Shanghai in 48 Hours

December 27, 2017
At the end of November, I received my first visitor in Shanghai! My friend Amy had four days off of work for Thanksgiving and on a whim bought a flight over to China. After the travel time, she pretty much just had about 48 hours to explore the city. I tried to think of all of the best places to take her, so I'm going to highlight where the two of us went in this post.

Amy arrived on Friday night, and I took the Maglev for the first time to visit her. In case you don't know, the Maglev is a high-speed train that takes you from Shanghai's city center to Pudong Airport in roughly eight minutes. It comes every 15-20 minutes during operating hours. To get a ticket, I just took the subway to Longyuan Road and then spent 50 RMB on a one-way ticket. A taxi costs me a little over 200 RMB, so it was nice to save a little money, too. For more information about riding the Maglev, visit this site. I had never ridden the Maglev before because I've either been tight on time and had to take a taxi right from my school's campus or else I had too many heavy suitcases to handle. Now that I see how easy it is, I'd take it again if I'm traveling lightly.

Our timing for meeting up was nearly perfect, and we took a taxi into the city. Amy booked a room at The Bund Riverside Hotel, which we both didn't think was anything special, but the location was very convenient for a lot of the attractions. For the record, I did offer to let Amy stay with me, but she didn't have a lot of time, and my neighborhood is not really near the sights. Also, it's Chinese law for her to register with the local police station within 24 hours, and I don't think she wanted to deal with that. (A hotel will take care of that for you.) She said she would stay with me next time, which also works. 

Here is what we did:

Nanjing Road: This is one of the most famous roads in all of Shanghai, so it was a must-see for Amy. It was our first stop since it was a short walk from the hotel. We walked up and down the crowded road--it's a good place for seeing the hustle and bustle that is Shanghai. You can do all kinds of shopping on this street, but we mostly went for the experience. Tip: Make sure you stop by the Peace Hotel. If you have extra time, go to the bar and watch the jazz band.

Local restaurant for xiaolongbao- We were starting to get hungry, so we just walked around until we found a local restaurant that served xiaolongbao which translates to soup dumplings. Soup dumplings are what Shanghai is known for. Along with the xiaolongbao, we also got some thinly sliced beef with vegetables and broccoli with garlic. It was an affordable and delicious meal.

Sunny Massage- After our dinner, it was getting pretty late so when I spotted this massage place right off of Nanjing Road, I asked Amy if she would like to get a traditional Chinese foot massage and reap the benefits of reflexology. It didn't take much to convince Amy, as she was sore from her long flight. She loved the fact that the massage started out with a short shoulder and back rub. The massage ended with us getting hit by wooden hammer with a rubber head. I've only gotten the "hammer" at the end a few times, so I was glad that Amy got to experience it! Tip: Read this article from Culture Trip about the best places to get massages in Shanghai. 

Walked along the Bund- We had to do this twice because the first time we walked along the Bund, the lights were all shut off. Walking along the Bund at night is always an exciting experience. On the Bund, you feel like you're in Europe walking by the grand colonial buildings, but then you look across the Huangpu River and get to see all of the massive skyscrapers. Even though I have done this a lot now, I'll never get sick of hanging out in this waterfront area. Tip: Keep in mind that the lights turn off at 10 or 11 pm, so make sure you plan around that if you go.

Yu Garden- Yu Garden is one of the most touristy places in Shanghai. It is beautiful, but be prepared for it to be packed. I've gone on the weekend every time, and often it is so crowded that I can barely walk. It's also difficult to take pictures because most photos are just full of people. Still, these ancient gardens built in the Ming Dynasty are a worth a visit. Around the garden there are good shopping opportunities even if it can be a bit chaotic. Amy picked up a gorgeous silk scarf for her grandma. When I've gone to the area around the garden before, I had tea and small snacks at a tea house and also tried the famous dumpling restaurant. Tip: If you can, maybe try going during the week instead of on the weekend since it tends to get quite busy. 

Tianzifang- When my friend's mom came to visit her from the UK, I asked my friend what her mom liked the most about Shanghai, and she told me that one of her top picks was Tianzifang. When she told me that, I knew I had to take Amy. As expected, Amy did enjoy the area a lot. The area can best be described as cute, and it has plenty of unique shops full of souvenirs and specialty items. There is a lot of street food to try, and cafes and little bars dot the area. We both made purchases here and then had lunch. We stopped at a postcard shop to write postcards to our friends and family. I love these shops because you can just buy the stamp and they mail them for you--super convenient! Tip: Bring lots of cash with you for shopping and street food, as very few places accept foreign credit cards.

Xintiandi- We strolled along this pedestrian street and went in some shops. It is a bit high-end, but the atmosphere is always great. There are so many cafes and restaurants, and we stopped in an ice cream parlor called Pree. I had been wanting to try it for awhile because they serve fruit popsicles inside a glass of wine! We also admired the shikumen-style buildings in the area which are quite special to Shanghai.

Jing'an- As an expat, I find myself in Jing'an quite often. There's the Kerry Center, lots of nice restaurants, and good shopping. My favorite nail place and coffeeshop are also both in Jing'an! I just showed Amy some of the area, we walked around, and we stopped for a coffee and tea. Of course, Jing'an Temple also looms over the area, but it was closed by the time we got there.  

Shanghai Tower- Amy said she wanted to go up the Oriental Pearl Tower, and I told her I had done that before and was willing to do it again if she wanted to, but suggested Shanghai Tower instead. Not  only is Shanghai Tower the tallest building in Shanghai and one of the tallest in the world, but it offers an excellent view of the iconic Pearl Tower. We both loved being up in Shanghai Tower and marveled at seeing this enormous city from above.

Jade Buddha Temple- As you can probably tell from the name of this temple, the main attraction here is a light green Buddha made out of jade. This temple still functions and monks can be seen here. It isn't typically as crowded as Yu Garden or the other attractions. There were tourists, but there were also worshippers. The temple also has a restaurant and plenty of shops selling statues of Buddha, jewelry, and tea.

The Bull & Claw for brunch- As any expat living in Shanghai will probably tell you, brunch in Shanghai is definitely "a thing." My friends Lauren and Becca wanted to meet Amy for brunch and experience the deliciousness of The Bull and Claw again, so we met there. While it's not Chinese food, part of the Shanghai experience is trying food from international places as well. All of us agreed that the waffles with honeycomb on top were pretty scrumptious. Tip: Make reservations for this place ahead of time. It is quite popular (for good reason) and can book up fast.

Extra Time? 

*I suggest visiting Longhua Temple and the Shanghai Botanical Gardens (not centrally located which is why we didn't go). These two places are closer to each other than many of the other places I've mentioned so it might be a good idea to do both of them together.

* Some good places to have Chinese food in Shanghai are: Sichuan Citizen, Lost Heaven, and Din Tai Fung. Although all of these places aren't Shanghainese, they still serve up delicious food and many of my friends bring their guests here.

* Splurge on a fancy tea at the Peninsula or at the Waldorf Astoria.

* If you're into the bar scene, Found 158 is always busy on the weekends. It has many bars to choose from, so that's always a plus.

* Try jianbing if you can. It's a kind of street food, but it's probably one of the best things I've eaten in all of China. It's a thin pancake made with eggs and is usually cooked right in front of you. A spicy sauce and chives are then added on. I also add cheese to mine, but a lot of people don't. It should be under 10 kuai for one, so it's cheap, too!

* If you love Disney, there's always Shanghai Disney to try to visit as well. You could easily spend all day here as is the case with most Disney theme parks.

* If you're going to be in Shanghai for more than a few days or are coming back, I recommend the South Bund Fabric Market where you can get tailor-made clothes. This wasn't ideal for Amy since her time was limited. You can bring pictures of what you want to be made, and the seamstresses will try their best to recreate them.

Would you like to visit or revisit Shanghai?
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