I personally was not blown away by Shanghai, but for those who are planning to visit the city, here are my top recommendations for things to do and see. My comparison between Beijing and Shanghai will give readers more detail on why I think there are better places to visit in China, but this land of towering skyscrapers should be seen nonetheless.
This area within the French Concession on the Puxi side of Shanghai is home to multiple alleyways mixed with modern restaurants and bars. We were there during National Week so it was extremely crowded, but if you strolled through here on a regular weekday and wandered in and out of the shops before stopping for lunch, you should be in for a great morning or afternoon.
What used to be considered the Wall Street of Shanghai, this area is home to numerous European-styled financial buildings. You can first walk in one direction along the river, then back the other way to pop into the buildings for a quick look at the architecture.
The French Concession
The top two sights to see within the French Concession are Tianzifang and Xiantiandi. As mentioned above, Tianzifang is filled with alleyways and bars, while the latter is home to wider walkways and other pedestrian-friendly areas (we tended to see more expats in this area). Prices are also higher in these spots so if you’re on a budget, I would recommend walking out of the pedestrian-only streets and stumble across more local hangouts.
While it was extremely crowded and touristy during National Week, if you came here at any other time this spot should be enjoyable. The buildings are quite traditionally Chinese in comparison to the European flair around most of Shanghai, and there are also gardens you can visit for a 40RMB entrance fee.
Pudong New Area
Crammed with towering skyscrapers, the Pudong area of Shanghai is quite a sight to see at night. There’s an elevated walkway where you can take in the main buildings, and afterwards I would recommend hopping on the ferry back over to The Bund. On the water it’s quite something to view both sides (one that looks European while the other could be from somewhere like New York).
For backpackers on a budget, 2-3 days should be sufficient for seeing the main sights. However, for those with a bit more money to spend, five days would be ideal to see the area, plus enjoy the food and nightlife Shanghai has to offer.