Forget the bund, Yu Gardens and Nanjing Road. You want to see what else Shanghai has to offer. What unusual, quirky and interesting things are waiting to be discovered in this Chinese metropolis? Do you want to find places of the beaten path that not every tourist knows about? Carry on reading as I reveal the top 14 quirky things to do in Shanghai.
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Map of quirky and unusual things to do in Shanghai
Jing’An Sculpture Park
Whilst Shanghai does have a few parks, many are very overcrowded, and it can be hard to find a space! One park that never seems too busy on the other hand is Jing’An Sculpture park. In the heart of Shanghai’s upmarket shopping district lies a little green oasis full of interesting sculptures. This park is home to many beautiful works of art. Find glistening musical instruments, a giant fox and a stag with butterfly antlers. The theme of nature is continued as the entrance to the Natural History Museum is also located in this park. Feel the springy green grass beneath your feet as you admire the interesting artwork. Bring a picnic and stay a while. If you have left the picnic blanket at home, there is a coffee shop underneath a large red spider-webbed structure. Wherever you look there is something unusual to look at. Jing’An is a very instagrammable and quirky place to visit in Shanghai.
Closest Metro(s): West Nanjing Road, Shanghai Natural History Museum
Address: 128 Shimen Er Lu, near Beijing Xi Lu
Bouldering on the Bund
Even if you are not a climber or boulderer you should check out the boulder wall next to the Huangpu river. Enjoy a little work out next to Shanghai’s main waterway as boats and ships pass you whilst you climb. There are routes for all abilities, beginners as well as professionals. Just be aware that some of the climbing holds are a little lose. Gingerly test them before you trust all of your weight on one!
Don’t forget your bouldering shoes!
If you do not feel like getting out of breath, it is also nice to just sit on peculiar shaped seats and watch others climb. The colossal, old cranes watch over you, they are not hard to miss as they have been given a new lick of bright orange paint. Sit under the cranes and watch the many skateboarders who also use this area making this part of the riverside a wonderful place to people watch the sporty Shanghainese.
Closest Metro: Middle Longhua Road
Address: 3398 Longteng Avenue, near Dong’an Lu
Expore edgy M50
No visit to Shanghai is complete without visiting M50. Located in an old industrial estate on Moganshan Lu, this area has been transformed into the vibrant artistic heart of this Chinese metropolis. A labyrinth of quirky galleries and secret cafes await you. Make sure your visit includes the following: Island 6 for an interactive experience, the Chronus Art Centre for weird, wacky exhibitions and take photos with the infamous M50 graffiti wall. You can easily spend a morning wondering around the maze of M50 and discovering the unusual shops and interesting art. M50 is part of Shanghai’s edgy subculture, making it a very quirky thing to do in Shanghai.
Closest metro: Jiangning Lu
Address: 50 Moganshan Lu, near Xi Suzhou Lu, Putuo district
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Rent a Tandem Bike in Century Park
For a fun and quirky activity rent a tandem bike in Century park. The entrance to Century park is a mere 10 RMB and you are then free to roam the vast park however you choose. Personally, I believe the tandem bike is the best way to weave your way through the crowds around the lake and over the fields. You can hire a bike for as long as you like and explore Century park. It may take a few minutes for you to work on your balance with your cycling partner, but you will soon get the hang of it! Visit Century park in spring to see beautiful pink blossom canopies and fields of gold. Enjoy your fun afternoon of cycling around Shanghai’s largest park on a tandem bike!
If you enjoy embracing your inner child you will also love visiting Shanghai Disneyland!
Closest metro: Century Park
Address: 1001 Jinxiu Lu, near Fangdian Lu, Pudong
Shanghai’s West Bund
Follow the tracks on the floor and wander through great concrete structures near Shanghai’s hip West Bund. Shanghai’s new centre of art sits next to the Huangpu river amidst relics of Shanghai’s industrial past. For example, the lush green park has a long concrete path which the architects named the runway park to celebrate the former airport which stood on this site. The designers drew inspiration from Canary Wharf, London and Hamburg, Germany to combine old and new. Now a hub of culture, art, media, fashion and innovative design the West Bund definitely deserves a place on our quirky Shanghai list. Whilst it feels more manicured than gritty M50 it is well on its way of completing its aim to compete with London’s South Bank for a place on the world’s best artistic river bank list.
Closest Metro: Middle Longhua Road
Address: 2555 Longteng Dadao, near Fenggu Lu, Xuhui district
Hongqiao Flower Market
The Hongquiao Flower Market is not the quirkiest thing to do in Shanghai, but so many of my friends and colleagues loved visiting the Hongqiao Flower Market, therefore I have decided to add it to this list. Step into a world of colourful blooms, sweet succulents, cute garden furniture and pretty pots. The air is thick with floral scents. I do not advise a visit if you suffer from hay fever. The market is large but feels intimate with lots of hidden corners concealing little shops. The Hongqiao Flower market is very Instagram friendly! Not that you can use Instagram in China without a VPN of course…
Closest metro: Longbai Xincun
Address: 718 Hongjing Lu, near Hongsong Lu
Power Station of Art
Another artistic gem has made it onto our list but this time, this art gallery is housed in a former power station. Called the wonderfully logical name of Power Station of Art, it is China’s first state-run contemporary art museum. The renovation of this building cost the Shanghai government $64 million, but what a wonderful way of preserving the old and filling the building with modern art. The building is indeed a work of art in itself. Many exhibitions are free and the views from the rooftop over the former Expo site are spectacular. Every time you visit you will find new art, different sculptures and interesting exhibitions. Not many tourists know about this quirky place.
Closest Metro: 15 mins walk from South Xizang Rd
The Normandy Apartments
The French Concession appears on all Shanghai guides but not all of them mention the haunted house on the corner of Wukang Road. The beautiful Normandy apartments are a stunning piece of architecture to behold, for the best shot walk to the centre of the zebra crossing. However, this stunning building holds sinister secrets. At the start of the century, this was the postcode that all of Shanghai’s rich and famous wanted. Yet by the 60ies most of the movie stars had left, just a few remained such as Shangguan Yunzhu. Shangguan was no longer in her hay day. The actress was branded as a reactionary, her films seen as ‘poisonous weeds’ and thusly she ended her life by jumping from the 7th floor. This is not the only suicide and some parts of Shanghai call the Normandy apartments by the ominous name of ‘the diving board’. During the cultural revolution, many intellectuals and enemies of the state took their lives here. The Normandie hides its dark secrets well behind its perfectly manicured facade.
Closest metro: Jiaotong University
Address: 1850 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Wukang Lu
China Art Museum
Shanghai is full of quirky architecture. One building that is particularly quirky is the China Art Museum. Originally built for the Shanghai Expo of 2010, this huge red building housed the China Pavillion. Now it has been transformed into an art museum. This large building resembles a crimson graduation cap as you stand before it. Climb the many, many steps as you enter the vast space inside. You climb the many, many escalators to reach the museum inside the top of the building. The China Art Museum is interesting, but it is not my favourite museum in Shanghai. There is not a huge amount of art inside despite its vast size, therefore, the exterior is far more interesting than the interior in my opinion. I believe the building itself is the true winner of quirky masterpieces in Shanghai.
Closest Metro: China Art Museum
Address: 161 Shangnan Lu, near Guozhan Lu
A red telephone box, brick buildings, a huge church, street signs in English with names such as Cambridge Road … am I still in Shanghai? Technically yes but you feel as if you were thousands of miles away on the British Isle. Welcome to Thames Town, one of a few themed towns dotted around Shanghai. Whilst it takes a bit of effort to get to, as it does not have its own metro station, it is still a very quirky place to visit during your trip to Shanghai. Channel your inner brit as you walk along the cobbled lanes and ignore the huge air conditioning units clinging to the brick buildings. Thames Town is quite compact, so take your time, stop for a pot of tea and just for a moment, you can forget that you are in China.
Closest Metro: Songjiang Xincheng
Address: Tàiwùshì xiǎo zhèn
Don’t disturb the Dragon
I would not advise going out of the way for the next attraction, but it is a nice local legend. The Shanghai’s Nine Dragon Pillar lies beneath the busy Chengdu Bei Lu and Yan’an Lu highway intersection. It is a beautiful pillar full of golden dragons and phoenixes, yet what fascinates me is the story behind this random, decadent pillar. During the 90ies when the Yan’an highway was being constructed, everything was going as planned until they hit a part of the ground which no machinery could pierce. Eventually, after exhausting all mechanical means, they called a priest. The priest conducted investigations and informed the builders that they had awoken a dragon who lay in slumber beneath the ground. They were trying to drill onto the dragon’s tail which, of course, no modern means could penetrate. The priest bargained with the dragon who in return for moving his tail required a noble gesture. Thus, the pillar was created to honour him. In a more sinister version the priest mysteriously dies as the dragon was angry that his hiding place had been revealed. Others say the builders choose to decorate a pillar with dragons because the overlaying roads looked like a dragon in flight. Whichever story you choose, the Nine Dragon Pillar is a quirky addition to the busy intersection.
Closest metro: Huangpi South Road
Address: Chengdu Bei Lu and Yan’an Lu intersection
Get very drunk in Japan town
Japan Town is in Changning district not far from the metro stations of Wening Lu and Loushanguan Lu. Come here for a very good night out and party hard like the Japanese. All you can drink for two hours is around 40 yuan. Spend two (or four hours if you are feeling brave) drinking sake and Japanese beer to your heart’s content then stumble into one of the many KTVs in the area. Sing karaoke loudly and out of tune until the break of dawn. No trip to Shanghai is complete without going to KTV! Just don’t expect to do too much site seeing the next day as you nurse your head banging hangover. Believe me though that your night out in Japan town will be worth it!
Metro: Wening Lu
Address: Xian Xia Lu, near Anlong Lu
Unwind in Cute Coffee Shops
Forget the touristy tea ceremonies, you need a nice strong coffee to fuel your quirky sightseeing. There are quite a few nice coffee shops dotted around Shanghai. My personal favourite are the Paloma Café and Café Undefine. Paloma Café, near touristy Tianzifang, is a wonderful white haven of industrial chic. Excellent coffee can be enjoyed here. Café Undefine is located in M50. Step under the bright fairy lights and find a comfy spot on the balcony. Both cafes provide perfect places to chill and recharge your batteries away from the crowds. Great quirky alternatives to the thousands of Starbucks dotted around the city!
Closest metro: Zhongtan Road
Address: 50 Moganshan Lu, near Xi Suzhou Lu
Propaganda Poster Art Museum
Possibly my favourite quirky museum of all time, the Propaganda Poster Art Museum is as quirky as it gets. Randomly housed in a residential apartment, simply gaining entry is an adventure. After you have identified the correct building, after many bewildered residents had no idea what we were looking for, you have to ask the security guard for a map to find the entrance. Once you have located the museum you step inside a picture-guided tour of Mao Zedong’s rise and fall. Over 5,000 propaganda posters, many rescued from recycling centres and rubbish bins span from the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 to the end of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1970s. Follow the posters in chronological order as you see clear political messages and symbolism in the images. It is fascinating. There are also some lovely prints from Shanghai’s nostalgic twenties. I greatly enjoyed this colourful history lesson. No photos are allowed inside but you can buy copies of most of the posters which make perfect quirky souvenirs to take home. If you only have time for one museum whilst you are in Shanghai, make sure it is the Propaganda Poster Art Museum!
Closest Metro: Changshu Lu
Address: 868 Huashan Lu, near Zhenning Lu, Xuhui district
If you are interested in the history of propaganda in China, you may enjoy one of these books.
Which quirky places in Shanghai would you like to visit?
I hope you enjoyed the list of quirky things to do in Shanghai. Many tourists I met during my travels in China dismissed Shanghai as they believed there is not much to see or do in the city beyond the normal tourist traps. I disagree and feel there are many interesting and quirky things to discover in China’s largest city.
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