Sick and tired of the same ol’ guides to Shanghai you’re coming across on the internet? Why do they all recommend the same cheesy places anyway, do they all copy each other or something?
Well, you’ve come to the right place.
The first time I went to Shanghai was back in 2012 for a university exchange program. I stayed in the city for more than three months.
But when I returned this year, I realised the Shanghai I knew is now a completely different Shanghai to the one today. What do you do then when you return, but have already seen all the tourist attractions?
I mean, honestly, these tourist attractions have now boomed into cash cows. Think Tianzifang, which was filled with genuine artists four years ago. Now? It’s a street full of big brands that have multiple stores scattered on every corner of the once authentic alleyways.
However, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t visit the major locations. By all means, please do, especially if you haven’t yet! Head to The Bund, check out the Oriental Pearl Tower, dance with the locals in Yu Garden.
For this particular guide to 24 hours in Shanghai, though, we’re gonna play it unconventional and trendy. So without further ado, here’s the Unconventional Guide to 24 Hours in Shanghai.
8:00AM: Rise and shine
Good morning! It’s 8AM, the sun is bright and… my description ends here, because there is only one 8 o’clock in the day for me.
However, you’re on vacation. Stop wasting your time, whether you’ve just arrived at the airport after an overnight flight or have had a full night’s rest. Get out and explore the stunning city you’re now in.
In this guide to 24 hours in Shanghai, I’m going to begin with two recommendations for places to stay in during your visit.
Wake up in your perfect AirBnB – because who still stays in hotels today anyway? Your grandfather? Plus, you can pick your budget, your location, the type of design you like. This is the perfect minimalist AirBnB I stayed in, just minutes away from the town centre.
The AirBnB I stayed in can actually accommodate up to four people. How, I don’t know, because there is only a double bed and a smaller, side bed. But I only went with my boyfriend, so it was more than enough for us.
If you’re looking to save up, make sure your AirBnB has a kitchen space to cook. It’s always cheaper to eat in than out, though who’d want to make their own food in Shanghai? The streets are lined with dirt cheap grub.
The Waterhouse at South Bund
If you do have the money though, I recommend staying at The Waterhouse at South Bund. The stunning architecture of this boutique design hotel will get you up bright and early every morning. Guaranteed.
A former dockyard building and warehouse, The Waterhouse at South Bund has a history tracing back to the 1930s. Shanghai-based architecture firm Neri & Hu Design and Research Office restored the old constructions and transformed it into a truly unique space.
8:30AM: Morning fuel
But first, coffee. Oh, and food. Because what guide to 24 hours in Shanghai would be complete without food recommendations, given the affordable abundance of restaurants and cafés? If you can’t choose, I’ve narrowed it down for you.
Baker & Spice
Known for its pastries, Baker & Spice stays true to its name and serves up a delicious, affordable brunch. And most importantly, it’s trendy as… ahem. It is a chain café run by Wagas, so you’ll have to make sure you visit the original branch on Anfu Road, which is arguably the most photogenic of their shops.
Baker & Spice has fresh baked goods made daily which you can buy for takeaway if you’re in a rush. But you’re on vacation, so sit down, grab a coffee, and people watch from your very Instagram-worthy seat.
9:30AM: Visit a museum
“Culture is the air we breathe all around us.” – Josh Fox
Okay, I just googled “culture quotes” and picked the best one to sound smart.
There are two routes down this cultural path I’d recommend: seeing an exhibition at an art gallery and going to a museum. It all depends on what’s on and what you’re interested in!
I visited the Long Museum West Bund while I was in Shanghai. I was strapped for time, so my primary goal was to check out the architecture of the museum building itself. But you, you should get a ticket and explore the exhibition that’s on inside!
Long Museum West Bund
Not to be mistaken with the museum of the same name in Pudong, the Long Museum West Bund is a stunning restored coal transportation wharf that houses one of the largest private collections in China. You can be assured you’ll be seeing quality art inside, as the founders handpick their exhibitions with the aim to promote cultural education in mind.
The bonus of visiting Long Museum West Bund as opposed to other museums in Shanghai is the stunning architecture. The project was shortlisted for the Design Museum’s 2015 Designs of the Year awards, making it the ultimate paradise for photographers.
Read more: Why You Must Visit Long Museum West Bund
12:00PM: See an art exhibition
When it comes to art, where else to dip into your inner artist than an art gallery?
My gallery of choice was very specific. I visited the Magda Danysz Gallery with the goal to see Charles Pétillon’s photography exhibition. It blew my socks off (and was very Instagram-worthy).
Magda Danysz Gallery
Magda Danysz has three galleries worldwide: in London, in Paris and in Shanghai. Charles Pétillon rotated his installation and photography exhibition, Invasions, through the three locations. Shanghai was the second stop, and at the time of Invasions’ showing, I was in the city.
It was everything I wanted in an art exhibition. It had a mixture of media featuring built structure and photography, demonstrated a deeper meaning tied to humanity and nature, and most of all? It was photogenic.
2:00PM: Go café-hopping
Oops, you’ve missed lunch now. But it’s fine since millennials and trendy people don’t eat anyway.*
Plus, you can grab a light afternoon snack at my next recommendations.
In continuation of getting cultured in our guide to 24 hours in Shanghai, what better way to experience the atmosphere of Shanghai than to visit their most trendy cafés? After all, coffee is an art. Step into a local youngster’s shoes and head on to these top three Instagram-worthy cafés in the city.
* I’m joking, I don’t advocate fad diets in any way. Please eat.
Legend has it that Aunn Café offers one of the best cuppas in Shanghai. I can’t confirm that legend for you, unfortunately, because I’m not a coffee drinker. But if anything, the architecture of the café is enough to make you go there.
Spread over two floors, furnished with 3D printed chairs and designer lighting fixtures, the minimalist coffee shop is rarely empty even on weekdays. Hear it firsthand from me that a seat is worth fighting for just to enjoy the ambience of Aunn Café. Instagram to your heart’s content.
Wasn’t Aunn Café delightful? Well, there’s more to see at Seesaw Coffee. Opened by the same founder, this coffee shop is really something altogether when it comes to architecture. Make sure you visit the branch at Yuyuan Road. Seesaw Coffee has both an indoor and outdoor area for your choosing, but if it’s not raining or sweltering hot, you must choose to sit in the courtyard.
The main character of beautiful space is an unmissable spiral staircase that brings you upwards to the rest of Jing’an Design Centre, where Seesaw Coffee is located inside. It’s undoubtedly one of the most trendy spots in Shanghai for Instagram photos.
4:00PM: Enslave your Instagram husband
In the late afternoon of our most upcoming guide to 24 hours in Shanghai, what better thing to do than to take advantage of the brief break between tea and dinner to take photos for social media? I mean obviously, you ain’t trendy until the whole world sees it.
Go grab your Instagram husbands, grab your Instagram wives, and let’s get snapping. If you’re travelling solo, a tripod does wonders. *wink*
SOHO Fuxing Plaza
When I visited the city, I took the time to visit two very unconventional spots that put the U in our Unconventional Guide to 24 Hours in Shanghai. Two commercial buildings. Say whaaaat? Well, these buildings aren’t just office buildings. They’re sleek, modern and definitely contemporary when it comes to design.
SOHO Fuxing Plaza is my favourite of the two. Located at the Li Long-inspired site of SOHO Fuxing Road in the Huaihai central business district, the building stands tall and unmissable. You’ll know where the jaw-dropping photography hotspot is as soon as you enter the office tower. The lift lobby is really something altogether. Don’t I look like I just stepped into a sci-fi movie in the photos above?
The Exchange SOHO
The second place to drag your Instagram husband to with your remaining time is The Exchange SOHO. Like SOHO Fuxing Plaza, The Exchange SOHO is also an office tower. The skyscraper is conveniently located in the core of West Nanjing Road’s central business district. No excuses for not going.
Again, you’ll feel as if you’ve travelled to the future as soon as you enter the building. The designated photo spot is a few steps in. It’s a large-scale spiral staircase that reaches up to the banquet floors. Check out the location tag on Instagram for ways you can frame your photo. My snaps above don’t do the staircase justice because unfortunately, the guard wouldn’t let me up when I visited. 🙁
6:00PM: Time to grub (again)
What’s that? Did I hear your stomach rumble? No wonder, serves you right for skipping lunch just to go café-hopping. Kids these days.
It’s six in the evening, so let’s move quickly before the office workers rush out for their evening drinks. Leave the traditional xiaolongbao for another day. Tonight, we’re going to eat good and feel good at the same time at a vegetarian restaurant that is all the rage right now.
Pure & Whole
Post-dumpling guilt is no more at Pure & Whole, a plant-based restaurant in the Jing’an District.
Vegetarian or not, this healthy destination has been a hit with locals and tourists alike since its opening. The eatery has three branches spread around Shanghai, making nutritious dining within a modern setting a convenient option.
I went to the Yanping Road shop and spent ages going through the menu because everything sounded scrumptious. It was lunch time when I visited, so my Instagram husband and I both got set meals with drinks and appetisers. Our vegetable paella and detox salad were so good. Even though there was no meat in our food, we left the restaurant fully satisfied – stuffed, actually. We couldn’t finish our meals and had to grab the leftovers to-go!
If you’re still hankering after those dumplings, Pure & Whole does offer a vegetarian jiaozi. It’s filled with a plethora of vegetables wrapped in rice paper and served with cashew sauce. Much better than the streetside fake pork meat, am I right?
Pure & Whole
98 Yanping Road, Jing’an District, Shanghai
+021 5175 9822
9:00PM: Night night, sleep tight
So that’s about it for this guide to 24 hours in Shanghai. Walk off your food baby from dinner on the beautiful streets of Jing’an and have a safe return to back to your AirBnB, or back to The Waterhouse at South Bund. Get to sleep early. The real trendy youngsters may still be out clubbing or whatnot, but that’s enough unconventional activities for the day. For now, let’s play it safe and rest up for what’s to come tomorrow.
Thank you for sticking by and reading this Unconventional Guide to 24 Hours in Shanghai! It’s longer than my usual blog posts and took forever to piece together, so I hope you enjoyed it. Please go through my entire Shanghai series (links below) for more details on each of the locations I’ve covered. If you have any further questions, feel free email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment down below – I’m a quick replier!
- Minimalist AirBnB in Shanghai for White Addicts
- Why You Must Visit Long Museum West Bund
- 3 Instagram-Worthy Cafés in Shanghai You Must Visit
- 3 Essential Ingredients for a Balloon Takeover
- Forget AirBnB, You Need to See This Design Hotel
- 2 Photogenic Commercial Buildings in Shanghai You Cannot Miss
- An Unconventional Guide to 24 Hours in Shanghai
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