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72 Hours in Shanghai

China has been rolling out a new 72-hour transit visa exemption policy in major cities throughout the country, making visiting China even easier. Now travelers from the U.S., Canada, and 49 other countries can include China as an additional destination on an existing trip without needing to get a visa. Under the policy, visitors are able to enter select Chinese cities for up to 72 hours without a visa, as long as they have a booked plane ticket to a third country or region within the 72-hour time period. This applies to the cities of Beijing, ShanghaiGuangzhou, Chengdu, ChongqingShenyang, Dalian, Xi’an, GuilinKunming, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Xiamen, Harbin and Tianjin. China continues to expand this policy to additional locations throughout the destination. In the meantime, these cities are the ideal stopovers or add-on destinations for travelers already in Asia.

Now that you can visit Shanghai for up to 72 hours without getting a visa, the only question is what you want to do while in this bustling metropolis. The good news is that Shanghai is doable within three days. Here are some of the top things to do in Shanghai to make the most of your 72-hour trip:

First Things First: Airports & Maglev Train

When you land at either of Shanghai’s airports – Pudong International Airport or Hongqiao Airport – make sure you go the special visa-free channels set up specifically for you. This will streamline your arrival process. At Pudong, take a ride on the Maglev train – a magnetic levitating train – to connect you from the airport to Metro Line 2. It’s a convenient way to get into the city and makes for a memorable start to your trip in Shanghai. One way on the Maglev is 50 yuan (~$7.90).

Oriental Pearl Tower

Shanghai’s skyline of brightly lit futuristic buildings is constantly growing and changing, but the Oriental Pearl Tower may be the most iconic building among the lot. Located in the Pudong District aside the Huangpu River, its 15 observatory levels – including a revolving restaurant and upper observation platform with glass floor – and its position opposite the Bund also make it the best view in town.

The Bund

A mile-long waterfront area in Central Shanghai, the Bund is home to fascinating architecture from Shanghai’s colonial history at the turn of the 20th century. Along the Bund’s Zhongshan Road, 52 buildings with various Western classical and modern influences – including Art Deco, Gothic, Baroque, Neo-Classical, and other historic styles of architecture – sit regally and make for an ideal place to stroll. The Bund faces the Pudong District across the Huangpo River, so the panoramic views of the water and the thriving modern metropolis across the way are excellent from here as well. The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, a pedestrian-only tunnel of lights and colors, will get you across the river and provide a fun lightshow along the way.

Nanjing Road

From its beginnings as a British concession, Nanjing Road (Nanjing Lu) has since become not only the busiest shopping street in Shanghai, but also the longest shopping district in the world. Nanjing Road spans 3.4 miles from its start at the Bund to its end at the junction of Jing’an Temple and Yan’an West Street. Some 1.7 million people – from locals to business people to tourists – fill Nanjing Road each day to visit its 600 shops, restaurants and businesses. It is divided into two lengths, east and west, with the eastern section being an all-weather pedestrian-only stretch and the place to buy Shanghai’s specialties such as silk and jade. Open-air bars, art, and street musicians make Nanjing Road an excellent spot for an evening stroll, and a trackless sightseeing train provides a view of the sights in comfort.

Jade Buddha Temple

For a peaceful refuge from the bustle of modern Shanghai, the Jade Buddha Temple is a beautiful respite filled with historic artistic works. Originally built in 1882, the temple houses two jade Buddha statues from Burma. These important cultural relics were carved from whole white jade; one depicts a sitting Buddha, while the other is a recumbent Buddha poised in “lucky pose.” The Shanghai Buddhism Institute, one of the largest collections of rare Buddhist scriptures, a gift shop, and a vegetarian restaurant are also in residence at the Jade Buddha Temple.

Shanghai Museum

The Shanghai Museum features ancient Chinese art, historic artifacts and rotating special exhibits. Situated on People’s Square in Central Shanghai’s Huangpu District, this world-class museum houses 11 galleries and three exhibition halls. Tickets are free, with 8,000 tickets (including 2,500 for reserved visitors) being issued each day, at different periods throughout the day.

Yu Garden

Yu (or Yuyuan) Garden is a famous and extensive classical garden located beside the City of God Temple in the old city portion of Shanghai. Built between 1559 and 1577 by a local government official, Pan Yunduan, as a private estate for his parents to spend their golden years, the site’s name means “Garden of Peace and Comfort.” Yu Garden covers approximately five acres and features beautifully preserved Ming Dynasty pavilions, elaborate rockeries, arched bridges, goldfish ponds, and peaceful cloisters, all encircled by garden walls topped with an undulating dragon to ward off evil spirits. Today Yu Garden even has a teahouse, restaurant and a bazaar where you can buy souvenirs, haggle over prices, or sample local snacks. As the most complete classical garden in urban Shanghai and a sprawling, beautiful place to explore, Yu Garden is a must-see while in Shaghai.


Formerly a residential neighborhood with a mix of old-world and Western-style architecture, Xintiandi has been reborn as a high-end shopping, dining and entertainment district. A traditional mid-19th century stone gate called a “shikumen” leads into picturesque streets lined with boutiques, as well as cafes and restaurants with outdoor seating. Xintiandi is often less crowded than Nanjing Road and the Bund, making it an ideal place to stroll, stop into shops, have lunch or dinner, or simply sip coffee or tea at one of the many restaurant’s outside seating areas and take in the sights around you. Xintiandi also has an active nightlife.