11 Free Things to do in Shanghai, China

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      Shanghai’s cost of living may seem crazy high to many, especially those that are looking for Western-style activities, food or places. But in reality, there are many free things to do in Shanghai that will give you a taste of what this amazing and bustling city is like.

      Living as an expat in China has given me the opportunity to travel around the country a lot and get to know the city well. In doing so, I have collected many tips of things to do without breaking the wallet. In fact, there are loads of free things to do in Shanghai. Here is a list of 11 things to do in Shanghai, that are absolutely free!

      Wander the old city of Shanghai

      Located in the metro station “Yuyuan Garden”, the Old City is a renovated area from the 11th century, where you can find traditional Chinese constructions. This is the perfect place to get souvenirs, Chinese crafts, and eat Shanghainese food, but just walking around the roads is plenty of fun already.

      Wander the old city of Shanghai - Free things to do in Shanghai, China

      Visit the Qibao Water Town

      Easily accessible by subway, at the stop “Qibao”, this is a great opportunity to see a traditional Chinese water town when you are on a budget or a tight schedule, as other water towns require taking a train for at least 30 minutes and paying an entrance fee. The typical Chinese constructions, lovely bridges that go over the canals, and the optional boat ride make for a great day trip. Here, you can also see Qibao Temple, watch a cricket fight or a shadow puppet play.  

      Qiabo Water town - Free things to do in Shanghai, China
      Photo by Molly Stevens / CC-BY

      Activities every day in the People’s Park

      Right in the centre of Shanghai is this large park filled with things to see and do. There is a large pond in the middle of the park, which in spring and summer is filled with beautiful lotus flowers. You can also find cafés, a modern art museum, a cherry tree garden, and a small amusement park.

      People’s Park is generally a very active community place, where people of all ages gather for dance lessons, tai chi, badminton, card games, and writing Chinese characters with water on the asphalt.

      If you are there on a Sunday, you will also be able to see the Marriage Market, where tons of mothers advertise their sons and daughters for marriage, by placing signs with their information on open umbrellas.

      People's Park - Free things to do in Shanghai, China
      Photo by Barbara Torris / CC-BY

      Peruse the Shanghai Museum

      This free museum is located in People’s square, next to the park. It has a large collection of cultural relics and artefacts dating back to ancient China. Although the entrance is completely free, you have to pay a few yuan for an audio guide tour if you want one. However, most of the exhibits have explanations in English.

      Shanghai Museum - Free things to do in Shanghai, China
      Photo by Jakukyo Friel / CC-BY

      Innovative Exhibitions at the M50 Creative Park

      The modern art galleries in M50, sometimes called the “urban ghetto” of Shanghai, are located in restored factories. These innovative exhibitions change periodically and entrance to all of them is free. You can also find some artists selling their work in the galleries, a few coffee shops, and some cheap places to eat.  

      M50 Creative Park - Free things to do in Shanghai, China
      Photo by Johnas / CC-BY

      Appreciate the Art at the Jing’An Sculpture Park

      This family-friendly park in north Jing’An is full of art and statues, as well as lots of space to walk around and enjoy an afternoon. Keep in mind though that you cannot step on the grass, but there is a lot of space to sit, relax, watch the people and admire the art.

      Jing’An Sculpture Park - Free things to do in Shanghai, China

      READ: If you are looking for more family-friendly activities around Shanghai, don’s miss this article.

      Get amongst the bustle of East Nanjing Pedestrian Street

      Taking a walk among the hectic lights and incredible bustle of East Nanjing Road is the perfect opportunity for people watching and window shopping. Walk along this street until you reach The Bund, just in time for the sunset.

      East Nanjing Pedestrian street - Free things to do in Shanghai, China
      Photo by David Veksler / CC-BY

      Sunset viewing at Lujiazui Ring Road

      Great at any time of day but best at sunset, this circle shaped pedestrian road that goes over Lujiazui in Pudong is the perfect place to admire the skyscrapers of this area. You’ll have amazing views of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the Shanghai Tower, Jing Mao Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center, among others. You can watch the buildings light up slowly as the sun sets and it gets dark.

      Lujiazui Ring Road - Free things to do in Shanghai, China

      But The Bund has the best Skylines

      If you want to see the best skyline of Shanghai with the fancy lights in the evening, you should make sure to be back in Puxi and at the Bund before sunset. With one side of the Huangpu river lined with art deco style buildings from the 1920s and 30s, and the other with the flashing lights and state of the art architecture of Pudong, this remarkable Shanghai skyline makes for the perfect postcard.

      The Bund - Free things to do in Shanghai, China

      Get lost in Tianzifang

      The lanes of Tianzifang house tons of small bars and restaurants as well as many street food stalls and small shops. The twisting lanes are like a maze, and it can get very packed during weekends, but it’s a great place to see nonetheless.

      Tianzifang - Free things to do in Shanghai, China
      Photo by Xiquinho Silva / CC-BY

      Window shopping in the French Concession

      The former French concession was one of the many foreign ghettos established in Shanghai during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Its tree-lined avenues are filled with hip cafes, restaurants, concept bars, boutiques and antique stores. Most of these stores and restaurants can get quite pricey (as they are mostly aimed towards the expatriate community), but it’s the perfect place to take a walk, shoot photos of traditional Shanghainese lanes, and see many historical buildings.

      READ: Liked this? Here’s more FREE Things to do in other parts of the world!

      Shanghai is an amazing city with loads of things to do. You don’t need to break your wallet to get a great taste of the city, as there are many free activities to include in your itinerary. Moreover, if you stick to Chinese style meals and accommodation, your trip to Shanghai can be absolutely affordable.

      If you are planning a trip to China, don’t miss my other articles on several destinations, plus tips on how to get prepared for your trip, over at www.ababyabroad.com.

      www.ababyabroad.com profileDANI KEMENY

      Dani is a writer at www.ababyabroad.com where she documents her life abroad and travels with her husband and 2-year-old son. So far, she has been to 42 countries, 19 of these with her son, since he was three months old. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

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