How To: See Shanghai for Free

By: Maxine Sheppard

December 29, 2011

Fresh from filling us in on the delights of Delhi’s dining scene and how to explore Goa beyond the beaches, Asia expert and travel writer Caroline Eden is back with a guide to getting the best out of Shanghai without breaking the bank…

Shanghai’s cultural bounty

Shanghai may appear to be an eye-wateringly expensive destination, with more skyscrapers than New York and oodles of high octane glamour, but with some careful planning it’s easy to enjoy the city without sending your credit card into meltdown.

Savvy visitors begin saving money at the airport by picking up a free map at the baggage collection point and then by checking out the listings magazines which highlight restaurant deals and “˜open bar nights’ offering all you can eat or drink, at set prices.

Culture vultures can also rest easy as many of Shanghai’s top museums offer free entry, making it possible to enjoy China’s cultural bounty for next to nothing. Here we give you more tips onhow to make the most of a shoestring trip to Shanghai, China’s most exciting modern day metropolis. 

Take a walk through Duolun Road Cultural Street

Duolun Road Cultural Street is a great place to visit soon after arrival to capture the spiritof Shanghai. Grab your camera and wander this small but perfectly restored street which is loaded with old architecture, antique shops and Chinese historical heritage.

Duolun Road © Ciroul on

Duolun Road © Ciroul on

Many of China’s best known writers, such as Lu Xun and Guo Moruo, lived in the neighbourhood and the street is well known for its cultural connections –  you’ll spot the literati sculptures as you enter the street from the south-east. Shoppers will delight in the cheap and kitsch bric-a-brac on sale here and art lovers will enjoy dipping in and out of the various art galleries in the area – many of which are free to enter. 

Explore the Shanghai Museum

Set at least half a day aside to visit the Shanghai Museum, one of the world’s truly outstanding museums. Located conveniently in the very centre of the city, in the heart of People’s Square, this eye-catching museum was designed by local architect Xing Tonghe in the shape of an ancient bronze cooking pot.


Shanghai Museum by phogel on

Shanghai Museum © phogel on

Boasting a jaw-dropping array of 120,000 artefacts, spread through a myriad of different galleries, you’ll discover displays of ancient Silk Road coins, bronzes, ceramics, sculptures and paintings. Put simply, anyone with even a passing interest in Chinese culture will find a visit here worthwhile.

Arrive early to avoid the lengthy queues, but expect the galleries to be busy at any time, and note that there is a charge to enter some special, temporary exhibitions. Set aside Y40 if you’d like the assistance of a foreign-language acoustic guide. Open 9am-5pm.

Take a Stroll along the Bund

The Bund is Shanghai’s preeminent landmark and is the first stop for most visitors. A building boom at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century led to the Bund becoming a major financial hub, while its modern day revival has seen it transform into a world-class centre for fashion and lifestyle. Yet, for visitors it is still romanticised as a place that pays homage to the 1920s and 1930s, when most of the Bund’s buildings were put up to reflect the city’s commercial success.

Sunset at the Bund by Joshua Santino on

Sunset at the Bund © Joshua Santino on

Teeming with architectural wonders and boasting one of the best skyline views in the world, a (free) walk along the Bund is a “˜must-do.’ At night it’s a lovers lane of sorts, teeming with hand-holding couples, while during the day there are photo opportunities a-plenty of the Huangpu River. Be warned though, this is one of the harder places in the city to keep your wallet in your pocket as temptation lies at every gilded corner. 

Visit the Suzhou Museum

If small is beautiful and less is more, then this museum is almost certainly worth the trip out of town. Free to visit, the Suzhou Museum houses an impressive collection of ancient Chinese art featuring calligraphy, relics, ceramics and crafts from the Song, Ming and Qing dynasties. The imposing architectural design of the museum is the work of veteran Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei, who also designed the steel and glass pyramid at the Louvre, Paris, and who grew up close by to the site.

Suzhou Museum © RightIndex on

Suzhou Museum © RightIndex on

To get here quickly take a bullet train from Shanghai station or Shanghai Hongqiao station. Open daily 9am-5pm.

Hang out in Fuxing Park

One of the best ways to witness local life is to make like a Shanghainese and spend time hanging out in the city’s parks. Fuxing Park is one of the best – a quiet green space located on the edge of the French Concession.

Fuxing Park © Art Poskanzer on

Fuxing Park © Art Poskanzer on

Head here at dusk for maximum atmosphere and to immerse yourself fully in Chinese culture. A quick stroll through this pretty park will bring you into contact with many elderly Chinese who’ll be playing chess, mahjong, practicing Tai Chi, kite flying and singing. Don’t miss the rose garden to the east of the park. Open from 6am-6pm, free to enter. 

Explore the French Concession

One of the city’s most colourful corners and a great place to get a handle on street-level Shanghai is the French Concession. Chic, with plenty of tree-lined streets, it’s a joy to wander below billowing laundry, past mansions and to pop in and out of the abundance of free art galleries that dot the lanes. Check out Zhou Enlai’s Former Residence which was the former Shanghai Office of the Delegation of the Communist Party in 1946. Now re-opened as a free-to-enter museum the space chronicles the story of the Communist revolution in China. If that tickles your fancy you could also visit the Site of the First National Congress of CPC also in the area, which is also free to enter.

Shanghai's French Concession © JuliaHa Pics on

Shanghai’s French Concession © JuliaHa Pics on

Don’t miss the Sylvan streets which are home to some of the world’s most impressive Art Deco residential architecture. Also find time to get off the beaten track and to stroll through Changle Road and Xinle Road both of which have many small, local designer outlets. As long as you can resist the temptation of the retail therapy on offer here, the only cost should be your time.

Virgin Atlantic operates a daily flight to China from London Heathrow – visit Virgin Holidays for great deals on Shanghai hotels.

Photos: Header shot © Ferguswang |, Duolun Road by Ciroul, Shanghai Museum by phogel, the Bund by Joshua Santino, Suzhou Musuem by RightIndex, French Concession by JuliaHa Pics on Flickr.

Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.

Categories: Our Places