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5 things to do in Shanghai on a budget

Nihao! Or should I say, hello! If you’re reading this, chances are you’re highlighting some tips in your Chinese travel book and packing your bags for Shanghai – or at least you should be. Shanghai is known as the Oriental Paris, not because you can find macrons and baguettes around every corner but because of its unique blend of East and West. As China’s biggest and most prosperous city, Shanghai rivals iconic cities like New York in terms of modernity as well as Paris for its aesthetics. But just like any major city in the world, it does carry around some hefty prices tags. Worry not though, for I have a list of the best things to do in Shanghai that’ll put both you and your wallet at ease.

1. Marriage market

Why spend hours on Tinder swiping left and not finding love when you can have someone find your true love for you? Shanghai’s marriage market is a great place to browse profiles on any given Saturday or Sunday afternoon – think farmer’s market meets blind dating. And while most profiles don’t have pictures or state names, salary and home ownership is usually available. Financial security is very important in China, so this information is critical for any union. Even if you’re not keen on getting married, it’s an interesting experience to browse the profiles and see firsthand the Chinese culture around marriage and courtship.

2. The Bund

The Bund, or Waitan (Outer Beach in Shanghainese) as the locals call it, is a waterfront area in the heart of Shanghai that offers some fantastic views of the cityscape and is what you always imagined Shanghai to look like – Oriental Paris sans Eiffel Tower. It’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city and if you’re an architecture buff, the 52 buildings found here range in various architectural styles from Art Deco to Neo-Classical and Gothic Revival.

3. The Shanghai French Concession

From 1849 until 1956, this foreign concession in Shanghai was the premier residential and retail district. If you’re a fan of Art Deco, then this is the place to be. Get a true understanding of the “Oriental Paris” nickname by exploring the district’s European-style cafes, beautiful gardens, and hole-in-the-wall eateries. Between Xintiandi in the East, Tianzifang in the South, and Fuxing Middle Road in the West, you can also do a self-guided walking tour to really get a feel for this place. Don’t miss Xintiandi, a pedestrian-only upmarket made for shopping and eating. This area is also made up of shikumen houses, narrow alleys, and cobblestone courtyards. You can also see the site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which has now been preserved as a museum.

4. 50 Moganshan Road

50 Moganshan Road, or “M50” for all you cool cats out there, is known as the contemporary art district of Shanghai and for good reason. Many famous local artists have left their footprint here, including the likes of Ding Yi, Qu Fengguo, and Wang Xingwei. Several of the factories and warehouses have also been made into art galleries, artist studios that you can browse for free. It’s pretty much a hipster’s paradise.

5. Zhongshan Park

While I love exploring the city sites, my favorite places in any large city are the parks and natural areas that allow you to get away from the hustle and bustle and maybe squeeze in a little training. The older generation in Shanghai has realized this fact, and that’s why Zhongshan Park is the ideal place for watching older people exercise through synchronized dancing. If you’re not too embarrassed, you should join in. Hey, when in Shanghai, right?

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