Free things to do in Shanghai

When it comes to ranking world cities on glitz and glam, Shanghai would be near the top of the list. While you could spend your time taking in the infectious vibe of the city and splashing a bit of cash, you can quite easily enjoy the city without emptying your bank account. Read on and we’ll share our top free things to do in Shanghai.

Visit the Bund

free things to do in Shanghai - A view of the Bund at night, photo/They Get Around

A view of the Bund at night, photo/They Get Around

Shanghai, but more broadly China is growing. Nowhere else is this notion of rapid growth more evident than the Bund. Soaring skyscrapers which illuminate the night sky are neatly packed along the Pudong side of the Huangpu River. The Bund is the perfect place to visit at any time for photography but I’d strongly suggest at either sunrise or sunset if you’re after a photo which will have some wow factor to it. You can spend hours walking along the promenade sightseeing, taking in the beauty of the 19th century colonial architecture and meeting people. Since The Bund is an iconic attraction within China it attracts Chinese tourists from all over the country. Often these Chinese tourists come from provinces where seeing foreigners is quite rare so don’t be surprised if you’re asked to pose for a few photos. You could be leaving the Bund feeling like a B grade celebrity.

The Grand Hyatt

free things to do in Shanghai - A view of the Grand Hyatt, photo, They Get Around

A view of the Grand Hyatt, photo/They Get Around

Once again the Bund is the main feature, however this time the view is from above. If you can make it to the Grand Hyatt’s lobby on the 54th floor, you’ll be able to soak in the amazing view from this unique angle. It’s free to enter the lobby, as it’s used also as a promotional tool for potential guests, and to help sway them into staying the night. You can feel free to explore and take in the glowing lights of the city. Just be courteous and discrete as setting up a tripod may not go down so well.

Visit East Nanjing Road

Free things to do in Shanghai - East Nanjing Road at night, photo They Get Around

East Nanjing Road at night, photo/They Get Around

While it’s completely free to visit, you may end up walking away from East Nanjing Road having spent a little. This is the city’s main shopping street.  You’ll discover both designer and non-designer clothing, make up, jewelry, shoes, and food stores. If none of that takes your fancy you can always wait until dusk when the fluorescent lighting begins to come alive. This will give you some interesting photo opportunities. The bombardment of advertising is reminiscent of Tokyo or Bladerunner.

Yu Garden

Free things to do in Shanghai - Shanghai Yu Garden at night, photo They Get Around

Shanghai Yu Garden at night, photo/They Get Around

Another site which comes alive at night, but is equally as impressive during the day, is Yu Garden. Located in the old part of Shanghai, the over 400-year-old gardens showcase classic Chinese style architecture. There are two sections at the gardens; the outside of the garden and the shopping district are free. If you want to wander inside the gardens and explore, you’ll need to pay an admission price. However if you’re content appreciating the architecture from the outside, you can save a few dollars. Outside the entrance you’ll see traditional Chinese buildings (although unfortunately most of these are filled with restaurants) and a water garden.

Visit Old Shanghai

free things to do in Shanghai - Old Shanghai at night photo/They Get Around

Old Shanghai at night photo/They Get Around

While you’re in the area visiting the Yu Garden, a quick two minute walk in any direction will allow you to wander into the old part of town. Shanghai is a bustling city which is always moving forward. Because of this a lot of the older sections of the city are being destroyed by progress. They’re replacing the old buildings with shopping malls and large apartment blocks. This makes for some interesting photos. Get in and see Old Shanghai while you can!

French Concession

Free things to do in Shanghai - House in Xintiandi, a fashionable neighborhood in the French Concession, photo Irene Levine

One of the wonderful old houses in Xintiandi, an affluent neighborhood in the former French Concession, photo/Irene Levine

Compared with the rest of China, Shanghai is very metropolitan. Shanghai has had influences from many Western countries including Britain, the United States, Russia, and France. The French Concession is probably the most famous, with some buildings giving the illusion of having stepped out of France itself. Taking a walk through the French Concession is a great way to spend the day, and is one of the best free things to do in Shanghai.

While you may expect Shanghai to be expensive, there are numerous things to see and do to help keep your budget down. Undoubtedly, the Bund is the most famous attraction of this busy city, and you can take in the view for free. A lot of the free things to do in Shanghai will help you delve into the city’s culture and architecture. I hope this post gives you many ideas so that you can spend your time in Shanghai wisely and inexpensively.

What are your favorite free things to do in Shanghai?

Lexi and Steve are two young Australians who write about travel photography tips and scenic travel on their blog They Get Around. They record almost every day of their travels on their YouTube channel and share their photographs on Instagram.

French Connection photo courtesy Irene S. Levine of More Time to Travel

Read more posts in our free things to do series:

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5 free things to do in Seattle
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Free things to do in Ipoh, Malaysia
Free things to do in Budapest
11 free things to do in Edinburgh
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Free things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Free things to do in Ottawa
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5 free things to do in Copenhagen
5 free things to do in Barcelona
Free things to do in Paris the City of Lights
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4 Responses to “Free things to do in Shanghai”

  1. Christine - The Dime Travelers
    May 25, 2017 at 5:29 pm #

    Such great ideas of free things to do!! Hopefully I’ll make it to visit Old Shanghai before it’s all gone!

  2. Amarante
    May 31, 2017 at 12:20 pm #

    Hello Billie, Hello Steve, sounds like a great adventure you both had since 1973. I did travel quite some too and love it. This winter I will go to Asia, I haven’t been to China yet but Shanghai seems to be a great place to visit. Thanks for the tips. I am based in Spain, Barcelona in case you pas by. Cheers

    • Billie Frank
      May 31, 2017 at 8:37 pm #

      Hello Amarante- that was a guest post. We haven’t been to Shanghai either.

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