How to Spend 24 Hours in Shanghai

A sunset appears rosy against the golden haze of Shanghai’s expansive skyline. Considered the most spectacular skyline in the world, its grand towers are often engulfed by clouds.

A city of over 25 million — the world’s third most populous — it’s big and bustling, yet surprisingly clean and orderly. You don’t hear the endless honking of scooter horns like in Ho Chi Minh, or pedestrians yelling at cab drivers about their “walking rights” like in New York.

Shanghai is the showcase for a modern vision of China: fast-paced and diverse; it’s the perfect city to experience one 24-hour layover at a time.

8:00 a.m. Wake Up & Have a Jiānbing

It’s breakfast time. The metros and flower-lined highways will be packed with millions of commuters. So your best bet is to find a walking street and enjoy some of China’s legendary breakfast dishes. A suggestion, if we may, have a Jiānbing; it’s a Chinese crepe made with egg, cilantro, fried dough and, often, meat and sauces. Think of it like a burrito. Wash it down with a black-tea latte. The Jiānbing is also perfect for a late-night snack! A good spot to find one is Huanghe Road right beside People’s Square.

9:00 a.m. Walk along Nanjing Road

Walk along Nanjing Road, China’s premier shopping street, from People’s Square all the way through to the Bund, the waterfront area. As China experiences an explosive period of growth, the Shanghainese, known as xiâzī (little capitalists), put their love of luxury shopping and malls on display along the four-and-a-half mile Nanjing Road. It’s worth the stroll, in a Vegas Strip kind of way.

10:00 a.m. Go to Waitan — the Bund

Following Nanjing Road will land you right in front of Waitan — the Bund. Here you’ll be treated to Shanghai’s most iconic view.

What was once a towpath for hauling rice, the Bund simply means “an embankment of a muddy waterfront.” Located at the U-turn juncture of the Huangpu River (a.k.a. the Mother River), the Bund offers an amazing view. Forget New York, forget just about any city in the world; once you’ve seen the futuristic skyline of Shanghai’s Pûdōng district, no other city view will ever captivate you the same way — that is, until you see it again at night.

However, as it’s still earlyish, and the number of tourists will be ever increasing from here on out, the best thing you can do is continue your morning walk.

11:00 a.m. Continue Exploring Shanghai

Shanghai has a rich architectural history. Juxtaposed with the modern skyscrapers of the Pudong District, are the early 20th century styles of Old Town. If you continue along the promenade, you’ll soon be able to appreciate buildings with art deco, neoclassical and colonial styles.

12:00 noon: Have Some Noodles with a Sunroy Beer

There are plenty of back-alley-restaurant options in Old Town. Kangjia Street offers a number of bustling noodle joints. Pair those noodles with a Sunroy Beer — often served in a large bottle with little plastic cups for sharing.

From here, you’re a hop, skip and jump to tea houses, bazaars, Yuyuan Market, Yu Gardens, City of God Temple, and the Chenghuang Temple.

Some people come to give offerings and prayer, others for McDonald’s and KFC, and others for a truly world-class souvenir-shopping experience. Either way, meandering with wide eyes from temple to market to the gardens will keep you enthralled until the crowds finally get the better of you!

3:00 p.m. Explore the Shanghai’s Metro Stations

Make your next mode of transportation either the metro or the bus. The metro will take you into Shanghai’s clean and bright underground world of shops, restaurants, juice bars and just about anything you can imagine.

Whichever mode of transportation you decide to use, your next stop should be the Jing’an Temple (Jade Buddha Temple) It’s beautiful. Built between 1918 and 1928, it’s one of Shanghai’s few active Buddhist monasteries. The Temple sits atop a metro station and is completely surrounded by high-end malls. It offers a dizzying view of high rises and billboards displaying the latest in high-end fashion; stark reminders of China’s exponential growth and change from the traditional culture of years past.

6:30 p.m. Eat More of Shanghai’s Specialities 

For the Shanghainese, food is at the cornerstone of culture. From business deals to birthdays to just hanging out with friends, food brings locals together. The culinary options are endless — each more mouthwatering than the last. From coveted Michelin star cuisine to street food, you can dine according to your budget in Shanghai and not feel like you’ve missed out.

A little inconspicuous gem is a restaurant called Jiajia (a local told us); it is located on Huanghe Road. Can’t read the name on the sign? Just walk down the street and look for the line-up out the door and aromatic steam pouring out the window.

Jiajia has simple décor: plastic stools, community seating and white-tiled walls; but it’s all about the dumplings — those little balls of steamed goodness are made fresh right in front of your eyes. If you’re feeling bold, also order the duck blood soup.

8:00 p.m. See Shanghai Come Alive

Shanghai turns into an electric technicolour dream scene at night, which can only be fully fathomed at great heights. Of the many, many high rise bars & lounges to choose from, we recommend Le Royal Meridian Shanghai.

Order a Tsing Tao or (if you’re feeling bold) a Chinese Whiskey, and take a breath…it’s been a helluva day. There, in front of you, you’ll be staring at the two tallest buildings in Shanghai: the 632m Shanghai Tower (also tallest in China and second tallest in the world) and the 468m Oriental Pearl TV Tower, with its distinctive pink spheres.

As you sip your whiskey, this is a moment for silence. This is not a moment for trying to find the words to describe what surely must be other-worldly — a magic realism where limitations don’t exist.

A local will tell you it can take up to three hours just to drive across the downtown area. Now, you can truly understand why.

And you will also know, deep down, why everyone must visit Shanghai — for at least 24 hours.

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