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A guide to Shanghai’s best attractions for the time-strapped

It’s easy to see why Shanghai is one of Asia’s most exciting destinations today. Its vibrant landscape has been fueled by a booming creative and hyper-modern gourmet scene, cementing its reputation as the Pearl of the Orient.

Still, the Chinese capital city hasn’t forgotten its roots. Amidst its towering skyscrapers are ancient gardens that still stand as a reminder of its imperial past. Grandiose British-built mansions along the riverfront Bund and the former French Concession’s leafy avenues reveal its diverse history as a European settlement. There’s an abundance to explore in this eclectic mix of past and future.

From an exploration to the happiest place on earth to a spine-tingling stroll 88 storeys high, here’s our guide to Shanghai’s best attractions.

The Bund

(Image credit: Yiran Ding)

You can’t say you’ve been to Shanghai without a visit to The Bund. The iconic postcard-worthy vista along the Huangpu River is best known for its stately Neoclassical, Art Deco, and Baroque buildings. They once housed British trading houses and international banks but are now converted into a slightly more exciting legion of sleek restaurants, clubs, and boutiques.

This beautiful old colonial area is the perfect place to take a walk at, regardless of whether you’re there in the day or after dark. By night, the skyline transforms into a gleaming spectacle as the glassy waters reflect the vivid lights from the buildings across the river. The light show takes place from 6pm every evening during the winter season, and often fills up the riverbank way in advance, so opt for a river cruise instead for a stress-free experience.

Directions: Take Shanghai Metro Line 2 or Line 10 and get off at EastNanjing Road Station. Walk along Nanjing Road for about 10minutes.
Address: Zhongshan Dong Yi Road, Huangpu District, Shanghai, China

Shanghai Disneyland Park

(Image credit: Shanghai Disneyland)

The young — or young at heart — should spend a day or two at Disney’s newest theme park. This Disneyland is designed to be unlike any other of its parks as Disney’s CEO Bob Iger has described it to be “authentically Disney and uniquely Chinese”. Take an exhilarating ride on their new signature attraction, the Pirates of the Caribbean's Battle for the Sunken Treasure or brace yourself for some wild twists and turns at the fantasy sci-fi world of Tron.

Directions: Take metro line 11 and get off at Disneyland Park Station. Go out via Exit 1, and then walk for about 5 minutes to the park.
Address: Pudong New District, Shanghai, China
Opening hours: 8.30 am to 10pm daily
Admission fee: ¥399 per pass for off-peak days, ¥575 per pass for peak days

Yu Garden

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Yu Garden is one for the history buffs, especially with a legacy that’s believed to stretch as far back as the Ming Dynasty over 400 years ago. This classical Chinese garden is replete with pavilions, halls and tranquil ponds that will instantly take you back in time. Let yourself bask in its serenity away from the bustle of the city or take your time to admire the ancient Chinese architecture, exquisite sculptures and manicured gardens.

While you’re in Yu Garden, pop over to the Yuyuan Bazaar next to it. The collection of small streets and lanes see many restaurants, tea houses, and shops that offer tasty local snacks and handcrafted souvenirs.

Directions: Take metro line 10 (transfer from metro line 2 at East Nanjing Road Station) and get off at Yuyuan Station.. Exit from Exit No.01.
Address: 218 Anren Street, Huangpu District, Shanghai, China
Opening hours: 8.30 am to 5.30 pm daily, from March to October; 8.30 am to 5pm daily, from November to February
Admission fee: ¥40 per pax from April to June and September to November, ¥30 per pax from July to August and December to March

Jin Mao Tower and Skywalk

(Image credit: Bu Bin/DPA)

Shanghai isn’t short of impressive superstructures but if you have time for only one, head to the Shanghai Jinmao Tower. At 88 storeys high, the landmark skyscraper is one of the world’s tallest buildings, and it shows off its architectural prowess by way of a 200-foot-long glass skywalk. The handrails-free experience is definitely the most thrilling way to get a bird’s-eye view for the city. Fret not, you’ll be strapped onto a harness throughout. If you’ve always claimed to live life on the edge, it doesn’t get more literal than this.

Directions: Take Metro Line 2 and get off at Lujiazui Station. Get out from Exit 6 and walk to the south for 5 minutes to Jin Mao Tower.
Address: 88 Century Avenue, Lu Jia Zui, Pudong New District, Shanghai China
Opening hours: 8.30 am to 9.30 pm daily
Admission fee: ¥50 for adults and ¥25 for children for passes up to the observation deck. To take the Skywalk, there is an additional ¥358 charge per person.

Oriental Pearl Tower

(Image credit: Zifeng Zhang/Unsplash)

The Oriental Pearl Tower is one of Shanghai’s most recognisable icons. Located in the Pudong New District, the futuristic-looking structure towers imposingly over the Bund at 468 metres with its shimmery pearl-shaped spheres. Purchasing a ticket here will get you access to a myriad of experiences within – from a 360-degree view of the city at the 259 metre-high transparent observatory, to the Shanghai History Museum at its basement.

Directions: Take the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel across the Huangpu River, and get off at the Pudong side. By Metro: Take Metro Line 2 and get off at Lujiazui Station. Get out from Exit 1 and you’ll see the Oriental Pearl Tower.
Address: 1 Century Avenue, Lu Jia Zui, Pudong New District, Shanghai, China
Opening hours: 8 am to 9.30 pm daily
Admission fee: ¥35 to ¥260, depending on which package you select.

Zhu Jia Jiao

(Image credit: Fablio Achilli/Flickr)

Dubbed the “Venice of Shanghai”, Zhu Jia Jiao is a quaint water town just an hour away from Shanghai’s city centre. Lined by canals and flanked by ancient Chinese buildings, Zhu Jia Jiao offers visitors a serene glimpse at the nation’s past. Take a cruise and explore the city from water or traverse its 36 bridges to access the different facets of this charming destination. An afternoon in Bei Daijie is a must, as the street is the oldest in Zhu Jia Jiao, dating back to the Qing Dynasty, with plenty of modern food and entertainment offerings dotting the street now. For a quick break from all the walking, make a pitstop in Kezhi Yuan on Xijing Street, an old Chinese-style garden home to a pavilion that is the tallest structure in Zhu Jia Jiao.

Address: Qingpu District, Shanghai, China
Opening hours: 8.30 am to 4.30pm
Admission fee: : ¥30 to ¥80, depending on the sights you opt to see during your time there

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