Must see attractions in Shanghai

  • Top ChoiceSights in Shanghai Old City

    Yuyuan Gardens & Bazaar

    With its shaded alcoves, glittering pools churning with fish, plus pavilions, pines sprouting wistfully from rockeries, and roving packs of Japanese tourists, the Yuyuan Gardens is one of Shanghai's premier sights, but becomes overpoweringly crowded at weekends. The spring and summer blossoms bring a fragrant, floral aspect to the gardens, especially the luxurious petals of its Magnolia grandiflora, Shanghai's flower. Other trees include the luohan pine, bristling with thick needles, plus willows, gingkos, cherry trees and magnificent dawn redwoods.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The Bund & People's Square

    The Bund

    Symbolic of concession-era Shanghai, the Bund was the city’s Wall Street, a place of feverish trading and fortunes made and lost. Originally a towpath for dragging barges of rice, the Bund (an Anglo-Indian term for the embankment of a muddy waterfront) was gradually transformed into a grandiose sweep of the most powerful banks and trading houses in Shanghai. The optimal activity here is to simply stroll, contrasting the bones of the past with the futuristic geometry of Pudong’s skyline.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Jing'an

    Jade Buddha Temple

    One of Shanghai’s few active Buddhist monasteries, this temple was built between 1918 and 1928. The highlight is a transcendent Buddha crafted from pure jade, one of five shipped back to China by the monk Hui Gen at the turn of the 20th century. It's a popular stopover for tour buses, so be prepared for crowds. During the Lunar New Year (usually February), the temple is very busy, as some 20,000 Chinese Buddhists throng to pray for prosperity.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Pudong

    Shanghai Tower

    China’s tallest building dramatically twists skywards from its footing in Lujiazui. The 121-storey, 632m-tall, Gensler-designed Shanghai Tower topped out in August 2013 and opened in mid-2016. The spiral-shaped tower houses office space, entertainment venues, shops, a conference centre, a luxury hotel and ‘sky lobbies’. The gently corkscrewing form – its nine interior cylindrical units wrapped in two glass skins – is the world’s second-tallest building at the time of writing. The observation deck on the 118th floor is the world's highest.

  • Top ChoiceSights in French Concession

    Tianzifang

    Tianzifang and Xintiandi are based on a similar idea – an entertainment complex housed within a warren of lòngtáng (弄堂, alleyways). Unlike Xintiandi, families actually reside in Tianzifang and have done so for decades, meaning there's a genuine charm, vibrancy and community. You do need to wade through the souvenir stalls to get to the good stuff, but this network of design studios, cafes, bars and boutiques is the perfect antidote to Shanghai's oversized malls and intimidating skyscrapers.

  • Sights in Xujiahui & South Shanghai

    Longhua Temple & Pagoda

    Shanghai's oldest and largest monastery is named after the pipal tree (lónghuá) under which Buddha achieved enlightenment. Trees are decorated with red lanterns, incense smoke fills the front of the grounds and monks can regularly be heard chanting, making this one of the city's most atmospheric sites. The much-renovated temple is said to date from the 10th century.

  • Top ChoiceSights in French Concession

    Xintiandi

    With its own namesake metro station, Xintiandi has been a Shanghai icon for over a decade. An upmarket entertainment and shopping complex modelled on traditional alleyway ( lòngtáng) homes, this was the first development in the city to prove that historical architecture makes big commercial sense. Elsewhere that might sound like a no-brainer, but in 21st-century China, where bulldozers are always on standby, it came as quite a revelation.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The Bund & People's Square

    Shanghai Museum

    This must-see museum escorts you through the craft of millennia and the pages of Chinese history. It's home to one of the most impressive collections in the land: take your pick from the archaic green patinas of the Ancient Chinese Bronzes Gallery through to the silent solemnity of the Ancient Chinese Sculpture Gallery and from the exquisite beauty of the ceramics in the Zande Lou Gallery to the measured and timeless flourishes captured in the Chinese Calligraphy Gallery.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Jing'an

    M50

    Shanghai may be known for its glitz and glamour, but it's got an edgy subculture too. The industrial M50 art complex is one prime example, where galleries have set up in disused factories and cotton mills, utilising the vast space to showcase emerging and established contemporary artists. There's a lot to see, so plan to spend half a day poking around the site.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Jing'an

    Jing'an Temple

    With the original temple dating back to AD 1216, the much-restored Jing'an Temple was here well before all the audacious skyscrapers and glitzy shopping malls. Today it stands like a shimmering mirage in defiance of West Nanjing Rd’s soaring modern architecture: a sacred portal to the Buddhist world that partially, at least, underpins this metropolis of 24 million souls.

  • Sights in Jing'an

    Shanghai Exhibition Centre

    The hulking monolith of the Shanghai Exhibition Centre was built in 1955 as the Sino-Soviet Friendship Mansion – a friendship that soon turned sour and even regressed to the brink of war in the 1960s. The Stalinist-style architecture is based on St Petersberg's Admiralty Building, with neoclassical columns and a skeletal spire topped by a communist red star. The best view of it is from Yan'an Rd, where it's fronted by a stirring bronze socialist-realist monument and red-star stained-glass windows.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Pudong

    Oriental Pearl TV Tower

    This 468m-tall globe-on-a-tripod tower is the most iconic contemporary building in the city, and its image is omnipresent around town – from postcards to figurines and T-shirts. The highlight at this retro futurist Deng Xiaoping–era building is the Transparent Observatory (259m), where you can peer way down through the glass-bottomed walkway. To start your tour, take the lift to the 263m-high Sightseeing Floor for 360-degree views across to the Bund and its heritage buildings.

  • Sights in The Bund & People's Square

    Custom House

    The neoclassical Custom House, established at this site in 1857 and rebuilt in 1927, is one of the most important buildings on the Bund. Capping it is Big Ching, a bell modelled on London’s Big Ben. Clocks were by no means new to China, but Shanghai was the first city in which they gained widespread acceptance and the lives of many became dictated by a standardised, common schedule.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Jing'an

    Shanghai Natural History Museum

    It's not quite on the same scale as Washington, DC's Smithsonian, but this sleek space is nevertheless as comprehensive as it is entertaining and informative. The museum is packed with displays of taxidermied animals, dinosaurs and cool interactive features. Its architecture is also a highlight, with a striking design that is beautifully integrated into its art-filled Jing'an Sculpture Park setting.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The Bund & People's Square

    Shanghai History Museum

    Originally opened as the Shanghai Race Club in 1934, and having undergone several incarnations since, this iconic building now houses the Shanghai History Museum. Opened in 2018, the museum covers the city's history over three floors, spanning the Shanghai area's political, social, economic and cultural evolution from 4000 BC to the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. You're bound to gain some insight, political propaganda notwithstanding.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The Bund & People's Square

    Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall

    Set over five levels, this modern museum covers Shanghai's urban planning history, tracing its development from swampy fishing village to modern-day megacity. Its mix of photography, models and interactive multimedia displays keeps things entertaining. The 1st floor covers the city's rise, including the establishment of the international settlement, and profiles its colonial architecture and shíkùmén (stone gate) housing. The most popular feature is on the 3rd floor – a visually stunning model showing a detailed layout of the megalopolis-to-be, plus an impressive Virtual World 3D wrap-around tour.

  • Top ChoiceSights in French Concession

    Shanghai Museum of Public Security

    This offbeat and macabre museum over three floors details how the Chinese authorities keep control. Display cases depict the illicit activities local cops have encountered, the equipment police use to aid their work and the punishments given for such crimes. On display are tasers, lots of guns (one concealed in a violin case), seized gambling tables, restraining equipment (handcuffs, stocks and shackles), and a model-scale replica of the room in which war criminals were hung, among other eye-opening displays.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The Bund & People's Square

    Rockbund Art Museum

    Housed in the magnificent former Royal Asiatic Society building (1932) – once Shanghai's first museum – this world-class gallery behind the Bund focuses on contemporary Chinese and international art, with rotating exhibits year-round and no permanent collection. One of the city’s top modern-art venues, the building's interior and exterior are both sublime. Check out the unique art deco eight-sided bāguà (trigram) windows at the front, a fetching synthesis of Western modernist styling and traditional Chinese design.

  • Top ChoiceSights in French Concession

    Propaganda Poster Art Centre

    Design junkies and history buffs will love this vast collection of original posters from 1950s, ’60s and ’70s China, stored in the basement of a residential block. Many were produced in the golden age of Maoist poster production and are awash with iconic emblems of communism: red tractors, bumper harvests, muscled peasants and lantern-jawed proletarians. The exhibition rounds off with a collection of cigarette posters from the 1920s. There's also a shop selling collector’s items including original and replica posters and postcards.

  • Sights in Jing'an

    Jing'an Sculpture Park

    The attractive Jing'an Sculpture Park contains a mix of permanent and temporary pieces created by mainly international artists. The sculptures are carefully scattered, making it a wonderful place to stroll and browse the abstract, thought-provoking works, dabbled with absurdity and humour. You'll find everything from red metal trees and metal cows grazing on the grass to a pyramid of cellos and ostriches with their heads buried in the ground. In April the blossoming cherry trees are an attractive sight.