The ultimate travel guide to one of the world’s great metropolises.
One of the world’s most populous cities is a sleek, neon-lit symbol of China’s rise on the global stage. Located on the country’s southeast coast, Shanghai emerged as a commerce center in the 19th century, with areas of the city existing at one time or another under British, French and American rule. Its importance waned after the 1949 Communist victory, but economic reforms in the 1990s led to rapid development and an economy that has raised the standard of living for countless millions. Shanghai offers many gifts to visitors, from ultra-modern skyscrapers and world-class restaurants to leafy side streets and the hushed echo of Buddhist temples. And it always leaves you wanting more—more sights, more history, more time.
When to go
During a few weeks in late March and early April, the Peach Blossom Festival brings visitors to orchards outside the city—and to local homes that traditionally become cafés and guesthouses. Sit back and enjoy the pleasant weather.
The Dragon Boat Festival usually takes place in the heat of June, when colorful boat races keep pace with related festivities throughout Shanghai’s rivers and lakes.
As the days grow cooler, the reflective Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhongqiu Jie, also known as the Moon Festival) in September or early October is a time for families to reunite with one another. Rich moon cakes are a staple of the festival, which traditionally includes a day off for workers.
Shanghai is far more temperate than frigid Beijing in the north, but there can be a dampness and chill in the air. Expats and some locals celebrate New Year’s Day on Jan. 1, while the traditional Chinese New Year takes place with the first new moon after Jan. 21.
The Shanghai Metro subway system comprises 14 modern and efficient lines with maps and station stops in English. Tickets are available at vending machines, and many trains run every several minutes. There are also more than 1,000 bus routes in the city and many cheap taxis—flag down the latter on the street or catch one at a hotel stand. Just be sure to know how to say your destination in Chinese or have it written down in Chinese characters, because your driver will probably not speak English.
- There’s no tipping tradition in China, but that’s changing a bit as visitors from other countries import their own gratuity practices. Feel free to discreetly ask a given business whether or not it’s expected. Taxi drivers, for one, do not expect a tip.
- Shanghai’s tap water is safe for teeth brushing, but stick to bottled water for drinking—it’s available nearly everywhere.
- Watch out for traffic—the world’s most populous city can be among its most congested, and motorists (including bus drivers) are used to everyone looking out for themselves. Take care when crossing streets, even when you have the right of way.
- If you’re traveling on business, take time beforehand to have business cards made up with your information in both English and Chinese—it’s considered a sign of respect. Give and accept cards with a slight bow and tuck the ones you receive away carefully as an indication of high regard.