Experience Shanghai for under $250: Budget travel guide

PHOTO: Reuters

Shanghai, Paris of the Orient, is one of Asia's most thrilling cities. Packed full of life and energy, fantastic food and a whole host of fascinating hot spots from the past, present and future to engage with, the city demands attention and deep exploration. Skyscanner leads the way with our best budget itinerary on wallet-friendly things to do, see and eat in Shanghai.

Cheap flights to Shanghai

Length of stay: 3 days/2 nights

Accommodation: Blue Mountain Bund Youth Hostel, 2 nights for S$32

Places to visit: French Concession, Propaganda Art Poster Centre, Soong Ching Ling's Former Residence, Moganshan Lu 50 art galleries, The Bund, Shanghai Film Studios

Things to do: Watch a Shanghai Shenhua match, go to a spa, ride the Maglev, hire a Forever bike, eat Xialongbao, ride a roller coaster, visit a dive bar

Food and drink: Approx S$75 for meals in restaurants and drinks in cafes and bars

Transport: Approx S$50 for bicycle rental, metro rides, Maglev to and from airport, ferry and bus rides

Tickets and admission: Approx S$91

Total for 3 days/2 nights: Approx S$249 Accommodation Blue Mountain Bund Youth Hostel

This place is all about location, location, location! Set in the heart of downtown Puxi and a short walk from Shanghai's most celebrated shopping street, Nanjing Road, this hostel is well located for daily outings in this exhilarating city.

What's more, the famous Bund with its historic banks and iconic views of Pudong are a mere 10-minute stroll away. There are a variety of rooms to suit all budgets from deluxe doubles with all mod-cons (some with private terrace and fabulous views) to bargain beds in mixed dorms. Shared bathrooms are kept spotless and the outside communal space is a great place to exchange Shanghai stories with fellow travellers over a drink in the evening.

Address: 6F, No.350 South Shanxi Road

How to get there: East Nanjing Rd. Station on Metro Line 2 and Line 10 (Take Exit 1) and the hotel is a 300m walk away

Beds from: S$16 per night

Book now: here

Day 1

1a. Do: Take the Maglev

It's a somewhat luxurious way to get into town, but why not arrive in style on the world's fastest regular running commercial train service? The train's speed goes up to 431km/h so sit back and watch the screen above the door show the numbers stacking up as you glide through the Chinese countryside towards Shanghai. Trees and houses shoot past and yet the whole experience is seamless and smooth as, being a maglev, the train levitates above the rail and is pushed along by magnetic force making for the smoothest train ride in the world. The journey of 30 kilometres takes exactly 7 minutes and 20 seconds and drops you off at Longyang Road which has excellent Metro connections into town. This train ride is a geek and speed freak's delight!

Runs from: Shanghai Pudong International Airport to Longyang Road Metro Station and back

Tickets: Single/return approx S$10/S$18 (RMB50/RMB80)

Timetable: Trains runs every 15-20 minutes throughout the day from 0700 until 2140

Visit their website here

1b. Do: Hire a Forever Bike

The best way to see Shanghai is from two wheels. Shanghai is a fantastic city to cycle in and with a separate cordoned off road on all major thoroughfares reserved for cyclists, you can potter around at your own pace without being overly worried by four-wheeled monsters.

The public bicycle rental scheme first started out in 2008 by the Shanghai Metro as a way to encourage metro users to continue their journeys on bikes, and has been such a success that there are now bicycle rental stands throughout the city.  At only S$0.40 (RMB2) per hour, you can afford to take your time and stop off for a leisurely coffee or explore deep into the city.

Recommended areas to explore include the French Concession, the old Jewish Quarter in Hongkou or cruise around the up and coming artist district around Suzhou Creek and stop for a game of outdoors pool.

Forever Bikes are a Shanghainese icon and, having been in business since 1940, these bikes are the wheels of choice for any discerning city dweller.

How to rent a Forever Bike: Visit one of the following tourist offices and bring your passport and an approx S$43 (200RMB) deposit and you'll be provided with a pre-paid rental card:

1. Xujiahui Tourist Information Centre 1068 Zhaojiabang Lu, Xujiahui metro station exit 14 (0930-1630 daily)

2. Wukang Lu Tourist Information Centre 393 Wukang Lu, near Hunan Lu (0930-1700 daily)

Once you have the card, swipe it in the rental machine and you are good to go.

Note: Don't forget to swipe again when you return the bike. One hour costs S$0.40 (RMB2), with each additional hour at S$0.80 (RMB4)

1c. See: The French Concession

Once you have your bike, pedal your way to the French Concession, one of the major foreign concessions operating in Shanghai from 1849 until 1943. Though it is no longer French, the area is absolutely brimming with character with shady avenues, quiet backstreets, cafes, parks and epic European villas that have starred in numerous films, most notably in Zhang Yimou's 1995 classic, Shanghai Triad.

Roads to look for include Hua hai Lu with its posh shops which were initially owned by Russian emigres, and Wukang Lu with its well-preserved houses. Also keep your eyes peeled for the Russian Orthodox Church on Gaolan Lu, St Nicholas Church, built by White Russian refugees in 1932. This area is the most alluring area in the city and getting lost here is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

Metro stations: South Shananxi Road and Xujiahui are useful places to start your exploration

1d. See: Soong Ching Ling's Former Residence

A visit to Shanghai wouldn't be complete without paying homage to one of her most famous daughters, Madam Soong Ching Ling.

Educated in English speaking schools in Shanghai and then at college in America, she become a prominent figure in China as the wife of founder of the Republic of China, Sun Yat Sen and later as Vice President of China under Mao. Though heavily criticised by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, she was put on a list of protected cadres by Zhou Enlai.

The memorial residence is a sprawling mansion in the French Concession, originally built by a wealthy Greek magnate in the 1920s, and is now home to a museum detailing Soong Ching Ling's contributions to China, her life and the important meetings that took place in the house with visitors such as Mao, Kim Il Sung, Soekarno and U Nu popping in for major political discussions and tea parties. The house has over 15,000 items to browse including personal letters, photos and state gifts and is a great opportunity to see the interior of a French Concession mansion, marvel at the beautiful lawn and imagine affairs of the world being discussed over pots of tea under the shade of towering camphor trees.

Tickets: Adult/student approx S$4/S$2 (RMB20/RMB10)

Address: 1843 Huai Hai Zhong Lu

Opening hours: Daily 0900-1630

How to get there: A 5-minute walk from Shanghai Library metro station

1e. See: Propaganda Art Poster Centre

This unique museum displays a private collection of thousands of stunning propaganda art posters documenting the extraordinary changes experienced in China between 1910 and 1990. The collection has been amassed by collector Yang Pei Ming since 2002, and has spread from one small room into three rooms totalling 400m2. Come here and browse Shanghai lady posters, socialist educational woodblock prints, Soviet-style posters, powerful ideology Dazibao (big character posters) from the Cultural Revolution and stunning Olympic posters.

Admission: Free

Address: 868 Huashan Lu

Opening hours: Daily 1000-1700

How to get there: Walk from Shanghai Library metro

Visit their website here

1f. Do: Sink a few in a dive bar

You can't come to Shanghai and not dip your toe in the city's ferocious nightlife. Head to the dark underground labyrinth of C's Bar on the edge of the French Concession for bargain beers, shots and walls covered in graffiti. The music policy is edgy with weekly electronic nights, hip hop events and occasional 90s anthems. This is a chance to get acquainted with hip students from all over the country, hard drinking Shanghainese locals rolling dice and English teachers that call the city home. Use C's Bar as the starting point for a spontaneous soiree.

Prices: Beers start at approx S$2 a bottle (RMB10)

Address: 685 Dingxi Lu

Opening hours: Daily from 1930 until oblivion

How to get there: 10-minute walk from West Yanan Rd metro

Day 2

2a. See: The Bund

For the most iconic views of Shanghai and to do a spot of people watching, head to the Bund, a stately procession of old banks and commercial trading houses on the west bank of the Huangpu River. It is a popular attraction among Chinese from all over the country for its spectacular views of the skyscrapers of Pudong, a display of Shanghai's current economic clout and for the views of the Bund, which symbolises the wealth of the city in a distinctly different era.

In the 1920s the Bund was the financial hub of the Far East, and today stretches almost 2 kilometres with a dizzying range of architectural styles from neo-classical to baroque. Some of these buildings are open to the public and well worth tiptoeing past the security guards for a peek at the interior.

Check out the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank (former HSBC) for its outrageously beautiful mosaics and serene marble work, and Bund 18, an upmarket retail space that has been lovingly restored to its former splendour. After a bit of exploring, cross the road to drink in the views of Pudong, though it is really worth coming back here again in the evening to admire the night views.

There are plenty of high-end restaurants and bars around here that attract high rollers, but those on a budget needn't miss out as Captain's Bar has some of the best views in town without the high prices. Get to the roof terrace before 7pm to secure a good vantage point as the secret has been out of the bag about this place for many years.

Shanghai Pudong Development Bank

Address: 12 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu

Bund 18

Address: 18 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu

Visit their website here

Captain's Bar

Drinks start at: Approx S$8 (RMB40)

Address: 37 Fuzhou Lu

Opening Hours: 1pm-late

How to get to the Bund: It's a 5-minute walk from East Nanjing Rd metro to the Bund

2b. Do Ride a roller coaster in the Oriental Pearl TV Tower

Perhaps the most well-known of Shanghai's landmarks, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower stands out like a sore thumb among the buildings of Pudong. The design is said to be based on a poem by Tang dynasty poet Bai Juyi describing the beautiful sounds of the Pipa as being akin to pearls dropping down on to a small jade plate. We can kind of see it, but we're not here for poetry, we're here for some indoor roller coaster action.

After checking out the observation levels and getting the obligatory snaps in, head for the Game City and find there the world's highest indoors rollercoaster. It's a brief but fun thrill and you can even have a picture taken of you having a panic attack mid-way through the ride for an extra S$7 (RMB35).

Oriental Pearl TV Tower

Ticket: Approx S$35 (RMB160)

Address: 1 Century Avenue

Opening hours: 0800-2130

How to get there: For the most stately way of arriving in Pudong, take a ferry boat across the Huangpu River from the Bund for S$0.40 (RMB2); Look for Lujin Line and Taigong Line along the Bund and hop aboard

2c. See: Shanghai Film Park

Get your camera at the ready for an afternoon heavy on Chinese nostalgia with a trip to the studios where movie magic is made. It's a bit of a mission to get here, but well worth it for its varied mock-ups of rural Chinese idylls, rugged mountain scenes and streets scenes of the Shanghai of the 1930s. Parts of the studio are quiet and you might even have a whole set to yourself making for a fun wander through the past. These sets were used to produce popular Chinese historical epics, many set in the troubled 1930s and 1940s, so take the opportunity to get dressed up in a vintage outfit or two and pull a rickshaw, call a spy from a 30s phone box or sit in a vintage car. Tourists are fairly free to roam at will or until their selfie arm gets tired.

Ticket: Approx S$18 (RMB80)

Address: 4915 Beisong Hwy, Chedunzhen, Songjiang

Opening Hours: Daily 0830-1630

How to get there: Take Metro Line 1 to New Songjiang Town and board a Song-Min bus and alight at Chedun

Visit their website here

2d. Eat: Xiaolongbao at Fu Chun

No visit to Shanghai would be complete without devouring a plate of xialongbao, those delicious little dumplings of soup and pork that have been pleasing the Shanghainese for years. According to local food critics, the most authentic xiaolongbao in the city can be found at Fu Chun, an assuming two storey eatery which is packed with locals gobbling them down. Pay a bit more to enjoy luxurious crab roe xiaolongbao for some silky luxury. This place certainly isn't glamourous and might have some slightly oily tables and menus, but this is the real deal and well worth a visit.

Our top tip: Don't chomp down too greedily on your xialongbao, you'll get a rude shock in the form of hot soup dribbling down your chin. Instead, nibble the edge a little, allow it to cool down and slurp up some of the soup before biting down on the dumpling.

Dishes from: Approx S$1.20 (RMB6) for six xialongbao

Address: 650 Yuyuan Lu

Opening hours: Daily 0630 - midnight

How to get there: Walk from Changshu Road metro

2e. Do: Take a bath at Xiao Nan Guo

Head to Xiao Nan Guo for a bathhouse experience like never before. With eleven different pools (including 4 themed pools of medicinal, milk, floral and forest), warm outdoors baths, icy plunge pools and a range of saunas and steam rooms, you can thoroughly exfoliate and refresh yourself here. When you have finished bathing, call one of the aunties, known here as ayi (pronounced ah-ee), to give you a deep body scrub (additional approx S$12/ RMB55) that will have you sprawled out and cleaner than you have ever been for years. The bathing is just the beginning as there are other entertainments like snooker, table tennis, massage, manicures and even a cafe serving up some decent food and drink. This is a water park at a new level of opulence at superb value. You can stay as long as you like here, so get your money's worth.

Admission: Approx S$18 (RMB88) with additional charges for massage, manicure and body scrub

Opening hours: 24 hours daily

Address: 3337 Hongmei Lu

How to get there: Walk from Longxi Lu metro

Day 3

3a. Do: Get arty at M50

Moganshan 50, also known as M50, is the contemporary art district of Shanghai, home to a community of well over 100 artists who throw open their doors to curious visitors. Feel free to explore and get a feel for the latest in Chinese modern art. Alongside a broad selection of galleries stand cafes, bars and plenty of street art to ensure a feast for the body, mind and soul. Some of the better-known galleries include Vanguard Gallery which displays sculpture, painting, animation and live performances from Shanghai's up and coming artists. Also worth a visit is ShanghArt, named in the top 75 most influential art galleries in the world by Thames and Hudson, where you'll find displays by new Chinese artists and a selection of international artists.

Vanguard Gallery

Admission: Free

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 1100-1800

Address: Second Floor, Bldg 4A, 50 Moganshan Lu

Visit their website here

ShanghArt

Admission: Free

Opening hours: 1000-1800 daily

Address: Bldg 16, 50 Moganshan Lu

Visit their website here

How to get to Moganshan Lu: Walk from Zhongtan Road metro

3b. Do: Catch a football match

Whether or not you're a fan of football, it's highly recommended that you head down to Hongkou Football Stadium and catch Shanghai Shenhua in action.

Shenhua mean "Flower of Shanghai" in Chinese, though there is nothing overly flowery about watching the team as they have the city's most passionate fans and the longest history. The stadium is often packed to the rafters when Shenhua play as their fanatical supporters cheer them on against teams from around China or, depending on their domestic success, other Asian teams.  With a Spanish manager and new arrival Tim Cahill, things are looking bright for the Flowers.

Try and catch a game against Beijing Guoan, which is usually a frantic, tense and fiercely competitive game known as the China Derby, where the air is electric with the rivalry of the two cities.

Tickets: Start from approx S$16 (RMB70); Ticket office next to Exit 1 of Hongkou metro station

Address: 444 E Jiangwan Rd, Hongkou

How to get there: Short walk from Hongkou metro

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