Ultimate Shanghai 5 Days Itinerary
Shanghai, the second most populous city in the world, doesn’t really look like the rest of China.
Cosmopolitan, avant-garde and multi-faceted, it embodies the symbol of a new China, a mixture of East and West. The economic capital of the country is for many, synonymous with change, complexity and above all the future.
As impressive as it is, it is surely the Chinese city that is easiest to access for foreigners. Starting your stay in Asia with Shanghai helps alleviate the cultural shock and thus makes a smooth entry into this Chinese world that fascinates us.
In order to help you plan your stay, I have prepared a detailed 5 day Shanghai itinerary, so you won’t miss anything during your trip!
In addition to showing you the best things to do and must-see attractions, I will give you tips as well as accommodation suggestions depending on your budget. Planning your 5-6 day trip to Shanghai will be easy as 1, 2, 3 !
I will now show you how to spend a week in Shanghai!
Day 1: The Bund / Oriental Pearl TV Tower / Lujiazui
After breakfast, lets’ start our first day of the 5-day Shanghai itinerary by visiting the Bund and admire the view of the Huangpu River and Pudong district.
The Shanghai Bund is a must-see tourist attraction in Shanghai. The boulevard which runs along the left bank of the Huangpu Jiang River is located in the heart of the city.
A high esplanade has been set up for the walk and especially for the view of Pudong, the business district. It is a popular place for walks, especially in the evening, where you can admire the beautifully lit modern buildings.
The Shanghai Bund is the perfect place to take photos. A walk on the Bund is the thing to do in Shanghai!
In the afternoon, go up the Oriental Pearl Tower and take in the panoramic views of the city. The Oriental Pearl Tower is a television tower located in the business district, Pudong District.
Named thus by Westerners, the tower is often compared to a giant ball and ball game. It is made up of three main spheres of different sizes and culminates at an altitude of 468m.
The tower has observation decks at 263 and 350m altitude, but also a rotating panoramic restaurant located at 267m.
In the evening, stroll along the Lujiazui riverfront and take in the bright lights of the Shanghai Tower and other skyscrapers.
In thirty years, the rice fields have given way to a business district. Located on the right bank of the Huangpu, in Pudong district, Lujiazui faces the Bund.
Today there is the tallest tower in China, the Shanghai Tower, which has reached its final height of 632 meters. In this area, you can also visit:
- Shanghai Ocean Aquarium
- Shanghai World Financial Center
- The Century Square
Day 2: People’s Square / Old Town
Start your second day of this 5-day Shanghai itinerary by visiting the People’s Square.
People’s Square is located in the very center of Shanghai. It marks the start of East Nanjing Road, one of the city’s largest pedestrian avenues. This square offers a totally different spectacle throughout the day.
While strolling there, you can see the Shanghai City Hall, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Opera House, the Urban Planning Exhibition Center and the Shanghai Museum.
If you have the opportunity, go there preferably on Sunday morning. It’s “ bride market ” day . Hundreds of Chinese people post advertisements to get their daughters or sons married.
After lunch, wander the old streets of Old Town Shanghai, discover traditional architecture and handicrafts.
Small, very touristy district located west of Renmin Lu, the old town is the oldest inhabited part of Shanghai.
It is made up of old streets, called “Longtang (弄堂)”, very narrow and winding, where one goes from surprise to surprise. Boasting a wonderful setting, it is a place of interest not to be missed if you want to immerse yourself in the Shanghai of yesteryear.
You can stroll through the local bazaar, look for traditional handicrafts, discover magnificent traditional Chinese houses with red and gold roofs, stroll through the many typical shops.
Take the time to stop for tea in the Huxinting Tea Pavilion, the oldest existing teahouse in Shanghai. It sits in the middle of a small lake, served by a zigzag bridge to discourage evil spirits.
The City God Temple, also called Chenghuang Miao, is also a must-see in Shanghai’s old town.
Day 3. Yuyuan Garden / Former French Concession
To start the day, go to Yu Garden. It is towards the old city of Shanghai that you can also find the Yuyuan Garden, which has existed since the 16th century.
It is not huge, but is extremely well laid out and very rich from an architectural point of view. On 2 hectares, it has no less than twenty pavilions! It is quite simply the most beautiful park in Shanghai.
Tips for your Shanghai itinerary:
If possible, try to go early in the morning to avoid crowds, as Yuyuan Garden is very touristy.
Located in the southeastern part of Shanghai, the former French Concession district is one of the most dynamic areas of the city. Its streets lined with plane trees are home to small designer boutiques, and of course, designer cafes and restaurants.
The French Concession of Shanghai was under French administration from 1849 to 1946. Everything was organized to reproduce the very relaxed style of Paris at the time.
Today, the very lively district offers many tourist sites, such as Fuxing Park, an ideal place to escape the hustle and bustle of Shanghai. A French garden where locals like to meet to sing, dance or practice taï chi.
Day 4: Tianzi Fang / Huangpu River
An unusual neighborhood, Tianzi Fang is a place that is at once modern, artistic and ordinary.
There are many artist studios, specialty shops and outdoor restaurants. It is also here that you can discover some of the best preserved Shikumen (old houses) in Shanghai.
During your visit, stroll through the small streets and admire these houses dating from the 1930s.
The Huangpu River is the longest river flowing through Shanghai. It divides the city into two parts. Pudong to the east and Puxi to the west.
You can discover Shanghai in an original and fun way by taking a cruise on this river. Several cruises are possible.
Varying from 30 minutes to 3 and a half hours. Cruise ships offer a special spectacle on the bridges that straddle the Huangpu River! They also offer a breathtaking view of the buildings that make up the Bund.
The ideal is to take a cruise at nightfall, to appreciate the lights of the city. An unforgettable moment during your trip to China.
Day 5: Shanghai Circus World
It is a permanent circus located in Zhabei District, northern Shanghai. The Shanghai Circus World stands out for the quality of the shows offered, but also for its architecture with its large golden dome which houses a room that can accommodate more than 1,600 people.
2 major shows are currently on display:
ERA Intersection of Time, the most famous: This unique show combining circus and special effects, specializes in acrobatic numbers and is one of the best in the world. the show takes place every evening at 7:30 p.m. and lasts a little over 1h30.
Happy Circus: This is a more classic circus show, with acrobats, clowns and animal tricks. It is played during weekends and Chinese holidays at 2 p.m.
In the afternoon, visit a nearby water town like Zhujiajiao to explore the old bridges, canals, and architecture.
On the outskirts of Shanghai, you can visit so-called “ water towns”. These towns and villages with traditional Chinese architecture are renowned for the canals that cross them. Here is the list of the most famous:
- Xitang Water Town
- Qibao Ancient Town: today located inside the megalopolis of Shanghai, accessible by metro.
- Zhouzhuang Water Town
- Zhujiajiao Water Town, the 2nd closest to Shanghai.
- Xinchang Ancient Town
- Tongli Water Town
- Luzhi Ancient Town
- Nanxun Ancient Town
- Wuzhen Water Town
If you want a good guided day tour of a water town + Suzhou, I recommend this one.
In the evening, return to Shanghai and enjoy the last night taking in the energy and sights of the city.
How many days to visit Shanghai?
This is a question that I am often asked, and in my eyes, the number of days you will spend in Shanghai will depend on the length of your trip to China.
If you have chosen a tour in China of less than 15 days or less, 2 days in Shanghai are in my opinion sufficient to get a good idea of the city before setting off to discover other, more traditional aspects of the city. China.
On a stay of 3 weeks or more, you can however consider spending 3 or 4 days in Shanghai and the surrounding area.
1 Day Shanghai Itinerary
If you only have one day in Shanghai, you’re going to have to make a few concessions on your city tour itinerary:
- Start by visiting Shanghai Old Town
- Don’t miss the Yuyuan Garden and the superb Huxinting Tea Pavilion, located next door.
- After lunch, head to the Pudong district to climb the Pearl of the Orient.
- Also take advantage of being in the business district to see the Centennial Square and why not visit the Shanghai Aquarium
- In the evening, go to the Bund to enjoy the must-see thing in Shanghai: the view of the illuminated Pudong district.
2 Days Shanghai Itinerary
In 2 days in Shanghai, you will have time to discover, in addition to the previous day’s itinerary:
- To start the day, go to the Shanghai Bund to watch the sunrise. It’s a totally different atmosphere than the previous night you will discover!
- Second stop of this day, People square, People’s Square
- Take the opportunity to visit the Shanghai Museum (free), which is on the south side of the square.
- In the afternoon, head to the ancient district of Tianzifang.
- On the evening of your 2nd day in Shanghai, why not take a cruise on the Huangpu River to discover the city from another angle?
3 Days Shanghai Itinerary
Having 3 days to visit Shanghai is the opportunity to put your feet up and take advantage of your time to stroll around the city, do some shopping, and why not discover the following places:
- Take a trip to the Dongtai Lu flea market
- Discover one of the city’s many “fake markets ”
- Visit Longhua Temple
- Have an evening drink on the terrace of Bar Rouge, with a view of the Pudong district. It is one of the most famous bars in Shanghai.
- Attend the superb show “ERA Intersection of Time”.
4-5 Days Shanghai Itinerary
If you are in Shanghai for 4 or 5 days, I recommend that you visit the surrounding area by taking a trip to the “water towns ” that I tell you about in the article.
I’ll give you the link to the guided tour that I told you about a little above: Visit to Suzhou and Zhouzhuang in 1 day.
You also have the opportunity to visit Hangzhou and the famous West Lake, the city being less than 1 hour from Shanghai by express train.
Shanghai Tourist Map
Here is a tourist map of Shanghai, which will help you locate the main places to visit in the city!
Accommodation in Shanghai
The best areas to stay in Shanghai include:
✔ Best area to stay in Shanghai for sightseeing & first-time travellers
Recommended hotels near The Bund
Thanks to its central location and 24/7 popularity with tourists, hotels in & around The Bund area, unsurprisingly, come at a premium. Most of the selection here sits in the mid-range to luxury categories including some of the sleekest 5-star hotels in Shanghai and even in all of China.
- Shanghai Fish Inn East Nanjing Road: The best budget pick in the district, this boutique hotel offers clean newly-renovated room on a quiet side street just minutes from the action of The Bund and Nanjing Road.
- Metropolo Classiq Shanghai Off Bund: An elegant mid-range hotel featuring spacious rooms with extras like soaker tubs built for your relaxation. The higher-end offerings include private balconies with spectacular views towards the Pudong skyline.
- Hotel Indigo Shanghai On The Bund: A stunning boutique hotel with ultra-stylish rooms affixed with unique artwork and modern furnishings and decor with a Chinese twist. The hotel’s chic rooftop bar is one of the finest places in the city to enjoy a cocktail to dramatic skyline views.
- Fairmont Peace Hotel On the Bund: A Shanghai accommodations classic, this illustrious Bund hotel has a history dating back over 80 years and has played host to most celebrities than any other hotel in the city. Besides the elegant rooms, guests will be charmed by the hotel’s world-class amenities from its famous Jazz Bar to the soothing treatments at the Willow Stream Spa.
Nanjing Road & People’s Square
✔ Top neighbourhood to stay in Shanghai for shopping & eating to your heart’s content
Recommended hotels near Nanjing Road & People’s Square
It shouldn’t be surprisingly that with such a central location, hotels here don’t necessarily come cheap. Most of the selection around East Nanjing Road is in the mid-range with true budget and higher-end luxury picks a little more difficult to find.
- The Phoenix Hostel Shanghai LaoShan: One of the few recommended budget choices around here, this property features both dorms and private rooms with private bathrooms to its guests. The location, within five-minute walking distance from People’s Square Station, is extra convenient.
- The Yangtze Boutique Shanghai: A lovely hotel featuring a supremely elegant style that blends Art Deco sophistication with Chinese sensibilities. Guests will love the three on-site restaurants—serving everything from Cantonese to modern Italian—as well as enjoying at nightcap at the classy on-site cocktail lounge, The Bar.
- Radisson Blu Hotel Shanghai New World: Although its rooms are a little less flashy than other hotels in the area, this delightful mid-range Shanghai hotel is still a charmer with a host of superb amenities including five on-site restaurants to try, a palatial indoor pool, mini-golf facilities, and a day spa. The location one-minute away from the People’s Square metro station doesn’t hurt either.
- Shanghai Marriott Hotel City Centre: Offering spacious rooms with dramatic skyline views, this superb luxury hotel checks all the boxes for the perfect place to stay in the centre of Shanghai. Both Nanjing East Road and People’s Square are just five minutes away.
- JW Marriott Shanghai at Tomorrow Square: One of the finest luxury picks in the district, this lofty 5-star hotel delights with soaring views and a glut of amenities that’ll have you singing its praises. Don’t miss out on its stunning outdoor pool and its insane vistas over the city centre.
✔ Best area to stay for uncovering Shanghai’s ancient roots
While it’s admittedly a little kitschy at times, Old City offers a fleeting glimpse at Shanghai’s historical character outside of its colonial quarters.
Hidden within its disorganized warren of narrow alleyways and along historic merchant roads lined with traditional Chinese architecture, the spirit of ancient Shanghai lives on—even if it’s just a tiny taste.
Recommended hotels in Old City
- Campanile Shanghai Bund Hotel: A simple modern Shanghai hotel just a few blocks from the ancient city wall that’s by far the best budget place to stay in the area. Rooms are spotless and feature upgraded facilities & contemporary furnishings. Both Yuyuan Garden and The Bund are fifteen minutes away by foot.
- SSAW Boutique Hotel Shanghai Bund: A lovely mid-range boutique hotel perched on the edge of the Old City just steps from one of the few remaining sections of ancient city wall. The rooms here are elegant and larger than most in China, impressing with superb skyline views.
- Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden Hotel: The best hotel in the area, this fantastic luxury property draws travellers in with expansive guestrooms that defy Shanghai’s usually tight standards. Relax to the lights of the ancient quarter or Pudong in the hotel’s restaurant, bar, indoor pool or ever your own private soaker tub in your room to get the full Renaissance experience.
Former French Concession
✔ Top-rated area to stay in Shanghai for discovering leafy boulevards, elegant bars & cafés, and hip restaurants
By far the most surprising neighbourhood in Shanghai, the Former French Concession is not just one of the city’s best districts to explore, but one of the most recommended areas to stay.
Recommended hotels in the French Concession
- Hotel Equatorial Shanghai: With a shortage of good budget hotels, this low-mid-range hotel offers one of the best balances between budget-friendliness and quality in the French Concession. Rooms are fairly standard stock, but extras like an indoor pool & well-equipped gym tip the scales in this property’s favour.
- Shanghai Donghu Hotel: A classy mid-range luxury hotel in the historic heart of the Former French Concession. The rooms exude a traditional oriental elegance and are more spacious than average.
- InterContinental Shanghai Ruijin: A candidate for the absolute best hotel in the OFC, this luxurious property is hidden away on a leafy avenue that feels more like an exclusive French villa than a hotel in the middle of one of the world’s largest cities. From the elegant old world decor to the lush park-like grounds, there’s no experience quite like this in China’s largest city.
- The Puli Hotel And Spa: An elegant property nestled into the northern fringes of the French Concession near Jing’an. Rooms are outfitted with sleek modern furnishings and peer out onto the Shanghai cityscape with gusto through floor-to-ceiling windows. Slip into the steam room, hot spring tub or infinity pool for the ultimate in relaxation.
✔ Best district to stay in Shanghai for great shopping, eating & more affordable luxury
Located just west of the Nanjing East Road & People’s Square, Jing’an is among the most popular neighbourhoods in Shanghai for expats thanks to its excellent transportation connections, wide array of housing options as well as deluge of shopping malls, cafés and restaurants.
Recommended hotels in Jing’an
As one of the most popular options for where to stay in Shanghai, there’s plenty of choice for travellers in Jing’an. Most accommodations here fall into the mid-range.
There’s also a fairly large concentration of 5-star hotels in Jing’an, making it, along with Lujiazui and The Bund, a first-class district for luxury travellers, although at more affordable prices than either.
- Campanile Shanghai Natural History Museum Hotel: The best hotel in Jing’an for budget travellers, this property surprises with clean modern rooms that don’t suffer the same cramped quarters or low quality of most offerings in the price range.
- URBN Boutique Shanghai: A hip & trendy mid-range boutique hotel boasting a unique design aesthetic that fuses modern urban elements with Asian motifs. The entire property is designed to be eco-friendly from the mysterious bamboo garden to the locally-sourced seafood at the on-site bistro.
- InterContinental Shanghai Jing’an: A excellent value luxury hotel with all the amenities you’d come to expect from IHG. Enjoy a range of Asian cuisines to try from Cantonese & Shanghainese to Sichuan & Japanese in one of the hotel’s seven on-site restaurants. Skyline views from the expansive guestrooms are simply breathtaking.
- Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai: A stunner among Shanghai hotels, this luxurious hotel lives up to its parent’s brand with a gentle mix of pure sophistication and modernity. Everything from the charming rooms to the soothing on-site spa spells out a dream-like choice for where to stay in Shanghai.
✔ Best area to stay for basking in the ultimate in Shanghai luxury experience
Recommended hotels in Lujiazui
With much of Shanghai’s wheelin’ and dealin’ taking place in the lofty skyscrapers of Lujiazui, the district focuses extensively on the high-end of the market.
Not surprisingly, Lujiazui and Pudong are home to many of the best luxury hotels in Shanghai at prices that fit their unmatched swankiness.
- Grand Kempinski Hotel Shanghai: One of the most affordable 5-stars in Lujiazui, this grand luxury hotel charms guests with its art-deco-inspired rooms that sport floor-to-ceiling windows peering onto Shanghai & the river. Seven dining options as well as a fully-equipped health club—with everything from an indoor pool to a spa—await.
- Grand Hyatt Shanghai: Located in the upper echelons of Jin Mao Tower, this lofty luxury Shanghai hotel unleashes mega-sized rooms with interiors inspired by art-deco. If the skyline views through the large panoramic windows in your room aren’t quite enough, retire to the Sky Pool or the popular rooftop Cloud 9 Patio & Piano Bar for some of Shanghai’s most incredible vistas.
- Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai: A classy & elegant property leaning more towards the traditional than the modern with its cultured decor & furnishings. The deluxe rooms are a superb value for Lujiazui, but the hotel’s Horizon rooms will truly take your breath away.
- The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong: Perhaps the best luxury hotel in Shanghai, this exquisite property boasts one of the premier locations in the city with the iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower staring it down at every angle. There’s a whole slew of superb amenities here from a indoor infinity pool to a spa, but none is more unique than Flair, a rooftop restaurant & bar that soars as the highest, not just in Shanghai, but in China.
And you, what do you plan to visit in Shanghai?
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