Thursday, 18 March 2021

6 secret, underrated places in Shanghai to visit

With international travel still limited, those itching for a holiday can only do so in their own backyard. Luckily for residents of China, that backyard is vast and seemingly infinite – there is so much to see and do just one city over. According to a recent report released by China Tourism Academy, the country will see an uptick in domestic tourism in 2021, with an estimated increase of 48% in domestic tourism revenue from the previous year.

For those planning a visit to Shanghai, step away from the tourist trail and you’ll discover plenty of hidden spots that offer a unique experience of this populous metropolis. Here are some to include on your wishlist.

Explore’s Shanghai historic Zhujiajiao town by boat. Photo credit:


Located about an hour’s drive from The Bund in central Shanghai, this idyllic waterside town is often touted as the “Venice of the East” because of its many canals and stone bridges. This ancient town dates back over 1,700 years and used to be a bustling trading hub due to its large number of waterways. Today, Zhujiajiao attracts curious day-trippers who are drawn to the area’s serene beauty and interesting historical buildings, including Yuanjin Buddhist Temple, which was originally built in 1341, and a Qing Dynasty post office that is over 100 years old. There are also several mom-and-pop shops still surviving to this day, selling everything from rice to assorted spices.

Madame Mao's Dowry
Madame Mao’s Dowry is a retail boutique specialising in works from local designers

Madame Mao’s Dowry

If you’re looking to pick up a souvenir to remember your time in the “Pearl of the Orient”, forget cheesy mugs or magnets and make a beeline for this boutique that carries a wide range of products designed and made by local artists. The paraphernalia here run the gamut from small-press zines and chapbooks to handmade jewellery and vintage furniture. Besides offering a space for local talent to showcase their work, Madame Mao’s also plays host to creative events such as poetry readings, book launches and the occasional Open Mic.


While Shanghai has no dearth of cafés, this charming spot on Yongkang Road in Shanghai’s downtown Xuhui District offers coffee with a difference. For starters, your coffee is handed to you by a bear claw that stretches out from a literal “hole in the wall” (the furry paw also waves and poses for photos). More importantly, this social enterprise was started with the intention of demonstrating how people with disabilities can contribute meaningfully to the workforce. The baristas working at Hinichijou are hearing impaired, so to place an order, customers simply need to scan a QR code hanging on the wall. And it’s not just a feel-good gesture either; the store manager has won several awards at coffee-making competitions so you can be sure that you’re getting some top-quality joe.

Shanghai Auto Museum
Shanghai Auto Museum houses a wide collection of vintage and antique cars. Photo credit:

Shanghai Auto Museum

Car aficionados, you don’t want to miss out on this one. Opened in 2007, this is the country’s first automobile museum and it is staggering – the exhibition space sprawls across 10,000m2 and features over a hundred different car models from across the years. Here, you’ll find iconic cars such as the 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre, the 1964 Ford Mustang and the 1967 Mazda Cosmo. Chinese two-wheeled vehicles are also represented here, including Phoenix 28 bicycles and Donghai 750 motorcycles. For a more interactive experience, sign up for the “Antique Car Ride”, which lets you take a spin in a vintage car accompanied by guided commentary from antique car experts.

Shanghai Film Park allows you to experience what the city was like in the 1930s. Photo credit:

Shanghai Film Park

For a glimpse into yesteryear Shanghai, take a gander through this amusement park that continues to operate as a film and television studio. This is where you’ll find a full-scale replica of shopping district Nanjing Road in the 1930s. From the distinctive five-storey Sincere Company department store and retro storefronts to cobblestone pathways and inlaid tram tracks, the level of detail paid to the streetscape is amazing. First constructed for director Chen Kaige’s 1996 film, Temptress Moon, the set has been reused for numerous productions over the years, including Ang Lee’s 2007 film Lust, Caution. You can also see other scenes here, such as replicas of Shanghai’s old town, European courtyards and Suzhou Creek. During your visit, you can hop on the tram for a tour of the facilities, take a peek at the massive Costume and Prop Exhibition Halls as well as watch a film stunt demonstration.

Spend the day exploring the contemporary art galleries at M50 Creative Park. Photo credit:

M50 Creative Park

For a deeper exploration of Shanghai’s thriving creative scene, head over to this disused industrial area in Moganshan Road that is now home to over 120 galleries, art studios and creative agencies. The area was also where the famous “Graffiti Wall” once stood, a 600m structure that featured hundreds of street art from local and international artists. However, the wall was recently torn down to make way for a riverside park but M50 is encouraging painters to migrate their artwork to the walls, houses and other structures within the park. With so much to see, you can easily spend a day wandering through the many contemporary art galleries and trying your hand at making your own jewellery or pottery items before stopping for some snacks at the several cafés dotting the area.

Please check the establishments’ respective websites for opening hours as well as booking requirements before visiting, and remember to adhere to safe-distancing measures while out and about. 

The information is accurate as of press time. For updated information, please refer to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.

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SEE ALSO: 8 hotels in Shanghai’s key districts for exploring the city

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