Located in the Yangtze River Delta on China’s eastern coast is the city of Shanghai. This bustling metropolis, which began as a small agricultural village over a thousand years ago, is now the most populous city in the world. It is a glitzy and modern financial, transportation, shipping, and trading hub that still manages to hold on to its traditional roots. Because of its blend of modern and traditional, there are many unique things to see and eat in Shanghai.
Whether you’re a traveler who would prefer to explore ultra-modern concrete-and-glass jungles, gorge on traditional street foods, or tour majestic gardens, Shanghai has you covered. Combine that with its fantastic shopping options, beautiful temples, and luxurious accommodations, and you’ll find that Shanghai is the perfect city for any curious traveler.
Eat Spicy Chinese Hot Pot at Hai Di Lao
Something you must do when you visit Shanghai is try spicy Szechwan hot pot. The best place to try it in the city is a restaurant called Hai Di Lao, which has multiple locations around Shanghai. The location I visited is located on the fifth floor of a gigantic shopping mall on
This hot pot is a delicious culinary experience where plates of raw beef, pork, lamb, and vegetables are brought to your table. You’ll cook them for 2 minutes each in the soups in hot pot in the center of your table. The soups range from mild to ultra spicy, so be careful—the spiciest one made my tongue feel like it had exploded!
There are lots of different combinations to go with, so play around with them to see what you like best. I personally loved the beef and lamb cooked in the moderately spicy soups, the cabbage with the tomato soup, and the mushrooms with the mildest soup. I usually love spice, but the hottest soup was way too much for me, so I mostly avoided it.
There’s no denying the hot pot at Hai Di Lao is one of the best things to see and eat in Shanghai. Just try not to burn off your taste buds and you should be good!
Explore Nanjing Road
Nanjing Road is an amazing, 3.4-mile-long pedestrian street that is known as one of China’s best premier shopping locations. It is one of the busiest shopping streets in the world and attracts over 1 million visitors per day. It begins at the Bund, continues west through People’s Square, and ends near Jing’an Temple, making it the world’s longest shopping district.
As one of the world’s top shopping streets, Nanjing Road is lined with more than 600 businesses. They range from traditional stores and specialty shops to massive shopping malls and high-end retailers like Tiffany and Dunhill. You can also find fast food joints like McDonald’s and KFC. I suggest stopping into the specialty shops and browsing their silk, jade, and wool products.
When I visited Shanghai in April of 2019, it was in the weeks leading up to the release of Avengers: Endgame. To celebrate the movie, they had erected a display for the movie that featured the faces of the main Avengers that were built with Legos! There was even a life-sized statue of Thanos with his sword! Whether you’re a shopper or a window browser, visiting Nanjing Road is one of the top things to see and eat in Shanghai!
Try Chinese Street Food for Breakfast on Huanghe Road
I have eaten street food all over the world, from India to the Philippines to Suriname, and some of the best in the world can be found along Huanghe Road in Shanghai. I first tried the food there in 2015 when I visited with my father, but a lot has changed since then.
Just before my visit to Huanghe Road in April of 2019, I learned that the street food is no longer sold out on the street due to sanitation concerns. Instead, the vendors sell their food from tiny, hole-in-the-wall shops, but the food itself has remained unchanged.
Roam the street to find a spot that sells about 20 varieties of buns. There, I recommend the delightful pork buns, which have a soft, fluffy exterior and a juicy, sweet and spicy sauce inside. You can also get dumplings, including a unique one that contains sticky brown rice and herbs.
The main dish I came to Huanghe Road for was jianbing, which is a pancake-like dish I fell in love with along this road in 2015. Jianbing is a savory crepe that contains eggs, crackers, pickled vegetables, and hoisin sauce. They can be found just off the street in a tiny restaurant until 11 a.m. It’s the perfect mix of spicy, sweet, crispy, and crunchy!
The final spot along Huanghe Road that I recommend is Jia Jia Tang Bao, which is recognizable by its white storefront, above which are large, red Chinese characters. You must try their shrimp dumplings and pork dumplings, which are soupy on the inside and full of fresh flavor.
You’re supposed to eat the dumplings with a bowl of seaweed and egg drop soup, which is very aromatic and has a briny taste from the seaweed. An order of 12 dumplings and soup will only set you back 28 Yuan, or a little over $4 U.S. This meal alone makes visiting Huanghe Road one of the top things to see and eat in Shanghai!
NOTE: I highly recommend hiring an English-speaking guide who also knows Mandarin when visiting China. Otherwise, you’ll be completely lost. Most of the locals don’t speak English, so there’s a huge language barrier when you try to ask for help or directions. You can still navigate Huanghe Road alone like I did, but it’s much more difficult.
Visit the Bund
No trip to Shanghai is complete without enjoying the iconic views of the Pudong skyline from the Bund. This mile-long pedestrian-friendly area along the western bank of the Huangpu River has been a symbol of Shanghai for hundreds of years. There are 52 buildings there, including banks, international trading houses, the Masonic Club, the Shanghai Club, and more.
While the buildings of the Bund range in architectural styles from Gothic to Romanesque to Baroque, the main attraction is the view of Pudong. For the most spectacular views, visit at night to see landmarks like the Oriental Pearl and Shanghai Tower lit up! It’s a sight that can’t be missed and is easily one of the best things to see and do in Shanghai.
Take the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel to Pudong
There are a few ways to get from the Bund on the west side of the Huangpu River to Pudong on the eastern side. Ferries and taxis are popular options, but the coolest by far is to take the pedestrian-only Bund Sightseeing Tunnel.
The entrance to the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel can be found north of Chenyi Square on the Bund. The tunnel is located beneath the river and links the two sides of Shanghai. Get into the futuristic rail car and prepare yourself for a wild, 2-5 minute long, psychedelic ride. As you travel the 646 meters to Pudong, an extravagant light and graphics show will on the tunnel walls, complete with sounds and music.
It’s very cool and is easily the most unique way to get to Pudong, even if it is a little pricey at 50 RMB for a one-way ride. It’s one of the top things to see and do in Shanghai for a reason and should not be missed!
Visit the Shanghai Tower Observation Deck
I love visiting observation decks to get a bird’s-eye view of the places I travel to. The ultimate observation deck is the one atop Shanghai Tower, which is the second-tallest building in the world! And its observation deck happens to be the highest observation deck on the planet. It’s located on the 118th floor and is a whopping 1,791 feet above the street!
You’ll take the fastest elevator in the world up to the observation deck. It takes less than a minute and gives you access to one of the most spectacular cityscapes in the world. Even though it was foggy the day I visited, I was blown away by how small the skyscrapers looked from the deck’s windows. One of the best things to see and eat in China is to enjoy this amazing view!
If you head up another level to the tower’s 119th floor, you’ll find another deck that contains displays that show how Shanghai has changed over the years. There’s also a lounge there in case you want some tea or a snack.
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Eat at Food Republic in Shanghai Tower
One of the best spots to enjoy lunch after taking in the view at the Shanghai Tower observation deck is Food Republic. Located at the exit after you take the elevator back down, you’ll be greeted by a large food court with at least 20 different eateries around it. There are tons of options, so take a look around to see what you’d like.
I went with a spot called Hok Kee, where I ordered the stir-fried beef noodles, oyster sauce, vegetables, and black lemon tea. This meal is easily one of the best things to see and eat in Shanghai! The noodles were fantastic and were coated in a rich, earthy sauce. The vegetables were really fresh and the tea was equally amazing. It’s a really hearty dish, so it’ll easily fill you up!
Go on a Multi-Regional Chinese Food Tour
As a foodie, one of the best gastronomic experiences you can have in Shanghai is to take the multi-regional Shanghai Night Eats Tour with UnTour Food Tours. This intimate, three-hour food experience will take you on a mouthwatering ride where you’ll get to sample Cantonese, Shanxi, Sichuan, and Ningbo dishes.
My guide, Li, and I started with a sweet and savory pulled pork sandwich, followed by a Cantonese pineapple bun with no pineapple, beef rice noodles, roasted pork belly, and roasted duck. The pork belly and duck paired nicely with the plum-like rice wine and craft beer and were elevated by the plum and mustard sauces they were served with.
We followed that up with two sensational Ningbo dishes: a crispy bamboo that was moist in the center, and a salty and crispy fish with seaweed. The tour highlight for me was the spicy, Sichuan rabbit’s head, which I had to pull apart to get all of the meat. The Sichuan wontons and dry noodle with peanuts, pickled vegetables, and minced pork were also fantastic.
My tour wrapped up with a stop at a Shanxi diner, where we enjoyed a refreshing asparagus lettuce and an unreal soup dumpling called xiaolongbao. The flavors were out of this world and convinced me that this tour is one of the best things to see and eat in Shanghai!
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Explore the French Concession
Shanghai’s French Concession is a popular tourist attraction that was a foreign concession until it was signed over to Reorganized National Government of China in 1943. It is known as a top retail and residential district and is also a center for Catholicism.
The main reason I visited the French Concession was to check out the food scene. During my Shanghai Street Eats Breakfast tour with Li from UnTour Food Tours, I tried a variety of delicious and unique breakfast foods.
One of my favorites was an oily and flaky Chinese churro, which you can dunk in the bowl of soymilk that comes with it. Alternately, you can tear the churro into small pieces, float it in the soymilk, and eat it like a cereal. I also enjoyed a sticky rice ball with lots of spice, egg, and pickled vegetables and a sweet flatbread.
Easily, one of the top things to see and eat in Shanghai is the thick, savory, seven-layered pancake I had that came covered in a sweet, red chili sauce. It was crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and reminded me of a dish I’d had in Greece.
Other highlights of my breakfast food tour included another sweet and spicy jianbing; some otherworldly xiaolongbao at Loushi Dumpling Shop that contained a hot, gingery soup; a unique tofu bamboo stir-fry made with soymilk skin and peppers; and sticky and spicy noodles that had my taste buds in heaven!
Some of my favorite things about the French Concession area were all of the glimpses into local life. From watching locals practice tai chi in a local park to visiting a wet market where fresh vegetables, meat, poultry, and seafood were sold, exploring this area is sensory overload!
Seeing the gorgeous and historic lane houses was yet another highlight. These are large, impressive homes that are owned by wealthy families. They come in a variety of architectural styles and have large gates, beyond which are grand courtyards!
The French Concession is an interesting place during the day, but I also recommend returning at night like I did. My friend Topher from UnTour Food Tours linked up with me there and took me on their acclaimed Shanghai Beer & Bites Tour. On this tour, you’ll learn about the seedier side of Shanghai’s history while sampling craft beers, noodles, and dumplings.
My tour began at a modern gastropub and nanobrewery called Liquid Laundry, which offers 15 beers. I started with a Cezanne farmhouse ale, which was smooth and silky with a hint of coconut. The head on it was really nice and creamy!
Topher took me to see Liquid Laundry’s 3-barrel system and 8 fermenting tanks before we tried a light, cloudy, and creamy hazy IPA. I also suggest trying a flight of their beers. Of the five in the flight, the Imperial Stout was my favorite. It had notes of vanilla and was very tasty!
Definitely take the opportunity to grab something to eat at your second stop. You’ll need something in your stomach to soak up all the beer! I suggest going with the boiled cabbage and pork dumplings. Build a dipping sauce out of the rice vinegar, soy sauce, chili sauce, dried chili, and minced garlic, and go to town on them. The sauce doesn’t feel spicy at first, but it hits you later!
Shanghai’s best sports bar, The Camel, offers mostly imported beers. The four Chinese beers I tried there (a hoppy American Wild Ale, a juicy hazy IPA, a malty pale ale, and a Maybach that tasted like a German beer) were fantastic, especially the IPA.
A five-minute walk from The Camel will take you to a second eatery where you can dive into perfectly al dente knife-cut noodles with beef. The noodles were covered in a tasty sauce with lots of wonderful cilantro flavor. From there, head on over to Daga Brew Pub, where I tried five incredible Chinese craft beers, including a one-of-a-kind jasmine tea lager that blew my socks off!
A nighttime street food tour through the French Concession is among the top things to see and eat in Shanghai for any traveler!
Visit Yu Gardens
One of the city’s most beautiful historic offerings is Yu Gardens, a five-acre Ming Dynasty-era Chinese garden located in the Old City of Shanghai. It was built in 1559 by a Ming-era governor of Sichuan named Pan Yunduan, to honor his father, Pan En. After suffering damage multiple times and ultimately being rebuilt, Yu Gardens became a national monument in 1982.
Yu Gardens is one of the few areas in the city where you can see sites that were built in the 16th century. It’s thought by some that the gardens were built using stolen taxpayer money.
The gardens are some of the most stunning I’ve ever seen. I toured Yu Gardens with my friend Daniel from Newman Tours, who showed me the amazing structures, moon gates, rockeries, and ponds, which are filled with large (and very hungry) carp! Going on a tour of the gardens is among the best things to see and eat in Shanghai.
In the garden, you’ll find a large rock that was meant to be a gift to for the emperor, but it fell into the river after it was placed on a boat to be transported to the capital. It was fished out hundreds of years later and moved to the garden.
As Daniel and I wrapped up our tour of Yu Gardens, he gave me the opportunity to have my fortune told using ancient Chinese fortune sticks. You shake a container containing lots of sticks until one comes out. If two come out, it means the gods are laughing at you. On each stick is a number; I shook out the number 9. It told me to be honest, straight, and true if I win success in life. It’s something I definitely plan on doing!
Try Chinese Street Food at City God Temple
One of the most incredible things to see and eat in Shanghai is to head over to City God Temple in the Old City of Shanghai. It’s a large folk temple where three Chinese figures are revered as the city gods. City gods are thought to look after and protect the people of a particular town.
Near the temple is a bazaar known as Chenghuang Bazaar. There, you can find one of the most spectacular street foods I came across in Shanghai, deep-fried local crabs. These crabs are quite big and come in salty and spicy varieties.
I went with a spicy crab and immediately dug in. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I could eat everything on the crab. It was succulent, juicy, and meaty everywhere, but the best meat was right in the middle! It was so tasty and had a nice, spicy kick to it!
Have a Taiwanese Breakfast at Taoyuan Village
Back in 1949, a high number of Chinese citizens were ripped from their homes and emigrated to Taiwan following the communist victory over the nationalist Kuomintang army. The Chinese people who emigrated to Taiwan settled in tenement communities called military villages. They continued making the Chinese dishes they grew up on, but had to do so using Taiwanese ingredients. By doing so, a new, unique cooking style called Military Village Cuisine was born.
This cooking style has not only been embraced in Shanghai’s Taoyuan Village, it’s on full display! Roughly 15 minutes from People’s Square, you’ll find an upscale diner in the SML Center mall.
The Military Village cuisine there is easily one of the top things to see and eat in Shanghai. My Taiwanese meal began with a Chinese churro with soymilk, which I downed before diving into the scrumptious crab meat dumplings. The dumplings also contain a small amount of soup! They’re literal perfection on their own, but somehow become even more delightful when you dip them in the vinegar and chili sauces provided on the side!
I also suggest ordering the rice rolls, which are served to you in Saran Wrap and contain crispy and flaky pork floss, spices, cucumber, and lots of sticky rice. They’re very similar to sushi hand rolls and are fantastic when you dip them in the glazy sauce that comes with them!
The final dish you must try is the outstanding soymilk skin with pork and seaweed. The soymilk skin has the consistency of soft, sometimes runny, egg and is pretty similar to tofu, flavor-wise. I loved the added texture of the seaweed and the big chunks of pork! I’m a big fan of tofu, and this tofu-like dish is up there with the best I had in China!
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Shop at Tian Zi Fang Market
There are lots of extremely popular shopping areas in Shanghai, but if you want to experience something that feels more local, I suggest wandering the streets and alleys of Tian Zi Fang Market. This area off Taikang Road in the French Concession is known for having an “original” feel because its original buildings haven’t been reconstructed much.
It may not be a purely “local” experience, as the market has been a favorite of tourists and expats in recent years, but you’ll barely notice them as you wander the alleys.
During my visit, I found vendors selling everything from sports jerseys to dragon and Buddha statues to jewelry as you browse. There’s also clothing, Chinese fans, and copper frogs that are meant to be good luck charms. Look closely and you might even find vendors selling figurines of Wonder Woman and Michael Jackson!
When I say you can find just about anything in Tian Zi Fang Market, I’m not exaggerating. Among the vendors and eateries is a cat café where you can stop in for a quick drink and feed and play with the cats inside! It just another reason why Tian Zi Fang Market is one of the top things to see and eat in Shanghai!
Enjoy a Hot Pot Feast at The Holy Cow Restaurant
If you haven’t figured it out already, I am in love with Chinese hot pot. During my time in Shanghai, I had the pleasure of enjoying it a few times. One of the most incredible hot pot experiences I had was at The Holy Cow Restaurant at Bingo Mall. This fantastic Chaozhou restaurant prides itself on serving fresh meat, pesticide-free vegetables, and flavorful and nutrient-rich broths.
I began my Holy Cow Restaurant experience by meeting with the owner, Anthony, who explained to me that they use the whole cow, even the organ meats. Here, you can build your own sauce, and I watched Anthony make his signature sauce before he invited me to make my own!
Once it was time to eat, Anthony ordered an entire spread of 14 items for me. They included meatballs, lots of raw vegetables, dumplings, and many different cuts of meat! The meat and vegetables are cooked by boiling them in different sauces for a few minutes.
The sauce I had built was a mixture of spicy and sweet and was heavenly with the beef. The meat had a completely different texture than I was used to because it had never been frozen. I loved the beef cooked in fiery red sauce. It was very hot but insanely flavorful!
The beef dumplings, venison, and beef shoulder were all out of this world. No matter which sauce they were cooked in, or whether I dipped them in my sauce or Anthony’s, it seemed like I couldn’t go wrong! The free-range venison from New Zealand, in particular, was sensational. It had an earthier taste because it’s higher in iron!
That goes for the gelatinous cow stomach, golden needle mushrooms, and tofu skin. I think I tried everything with just about every sauce combination and I was blown away by it all! Holy Cow Restaurant is firmly on my list of the top things to see and eat in Shanghai and it should be on yours, too!
Without a doubt, one of the swankiest places you can stay in Shanghai is the PuLi Hotel and Spa. But not only does the hotel boast out-of-this-world accommodations, it also is home to a fantastic Michelin-star restaurant, the Phénix Eatery and Bar.
Located on the hotel’s second floor, this restaurant boasts beautiful views of the JingAn park and serves food that is, without question, worthy of its Michelin star.
I recommend you start your day there with breakfast. Skip the continental-style buffet and instead go with an assortment of the six Chinese specialties at the bottom of the menu. When I visited, I chose the doubled-boiled chicken broth pork wontons, stir-fried Shanghai noodles, and egg fried rice.
The wontons were basically a pork ball with a small amount of wonton wrapper around them. Meanwhile, the noodles they came with were very thin and reminded me of the glass noodles I had enjoyed years earlier in Thailand. As is the case with most Michelin-star restaurants, the portions are small and relatively expensive. You only get three wontons per order, but the quality is astronomical!
I had spent most of my trip in China eating anything but fried rice, but I finally tried some here toward the tail end of my trip. It was served with burnt onions on top and bits of egg throughout. It had a nice crunch, but I wasn’t sure it was worth the high price I paid. But it sure was tasty!
My stir-fried Shanghai noodles were coated in a glazy red sauce and had crunchy green onions and other vegetables throughout. It was quite tasty! I followed it with a delicious, condensed pork rice dumpling that had a very grainy feel, a fluffy and bite-sized pork bun, a nice pork bun with vegetables, and a sweet custard bun that was the perfect way to cap off my meal!
If you enjoy luxurious, gourmet dining and have the cash to spare, have breakfast at the Phénix Eatery and Bar in this magnificent hotel. It’s one of the best things to see and eat in Shanghai for a reason. You’ll be glad you did!