35 things to do in Shanghai with kids

Jan 13, 2020 | Asia, China, Family travel, Global travel

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(Last updated on: 27/08/2020)

Visiting Shanghai with kids can be a bit of a controversial topic. What about the air pollution? What about the busy streets? What if nobody speaks English? Well, rest assured- you CAN and SHOULD visit Shanghai with kids! Shanghai is a great city and there are so many things to do in Shanghai with kids. In this post I will explain why, giving my top recommendations for your family trip to Shanghai…

Shanghai with kids

Should I visit Shanghai with kids? Top Tips for parents…

Many people wonder whether they should visit Shanghai with kids. Yes, the nightlife is great, there is your usual major city hustle and bustle and Chinese food isn’t always the most Chinese friendly (my daughters have a tendency to throw rice all over the place…), BUT there are also many wonderful things to do in Shanghai that your children will love! In fact, many parents vouch that Shanghai is one of the best places to visit in China with kids.

We spent 48 hours in Shanghai with our baby and toddler and we had a lovely time. The kids were stimulated and it was both educational and fun. It wasn’t particularly relaxing, but then who travels to a major city with small children and expects to be relaxed?!

Shanghai is a vibrant international metropolis. Whilst it is most certainly Chinese, it is also very Westernised. Many people describe Shanghai as a nice break from the ‘real’ China, which can be difficult to travel in due to the language barriers and range of available food. In Shanghai, however, you will find travelling much easier. There are Western hotels and restaurants and many people speak English.

It is a a busy city and public transport or DiDis (the Chinese taxis) are cheap and convenient. However, I would advise taking only a lightweight stroller or carry your children because there are many steps that you will need to navigate.

Tip: Babywearing is much easier than using a stroller due to crowded areas and steps! I recommend the Tula Free to Grow, which comes with me EVERYWHERE on my travels!

Many people worry about air quality when considering visiting Shanghai with kids. If you’re living in China, like we are (you can read all about what it’s like to be an expat in China here), then air quality IS a concern. But if you are just here for a short trip it should be ok unless you or your children have a respiratory issue. The damage from air pollution is caused by long-term exposure, not over a couple of days.

The air quality is usually bad in Shanghai, especially during winter time. We were really lucky on our visit because the air quality was as good as it is in the UK and we had excellent visibility. But the chances are that you will not have such great air on your visit to Shanghai with kids.

My recommendation is to enjoy your trip, but to limit outside activities if you can when the pollution is high. You can check the air quality index (AQI) using a app on your phone. The app that I use is called AirMatters.

Tip: Download an AQI app on your phone/tablet to monitor air quality during your visit

You may have heard that cash is quickly becoming obsolete in China… well, worry not in Shanghai! Shanghai is an international city and you will have no problems paying by cash or using your debit/credit cards from home. But if you do want to ensure that you can always pay fast and efficiently, you can download the AliPay app (almost everything is paid for using the AliPay or WeChat apps in China) and top up your account using your debit card from your home country.

Tip: AliPay has recently opened its doors to foreigners! Download the app and top up your account to ensure that you can pay for things seamlessly whilst in China

Another concern that people have is that they fear there are not many kid-friendly activities to do in Shanghai. Well, they are wrong! Whilst strolling along The Bund or shopping in the fake markets might not appear kid-friendly, I am a firm believer that with the right enthusiasm, chatter and games, any activity can be fun for kids!

Where to stay in Shanghai with kids

Finding a great place to stay in Shanghai with kids isn’t very easy. Yes, there are some great hotels in Shanghai, but they are generally pretty expensive. There is also a distinct lack of family rooms. We actually hate family rooms anyway because we like to be able to have a conversation or watch some TV after the kids go to sleep in the evening!

Usually when we travel we stay in Airbnb accommodations. These work perfectly because they allow us to have a separate bedroom for the kids and to self cater, meaning that we can make our eating and sleeping schedules around the kids’ needs.

Read why we usually stay in Airbnb accommodation and get a discount on your next stay in this post- 7 reasons why we love Airbnb!

However, staying in an Airbnb isn’t a simple option in China. Not only are owners supposed to get a special license to accept foreigners on their premises, but foreigners are also required to register at the local police station. If you stay in a hotel then the hotel will organise the paperwork for you and you don’t even realised what goes on behind the scenes. But if you are not staying in a hotel then you will need to organise these logistics yourself, which can be a big pain!

Instead, we found an apartment on Booking.com. It was called the Lanson Place Jin Qiao Residence and it worked perfectly for our needs. The location was great, being just a couple of metro stops from most major attractions and it had two bedrooms, two bathrooms a living area and a kitchen. This gave us the space and flexibility that we need when travelling with a baby and a toddler. It was also great value for money as it was actually cheaper than most equivalent star rating hotel rooms!

If hotels are more your thing then I’ve done the research for you to find the best accommodation options for your trip to Shanghai with kids. Head over to my post- the best family hotels in Shanghai to see the best places to rest yours and your children’s heads for the night.

How to spend 48 hours in Shanghai with kids

We had a lovely time in Shanghai with kids. We were only there for two days, so we couldn’t possibly cover everything! But fortunately for us, we only live an hours train ride away, so we will be back! Here is a outline of our itinerary for our 48 hours in Shanghai with kids… (got more than 48 hours to spend in Shanghai? Scroll down to see my full list of all 35 things to do in Shanghai with kids!)

Strolling along The Bund in the daylight

The Bund is the most iconic area of Shanghai. It’s where people get those ‘Instagram worthy‘ shots. A trip to Shanghai is not complete without a stroll along The Bund to admire the scenery.

Want to do something a little different during your time at The Bund? There are a variety of activities from running to foodie tours that all take place on The Bund. Check out my post 10 cool things to do at The Bund, Shanghai for some inspiration!

Taking in the views at The World Financial Centre

There are various different viewing platforms in different buildings around Shanghai. They are various heights and some have glass floors to make the experience a little more thrilling (the kids will love it!).

We chose to visit The World Financial Centre as it’s one of the highest towers in Shanghai and offers a fantastic view of the Shanghai skyline. Beware though, it’s not for the faint hearted!

**Queues at the viewing towers can be long, especially during peak times. Click here to buy your tickets online and skip the queues!**

Going through the Shanghai sightseeing tunnel

The Shanghai sightseeing tunnel is an experience that the kids will enjoy. You will take a train ride beneath the river with a display of lights and images. You can see what the Shanghai sightseeing tunnel is like in this YouTube video.

Watching the light show at The Bund at night

Before you head out for dinner or put the kids to bed, head back over to The Bund to watch the light show. A show is put on each night and it runs every 15 minutes between 7-11pm in summer and 6-10pm in winter.

The lights are really cool and the kids will enjoy watching them.

The Bund Shanghai

Haggling at the Shanghai fake markets

There is something for everyone at the Shanghai fake markets. Whether you are visiting Shanghai with kids or without kids, you will be able to find some bargains here.

We visited the AP Plaza, which is inside the Shanghai Science & Technology Museum metro station and it was HUGE! You could literally spend all day here. We came away with clothes, bags, shoes and toys!

Tip: Download the Shanghai Fake Market app on your phone for haggling tips and to make sure you are not being overcharged!

Take in the culture at Jing’An Temple

We visited a couple of different temples whilst in Shanghai. I like to incorporate these cultural attractions, but it’s important not to get ‘templed out’. If you only have time to visit one temple during you are in Shanghai with kids, I recommend Jing’An Temple.

Shanghai with kids
Taking the kids around Jing’An Temple in Shanghai

Whilst visiting this temple we saw Buddhists burning red envelopes and incense and Monks singing. It’s a working temple so it was very authentic.

Tip: Remember to cover your shoulders when visiting Buddhist temples.

Be a tourist in the Old City

The old city of Shanghai boasts impressive buildings and architecture. It is worth a visit just to soak up the ambience of authentic Shanghai.

The kids enjoyed running around this area, although be warned- it can get VERY busy, especially during peak times!

There are many attractions in this area including the City God Temple and Yu Gardens.

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Relax at Yu Garden

Yu Garden is a popular attraction in Shanghai amongst tourists, and it’s no wonder why. This garden is a little piece of tranquility in the middle of the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s most metropolitan cities. Here you can relax and let the kids run around, whilst admiring the Chinese flora, fauna and architecture.

Tip: You may need to watch young children because not all grassy areas are to be walked on.

Other things to do in Shanghai with kids

You can’t see everything there is to see in Shanghai with kids in only 48 hours! Fortunately we live only a short train ride away from the city, so we plan to see LOTS more of the kid friendly Shanghai attractions. Here is a list of things that you might want to consider adding to your Shanghai with kids itinerary.

Shanghai Disney

Located in Pudong, Shanghai Disney Resort is the first Disney park resort in mainland China. It opened in 2016, and has everything you’d expect it to have. There are themed hotels, a Disneyland park and a complete dining, shopping and entertainment district known as Disneytown. This is an ideal way to spend time in Shanghai with kids!

Remember- queues can be long at Shanghai Disney so don’t forget to purchase your fast pass in advance and skip the queues!

Shanghai Ocean Aquarium

Famous for its 168-metre tunnel, the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium is loved by kids and adults alike. The tunnel takes visitors through open ocean, a kelp cave, a coatal reef, a shark cove, and a coral reef. It is actually one of the longest tunnels in the world! There are hundreds of species at the aquarium, too.

Happy Valley Shanghai Theme Park

Another theme park, Happy Valley Shanghai is popular with thrill-seekers. Located in the Songjiang District, it is packed with exciting rollercoasters, mine trains and plenty of family-friendly rides too.

Shanghai Open Top Bus Tour

What better way to see the city than on an open-top bus? Take the weight off your feet and whizz around the city, spotting all the best bits without having to walk between them. This is absolutely perfect if you’re visiting Shanghai with kids, especially little ones!

Shanghai Wild Animal Park

Want to get really close to animals? This safari park will let you do just that, as well as feeding and petting the animals where appropriate. The animals are well taken care of, and the guides are knowledgeable. Perfect for your inquisitive kids!

Shanghai Zoo

The main zoo in Shanghai has over 6,000 animals. There are lions, tigers, monkeys, pandas, camels, lynxes and more! It is THE places to see giant pandas, which for most is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

People’s Park

Located in the Huangpu District, People’s Park is a public park created in 1952. It is one of the top tourist destinations in Shanghai, and contains two museums – Shanghai History Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai. There is a pond, funfair, the English corner and “blind date corner”, where marriage listings are posted publicly each week!

Oriental Pearl Tower

Once the tallest structure in China, this is one impressive building. If you’re visiting Shanghai with kids, they will be in awe of the Oriental Pearl Tower! It is actually a TV tower, and has 15 different observatory levels allowing you to see the city from different angles. There’s even a hotel, a revolving restaurant and a shopping centre inside.

Shanghai Natural History Museum

For little ones that love to learn, the Natural History Museum is a must. It is located at the Jing’an Sculpture Park and has thousands of samples within it. There are mummies, animal skeletons, minerals, plants and more.

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Shanghai Science and Technology Museum

One of the city’s most popular museums, the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum has 14 permanent exhibitions and 4 science-themed cinemas. The exhibitions cover all sorts of things to do with science, technology, space, animals and more, with designated kids’ areas too.

Shanghai Children’s Museum

If you are visiting Shanghai with kids, then the Shanghai Children’s Museum is an obvious choice. It is free, interactive and air-conditioned, so it’s perfect for getting out of the heat for a couple of hours.

Shanghai Chocolate Factory

The Zotter Chocolate Theatre is a winner with kids. English-speaking tours start on the hour and include chocolate production, tasting, a visit to the chocolate shop and more. It is located within the Shanghai International Fashion Center, and is open daily.

Shanghai Sculpture Park

An open-air museum of sorts, the Sculpture Park is great when visiting Shanghai with kids. Literally a park full of sculptures, it is fascinating to walk around and marvel at the giant artwork on display – and perfect for those interested in photography too! Be warned that there isn’t much shade, so pack a hat and some SPF.

Century Park

The largest park in Shanghai, Century Park has a lot going on. In the Pudong New Area, it was completed in the year 2000 and combines nature with modernity. You can cycle, go fishing, feed pigeons and so much more. It covers 346 acres and is split into 7 different areas – so you can easily spend an entire day out here in the fresh air.

3D Magic Fun House

A must-see when visiting Shanghai with kids, the 3D Magic Fun House is full of paintings that play tricks on your eyes and allow you to play with perspective. There are so many fun photo opportunities, and your little ones will certainly be in awe!

Shanghai Circus World

Comparable to a Broadway or West End musical, this circus show is one of the best in the world. It is a multimedia spectacular, and loved by everybody who sees it. With my husband’s previous career as an international trampoline gymnast, this one is definitely on our radar!

Ocean Park

Themed around ocean culture, this is another theme park that is incredibly popular for those visiting Shanghai with kids. With rollercoasters, a hotel, cinemas and live shows, there is something for everyone here!

Shanghai Natural Wildlife Insect Kingdom

For little ones fascinated by insects, as many are, this is fantastic. Alongside the insects there are reptiles and amphibians, located across various themed sections of the park. Children can feed small animals and learn so much more about the smallest creatures on the planet.

Shopping malls and indoor play areas

Shanghai is full of shopping malls – Times Square, the Grand Gateway Plaza and Super Brand Mall are just some of the places you can go to shop ’til you drop, especially if you are travelling to Shanghai with kids who are a bit older.

Indoor play areas for younger kids are found in most shopping malls across Shanghai, which is great if it’s raining or too hot – Balloon Island and Twinkle Premium Kids Club are two of the best.

Cooking classes

If you are looking to do something a bit different, take a cooking class! Make Chinese dumplings among other local dishes like soup and dim sum. Classes are available in English and there are so many to choose from.

Themed Restaurants

Are you a foodie family? There are various themed restaurants in Shanghai, such as Hello Kitty Bistro Bianco, a dog cafe called Canil, and More Than Toilet – a restaurant themed around, well, toilets! Many of these restaurants are a once in a lifetime dining experience, and so much fun.

Boat trips

Whether it’s a yacht experience or a river cruise, sailing down the Huangpu River is a great way to see Shanghai. You can do this during the day or at night, and it’s magical no matter what time it is. There are so many beautiful and iconic buildings in Shanghai, and the dazzling skyline is best seen from the water.

Martial arts classes

Want to try something new? Take a martial arts class in Shanghai. Many places, like the Shanghai BJJ Academy, offer a free taster class – not many people can say they’ve taken a martial arts class in Shanghai, so this is definitely a fun and unique experience that your kids will remember forever.

Bike tours

Whether it’s a full or just half-day tour, you can cycle around Shanghai with a guide and explore the city while keeping fit. Many tours incorporate lunch or a food-tasting experience, and bikes tours generally give you a better way of seeing a city without walking around all day!

Maglev train

The Shanghai maglev train is actually the oldest maglev train still in operation, and it is a super speedy train that runs between Pudong International Airport and Longyang Road in just over 7 minutes.

If you are visiting Shanghai with kids who love trains, buses and trucks – like many do – then this is something fun and easy to experience!

Visit a water town

There are many ancient water towns near Shanghai. Zhujiajiao Water Town is the closest (around 50 km away) and, much like Venice in Italy, is incredibly popular with visitors to Shanghai. With gardens, bridges and old winding streets, Zhujiajiao is a beautiful and fascinating place to explore. You can even take a gondola ride!

Getting to Zhujiajiao is easy via metro (line 17), bus (from Gate 5 at Shanghai Stadium in the mornings) or taxi. Alternatively, you can book a private tour to this ancient water town!

Take a day trip to Hangzhou!

As many of you will know, we live in Hangzhou, so it wouldn’t feel right not to promote it as a great place to visit with kids from Shanghai!

Hangzhou is thought by many to be the most beautiful city in China. It has the picturesque West Lake, numerous temples and pagodas and a spectacular mountain backdrop.

Reached in under an hour on the bullet train from Shanghai, Hangzhou should definitely be on your Shanghai with kids itinerary!

You can read all about what it’s like to live and travel in Hangzhou in my post about being an expat in Hangzhou.

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Hi, am Dr Hayley Stainton

I’ve been travelling, studying and teaching travel and tourism since I was 16. Through Tourism Teacher I share my knowledge on the principles and practice of travel and tourism management from both an academic and practical perspective.

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