A Little Glitz… Trendy Shanghai’s Got it Going On With Many Things to Do

Last updated on November 14, 2021

Color me pleasantly surprised by  days wandering the tidy and tall streets of Shanghai, China. I rarely love big cities; as a product of America’s sprawling suburbia, the busy sidewalks, gridlock traffic and the lack of greenery and earth cause overwhelm within a day or two. Couple this with a penchant toward minimalism and the glitzy and trendy Shanghai was an unexpected pleasure with some creative things to do that you won’t find in other cities.

You see, Shanghai’s streets are clean and the glass-window buildings  scale straight up into the sky, endless reflections of clouds, blue haze, and other jutting towers. My visiting friends from back home splurged on a gorgeous hotel on the edge of Shanghai’s chic walking street, giving us expansive views over the huge open public space, the People’s Park.

Shanghai from the People's Park in China
Shanghai’s buildings from the People’s Park in China

For a bit of comparison, our location was a bit like staying a block off of Times Square in New York City if only Central Park were adjacent … and if you eliminate 60 percent of the Times Square tourists but keep in the same level of bright flashing lights, shops, pretty people, and proximity to the touristy sites.

So, with that in mind I spent just a brief time in Shanghai, but I found the intriguing, the weird, the touristy, and the pretty and would go back in a heartbeat to find more!

Where to Shop in Shanghai

The smaller cities throughout China are far better spots for finding unique gifts and souvenirs, but there are handful of fun markets in Shanghai.

The Yuyuan Bazaar

Adjacent to the Yuyuan Garden, this market is worth a wander while you’re there. The bazaar is a maze of Chinese and Western tourists and the food court is the most terrifyingly un-vegetarian-friendly place I’ve ever seen. But it was intriguing and we were the only Westerners daring enough to venture inside for lunch!

Shanghai, China
A jumble of knick-knacks at a shop in Shanghai, China.

Shanghai Insect and Bug Market

The Shanghai insect and bug market consisted of narrow alleys between the tiny stalls and every type of bird, bug, and fish you could possibly want to purchase (for eating?!). Across the street is an antiques market with fun bits and bots good if you’re in the mood to sift through junk in the hopes of spotting a treasure!

Frogs and turtles in glasses
Frogs and turtles in Shanghai, China
Caged birds, Shanghai, China
Caged birds for sale in Shanghai, China

How to Wander Shanghai’s Side Streets

Shanghai’s city center is a maze of skyscrapers shooting upward alongside the tiniest back alleys and side-streets stuffed full of local life. Never before have I seen a big city with such a close mixture of the supremely modern towering over the traditional wooden and cement dwellings.

Residential street in Shanghai, China
Residential street in Shanghai, China

Look up when you’re walking and you’ll find a tangled web of clean laundry drying against a sky dotted with tall buildings, then turn the corner and you’re once again surrounded by gleaming windows and the shiny metal indicative of large, modern cities the world over. Wherever you’re headed in the city, take a peak down the smaller alleys and glimpse the locals in conversation just out easy eyesight from the busy city streets.

Exploring the Bund by Night and Day

Stepping foot on The Bund immediately brought to mind Malecón in Havana–the same idea here, a curving esplanade on the Huangpu River snaking alongside the city center and assuring pretty photos of tall man-made city versus the peaceful water. You’ll likely want to stop by the Bund twice, once during the day for some shots of the Shanghai skyline and perhaps lunch, but the real magic happens once the sun sets.

Shanghai seems to have gone out of its way develop wacky buildings with odd attributes to sit on its skyline like a nighttime rainbow against the dense inky sky.

skyline, The Bund, Shanghai, China
The beautiful colors of the nightime skyline from the Bund in Shanghai, China

The Yuyuan Garden

I wish I had brought a book to the Yuyuan Garden and just camped out for an hour or two. The gardens are undoubtedly touristy but still a great example of traditional Chinese rock gardens set against small lakes and dotted with ornate pagodas.

Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai, China
Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai, China

Trendy Shanghai is Worth a Visit

Shanghai is a city is trendy and buzzing with activity with a unique personality you won’t find in any other huge Asian city. There’s certainly a tendency to only associate “true” China with traveling through the rural regions. And there’s truth in that, the rural areas are an integral part to understanding cultural China, the history and the people and the food from other regions.

Don’t discount the cities though! Beijing has a more historical side of China, but in city-form. Shanghai on the other hand is the shiny and pretty sister to Beijing, fun and a tad glitzy and it’s easy to spend far more money than intended!

17 thoughts on “A Little Glitz… Trendy Shanghai’s Got it Going On With Many Things to Do”

  1. i so felt the same way about shanghai. i never thought i would like it so much. maybe because i didn’t have high expectations in the first place? i don’t know. lol. anyway, good to know i wasn’t the only one.

  2. Shanghai… a great city, filled with energy and excitement. Plus, just from the skyline photos I can see the “progress.” Also, I recall the haze, I noticed you call it Blue Haze, for me it was mostly grey. Hopefully it is returning to blue..
    stay adventurous, Craig

    • Hey Craig!! :)  The haze was pretty blue the day I was there, so let’s hope that wasn’t a fluke. I can only imagine what wacky buildings they will add to the skyline before I return too…it seems they specifically aim for colourful and odd  :) 

  3. I went to Shanghai last summer and also really liked it. You are right about Beijing having more history than Shanghai, as Shanghai definitely has more western influence, but that’s what makes it interesting.

    • I definitely agree, Shanghai’s mix of the two cultures is so distinct…I also loved hunting down the tiny Chinese street stalls on the corners so I could walk the NYC-esque streets while munching on sweet sticky rice cakes for breakfast—that’s an infusion I can get behind! ;-)

    • But in leaving off you now have a really compelling reason to return to China! At least, that’s always my theory…if I completely see everything in a country then I might not still dream about it :) Have a great weekend!

  4. Love the photos especially of the gardens (need to get me another bonsai tree).  I don’t know about all the different bugs and birds for eating.  If they were already cooked sure well maybe!  Looks like a lot of turtles for sale…are those for food or pets?

    • There is such something so pleasant about a bonsai tree—hopefully you find a good one :) As for the turtles..I am just not sure which they were for. I know that elsewhere, out the backdoor of a restaurant, I saw a bucket of them for food, but they were bigger….?

  5. This sounds like a beautiful place to visit! I always go to Paris every year with my girlfriend and fancied Shanghai to make a change! do you recommend anywhere in particular to stay?

  6. Shanghai is one of the few places in China I’m really dying to get to. It just looks so unique and modern…great photos and post!

    • Shanghai is a bit bizarrely modern, I was not anticipating such a shiny and NYC-like city! You will definitely enjoy and it makes a nice contrast to the rural towns in China…they are like night and day! :)


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