One of China’s largest cities, Shanghai is a bustling metropolis and shopper’s paradise with iconic landmarks, centuries-old temples and cultural attractions. While you might only scratch the surface with a 48-hour visit, you’ll have the chance to experience a dose of the city’s cultural significance, traditional gardens and futuristic skyline. Perfect for when you have a layover in the Pearl of the Orient, here are the best things to do on a 48-hour visit to Shanghai.

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Explore The Bund View of The Bund, also called Waitan, in Shanghai
View of The Bund, also called Waitan, in Shanghai

Explore The Bund (Nearby Hotels)

One of Shanghai’s biggest attractions is The Bund, a picturesque waterfront that is best known for its classic skyline photo opportunities. Located on the left bank of the waterfront promenade you’ll find a collection of old European buildings from Shanghai’s colonial days, but if you look to the right you’ll see the city’s soaring skyscrapers. The best time to visit this area is at sunrise, when you can catch a glimpse of the locals practicing tai chi and flying kites and marvel at the views across the Huangpu River.

Get a bird’s-eye view at Shanghai World Financial Center (Nearby Hotels)

For some of the best views of Shanghai, head to Shanghai World Financial Center to visit its multiple viewing platforms at 1,555 feet high, one of which has a glass floor. The building resembles a large bottle opener and is one of the world’s tallest buildings, offering an array of digital depictions that highlight the city’s rapid evolution. There are other options for seeing the soaring skyscrapers, from the 88th-floor of Jin Mao or over a coffee or cocktail at the Grand Hyatt or Park Hyatt hotel.

Stroll through Yu Gardens Pagoda at public gardens of Yuyuan Garden (Yu Garden), Old Town, Shanghai, China
Pagoda at public gardens of Yuyuan Garden (Yu Garden), Old Town, Shanghai, China

Stroll through Yu Gardens (Nearby Hotels)

Even if you’re on a quick trip, head to Yu Gardens to see one of the most beloved green spaces in the city, where you can spend an entire afternoon exploring its five acres of classical Chinese style gardens that date back to the 16th century. See its traditional style Chinese architecture as you wander around the lanes and alleys, then pick up a few souvenirs to take home such as silk pajamas and chopsticks. Take a break and admire the beautiful Huxingting Tea House and colorful pagodas, while the Heralding Spring Hall, Jade Magnificence Hall and Lotus Pool are notable highlights.

Admire statues in Jade Buddha Temple (Nearby Hotels)

One of Shanghai’s most captivating attractions, Jade Buddha Temple is known for its impressive collection of statues and resident monks and can easily be explored on a 48-hour visit. Learn about its rich history, as it was originally built to house two jade statues brought in from Burma. Over time the collection grew and lured in travelers wanting to marvel at the jade buddhas. Start your visit in the Grand Hall to see the golden Buddhas that represent the incarnations of Buddha, then head to the Heavenly King Hall and Hall of the Reclining Buddha, which houses a Buddha statue carved from a single piece of white jade.

Take a step back in time at Shanghai Museum Exterior of Shanghai Museum
Exterior of Shanghai Museum

Take a step back in time at Shanghai Museum (Nearby Hotels)

If you really want to learn more about this unique city, spend an afternoon exploring the Shanghai Museum. Located on the People’s Square near Nanjing Road, you’ll first notice the museum’s distinct architecture that includes a circular building atop a square foundation. Step inside and browse the engaging exhibits (that are displayed in both English and Chinese) and see its halls that house a diverse collection of almost one million artifacts. Many of the highlights here include jade carvings, thousand-year-old bronze works and ornate calligraphy.

Experience the Venice of Shanghai (Nearby Hotels)

Even if you’re in Shanghai for a short visit, the region known as the “Venice of Shanghai”, or Zhujiajiao, is only a short taxi ride from the center. Marvel at the picturesque waterways that are rich in history, as this ancient water town was popular during the Ming Dynasty as a commercial hub. Tour the numerous canals with bridges that lead you to charming narrow streets and alleyways lined with cafes and souvenir shops and visit historic landmarks, such as Kezhi Garden.

Stroll Nanjing Road (Nearby Hotels)

It might be a little touristy, but when visiting Shanghai on a short visit you’ll find that exploring Nanjing Road is worth the trip. This bustling area is formerly the center of life in the city, but has now been transformed into a major shopping and dining district. Stretching six miles in total, you’ll discover retailers from around the world as you marvel at the collection of illuminated lights and signs that line the street.

Take a break in Fuxing Park (Nearby Hotels)

Fuxing Park is one of the largest parks in Shanghai, where you’ll often find locals practicing tai chi, playing mahjong or practicing calligraphy. You can escape the city’s bustle with a visit to this tranquil expanse, which was re-opened during the French Concession era in 1909. Some of the highlights of the park include the statue of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, while the colorful flowerbeds are what really draws you in, including the rose garden and camelia flowerbed. Kick back and relax under the more than 10,000 trees planted in the park that include sycamores, buckeyes and maples.

Explore the Longhua Temple Buddhist God statue in the ancient longhua temple. China, Shanghai
Buddhist God statue in the ancient longhua temple. China, Shanghai

Explore the Longhua Temple (Nearby Hotels)

Located south of downtown, Longhua Temple is accessible via the metro and is the oldest and largest religious complex in Shanghai. Built in the 10th century, the temple boasts a seven-story pagoda, where you can explore its five main halls each filled with ornate sculptures such as buddhas. Don’t miss the 14,000-pound bell located in the bell and drum tower near the entrance or time your visit in spring when the temple is surrounded by beautiful peach blossoms.

Ride the Shanghai Maglev (Nearby Hotels)

While it might seem strange to put a train ride on a must-do activity for a 48-hour visit, the Shanghai Maglev is a unique transit option. It’s one of the fastest passenger trains in the world, traveling at about 270 miles per hour. Although it’s a quick journey, it will help you make the most of your trip, as passengers on this train are blasted between downtown and Pudong International Airport in about seven minutes. You’ll fly past 18 miles, plus there’s a museum at the Maglev Longyang Road Station dedicated to exhibiting the history of the train and engineering feats required to build it.

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