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Layover in Shanghai: Tips for Getting the Most Out of your Visit

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Dreaming of visiting China? If you’ve ever borne more than a passing interest in it, you’ll know that getting in hasn’t always been the most straightforward process for travellers!

Fortunately, things are changing.

In recent years, China has begun loosening its restrictive visa restrictions. Now, travellers can finally have a chance to take a quick peek inside on a layover in Shanghai. This is without all the hassles and paperwork that once stopped all but the most patient of adventurers.

If you’ve got an upcoming trip to Asia planned, there’s hardly better city to take advantage of China’s new visa policies than Shanghai.

There’s a little of everything in China’s biggest city—from traditional architecture & mouth-watering street food to one of the world’s most exciting skylines & some surprisingly lovely and leafy neighbourhoods.

Want to get the most out of a short visit? Start planning your trip with these tips for the perfect layover in Shanghai!

Heading to Beijing instead? Check out what to do on a layover in Beijing.

Skyline - Layover In Shanghai

Arriving in Shanghai: What you need to know

Not so long ago, visiting Shanghai meant committing yourself to a bureaucratic nightmare. As of recently, however, visitors from 53 countries—including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and most European countries!—can transit through Shanghai for up to 144 hours without a visa.

Yep, that’s huge.

Getting the 144-hour visa-free entry for Shanghai doesn’t require much-advanced planning, but there are a few things you need to know:

  1. Visitors who arrive in Shanghai must stay within the Shanghai-Jiangsu-Zhejiang region. The area also includes the cities of Suzhou, Nanjing, and Hangzhou.
  2. The 144-hour countdown starts at 00:00 on the day after your arrival.
  3. Visitors need to transit to a third country after Shanghai. You cannot simply fly to another city in China. (Although Hong Kong or Macau can be your third “country” as they have different visa regulations than Mainland China).

If you’re unsure about anything, check with the Chinese embassy in your home country before booking your tickets.

Shanghai on a layover: What to do on a time-crunch

The Bund-Layover In Shanghai
The Bund

One of the best parts about visiting Shanghai is the wide variety of things to do. Whether you’re interested in modern or traditional Chinese architecture or merely want to spend all your time chowing down on the region’s best foods, there’s a ton you can experience in Shanghai—even on a time-crunch.

Not sure where to start? Here are a few ideas for what to do in Shanghai:

  • The Bund: You can’t visit Shanghai without a walk along The Bund. This lovely riverside boardwalk, lined with elegant architecture left over from the British and the French, exudes more than a passing European vibe. If you decide to spend more than 24 hours in Shanghai, be sure to visit at night for spectacular views across the Huangpu River to the Pudong Skyline.
  • Old City: If you’re looking to catch a glimpse of ancient Shanghai, head over to the Old City. Although it’s not quite as authentic as one might hope, it’s still a wonderful area to stroll around and soak up the atmosphere. Try to squeeze in a visit to the lovely Yuyuan Garden, an oasis of traditional Chinese architecture sprinkled with souvenir shops, gardens, teahouses, and ponds.
  • Lujiazui: Scoot across the Huangpu River for a closer look at Shanghai’s modern financial centre in Pudong. Be sure to scope out the skyline from above in one of Shanghai’s tallest buildings. My recommendation is to zip up to the observations decks of either the Shanghai World Financial Center or the slightly new—and even taller!—Shanghai Tower.
  • Old French Concession: With a little extra time to explore Shanghai, I’d highly recommend heading a little further afoot into the Old French Concession. With its shady, leafy boulevards and European-style cafés & townhouses, this sprawling neighbourhood feels more like Paris than a district in China’s largest city. Settle in for a coffee, tea, beer or a bite to eat in the Xintiandi or Tianzifang areas to catch a glimpse of Shanghai in the early-20th century.
  • Huanghe Food Street: When eating is high on your Shanghai layover agenda, beeline for Huanghe Food Street, just minutes from People’s Park in the centre of the city. Along this short stretch of road, you’ll find a wide assortment of tasty restaurants serving some of Shanghai’s most toothsome foods. Grab a bite at one of the city’s two most famous eating joints: Yang’s Fried Dumplings for a taste of shengjianbao (fried dumplings) or Jia Jia Tang Bao for the Shanghai’s more notorious xiaolongbao (steamed dumplings).
Old Street - Layover In Shanghai
Old Street

Getting around Shanghai

While I’d never rank Shanghai as one of the world’s most walkable cities, it’s not so hard to get around either. On a short layover, you can tackle many of Shanghai’s most exciting tourist attractions with a combination of walking and the metro.

I’d highly recommend picking up a Maglev & Metro Pass on arrival. For RMB85, this combo ticket will give you a return ticket for the Maglev train between the city and Pudong Airport as well as 24 hours of unlimited rides on the Shanghai Metro.

Where to stay in Shanghai

When you’re tight for time, among the best areas to stay in Shanghai is the city centre to the west of the Huangpu River.

There’s a large selection of high-quality accommodations here with plenty of transportation options available to get you moving around the city and back to the airport for your next flight with ease.

Some of the best hotels in the area include the Campanile Shanghai Bund Hotel for travellers seeking good value central accommodations, Shanghai Marriott Hotel City Centre for mid-range travellers or The Peninsula Shanghai for anyone looking to experience the ultimate in Oriental luxury.

About The Author

Ryan O’Rourke is a part-time Canadian travel aficionado and the founder of Treksplorer, a fiercely-independent guide to mid-range & luxury travel for busy professionals.