Shape-Shifting Shanghai: What To Do On A Long Layover In Shanghai

Shape-Shifting Shanghai: What To Do On A Long Layover In Shanghai

Layovers can be a love-hate affair. Sometimes, we just want to get to our destination as fast as possible, without having to waste time sitting at airport lounges, trying to connect to free Wi-Fi or staring blankly at the traveller opposite us nodding off with his / her mouth agape. But it doesn’t have to be a waste of time at all. If you’re ‘lucky’ enough to get a long layover, it might just be a blessing in disguise. This is the perfect opportunity to explore the sights of another city, a kind of bonus travel destination!

Shanghai is China’s largest city, and a bustling financial hub. But beneath its veneer of businesslike efficiency, the city is passionate and dynamic. You’ll find yourself constantly surprised at the new things you’ll discover the more time you spend in Shanghai. Cheap street food in the day, chaotic and fragrant, rooftop cocktails by night, posh and glamorous. Hidden treasures in a secluded back alley, luxury big brand shopping on the main commercial street.

If your layover is shorter and you don’t have time to leave the airport, that’s a pity! But, you’ll still find plenty to keep you occupied, such as shops and restaurants, in each of the city’s international airports.

Don’t be daunted by the size of Shanghai. If you have at least a day to spare, you’ll find yourself drawn to the city’s boldness and energy. Here’s how to spend a long layover in Shanghai:

Getting there (From 50 CNY (7.50 USD) between Shanghai Pudong International Airport and the city centre)

A maglev train coming out, Pudong International Airport, Shanghai
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Alex Needham used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

Rest assured that you can probably visit Shanghai without a tourist visa if your transit period is 72 hours or less. As this only applies to passport holders of certain countries, do check with the official Chinese Government’s website for more detailed information.

From Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG), one of the best options to get into the city is to take the high-speed Maglev train. The journey from the Maglev airport station to Longyang Road Station takes approximately 8 minutes. At 50 CNY (7.50 USD) for a single trip, and 80 CNY (12 USD) for a return trip, it is slightly pricier than the regular train, but it saves you a lot of time. From Longyang Road Station, you can transfer to the regular subway station (line 2) to continue your journey.

Alternatively, taking a taxi is also an affordable option and will get you to your desired destination quickly, assuming smooth traffic conditions. The cost of taking a taxi increases if traffic is congested or if you’re travelling in the middle of the night. It takes approximately an hour, again depending on traffic, so be sure to add extra minutes onto your journey back to the airport so you won’t miss your flight!

From Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport (SHA), Subway lines 2 and 10 connect with the city centre. Do note, however, that only line 10 serves Terminal 1. A single trip will cost around 5 CNY (0.75 USD), and you can reach Hongqiao Railway Station, Yuyuan Garden, Jing'an Temple, People’s Square, Nanjing East Road, Lujiazui, and Longyang Road, with a connection also operating to and from Shanghai Pudong International Airport.

Regular bus services, with different providers, also operate on several routes to and from the airport. A one-way journey will cost somewhere between 1 CNY (0.15 USD) and 10 CNY (1.50 USD). Of course, taxis are also plentiful.

Chinese Government Visa Information

Website: Chinese Government Visa Information

Shanghai Pudong International Airport

Website: Shanghai Pudong International Airport

Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport

Website: Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport

Shanghai Maglev

Price: From 50 CNY (7.50 USD) between Shanghai Pudong International Airport and the city centre

Frequency: Every 15 or 20 minutes

Duration: Around 8 minutes each way (to / from Longyang Road)

Operating Hours (from Airport Station): First train 7.02 am, last train 9.42 pm

Contact: + 86 021 28907700

Website: Shanghai Maglev


Taxi2Airport is the easiest and most reliable way to get to and from the airport. Through secure online payments, you can book your airport transfers in advance, saving up to 35% on your journey.

Things to do on your Shanghai layover

1. Breakfast for champions

If you arrive in Shanghai in the morning and have a full day’s layover in the city, make the most out of it! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so load up like a champion.

Street foodies rejoice! Shanghai’s streets will take you down the road of no return, each food stall / restaurant pleasantly assaulting your senses with myriad smells and sights. Some must-eats are the soup dumplings (xiao long bao) from the famed Nanxiang dumpling vendor, pan-fried dumplings (sheng jian bao), spring onion pancakes, and crab shell pies. You will be immediately transported from the airport straight into the warm (and maybe slightly oily) embrace of street food heaven.

If you’re unsure of what to start with, let the friendly guides of Untour Shanghai help you by signing up for their Street Eats Breakfast Tour.

Street Eats Breakfast Tour

Meeting Point: Xiang Yang Park, 1008 Huai Hai Zhong Lu, Xuhui Qu, Shanghai Shi, China

Price: From 450 CNY (67.47 USD)

Starting Time: 8 am (9 am on Sundays)

Duration: Around 3 hours

Contact: [email protected]

Book Now

2. Panoramic views from the Oriental Pearl TV Tower

The iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower is perhaps one of the most distinct landmarks of Shanghai, soaring 458 metres (1,503 feet) high above the city. There’s no better place than the tower to help you get your bearings. It is from here that you can get the best views of Shanghai city spreading out beneath you.

Designed to look like shining pearls dropping onto a jade plate (the lush grassland on which the towers stands), there are 3 main sightseeing spheres, located at ascending heights, that tourists can visit.

Besides its function for radio and TV, the tower also houses restaurants, museums, hotels, and conference facilities.

Oriental Pearl TV Tower

Address: 1 Century Ave, Pudong, Shanghai, China

Price: From 130 CNY (19.49 USD)

Opening Hours: 8.30 am - 9.30 pm

Duration: Around 1 - 2 hours

Access: Take Exit 1 from Lujiazui subway station (Line 2)

Website: Oriental Pearl TV Tower

3. The bustling People’s Square (Ren Min Guang Chang)

Like its name suggests, People’s Square is usually thronging with people, with tourists and locals alike. The garden heart of the city, this impressive square is surrounded by a lush garden, shopping malls, museums, and the Shanghai Grand Theatre. Two subway lines converge here, making this a convenient and bustling meeting point.

On weekends, a Marriage Market is held there at noon, where parents try to find partners for their unmarried children. It certainly is an interesting sight, and helps you to understand more about the local culture. Or, perhaps you’d like to find a husband or wife for yourself?!

For those interested in ancient Chinese art, the Shanghai Museum, located in the square, is a fascinating place to explore.

Shanghai Museum

Address: 201 Renmin Ave, Huangpu, Shanghai, China

Price: Free

Opening Hours: 9 am - 5 pm (last entry at 4 pm)

Access: Subway Line 1, 2 or 8

Contact: +86 21 6372 3500

Website: Shanghai Museum

4. A look into the past at Shanghai Old Street

Get a glimpse of what Shanghai looked like a century ago at the Old Street. Admire the architectural styles of the Ming and Qing dynasties, with graceful upturned eaves, black tiles, red columns, and white-washed walls. European influences also made their mark here, and you’ll spot some European-style buildings as you walk down the street. You’ll also find traditional tea shops, souvenir shops, and antique shops, among many others. The City God Temple (Cheng Huang Miao), a Taoist temple, is also a popular place among worshippers and tourists alike.

City God Temple

Address: 249 Middle Fangbang Road, Huangpu, Shanghai

Price: 10 CNY (1.50 USD)

Opening Hours: 8.30 am - 4.00 pm

Contact: +86 21 6328 4494

Website: City God Temple

5. Hidden art finds at Tianzifang

Tianzifang is a charming arts and crafts area in the Old French Quarter, and it caters to a younger (slightly hipster) crowd. It is home to boutique shops, cafes, bars, restaurants, and trendy art studios. Look out for the Shikumen houses, houses with traditional stone doors, a remnant from Shanghai’s past. Take your time to wander along the charming little alleys and nooks that hide cosy cafes and other treasures. You might just pick up a unique souvenir or a handmade novelty item to take home with you.


Duration: Around 2 hours required

Access: Dapuqiao station Line 9, take exit 1

6. The Bund

Evening is the best time to visit the Bund, the famous waterfront promenade by the Huangpu River. As the sun makes its way down in the sky, casting a golden glow on the skyscrapers, the full glory of Shanghai’s skyline comes into view. When the sky is a deep velvety black, the night lights up with the sparkle of a million pin-point pricks of warm light from the windows and rooftops of buildings. There’s no doubt that the Bund deserves its nickname of the “Museum of Buildings”.

If you like to eat your dinner with a killer view, head to M on the Bund or Three on the Bund, home to an impressive nine restaurants and bars as well as the Shanghai Gallery of Art, for a delightful gastronomic experience.

M on the Bund

Address: 20 Guangdong Rd, Huangpu, Shanghai, China

Opening Hours: 11.30 am - 2.30 pm, 6 pm - 10.30 pm

Contact: +86 21 6350 9988

Website: M on the Bund

Three on the Bund

Address: 3 Zhongshan East 1st Rd, Huangpu, Shanghai, China

Opening Hours: Varies per restaurant

Contact: +86 21 6323 3355

Website: Three on the Bund

7. A shopper's paradise at Nanjing Dong Lu

East nanjing shanghai street 2
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Mgmoscatello used under CC BY-SA 3.0

After dinner, head to Nanjing Dong Lu (Nanjing East), the main shopping street of Shanghai, for a premium shopping fix. Luxury brands, major retailers, and restaurants line this pedestrian-only street. This is not the place to look for cheap bargains but it certainly gives you a taste of the night scene in Shanghai. If you’re a fan of Apple (the technology company, not the fruit), head to its retail store on this street. With nothing but curved glass and a luminescent Apple logo as its storefront, it certainly is a magnificent sight to behold.

Apple Store (Nanjing Dong Lu)

Address: 300 Nanjing Dong Lu, near Henan Zhong Lu, Huangpu district

Opening Hours: 10 am - 10 pm

Nearest Metro: Nanjing Dong Lu station

Website: Apple Store, Nanjing Dong Lu

8. Shanghai’s vibrant nightlife

Shanghai Aussichtsplattformen Hyatt Bund Vue Bar Bund Blick Fluss Huangpu Jiang
Source: Photo by Flickr user FLASHPACKER TRAVE... used under CC BY-SA 2.0

If you’ve still got energy and time to spare, Shanghai’s vibrant nightlife awaits. Head to the numerous watering holes in the Bund area or the Xintiandi (New World) district, and just kickback and enjoy the rest of your night. Some places to consider checking out are Vue Bar, Bar Rouge, and Windows Too.

Vue Bar

Address: 199 Huangpu Rd, Hongkou, Shanghai, China, 200080 (32nd and 33rd Floors)

Cover Charge: 100 CNY (15 USD)

Opening Hours: 5.30 pm - 1 am

Contact: +86 21 6393 1234 ext. 6348

Website: Vue Bar

Bar Rouge

Address: 18 Zhongshan East 1st Rd, Huangpu, Shanghai, China

Cover Charge: 100 CNY (15 USD) Before midnight, you might be able to use the password “Miss Rouge” to dodge the cover charge

Opening Hours: 6 pm - 3 am

Contact: +86 21 6339 1199

Website: Bar Rouge

Windows Too

Address: 2/F, City Plaza, 1618 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Huashan Lu (next to Haagen Dazs)

Cover Charge: None

Opening Hours: 11 am - 3 am

Contact: +86 6288 9007

Website: Windows Bars

Stunning Shanghai: the Paris of the East

Source: Pixabay

Now you know what to do if you ever get the golden opportunity of having a long layover in Shanghai! Once known as the Paris of the East, don’t miss out on all that Shanghai has to offer, even if you only have a day’s worth of time.

Don’t get too carried away with all the fun you’re having though, you still have a flight to catch! Remember to factor traffic and airport security procedures into your planning, so you can arrive back at the airport with ample time to spare before you flight. Another tip that might seem obvious, but can easily be neglected, is to have some local cash (the Chinese currency of the renminbi / CNY) to hand.

And, finally, some useful mobile apps to download for your layover include: 1. Baidu maps (Google doesn’t work in China) 2. Betternet VPN to gain access to social media apps that are blocked in China 3. Shanghai Metro App

Have a wonderful time getting a taste of scintillating Shanghai!

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Eunice became hooked on travelling 2 years ago when she embarked on a student exchange programme in Stuttgart, Germany. Among the many places she’s visited, Europe has captured (most of) her heart...Read more

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