As some of you know, I used to live in Shanghai—I moved there six years ago today, in fact. My time in the city, which saw me teach English and ultimately, find my way into the world of digital media, quite literally changed my life. This Shanghai itinerary is good, though I’m not sure it’ll be quite that impactful.
To be sure, while spending nearly eight months in Shanghai was a character-building experience, you don’t need nearly that much time to get acquainted with China’s proverbial city above the sea. In fact, much of what there is to see and do there is so readily accessible that 3 days in Shanghai is all you need for a proper introduction.
Whether you’re interested in reading through my anecdotes or are simply curious about how many days to spend in Shanghai, read my Shanghai 3 days itinerary below!
Where to Stay in Shanghai
Choosing proper Shanghai hotels is an essential first step to seeing Shanghai in 3 days without going crazy. When I lived in Shanghai, I rented an apartment near Hengshan Road in Xuhui, one of the neighborhoods in the city’s famous French Concession.
These days, you can find many Airbnb apartments in and around this area, as well as residential listings via popular online travel agencies such as Booking.com. (I pray that you find an apartment more comfortable and with a less moronic one than the first of two Shanghai apartments I lived in during my time in the city!)
While the older part of Shanghai is picturesque, I do think it’s better to stay near the Huangpu River (i.e. with views of Shanghai’s incredible skyline) if you come as a traveler. One place I’ve really taken a liking to during my subsequent visits to Shanghai is the Astor House Hotel, a restored historical hotel north of the city’s iconic Bund.
Or, stay at the high-luxury Park Hyatt Shanghai, which will make you feel like royalty (or, at least, a very rich member of the Communist party) during your three days in Shanghai.
How to Divide Up 3 Days in Shanghai
Day One: It’s Lujiazui, Not Pudong
The Huangpu River is the defining geographical feature of Shanghai, dividing the city into two basic parts: Puxi, on the west (“xi”) side; and Pudong, on the east (“dong”) side. I mention this not only to help orient you, but to call attention to one of the biggest mistakes guidebooks make, which is referring to Shanghai’s skyscrapers as the “Pudong skyline.”
While buildings like the Jin Mao Tower, Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the almost-completed Shanghai Tower are technically in Pudong, they are more specifically in the Lujiazui area, where I recommend you spend your first evening in Shanghai. Whether you ascend to the observation deck of the Shanghai World Financial Center or simply traipse around the base of the skyscrapers like the little human ant you are, trust me on one thing: There isn’t a whole lot to see in Pudong outside of Lujiazui, which means that it won’t occupy much of your Shanghai itinerary 3 days or otherwise.
Day Two: Perusing Shanghai’s Past in Puxi
Much of what to do in Shanghai is on the west side of the river, in Puxi. Wake up early the next morning—before dawn if you can. Then, walk (if you’re staying at Astor House Hotel) or take a taxi to Shanghai’s historical Bund, a long row of 1920s-era buildings along the Huangpu River just across from the skyscrapers of Lujiazui. If it’s not cloudy or smoggy (fair warning: it probably will be), stay here to watch one of the most incredible city sunrises in the world.
Afterwards, walk down East Nanjing Road to the subway station of the same name, then ride Line 10 of the Shanghai Metro to Yuyuan Gardens, which is near the top of the list when it comes to what do in Shanghai in 3 days. Here, you’ll not only find a variety of traditional Shanghai foods (namely dumplings) to fulfill your breakfast and/or lunch needs, but one of the most complete (and, frankly, only) collections of traditional Chinese architecture in Shanghai—Beijing the city is not.
From here, navigate the metro system to West Nanjing Road, where you’ll find Jing’an Temple, a reconstructed third-century temple whose beauty is greatly enhanced by the skyscrapers around it. Spend the rest of your afternoon exploring the surrounding French Concession neighborhoods (Huaihai and Hengshan roads are among the most picturesque), or by riding the metro to People’s Square and visiting Shanghai Museum.
End your day much in the way you started it: By walking down East Nanjing Road, which is much more exciting by night, thanks to its incredible neon lights. Even if you don’t plan to bar hop all night, get a night cap at one of the fancy bars on the Bund, such as Bar Rouge, whose skyline views alone are worth the high price of a cocktail there.