Mini Travel Guide: Shanghai, China

A travel guide for Shanghai, China written by a local! Where to go, what to do, and how to do it cheaply! //

In this month’s Mini Travel Guide, we’re visiting thrilling, fast-paced, super huge Shanghai. Expat Rachael is giving us the goods, including where to buy the best designer knockoffs, why we should all visit the ‘Marriage Market,’ and the joys of public jazzercise!

Hey there! My name is Rachael, and I’m an expat currently living in Shanghai, China. After graduating college, I packed up my life in Ohio and headed to teach abroad in this amazing city I now call home! Hopefully, after you read this travel guide, Shanghai will be your next travel destination!

Shanghai is an awesome city, fused with both new and old Asia. Things are relatively cheap, the food is delicious, and you can get everywhere on the metro! You will be walking down one street and see big buildings and a McDonalds, and the next street is filled with old Chinese shops and markets. I love that there is a lot to it that is constantly changing. There’s really nothing quite like it.

Must go places in Shanghai, China

Shanghai Must Do

The Bund

The Bund is the iconic landscape of Shanghai. It’s nice to go anytime, but I really enjoy going at night so you can see the gorgeous lights of the city! The Huangpo River Cruise (you can purchase the tickets on sight for about $15) is a great way to see the skyline, snap some awesome pictures, and feel like you’re in a movie!

The Fake Markets

There’s a saying here; you can get anything you want in China for cheap– but it’s probably fake. If you like shopping (think NYC markets with fake bags, watches, electronics, etc), you have to check out the markets here! You can have clothes hand made for cheap, and buy everything from movies to make up. (My favorite is the AP Market).

Tip– make sure you BARTER with the salespeople! Choose a price at least 50-70% less than what you’re asking for, and then walk away if they won’t take your price; they’ll most likely chase after you! (I know this seems/feels seedy, but it’s just what’s done here. Trust me.)

Cheap Spa Day!

Go all out girl (or guy!) I swear by gel manicures (they only cost $20 USD!) and massages here. They’re cheap and good at what they do. Flower Fingers is my go-to salon.

travel guide Shanghai

Shanghai Must Go

Fuxing Park

Want to see some Chinese people dancing in the park (think Zumba/jazzercise style)? Head to Fuxing park in the gorgeous French concession, dance along with them, then grab a coffee in a local cafe afterwards! Fun way to spend an afternoon for free!

Marriage Market

This is a cultural experience you will not want to miss. The best way to explain it is it’s an online dating but in REAL LIFE. The parent’s of eligible bachelors and bachelorettes will put their information (like, how much money they make and their health) on umbrellas and the other parents will walk around and find partners for their children to marry. Definitely an interesting experience.
travel guide Shanhai

Shanghai Must Eat

Xiaolongbao, which is a dumpling hidden in soup. The best comfort food ever!
Braised eggplant. I’ll be honest, I had never eaten eggplant back in the states, but it’s delicious here! It’s also a staple that you can find in a lot of restaurants, and it mixes great with rice!
Caramel strawberry glazed fruit kabobs. It’s basically strawberries dipped in caramel then frozen. It’s so good! (These are mostly in little kiosks, in front of malls, etc. Try to check for the freshness of fruit before if possible.)
Egg tarts. Anywhere you can find ’em. Again, usually at little stalls along the streets. SO delicious!
Late-night street noodles. Way better than Taco Bell. You can add whatever you want in them (veggies, meat, spices, etc.) and have it cooked right in front of your eyes! Cool, right?

travel guide shanghai

Shanghai Cultural Tips

Be prepared for stares, especially if you’re a white blonde woman. People will point, take pictures of you or even ask to take them with you! I don’t think I’ve ever met a rude Chinese person (besides all the shoving, but that’s just the culture!) People here are generally nice.
Be careful with street meat. Things to think about– how long has it been out? Is it in a cooler or a type of refrigerator? It’s not worth it to have food poisoning and ruin your trip!
As I mentioned above, barter, barter, barter! It was hard for me to get used to nothing having a set price, but that’s just the way things are here.
It’s going to smell… different here. Get used to it. It’s a big city with lots of industrialization Also, LOTS of pollution, so bring a mask from home (make sure it protects against PM 2.5!) and download an app that can tell you the air pollution. I would wear a mask if it gets above 200+ PM 2.5.

travel guide Shanghai

Shanghai cheap travel tips

Of course, you can get more for your money (and a more authentic experience) if you use Airbnb rather than a hotel. Here’s a cute, well-reviewed room for $40 a night and here’s a whole house with four beds for $84 a night! If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s $40 off your first booking.

Bring cash. A lot of places don’t take cards.

Cabs are generally cheap, reliable to find, and trustworthy. Don’t take an unmarked cab, they’ll charge you way too much!
I would highly recommend purchasing the SmartShanghai app for your trip. This can give you everything for your trip.
Western restaurants here are yummy, but over priced. Resist the urge and get some dumplings or rice. You’ll save major cash!

Thanks so much for sharing, Rachael! Do you guys have anything to add? 

P.S. How to live out of a suitcase – glamorously

photos by // Rob Deutscher // Harry Aversion // wl // leniners // Bernd Thaller cc

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  1. Brittany

    That’s so cool that you’ve learned to barter! I think I’d be a little nervous to pick up that skill. Great post! I definitely want to head to Shanghai now!

    • Rachael

      Shanghai is amazing! You will love it!

  2. Laura

    Welp, now I really want to go to Shanghai! What about the language barrier? What was your experience? Are there any particular neighborhoods you’d recommend, and any that you’d avoid? What else would you add? haha I had pretty much zero interest in China but you’ve made Shanghai seem awfully appealing!

    [Side note to Sarah: waaaaaah first world problem but I really loved getting to read your articles all in one page without having to (GOSH!) click something else! The world should have my problems, amirite? Hope the new year is treating you well!]

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I know! It’s an SEO/ad revenue thing 😉 Just trying out a few new things as I attempt to go client-free in the other half of my business!

    • Rachael

      I was NEVER interested in living in China until I moved to Shanghai! It’s the perfect blend of Western and Eastern cultures!

  3. Kate

    Nice summary, Rachel! I’m an expat from IL living in Shanghai for the past year and a half. Love it and agree with everything! I would also add that travelers to China should be prepared to go without most social media (FB, instance, twitter) in your time here, or else invest in a VPN. The good news is that downloading WeChat should allow you to connect with people here, both expats and locals, quickly.

    As for the language barrier, you can still function with a combo of translation apps and charades. Most young Chinese people and workers in tourist areas speak at least a little English. SmartShanghai that Rachel mentioned has a feature to show addresses in Chinese to taxi drivers. But the metro is super nice and easy to use.

    Have fun everybody!

    • Rachael

      Thanks, Kate! Glad you liked. AGREED about the VPN– totally forgot to mention that! So important!

  4. Cindy

    Cool guide, Rachael! 🙂 As a former Shanghaier, this made me incredibly nostalgic to read (and unleashed a craving for soup dumplings). And ditto on the pollution bit; it’s gotten so much worse lately.

    Have you had Shanghai Yang’s fried dumplings? Those get me good.

  5. Rachael

    The pollution has been SO bad lately. I actually haven’t had the Yang’s dumplings yet, but have heard good things– I’ll have to try it!

  6. Wai

    For something different I always tell foreigners to check out the fighting grasshopper markets. It is quite different, and something I don’t think you can find overseas. There is one located near Laoximen Metro. Enjoy!

    • Rachael

      I’ve never heard of this– I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for sharing!


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