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When it comes 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.
More articles on China & Shanghai
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- Tips for planning a trip to China
- How to use the Beijing subway
- Day trips from Shanghai
Read on and I’ll share with you the top free things to do in Shanghai.
Visit The Bund
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 and meeting people (more on that below). Since the Bund is such 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 for a few photos. You could be leaving the The Bund feeling like a B grade celebrity.
The Grand Hyatt
Once again The Bund is the main feature, however this time the view is from above. If you can make it to the 54th floor of the Grand Hyatt, which is the lobby, you’ll be able to soak in the amazing view which only a few will be able to see 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. So you can feel free to explore and take in the glowing lights of the city. Just be courteous as setting up a tripod may not go down so well.
If you’re after a place to mingle with the locals and practice your Chinese, People’s Park is a great place to go. People’s Park is quite popular with the locals, a fantastic location to relax and unwind, or alternatively a great place to go and try to understand more about the culture and the people of China.
People’s Park also offers something a little bit more unique than most public parks in the world.
Marriage is huge in China, with there being a large expectation for young adults to marry and have children of their own from an early age, with pressure increasing dramatically around of ages of 24 – 26.
Due to this societal pressure, it makes way for a unique experience which is on full display from every Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5pm – The Marriage Market. The market is for parents who are trading information trying to find a suitable partner for their child. A unique, and free experience in Shanghai.
Visit East Nanjing Road
While it’s completely free to visit, you may end up walking away from visiting East Nanjing Road having spent a little. The site is the main shopping street of Shanghai. Along the East Nanjing Road are designer and non designer brands, make up, jewelry, shoes, and food stores.
If none of that takes your fancy, you can always wait until dusk for when the fluorescent lighting will begin to come alive, which will give you some interesting photo opportunities. With the bombardment of advertising you’ll quickly be thinking of something reminiscent of Tokyo or Bladerunner.
Another site which comes alive at night, though having said that, it’s equally as impressive if you happen to visit during the day. Located in the old part of Shanghai, the Yu Gardens are over 400 years old and showcase some classic Chinese style architecture.
There are two sections to the gardens, with the outside of the Garden and the shopping district being 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, then 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
While you’re in the area visiting the Yu Gardens, a quick 2 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, and because of this a lot of the older sections of the town are being destroyed in the progress.
In place of the old styled buildings which make for some interesting photos, are usually shopping malls or large bodies of apartment blocks. So get in quick while you can.
Compared with the rest of China, Shanghai is very metropolitan. Shanghai has had influence from many Western countries from Britain, the United States, Russia, and France.
The French concession is probably the most famous, with some buildings giving the illusion of you having stepped into 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.
The Most Scenic Free Things To Do in Shanghai
So while you may have expected your time in Shanghai to be expensive, there are numerous things to see 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 these free activities help you delve into Chinese culture, and explore the cities architecture – some of which is starkly different to what you’ll see anywhere else. I hope this has given you many ideas so that you can spend your time wisely, and inexpensively – even in big cities like Shanghai.