Shanghai: 5 essential experiences not to miss in China’s financial centre

The sun rises over Shanghai, China

This article was first published as part of ‘A Concierge Guide to Shanghai‘, a curated complimentary guide of the Chinese metropolis available to members of Westpac Concierge and Lifestyle Services.

With its futuristic skyline rubbing shoulders with ancient temples, finding your way around Shanghai is as daunting as it’s exhilarating. Although the likes of The Bund and Pudong never get old, there’s much more to the city than cloud-busting skyscrapers. From soaking up the vibe at a quaint coffee house in the former French Concession to visiting the city’s markets or spending a day exploring the peripheral water towns, we’ve rounded up essential experiences filled with local perspective on this magnificent city.

Shanghai Postal Museum
Shanghai Postal Museum is one of the landmarks of downtown Shanghai.

As the third biggest city in the world, with more than 27 million residents, Shanghai’s rise as one of the most important global metropolises has been as swift as it has been spectacular. While this rapid development across the city, from the population to the vertiginous skyscrapers, might make you think it’s nothing more than an ultra-modern city, its storied history – from the Ming Dynasty through to the International Settlement of the 19th century and its recent rebirth – is writ large across this vast territory. From third-century temples to observation towers boasting incredible views across the city, Shanghai is a one-stop must for any traveller.

It’s the kind of city where just a little extra insider knowledge will unlock a world of new experiences. Westpac Concierge travel experts know the city inside out and can unlock a world of experiences to help you make the most of your visit. And if you’re a Westpac cardholder, you might already be eligible this service.

Top things to do in Shanghai

Step into history in Shanghai Old Town

Shanghai Old Town
Shanghai, China, the traditional ancient architectures of the Yuyuan Garden district

The area where the city’s walls were erected during the Ming Dynasty, Shanghai Old Town is steeped in history. During the concession era in the 19th century, the indigenous population lived here, and the area remains authentically Chinese to this day. Visit the Old Town Bazaar, the City God Temple, and the Dajing Ge Pavilion, which incorporates the last surviving section of the city wall, for a slice of old China.

Pro tip: Our travel experts’ favourite stop is the 400-year-old walled-off Yu Garden, where you can enjoy relaxing views and what are believed to be the city’s most authentic xiaolongbao or steamed meat buns from Nanxiang Bun Shop.

Scale the heights of the city’s skyscrapers

Jinmao Tower

In just a little more than 30 years, the city has been completely transformed and one need only look at its financial district of Pudong to witness this dramatic makeover. The tallest of which is the Shanghai Tower. Reaching 632m, it’s a mainstay of Shanghai’s modern skyline and offers some of the most dazzling views of the city.

Pro tip: We recommend also visiting Jinmao Tower – although only 420.5m high, its Skywalk offers unrivalled panoramic vistas none of the other taller buildings have.

Sip a cup of coffee in the former French Concession

A treelined alley in the Former French Concession area of Shanghai, China
A treelined alley in the Former French Concession area of Shanghai, China

What was once the base of the jet-setting elite, a trip to the former French Concession is a must. Walking among the gorgeous tree-lined avenues and the grand, beautifully preserved colonial-style mansions, you’ll soon forget the futuristic Pudong. West of this area is a hipster’s paradise, jam-packed with coffee shops, cool sneaker shops, experimental art galleries, and vinyl shops.

Pro tip: Independent coffee houses are buzzing in Shanghai these days, and the former French Concession is packed with these cafes featuring cool vibes with a local feel. From a Japanese hand-dripped brew at Rumors Coffee and a French-style coffee at RAC Coffee & Bar, to freshly roasted beans at Café del Volcan, a visit to the area will percolate your love for coffee.

Immerse yourself in the ancient water towns of China

The old town of Zhujiajiao Water Town.

While Shanghai’s concrete jungle might seem never-ending, just a two-hour drive from The Bund you’ll find several ancient water towns that demand a visit. Often referred to as the Venice of China, Zhujiajiao is a great contrast to the vibrant city. The area has plenty of ancient bridges, willow-shaded waterways, traditional tiled-roofed Ming homes, and quiet side streets.

Pro tip: The trip to Zhujiajiao takes about an hour from downtown Shanghai by car, and our travel experts are here to assist with booking your private transfer. We recommend visiting on a weekday to avoid the domestic tourist crowds who usually go on weekends. 

Explore the city’s markets

Caged birds for sale at Shanghai market

One way to really get under the skin of Shanghai and learn about its complex culture, is to take a trip to one of its many markets. The South Bund Fabric Market, where you can get a tailor-made suit at a fraction of the cost; the mesmerising Caojiadu Bird and Flower Market; the Qipu Road Clothing Market, boasting the city’s largest selection of wholesale high-street fashion brands; and the Tianshan Tea Market are among our members favourites.

Pro tip: If your schedule permits it, we always recommend our members make a trip to the Huxi Mosque on a Friday afternoon. This is when members of the Muslim community gather outside the mosque to cook and sell authentic, traditional Middle Eastern dishes at what is considered one of the most unique and exciting street food markets in the city.

When you’re ready to embark on an exciting adventure, the travel and dining experts at Westpac Concierge can with every aspect of your travel, including booking flights and arranging hotel nights with upgrades. Remember yo check if you’re eligible for the service already.


Aude Camus

Parisian-born Aude visited her first restaurant aged just a few days old – now she's always ready for her next meal. When not interviewing award-winning chefs or looking for a new restaurant to visit, you’ll find her planning her next getaway from Hong Kong where she’s lived since 2015. Her travel writing has appeared in online publications such as Destination Deluxe and The Hotel Journal, and she runs a lifestyle platform for French expats living in Hong Kong.

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