I’ve put off writing a blog post about Shanghai for so long. Not because I haven’t wanted to, but because it’s a place so close to my heart. This city that I’ve lived in throughout high school, the place that I call home. It’s impossible to know where to start or how to scratch the surface on this bustling city of 26 million people—it makes New York City feel like a suburb. More people live in Shanghai than in the ENTIRE COUNTRY of Australia.
And yet, it’s possible to be completely alone in the city. Beautiful, peaceful parks. Quiet cafes. Hidden corners of beautiful and historic architecture. A colorful, rich culture where old is juxtaposed against new at every turn.
I won’t even try to give you an itinerary of where to go or what to do—all that is going to depend on your personal preferences and the type of vacation you like. There’s something for everyone in Shanghai. What I will tell you, however, are some photo spots I love.
(NOTE: Some notable absences in the below list include Jing’An, People’s Square, Nanjing Walking Street, Xujiahui, Qibao Ancient Town, Chenshan Botanical Garden, teamLAB BORDERLESS Shanghai and countless museums because I simply don’t have the photos to share. But definitely check out all these areas if you have time!)
THE BUND (Wàitān / 外滩)
Unquestionably, the most picturesque area of Shanghai is the waterfront along the Huangpu known as the Bund. The Bund (which is actually derived from the Persian word “band” meaning an embankment or dam) is filled with history and old bank houses from various countries, as it used to be the financial center of Shanghai and one of the most important in Asia as a whole.
My favorite skyline in the world, this area to me what the Eiffel Tower is to travel bloggers who live in Paris. I could come here time and time again and never tire of it.
Some of my personal favorite photo spots on the Bund include:
- Waibaidu Bridge (Wàibáidù Qiáo / 外白渡桥) – The first ever all-steel bridge in China and a stunning vantage point of the Pearl Tower. This is a magnificent and romantic spot to take photos from, and you can play with the architecture of the bridge for your shots.
- Monument to the People’s Heroes (Shànghǎi Shì Rénmín Yīngxióng Jìniàn Tǎ / 上海市人民英雄纪念塔) – This gigantic structure usually has a beautiful flower bed accompanying it, making it the ideal juxtaposition of modern architecture with natural floral elements. It’s a great place to photograph at sunrise.
- Mr. & Mrs. Bund (No.18 Zhongshan East 1st Road, Huangpu District) – This modern French eatery is both one of my all-time favorite restaurants (their house smoked salmon is incredible, and their signature Lemon & Lemon Tart dessert cannot be described with words—it takes 72 hours to make!!) and favorite vantage point of the Bund. Do yourself a favor and make a reservation here as soon as possible, so you can both enjoy a delicious meal and the perfect balcony viewpoint of Shanghai’s city. Two birds with one stone!
- Pool at the Four Season Hotel Shanghai Pudong (上海市浦东新区陆家嘴世纪大道210号) – Located on the 41st floor of this chic hotel, the pool at the Four Seasons is a perfect place for a quiet dip and speechless view. This is not sponsored—we splurged for a night here (roughly $250 USD/1,785 RMB per night), but it was an absolutely magical and worthwhile memory that we would do again.
- The Bund Finance Center – This beautiful building is architecturally inspired by traditional Chinese theater curtains, and contains moving layers of gold and bronze colored stainless steel pipes. Shots here with the Bund in the background are incredibly aesthetically pleasing. If you have time, be sure to check out the Fosun Foundation—a nonprofit art center that has featured a wide variety of beautiful exhibits, including Yayoi Kusama’s “All About Love Speaks Forever.”
Closest Metro Station (Puxi): East Nanjing Road Station (Lines 2, 10)
Closest Metro Station (Pudong Four Seasons): Dongchang Road Station (Line 2) or South Pudong Road Station (Line 14)
ZHUJIAJIAO WATER TOWN (Zhūjiājiǎo / 朱家角)
This ancient water town is about an hour outside of Shanghai city proper, and a perfect day trip. The historical area was established 1,7000 years ago and has architecture dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties (and some archeological findings even go back as far as 5,000 years!). There is plenty to see here, but because it gets more crowded as the day goes on, I’d advise starting your trip here as early in the morning as possible. Come wander the streets and get your fill of photos, then try some of the tasty street food and take a boat trip around the rivers!
Closest Metro Station: Zhujiajiao Station (Line 17)
SHANGHAI DISNEYLAND (上海迪士尼乐园)
Yes, I know it’s a Disney theme park. But as the newest and most affordable of all the Disney theme parks with some of the most fun rides and unique cultural flavor (trust me, I’ve been to every Disney theme park in the world), it’s 100% worth a visit. Get a charming shot in front the Enchanted Storybook Castle (the largest Disney castle in the world), play with lights outside the futuristic Tron ride, hop on THE BEST PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN RIDE EVER (you will seriously be ruined for the California version of the ride forevermore), check out the impressive Tarzan acrobatics show and meander the colorful Disneytown outside the park.
Closest Metro Station: Shanghai Disney Resort (Line 11)
YU GARDEN (Yù Yuán / 豫园)
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Shanghai, Yuyuan is a garden and shopping center that was first built during the Ming Dynasty. Some of the most notable points of interest include the Huxinting Teahouse (built in 1855), the Exquisite Jade Rock, Yuyuan Bazaar and the Nine Zigzag Bridge. Admission inside the garden costs 40 RMB ($5.75 USD), and while there’s plenty to see and experience outside the garden, I definitely think it’s worthwhile to walk around the inside of the gardens at least once.
Closest Metro Station: Yuyuan Garden Station (Line 10)
TIANZIFANG (Tiánzǐ Fāng / 田子坊)
With its traditional labyrinthine Shanghainese Shíkùmén architectural style, adorable cafes, unique shops and plentiful art galleries, Tianzifang is one of my absolute favorite areas of Shanghai. While it’s a popular tourist attraction, it doesn’t feel too commercialized, and getting lost in this neighborhood fills you with a sense of charm and wonderment. Snap some shots in this adorable area, buy some souvenirs and eat a delicious meal (my favorite food spot here is Japanese-owned Café Dan).
Closest Metro Station: Dapuqiao Station (Line 9)
SHANGHAI FRENCH CONCESSION (Shànghǎi Fǎ Zūjiè / 上海法租界)
Speaking of charming neighborhoods to wander around, the former French Concession (established in 1849) may not have any French ownership anymore, but it still maintains a pleasant atmosphere and delightful splashes of European architecture. The perfectly tree-lined boulevards, trendy cafes and historical buildings work together to create a lovely outing that makes you feel transported to somewhere else.
Closest Metro Station: Multiple (e.g. Jiatong University, Hengshang Road, South Shaanxi Road, etc.)
XINTIANDI (Xīntiāndì / 新天地)
Similar to Tianzifang, Xintiandi has many examples of shikumen-style architecture, but is nearly thoroughly modernized and reconstituted. Xintiandi is an affluent district filled with shops, restaurants and entertainment, and many regions are car-free pedestrian zones. Xintiandi is also the site of the first congress of the Communist Party of China, and there is a museum erected to honor it. Xintiandi technically is a part of Shanghai’s French Concession, but is such a notable district, it is a tourist destination all in its own right.
Closest Metro Station: Xintiandi Station (Lines 10, 13) and South Huangpi Road Station (Line 1)
Ngs Plaza Starbucks (金沙江路1685号-4区118广场F1层 邮政编码: 200062)
Okay, I know what you’re thinking—how on earth did this make the list? Well, the Starbucks is modeled after the Louvre Museum’s glass pyramid, and the mall itself has canals (meant to look like Venice. It feels a bit like going to Las Vegas’ Venetian—but empty. One of my best family memories is wandering around this property in the rain, and I think this random little spot is worth stopping by if you’re in the area!
Closest Metro Station: Zhenbei Road Station (Line 13)
Light Space Xinhua Bookstore (光的空間新華書店)
Located inside the mega mall Aegean Shopping Park Store, this Xinhua is one of the cutest bookstores I’ve ever been to and has a minimalistic decorating style that is swoon-worthy. Designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, the Light Space display is part of a multifunctional art space that includes the Pearl Art Museum located on the floor above it. It’s a great place to hang out, read and snap a few images as well.
Closest Metro Station: Hechuan Road Station (Line 9)
Anywhere You Are!
I truly believe that there’s always something photogenic to see in Shanghai. A local market? Done. A food stand cooking chuar (Xinjiang spicy cumin lamb skewers)? Delicious to both the eyes and tastebuds. The historic Jewish Refugees Museum in the Shanghai Ghetto? The peaceful Qiuxia Garden? Momchilovtsi’s herb garden that happens to have rows of lavender? The Starbucks Reserve that was formerly the largest in the world? The Nine Dragon Pillar below Shanghai’s two busiest highways that harbors a secret legend about the dragon that lives below the earth? You get the idea. No matter where you go, keep your eyes peeled for photo-worthy moments.
I hope you get the chance to explore this city that I love so much!