5 June 2019

Shanghai Layover Guide: How to spend 48 hours in Shanghai

I had a fantastic layover in Shanghai last year on my way to Europe. It's such an attractive and fascinating city with a great mixture of old and new. It far exceeded my expectations and surprised me in a good way.

With a population of over 23 million, Shanghai is the country's largest city and the most developed metropolis in Mainland China. I extended my layover to 48 hours and was excited to explore as much as I could. I did plenty of research and pre-planned a few activities which I highly recommend.

Here is my guide with some tips and top things to do on your next layover in Shanghai.

Transit Visa

China has a free 72-hour transit visa for flight layovers in major Chinese cities. Exceptions are if you’re from Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Macau and the Bahamas (please check your country requirements beforehand). For trips longer than 72 hours, you’ll need to get a regular visa.

Tip: If you're going through Shanghai Pudong Airport go straight to rows 1, 2, 3 for your transit visa. Don't go to the regular foreign line and have to wait twice like I did... (it takes long enough as it is!).

From the airport/Transport


I took a taxi from the airport straight to my hotel at The Bund and used them a number of times throughout my layover. They are very affordable and a convenient way to get around. Not one driver that I had spoke English so always have your address where you're going written down in Chinese characters.

My taxi from the airport took a whole hour and only cost ¥170 (US $24).

Maglev Train

Another option from Pudong Airport to the city centre is the Maglev train. At 431 kph (270 mph, twice the speed of a theme park roller coaster), this air-conditioned, super-clean, magnetically-levitated train covers 30 km (19 miles) in only 8 minutes.


Shanghai has an incredibly easy metro/subway system and much of the routes/lines are colour-coded for ease. You can buy an unlimited 24 hour (¥18) and 72-hour pass (¥45). A single way ticket can range anywhere from ¥3 to ¥11 depending upon distance. Hours run roughly 5:30 am to 10:30 pm.

Old Shanghai Highlights Tour

For first time visitors, I highly recommend Jenny's Shanghai ToursAs my flight arrived at 7 am and I couldn't check in to my hotel until 2 pm, I organised a morning half day Old Shanghai Highlights tour with them and it was the perfect introduction to the city's history, culture, tastes and sounds.

My friendly local guide picked me up directly from my hotel lobby and over three and a half hours, he showed me around some incredible sights by walking and public transport, all while sharing interesting facts and information about Shanghai.

We visited the famous Yu Garden, walked through the historic backstreets of Old Shanghai and stopped for delicious local dumplings for lunch. To finish up, we went to Confucian Temple where I got to experience a traditional Chinese tea ceremony.

Throughout the tour, my guide gave me so many helpful tips and recommendations for the rest of my time in Shanghai, which I was very grateful for!

They also offer full day tours and many others around Shanghai, Beijing and more, so definitely check them out if you're heading to China!

Read More: Old Shanghai Highlights Tour

The Bund

I happened to be staying at The Bund but even if you're not, this is one place you shouldn't miss. 
The waterfront area has picture-perfect views of Shanghai’s skyscrapers in the Pudong District.

It’s one of Shanghai’s most famous tourist destinations and a stroll along the boardwalk is lovely both day and night. If you have the time, a boat or ferry cruise along the Huangpu River is a great way to explore The Bund and enjoy the stunning skyline views.

Nanjing Road & People's Square

The famous Nanjing Road is one of China’s best and busiest shopping streets. It's the Shanghai equivalent of New York's Fifth Avenue. It stretches six miles and boasts retailers from all over the world in addition to local shops and department stores.

If you’re an avid shopper, you might want to book accommodations nearby.

Nearby Nanjing Road, Peoples Square is a large public square with beautifully manicured gardens,  amazing and cheap local restaurants and street food stalls, parks, museums, and more. It offers a tranquil escape from city life. 

Shanghai Tower

If you love going up really tall buildings, don't miss Shanghai Tower which is the second tallest in the world. This mega skyscraper is 632-metres (2,073 ft) and 128-stories high.

Entrance to the top is ¥160 (US $23) if you prebook online or ¥180 at the door. This is an amazing price compared to the world's highest building, the Burj Khalifa.

Enjoy amazing 360 panoramic views all across Shanghai, as far as the eye can see.

UnTour Food Tour

Another tour that I highly enjoyed doing was the Eat Like A Local: Shanghai Night Eats Tour with UnTour Food ToursIt's the number one original and top-rated food tour in not only Shanghai but the whole of China.

Being a total foodie, I was most excited to try authentic Chinese food for the first time. I absolutely love doing food tours in each new country I visit, it ensures you try some of the very best, you get to learn all about it and it sets you up for the rest of your time there.

Over three hours and five different stops, it was a culinary journey filled with so many flavourful, delicious and unique local dishes. At each place, we also enjoyed local beer and rice wine which made for even more of a merry occasion.

I loved being taken into authentic local shops off the beaten path, trying new specialised regional cuisine in each place. At the end, we were given a handy booklet with tips and recommendations on the best places to eat for the rest of our time in Shanghai.

Read More: Shanghai's Must-Do Food Tour

Where I stayed

Where to stay in Shanghai is totally up to you but I highly recommend Les Suites Orient as I had a fantastic stay there. It certainly wasn't the cheapest hotel but I splashed out because it had great reviews and I wanted to have a good first experience in China.

The hotel was modern, extremely comfortable and in a great location right across the road from The Bund which my room had a fantastic view of. It was a whole hours drive from the airport but I would absolutely stay there again on my next visit.

The view from my room


Something I didn't know too much about before I went to China is that they have a huge firewall and block a lot of foreign websites. I had heard that Facebook was blocked but I didn't know it was Google in its entirety.

As someone that heavily relies on Google Maps while travelling this was an obstacle for me. I had to go #OldSchool and ask my hotel for directions and recommendations.

I couldn't get access to my work emails (Gmail) and struggled a lot with messaging people back at home. In the end, I found that my Hotmail email and Whatsapp worked so I used those.

Apparently, there are VPN blocker apps that you can pre-download before you arrive so do your research if you wish to have full internet access.

Pin it! :)

Those are my top recommended must-sees and tips for a 48-hour layover in Shanghai. I know I only visited a very small portion but I was very impressed with the city from the parts I did see.

It was clean, the people were friendly and take care of the city. It was colourful and full of flowers, the air was clean, there was no rubbish and it was very pleasant to walk around.

I'm sure you'll enjoy a layover there as much as I did. If you would like to see a bit more, check out my Shanghai vlog I made for YouTube:

Do you have any other Shanghai travel tips and places to add? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy Travels,


1 comment

  1. Thanks for all the ideas. I didn't have a clue what to do but got some good idea now for my layover coming up


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