Shanghai was initially added haphazardly onto my Asia touring itinerary because I had a stopover there anyway. I figured why not extend that layover from a couple of hours at the airport to a couple of days in the bustling city! 48 hours was certainly a good amount of time for me, but of course only allowed me to scratch the surface of all the city has to offer. If you also plan to spend such a short time in Shanghai you will want to plan ahead and make sure you’re ticking all the boxes. After all this is the largest city in mainland China and as such there’s tons to explore, whether your interests are cultural, culinary, historical or whatever else.

Here’s a rough guide to the best of Shanghai, so you can get the most out of your 48 hours.

Travelettes | 48 Hours in Shanghai

Street Food

Now, I don’t travel just to sample the local cuisine, but there is no denying that it is a large part of what I enjoy when I travel! Food can be a great way to learn about a culture, and Shanghai has so many delicious options for street foods, from dumplings to noodles, wontons and more. Your best bet for some hot, yummy eats is to head to one of the markets, such as Fangbang Xi Lu.

48 Hours in Shanghai - Street Food in Zhujiajiao
photo by Luca Casartelli via Flickr


Tea has long been an important part of the culture of Shanghai. Some of the best teas in the world come from trade routes passing through Shanghai. Stop at a teahouse such as Yu Garden, where they offer tea samples prior to making a purchase. Teahouses can also be a great place to pause midway through a long afternoon of sightseeing so you can rest your feet while still exploring the culture by people-watching!


Some of Shanghai’s best museums offer free or cheap admission prices, so there’s no reason not to check out one or more during your trip. The Shanghai Museum holds what is arguably the mainland’s best collection of ancient Chinese artifacts, from jade to china and more. The Shanghai Art Palace (sometimes known as the China Art Museum) is a great place to explore the development of Chinese art in print, sculpture and other artistic media.

Travelettes | 48 Hours in Shanghai


Beyond the museums, you can learn about the history of this port city by taking a look at the buildings. The city was originally split into sections with different foreign rulers; now wandering through the Bund has a very classic British feel, whereas the French concession area has the atmosphere of Paris in the 1920s. Note that the Bund is also where you will find that classic snapshot of the Shanghai skyline! For traditional Chinese architecture head to the Yuyuan Gardens.

Travelettes | 48 Hours in Shanghai


Another great place to see traditional Chinese architecture and get an in-depth experience of the culture is in the historic water-towns. Shanghai is the Venice of the East and there are a bunch of amazing little towns in various sections of the city and beyond where the residents live beside and commute on the waterways. Many of these charge steep fees to visit, but if you are only able to visit for a short time, check out some of the cheaper (but still very impressive) water-towns such as Fengjing, one of the best-preserved towns, or Zhujiajiao, with its natural lake.

48 Hours in Shanghai - Jing’an Temple
photo by Silvia Sala via Flickr


Shanghai’s Jing’an Temple is relatively modern, but it is an important reconstruction of an earlier temple. The design is true to the original and you get the chance to view a fantastic collection of Buddhist and Daoist icons, including the largest jade Buddha statue in China. It is well worth it to explore this side of Chinese culture.


The politics of China are fascinating to many Westerners and I am no exception! I especially loved my visit to the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre. It was a little difficult to find, but it offered an amazing look into Chinese culture and politics over the last fifty or so years.

Travelettes | 48 Hours in Shanghai

A Note on Online Access in China

Since Shanghai was just a stopover for me on my way to other places in Asia, I was keen to do some research for the rest of my trip as well. Unfortunately though, as you may know, the Chinese government has many restrictions in place to censor which websites you can visit while you are in the country. I was not even able to access my Gmail account and double check my flight reservations!

To avoid any inconveniences, I would recommend you set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) prior to your trip – there are loads of free options available. This tool is available for smartphones, laptops and tablets and it will hide your IP address so you can get around location-based restrictions on websites. Definitely a life-saver!


Shanghai is an amazing city that makes for an exciting weekend getaway, business trip or stopover. Of course, that initial 48 hours will only leave you wanting to return as soon as possible so you can glimpse more of what the city has to offer!

Have you visited Shanghai? What were your best experiences there? Share your stories below!

Pin for later:

Travelettes | 48h in Shanghai

This is a guest post by Jess Signet.

Jess Signet is an avid traveler who enjoys writing about her adventures. Jess has been a full-time traveler for around 2 years and has no plans to slow down any time soon. Jess has spent a great deal of time exploring Asia and has a particular interest in China and Chinese culture. You can keep up with Jess on Twitter here: @Jessstravels