On our recent trip to Japan and Korea we had the opportunity to add a layover in Shanghai onto our journey. In fact, it made our flights a couple of hundred dollars cheap to fly home via Shanghai. Needless to say we jumped on the chance to have 48 hours in Shanghai! And we totally recommend you do too. If you have have a chance to add a Shanghai layover to your travel plans, do it. Shanghai is a fantastic city and a great intro to China if you haven’t been before.
We were amazed at how modern, clean and orderly Shanghai felt. Not what I was anticipating for our first trip to China. The food was excellent. If you love dumplings like me then come to Shanghai! We admittedly ate at our hotel both nights because it was raining the first night and so delicious we went back the second night! And we did eat Pizza Hut for lunch on our full day of sightseeing because either the lines for lunch elsewhere were just so long or we had no idea what anything was on the menu.
We found Shanghai very affordable having just come from Japan and Korea. While our hotel was quite expensive because we booked a swanky family suite, it did feel like we were getting good value as the room was huge, the hotel modern and the service outstanding. Souvenirs and shopping were very cheap. Our double decker bus ride was just a couple of dollars. Getting around by taxi was also very affordable.
What You'll Find in This Post
48 Hours in Shanghai Itinerary
Here’s what we did with just over 48 hours in Shanghai. We arrived in the evening of day one and left in the evening of day three. This gave us one full day of sightseeing in Shanghai plus a good chunk of the day we left. You might need to move a few activities around to make the most of your time.
Do the Double Decker Bus Tour
If you’re short on time in any city, doing a double decker bus tour is a good idea. We did a hop on hop off bus tour of Shanghai on our full day of sightseeing and it was an excellent way to see the highlights of Shanghai quickly.
We used the Shanghai City Sightseeing bus (the bright red one) and did a full circuit of line 1 which covered Nanjing Road, The Bund, Yu Gardens and the old streets of Shanghai. It only costs 30 Yuan which is under $5 USD for a 24 hour hop on hop off card! Compared to the Big Bus Company which basically does the same route at ten times the price it was a bargain!
We started and ended our bus trip at the Madame Tussaud’s stop which was about five minutes walk from our hotel. It was a bit hard to see where the bus stop was but it is just behind the Big Bus Tour buses. Here’s a link to the map!
The only stop we got off the bus was at Yu Gardens as we had planned to go back to The Bund at night.
Stop at Yu Garden
Stopping at Yu Garden is a must on your Shanghai layover. Yu Garden itself is a beautiful rock garden with old buildings and koi ponds to wander around. Outside the gardens in an old fashioned shopping complex are lots of shops selling souvenirs, jewelry and clothes and dumpling & food stands (with long lines).
Walking around the garden itself was very peaceful. The kids loved climbing all the rocks, walking the bridges and looking at the koi. The garden costs 40 Yuan (about $6 USD) and is free for children under 6.
The shopping complex surrounding the garden is quite crowded and busy. We were there at lunch time and the lines for food were very long (although there are some amazing looking dumpling places there!)
We bought some nice souvenirs at the shops here. Be prepared to bargain with the shopkeepers though! The kids bought these cool little hand drums that they still play with and Hazel also got some lovely Chinese pyjamas and a dress.
Visit The Bund at Night
I would suggest saving your visit to The Bund for night. It is impressive in the daytime but at night the cityscape really comes alive. I love modern buildings and skyscrapers and the view of the Shanghai skyline from The Bund does not disappoint. The colors, the lights, the scale of the buildings… it will WOW you!
Be prepared to battle your way to the edge of the wall to get your photo however. We went at around 7pm and it was very busy. You do need to push your way through to get a good view and a photo without dozens of other people in it.
Shopping on Nanjing Road
Nanjing Road is the place to go shopping in Shanghai. There are lots of western chain stores here and also lots of places for souvenirs and cheap clothing. We didn’t have a lot of space in our luggage for shopping but I did go to Miniso and buy a bunch of little things just because “stuff” is so cheap in China – hair bands & clips, phone chargers, make up.
There’s a little train that runs the length of Nanjing road’s pedestrian mall if you don’t feel like walking. I went out for a morning walk the day we were leaving to do my shopping on Nanjing Road and get some dumplings from two of Shanghai’s best restaurants. The kids needed some quiet time back at the hotel so I got to venture out solo in Shanghai.
See Shanghai from 100 Floors Up!
Shanghai has two of the world’s top ten tallest buildings right next to each other. The second tallest building in the world is the 632m Shanghai Tower and ninth tallest in the world is the 492m Shanghai World Financial Center. We spent the whole afternoon over on the Pudong side of the river checking out the buildings before going back to our hotel to collect our bags and fly out in the evening.
We went up to the observation deck of the Shanghai World Financial Center which is on the 100th floor and 474m above the ground! It was so impressive to see Shanghai from this height, if a little dizzying!
We got lucky and found there was a Where’s Waldo exhibit on at one of the lower observation deck levels during our visit. Where’s Waldo / Wally is one of our favorite books so the kids were happy.
There’s also a Din Tai Fung restaurant on level two of the Shanghai World Financial Center which is my favorite restaurant on the planet so I was very happy for one last meal here!
Eat Delicious Food
During our two days in Shanghai we ate lots of good food. We couldn’t come to China without trying the Peking duck which we did at our hotel on the first night we were in town. It was very wet and cold when we arrived and we didn’t fancy leaving the hotel. Luckily, the food was excellent. We got a whole duck which was carved at the table, the crispy bits served with pancakes and the rest of the meat stir fried with vegetables and returned to our table. We also had a spicy, mouth numbing bowl of dan dan noodles.
On day two we actually ended up eating at Pizza Hut for lunch because the lines for food at Yu Garden were so long. It was actually really delicious though and it’s kind of fun to see what the local version of our international foods are like. We had Peking duck pizza!
We ate our second Chinese dinner at the hotel restaurant again because it was so good.
On the day we left I went out an got us dumplings from two of Shanghai’s most famous dumpling places which are opposite each other on Huanghe Road and just a short walk from our hotel. From Yang’s Fried Dumplings I got some delicious pork dumplings had had been pan fried so were a bit crispy on the outside. From Jia Jia Tang Bao I got my favourite soup dumplings (xiao long bao) with pork and crab roe.
Being a complete dumpling lover, I couldn’t resist having one last feast at Din Tai Fung on our last afternoon in Shanghai. There are locations all over the city but we ate at the restaurant in the Shanghai World Financial Center.
Other ideas on things to do in Shanghai in 48 hours:
If we’d had a bit more time or better weather on the first evening we were in Shanghai we could have done a river cruise or the acrobat performance at the Circus World which is supposed to be excellent. If we had another day I definitely would have done a day trip out to one of the water towns which look so pretty. And of course, for Disney lovers, there is Shanghai Disneyland too!
- Huangpu river cruise at night
- Shanghai Circus World (evening performances at 7.30pm every day)
- Shanghai Disneyland
- Zhouzhuang Water Town
- Zhujiaojaio Water Town
Where to Stay in Shanghai
If your time in Shanghai is limited, staying somewhere centrally located is key. Families take note, if you have more than one child it is quite hard to find a hotel room in Shanghai.
Shanghai Marriott Hotel City Centre
We stayed at the Shanghai Marriott Hotel City Centre in a family suite. It was difficult to find a hotel room in Shanghai that would accommodate two children as that’s not the norm in China. Our suite had a separate bedroom area and a living room with a rollaway bed for one child and the couch made up for the second child. It worked well for us. The hotel is beautiful, has a great buffet breakfast and as in an excellent location. The staff even handed out kids activity bags on arrival.
Radisson Blu Hotel Shanghai New World
The other hotel we looked at staying at was the Radisson Blu which was just down the road from the Marriott in a slightly better location. It’s right opposite the start of Nanjing Road and where the hop on hop off bus leaves. They have a family suite with two double beds. One of the only other ones we found in Shanghai when looking for hotels.
Shanghai Layover Tips
- You get 144 hours visa free (5 day) but it starts from 12am the day after you arrive so in reality you could have almost a whole 6th day if you arrive early in the am on your first day.
- You need to be from one of these 53 countries to get the visa free entry into China and have a ticket out.
- There is a special immigration desk to go to when you land in Shanghai. Just follow the signs and fill out the forms. It did take a while as there were only two officers and a long line of passengers but we got them without any issue.
- Get cash out at the airport. We found it easiest to use cash during our Shanghai layover. In fact, a couple of times we wanted to pay by credit card we couldn’t as foreign cards weren’t accepted.
- Luggage storage is available at both Pudong and Hongqiao Airport so if you have a short layover and don’t need a hotel for the night you can still enjoy the city.
- You can take the Maglev train into the city from Pudong and connect to the subway system or you can take a taxi. We took a taxi as it was very wet when we arrived in Shanghai. The taxi was affordable and the driver used the meter. He did not speak English, and most Shanghai taxi drivers don’t, so I recommend having the name and address of your hotel in Chinese characters on a piece of paper or on your phone. It cost around 140 Yuan and took just under hour.
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