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Here Are All The Great Free Things To Do In Shanghai


Shanghai is a bustling, vibrant city in China, where ancient and modern architecture combine to create a magnificent fusion. Not only that, the city showcases the extensive historical and cultural heritage of the People’s Republic of China. Known for its lush and ornate gardens, fascinating historical museums and panoramic skyline, Shanghai has many free things to explore with your travel companion.

China’s financial center is a great place to spend a perfect vacation as it allows you to experience the serenity in the middle of the bustling city. Shanghai also offers a wide range of options for travelers on a budget. These include free visits to museums, ancient cities, parks and markets.

These wonderful attractions will help tourists explore Shanghai and give them insight into the modern society and heritage of the Chinese metropolis through various shops selling ancient Chinese artifacts.

Add these free things to do in Shanghai to your itinerary

Explore the Shanghai Museum

Image Credit: Hanjiang 2009/CC BY 2.0/Wikimedia Commons

One of the best free things to do in Shanghai is to tour the massive Shanghai museum, which houses more than 140,000 priceless historical artifacts. These artifacts include bronze and Chinese artifacts, ancient coins, furniture, Chinese paintings, calligraphy, and sculptures, such as the magnificent jade burial set from the Han period (206 BC-220 AD).

Established in 1952, this four-storey museum has 10 painting exhibition halls, four cultural artifact donation rooms and three special exhibition halls that make up its current layout. These halls are dedicated to illuminating the entire history of development of the various categories of art exhibited here.

The museum offers full-time guidance for a rental fee of approximately $5.80 (CNY 40). In addition, you must deposit at least 50 USD (400 CNY) or your passport as security. However, there is no entrance fee; You can enter the museum at absolutely zero cost.

Location: 201, Renmin Avenue, Huangpu District
Timing: It opens at 9:00 in the morning and closes at 5:00 in the evening, the last entry is scheduled for 16:00.

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Have fun in Tianzifang Enclave

Fun things to do in Shanghai
Image Credit: Bernd Dittrich/Unsplash

Tianzifang is an entertainment complex hidden inside a maze of narrow passages. Expect brightly colored shop windows and a lively atmosphere in this delightful shopping district. The narrow streets of the market are full of restaurants, cafes and bars. Tourists can visit the many shops selling handicrafts and buy handmade souvenirs.

It is free to enter the market. Tourists can admire the artworks of local artists and the architecture of old residential buildings. It also serves as a good place to take Instagram-worthy photos, with an ancient architectural background.

Ideal for visiting the market on weekdays, preferably early in the morning or late in the evening.

Location: Taikang Road

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Admire the Shanghai Palace of Arts

Shanghai Art palace
Image Credit: DingTalk/CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons

Spreading over 64,000 square meters, this completely free art palace consists of 27 exhibition halls displaying more than 80,000 exhibits that tell the history and development of contemporary Chinese art.

Numerous works by Chinese modern artists active since the late 19th century, such as Zhang Daqian, Ren Bonian, and Wu Changshuo, are on display. Visitors will also find unique oil paintings, engravings, picture books and paintings from the Spring Festival.

The electronic version of the Riverside Stage at the Qingming Festival in Exhibition Hall 5 is the most famous exhibition in the arts palace and is also the only hall with an entrance fee of approximately $2.90 (20 CNY).

Location: 161 Shangnan Road, Pudong New District
Timing: from 9:00 to 17:00; Tuesday to Sunday, the last entry is scheduled at 16:00.

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Watch the skyline at The Bund Waterfront

Image Credit: Bimal Mehta/CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons

The iconic skyline of Shanghai’s magnificent coastline, The Bund boasts breathtaking views of the Shanghai World Financial Center, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and other buildings overlooking the Huangpu River.

The most traditional approach to touring The Bund is to walk north to south or in the opposite direction from one end to the other. Along the journey you will pass by 26 colonial-era buildings with various Western architectural styles, the most famous landmark of The Bund and giving this place its reputation as an ‘international museum of architecture’.

The best time to visit this free destination is at night when the skyline is illuminated and you can capture some of the best photos of the moments spent here.

Location: 5 blocks Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu

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Admire the Gallery of Contemporary Art at 50 MR

MR 50 Road Shanghai
Image Credit: János Tóth/ CC BY-SA 4.0 /Wikimedia Commons

Shanghai Art Gallery, at 50 MR, is a lively artists’ neighborhood next to Suzhou Creek. In this former textile factory complex, you can find works by Shanghai’s best modern artists and up-and-coming talent. It now houses art spaces, galleries, studios, cafes and restaurants.

With nearly 100 artists staying in dormitories, the price of their works can range from a few dollars to millions of dollars. The art gallery has no entrance fee.

Location: 50 Moganshan Road, Jingan District
Timing: Between 10:00 – 19:00; every day.

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Wander around the Xintiandi street market

Free things to do in Shanghai.
Image Credit: azureisle/ CC BY 2.0/ Wikimedia Commons

Modern and traditional Shikumen architecture coexist in the stylish pedestrian boulevard known as Xintiandi. Northern Block and Southern Block are two divisions of Xintiandi. The North Block retains the traditional Shikumen architectural style, while the South Block consists primarily of modern buildings.

These traditional Shikumen residences tell beautiful stories about the city’s past and culture. Xintiandi Style Mall contains all the modern shops, including restaurants, food courts, movie theaters and retail outlets selling everything from ornaments to trendy clothing.

Xintiandi is also famous for its European-themed bars with energetic music, a lively ambiance and beautiful lights.

Location: Sintiandi


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Embrace the tranquility of Yuyuan Garden

Yu Garden
Image Credit: Stefan Fussan/ CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

One of Shanghai’s top attractions is the Yuyuan Gardens, with its delightful paved gardens, koi-filled ponds, and wooden gazebos that offer the tranquility of an oasis inside a bustling commercial market. Beautiful bridges hang over ponds surrounded by willow trees, while the walls are adorned with an intricate, sinuous statue of a dragon.

Located around Yu Garden, Yuyuan Bazaar offers a variety of items for purchase, such as food, handicrafts, and jewelry. Both Yuyuan Garden and the bazaar have free entry for citizens as well as tourists.

Location: 279 Yu Yuan Lao Jie, Huangpu
Timing: Tuesday to Sunday 08:45 – 16:45, Monday remains closed

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Explore the Marriage Market at People’s Park

Things to do in Shanghai
Image Credit: Stefan Fussan/CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons

The Marriage Market is a unique setting in the People’s Park every Saturday and Sunday, where parents and grandparents gather in a peaceful environment to seek potential mates for their children and/or grandchildren. Parents and agents seek suitable applicants aged 20- and 30-years here.

Information is exchanged in an effort to create a joyful and prosperous coexistence. A stroll around offers a glimpse into contemporary Chinese life and what has become such an institution in Shanghai.

You’ll be amazed at this one-of-a-kind experience as you stumble upon dozens of leaflets on the walkways and witness enthusiastic parents and grandparents discussing and ‘mediating’ marriage contracts.

Location: 231 Nanjing Road (N), People’s Square, Huangpu
Timing: from 12:00 to 17:00; Saturday and Sunday.

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Visit the ancient cities of Qibao

ancient city shanghai
Image Credit: Fanghong / Wikimedia Commons

One of the best free things to do in Shanghai is to explore the ancient city of Qibao. It is a spiritual sanctuary located 18 kilometers from the city center, which is considered a good place to learn about Shanghai’s glorious past.

Qibao translates as “seven treasures” in Chinese. These treasures believed to exist in the region were the Golden Lotus, the Magic Tree, the Great Bell, the Flying Buddha, the Golden Rooster, the Jade Stick, and the Jade Ax. However, according to historians, only four of them have ever existed – the Golden Lotus Scripture, the Great Bell, the Magic Tree, and the Golden Rooster. Of these, only the scripture and the bell have survived to the present day.

Two waterways cut the two square kilometers that make up the old town. Around the waterways are many well-preserved traditional houses, gardens, temples, shops and restaurants, adding character to the area.

A few attractions worth highlighting are Cricket Hall, a nostalgic space; Tianxiang Restaurant serving authentic local cuisine; Qibao Theatre, where you can watch many of the unique Shanghai operas.

Location: Minhang District

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Pray at Jiading Confucius Temple

Things to do in Shanghai
Image Credit: Hermann Luyken/CC0/Wikimedia Commons

The most famous temple in Shanghai is Jing’an Temple. It has three main halls – the Mahavira Hall, the Hall of the Heavenly Kings, and the Hall of the Three Sages.

You can pray, light a bunch of incense sticks, and donate at the smaller shrines and statues of the temple. In the Buddhist Relics Exhibition Hall, you can also view the magnificent artwork and calligraphy created by Yangzhou’s Eight Eccentric Painters.

The temple offers free admission on the first and 15th day of every month except the first and charges approximately USD 0.30 (2 CNY) for a bunch of incense sticks.

Location: 1686 West Nanjing Road, Jing’an District
Timing: from 7:30 to 17:00; every day

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Spend some free time at Century Park

Century Park
Image Credit: J. Patrick Fischer/CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons

Discover peace in Century Park in a city like Shanghai. The park is spread over 1.4 square kilometers with seven main areas – Rustic Zone, Lake District, Sparse Grass Area, Bird Sanctuary, International Garden Area, Miniature Golf Course, and Promenade.

This is Shanghai’s largest park and was designed by British architects. Thus, it has a mix of Eastern and Western landscape designs. Although there are many differences between English, Japanese and Chinese gardens and lawns, they all manage to coexist, creating a seamless and serene landscape.

The park provides free admission to children under 120 centimeters and seniors over 70. For others, the entrance fee is approximately $1.50 USD (10 CNY).

Location: Pudong District, No.666 Mangmian Road
Timing: from 7:00 to 18:00; every day.

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(Main and featured image: Li Yang/Unsplash)

This story was originally published on Travel + Leisure Global