediocre at best. My food came out lukewarm and flavourless, and that's being generous. So, why go? Pyongyang is a chain of restaurants in China that are run by the North Korean government. The wait staff's main job is to make sure everyone has the very best experience, acting as representatives of sorts for the country. Around 7:30 p.m., the waitresses put on a performance in honour of Kim Jun Un. They sing songs, dance with fake floral arrangements, and perform magic acts. Photos and videos are banned, which makes you feel like you're in on a secret. Watching the show and observing the behaviour at a Pyongyang is an experience that truly speaks to the power of propaganda. 


Get snap happy in Yu Yuan Gardens. These gardens are located beside the City God Temple in the Old City. Here you'll find beautiful gazebos, bridges, and lots of gorgeous greenery. Admission is 20 CNY, cash only. 

Stroll along 'The Bund.' It's free, the views at night {when it's clear} are beautiful, and the people-watching is nearly unmatched. 

Culture yourself at the Jade Buddha Temple. The temple was originally constructed to house two jade Buddha statues which had been brought from Myanmar {at the time, Burma} by a monk. The temple was destroyed during the revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty, but the statues were saved. The current Jade Buddha Temple was built in 1928. Admission is 20 CNY, cash only. 


I highly recommend anyone looking for an urban destination in China to give Shanghai a try. If you've ever visited the city, let me know what this guide's missing in the comments!