Shanghai - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Shanghai


Shanghai, home to almost 12-million people, is China's largest city and is situated in the centre of the coastline where the Yangtze River flows through its delta into the East China Sea. The name of the city means 'on the sea', and most of the city (including Chongming Island) is only a few metres above sea level, criss-crossed by a maze of natural waterways of the Taihu drainage basin.

Shanghai is China's industrial and commercial capital. It is a busy seaport, and a science and technology centre, and has a vibrant business community. Visitors come to Shanghai not for its scenic beauty or history (the city is too young to have cultivated a classical heritage), but those who arrive on business can find plenty of off-duty entertainment and relaxation. Just walking the busy streets and soaking up the vibrant atmosphere is worthwhile, and there are some temples and gardens to visit along with an excellent museum.

This great cosmopolitan metropolis has a colourful colonial background which had the edge rubbed off of it during half a century of Communist rule. It was the first Chinese coastal port to be opened to Western trade in 1843, resulting in an influx of British, French and American diplomats and business interests, each of which established their own independent enclaves. In the 1920s and 30s Shanghai was regarded as a glamorous, decadent and fashionable place to visit. It all ended with World War II and the coming to power of the Communist party, but since the early 1990s a dramatic re-building programme has been underway which is aimed at putting Shanghai back on the map as a major international finance and trade centre. The World Financial Centre, completed in 2008, is one of the tallest buildings of them all and the world's tallest hotel.

Information & Facts


Spring and autumn are the best months to visit Shanghai. The peak summer months (July and August) can be searingly hot with temperatures above 95°F (35°C) and 80 percent humidity. Most of Shanghai's rain also falls during this time. September and October can be windy, with the odd typhoon. In winter, evening temperatures often drop below zero (32°F).

Eating Out

While Shanghai doesn't have a well-known cuisine of its own, but local chefs and restaurants have taken the opportunity to combine the best from around the country, and around the world; indeed, dining in Shanghai is a great opportunity for visitors to sample Chinese food of all shapes and sizes without having to leave the city.

Traditional Shanghai cuisine is known as benbang cai, and tends to be sweeter than food from other Chinese regions, flavoured with sugar, vinegar, ginger and soy for a distinctive flavour. Whether dining in style at the chic hotel restaurants or stuffing your face at a roadside cart, tourists are spoiled for choice with delectable treats like xiao long bao(steamed soup-filled buns) and Shanghai hairy crab. The city's location at the mouth of the Huangpu River means fresh seafood is abundant, and the soy fields of the region provide the city's distinctive 'stinky tofu'.

Shanghai's food streets, some of the best of which are Huang He Lu, Yunnan Lu and Zhapu Lu, have a variety of cheap eateries, while flashier districts like the Bund and Luwan have pricier restaurants. Shanghai's major shopping malls all have food courts with many vendors offering everything from stir fries to dim sum for low prices, which is a great way to sample a variety of foods; the Megabite and Raffles City Mall are good places to start.

Shanghai is a cosmopolitan city, and you'll find a number of good international restaurants serving Thai, Japanese, French, and other world cuisines. There are also a number of new international chain restaurants, whose prices tend to be higher than most local restaurants.

More expensive restaurants in Shanghai will generally accept credit cards, but street vendors and takeaways will expect cash. While hotel restaurants will sometimes include a 15% service charge, tipping is not practised in Shanghai.

Getting Around

Taxis are the preferred mode of transport for visitors in Shanghai. The metered Volkswagen cabs in primary colours are easy to identify and plentiful. The smaller, older cars are generally cheaper. All can be hailed on the street or booked by telephone. Self-driving in a rental car is not a good option in the teeming tangle of streets, and visitors are required to submit their driver's license in order to obtain a license, which will be given back on leaving the country. Many visitors opt to join the city's estimated seven million cyclists and rent bicycles from their hotels or one of the numerous hire shops in the city. To cover longer distances the Shanghai subway, costing just a few cents a ride, is the perfect solution, covering the downtown area. It is still being extended, ultimately to connect to the airports. Public buses are extremely cheap, but very uncomfortable and inconvenient, being hot, crowded, unreliable and preyed on by pickpockets.

Kids Attractions

There is a lot to do for children in Shanghai. Nearly every park in the city, including Zhongshan Gongyuan and Xujiahui Gongyuan has a dedicated children's section, and amusement parks like Shanghai Happy Valley, Dino Beach water park, and Jinjiang Amusement Park are fun for old and young. Jinshan City Beach is also a great place to spend the day letting the kids run around.

For interactive and educational kids' activities, spend some time at the Aquaria 21, Shanghai's largest aquarium with touch pools and scuba lessons; the Shanghai Natural Wild Insect Kingdom, or the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum.

The official language is Mandarin Chinese, but there are hundreds of local dialects.

The currency used in China is the Renminbi Yuan (CNY). The Yuan is divided into 10 chiao/jiao or 100 fen. Make sure you exchange your leftover Yuan before returning home because this currency can be exchanged only within China's borders. Travellers cheques, preferably in US Dollars, and foreign cash can be exchanged in cities at the Bank of China. Banks are closed weekends. The larger hotels and the special 'Friendship Stores' designed for foreigners will accept most western currencies for purchases. Major credit cards are accepted in the main cities at various establishments, but outside the major cities acceptance is limited. ATMs are scarce outside the main cities.


Shanghai has a long-standing (and notorious) reputation as one of the world's top 'sin cities'. It has a seedy reputation and there are many warnings given to visitors, but the ever-changing face of Shanghai's nightlife is one that buzzes at all hours of the day.

The Bund has recently been given new life as a night time destination, with dilapidated buildings being demolished to make way for neon-lit jazz clubs, cocktail lounges, and restaurants. Glamour Bar hosts live music, art discussions, and an annual writers' festival for a bohemian 1930s vibe. The Gothic castle at 6 Bund also houses several chic and upscale restaurants and lounges. Xintiandi pedestrian mall is another collection of bars and lounges in the downtown area.

Shanghai is a major concert destination in Asia, and you'll find large international concerts on the calendar along with a number of local Mando-pop or Canto-pop acts. There are also a number of good jazz clubs on Fuxing Lu.

If classical entertainment is what you want, Shanghai has a number of options, including the Shanghai Philharmonic Society or the Shanghai Yueju Opera Group. You can also see acrobatic performances and touring productions of major Broadway shows like Les Miserables or touring ballet companies.

The district around the Julu Lu and Tongren Lu intersection is a cheaper and seedier option for those who want to party hard. There is a booming sex trade in Shanghai, and some areas of town are safer than others. It is best to stay in groups when going out at night.

Check the free local English-language papers like 8 Days, That's Shanghai, and City Weekend for up to date event listings.


Shanghai is a major international destination, so as time passes more and more traditional shop fronts are being replaced by western-style stores.

The Nanjing Lu Pedestrian Mall is a fascinating blend of western and eastern shopping, and Huaihai Zhong Street has a great selection of Chinese silk, which is a popular souvenir. The Old Town Bazaar has a variety of crafts and antiques, including popular Shanghai souvenirs like jade bracelets, cloisonné jewellery and vases, lacquerware and porcelain items, and vintage Cultural Revolution books and posters.

Other shopping districts in Shanghai include Parkson Shopping Centre, and the 'four cities': Yuyuan Shopping City, Xujiahui Shopping City, New Shanghai Shopping City and Jiali Sleepless City. Fuzhou Road is a great place to find cultural items like music, art and books.

Although knock-off items are popular buys in Shanghai, be aware that customs in many countries will not allow you to bring multiple items back with you. Counterfeit souvenirs are also common, so be wary of paying high prices for easily faked items like jade and antiques.

Flex your bargaining muscles at street shops and markets, but the prices in formal stores and hotels are generally fixed. Remember to keep smiling and draw the shopkeeper away from other customers for the best deals.


Shanghai is a slick and modern city with millennia of rich cultural history to draw on. You can float along the Huangpu River on a scenic boat cruise, get lost in the maze-like Yu Garden, or have a drink in a traditional tea house. It is a great place to start your trip to China, as the blend of western and eastern culture ensures there's something for everyone to see and do in Shanghai.

No vacation in Shanghai is complete without a stroll along the Bund. The waterfront embankment affords visitors a great view of the city's most spectacular buildings by night and day, and while it is generally crowded with tourists and vendors during the daytime, the mornings and evenings offer great opportunities for photography.

Shanghai has a number of museums worth a visit, including the Shanghai Museum which houses 120,000 historical artefacts, the Bund History Museum, and the less family-friendly China Sex Culture Museum. You can also see many beautiful temples and pagodas, like the Jade Buddha Temple, Longhua Temple, and the magnificent Jinshan Donglin temple.

Jinshan City Beach is a nice break from the city on sunny days. There are plenty of opportunities for watersports and other activities, including boating, bungee jumping and 4-wheeling. The beach also hosts annual international volleyball and kite-flying competitions.

For discounts of up to 50% on many tourist attractions in Shanghai, visit the Woori Bank to sign up for a Shanghai Tourist Card.

Local time is GMT +8.

Hangzhou, about 120 miles (190km) south of Shanghai, is one of China's designated seven famous ancient capital cities. It is also the provincial capital of Zhejiang province. Known for its scenic beauty it has been tagged 'Paradise on Earth'. Hangzhou touts two scenic resorts: the West Lake and another section encompassing the Fuchun River and Thousand-Islet Lake. These resorts are dotted with 'willow pattern' scenes like weeping willows, peach trees, stone bridges, rockeries and painted pavilions, interspersed with ancient tombs, monasteries and temples.

The new Shanghai Museum is situated on the People's Square, the political and cultural centre of Shanghai. The square itself boasts a giant musical fountain and some attractive green recreational areas where locals dance and fly kites. It is surrounded by the City Hall, an underground shopping centre and the Grand Shanghai Theatre. It is the Shanghai Museum, opened in 1996, however, that draws the most interest. The building is shaped like a giant bronze urn, and the museum contains a collection of 123,000 cultural artefacts in 21 categories. Chief among the museum's collections are bronze ware, ceramics, calligraphy and art works.

The picturesque Bund, Shanghai's waterfront promenade stretching for one mile (2km) along the bank of the Huangpu River, was once the most famous street in Asia, and is still renowned for its strip of Art Deco buildings. One of the grandest of these buildings, formerly the City Communist Party headquarters, is now the home of the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank. The wide riverfront promenade on the east bank of the river provides a captivating view of Shanghai, particularly at night. From the Bund visitors can take a river trip down the Huangpu to the mouth of the Yangtse. Boats leave regularly from the Shiliupu Pier south of the Bund and the trip takes about three hours.

The Yuyuan Gardens date back to 1559 to the Ming Dynasty, and are the best example of Chinese classical gardens in Shanghai. The relatively small gardens are laid out in an intricate design with pavilions, rockeries, ponds and a traditional theatre arranged in an ornate maze. The gardens are on Yuyuan Street in downtown Shanghai and can be reached via the Town God Temple Market, a warren of shops and stalls that is becoming increasingly popular as a tourist bazaar.

Looking for something a bit different?  Check out our selction of cultural & adventure holidays or if you're looking to go it alone then see our selection of solo holidays.

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