All Your Shanghai Questions Answered

By Johanna Read

Shanghai: Old and new in the world’s biggest city

All Your Shanghai Questions Answered

The two Chinese characters for Shanghai mean "above" and "the sea," giving the name of the city the literal translation of "upon the sea." But most visitors to this immense city don’t even notice the Yellow Sea. The waterfront most visitors enjoy is the Huangpu River as they explore the colonial Bund on one side and the futuristic skyscrapers of Pudong on the other.

Q: What province is Shanghai in?

A: Shanghai is China’s – and the world’s – largest city. This status means it doesn’t need a province governing it. Shanghai is a direct-controlled Chinese municipality.

Q: How big is Shanghai?

A: The city has an area of 2,448 square miles and includes four major islands. It is not the largest in terms of area, but Shanghai’s population gives it the title of world’s largest city.

Q: How many people live in Shanghai?

A: Shanghai is the most populous city proper in the world and has a population of more than 24 million people, according to the Shanghai Statistics Bureau.

Q: What language do they speak in Shanghai?

A: Both standard Mandarin and Shanghainese, also called the Wu dialect, are spoken in the city. Many people speak English too.

Q: What is the weather in Shanghai?

A: Shanghai is subtropical. The spring, from March to May, is said to be Shanghai’s best travel season because the temperatures are mild and it’s quite dry. Shanghai gets a lot of rain, about 50 inches annually, but most of it falls during May to September, in three distinct monsoon rain periods called the Spring Rains, Plum Rains and Autumn Rains. Typhoons can happen from late August to mid-September. The temperature can reach the 90s in the summer and close to freezing in January and February, though snow is very rare.

Q: How to dress for Shanghai weather?

A: Packing a light sweater is wise for spring and autumn travel, as well as for summer air conditioning. Rain gear is useful for the summer and autumn. A warm coat and gloves will be welcome in January and February. Many Shanghai women, especially younger ones, dress according to the very latest fashions. Tourists aren’t expected to keep up, but those who do will be admired.

Q: How to apply for a Shanghai visa?

A: Citizens of 53 countries, including the United States, can visit Shanghai visa-free for six days (144 hours). Many airlines give their passengers a card to fill out when they check in for their flight to Shanghai. Upon arrival in Shanghai, look for the 144-hour visa-free counter to show the form, a valid passport and onward ticket within the 144-hour period.

To stay in Shanghai longer, or to go to cities that don't have a visa exemption, you'll need a visa, and most visitors must apply for it outside of China. The requirements differ depending on a number of circumstances, including the number of entries requested, if the applicant was previously a citizen of China or if the applicant has family living in China. The U.S. Department of State has specific information on its website.

Q: How many airports in Shanghai?

A: Shanghai has two commercial airports. Pudong International Airport is the main international airport, and Hongqiao International Airport serves mainly domestic flights, with just a few international connections.

Q: How to get from the Shanghai airport to the Bund?

A: A high-speed Maglev train runs every 10 minutes from Pudong to the Longyang Road Station, where passengers can transfer to the metro or take a taxi to the Bund. Travelers can take the metro to the Bund from both Shanghai airports. Taxis and hired cars are other options.

Q: How to get around Shanghai?

A: A city with such a large population needs a good transportation system. Light rail, trams, trains, high-speed rail, buses and taxis take citizens and visitors wherever they need to go.

Q: What to do in Shanghai?

A: Visitors to Shanghai should be sure to sample something of both old and new China. A river cruise helps orient travelers and gives plenty of opportunity to admire Shanghai’s architecture. Colonial buildings are featured on the Bund side of the river, where pedestrians walk along the riverside promenade. On the Pudong side, modern skyscrapers dominate. Visitors shouldn't miss these notable structures, which are beautifully lit up at night:

  • Oriental Pearl Tower is a TV tower resembling a rocket ship. At night, its LED lighting flashes in sequences.
  • Shanghai Tower, with its spiraling shape and observation deck, is China’s tallest building. 
  • Jin Mao Tower contains a shopping mall and hotel in its pagoda-like form.

Shoppers and people watchers enjoy pedestrian-friendly Nanjing Road, with its Chinese and international chain stores and restaurants selling delicacies.

Visitors hoping to see traditional China have options too:

  • Yu Garden, or Yuyuan, is a 5-acre garden from the Ming dynasty. Bridges over koi-filled ponds connect pavilions and the various sections of the garden, each separated by a wall topped with a dragon. 
  • Yuyuan Bazaar, with a teahouse, shopping and restaurants, is right next door to the Yu Garden.

It’s even possible to see Mickey Mouse in China by going to Shanghai Disney Resort and Shanghai Disneyland, reachable by Metro Line 11.

About the Author

Johanna Read is a Canadian freelance writer and photographer specializing in travel, food, and responsible tourism. Writing for a variety of Canadian and international publications, she likes to encourage travel that is culturally, economically, and environmentally sustainable. Links to all her travel stories are at www.TravelEater.net. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEater and on Instagram @TravelEaterJohanna.