Shanghai Family Vacation Ideas – Attractions, Activities & Things to Do

It might seem that many of the world’s cities are becoming increasingly similar in appearance and atmosphere.

But that doesn’t apply to Shanghai.

A historic but dynamic city in the most rapidly developing nation in the world, Shanghai is simply unique.

You can see carefully preserved, elegant, colonial architecture contending for precious space with the glittering skyscrapers which symbolize the Chinese economic miracle.

There are theme parks, bus tours, and river cruises; a lively arts and entertainment scene, great cuisine and sensational shopping.

Whatever you and your family like to do, you’re sure to find plenty to enjoy in Shanghai.

So we’ve put together a selection of just a few of the great family attractions which this fascinating city offers –

  • Yu Garden
  • Shanghai Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour
  • Shanghai Zoo
  • Happy Valley Shanghai Theme Park
  • And more!

Save on Family Vacation Attraction Ideas

Many of these must-see attractions are available on the Go Shanghai Card.

Choose as you go from lots of popular Shanghai attractions and save up to 30% off combined admission vs. paying at the gate.

See all available Shanghai passes, attractions, & prices – Learn more.

Please keep in mind that some of the attractions listed in this post may be separately ticketed and not be currently included with the Go Shanghai Card.

Yu Garden

Yu Garden scenery (in Shanghai)

A tranquil refuge from the bustle of a huge modern city, the classical Chinese Yu garden can trace its origins to the sixteenth century Ming dynasty.

Located in the old city of Shanghai, and home to a wide variety of trees, plants, lilies and koi fish; the garden’s attractions include the celebrated Jade rock sculpture, rockeries, lakes and ponds, ornate pavilions and traditional architecture and furnishings.

The six main areas of the garden are linked by walkways but separated by imposing white walls and dragon head sculptures. You should probably reckon on about two hours to view the whole layout.

The garden is a popular tourist spot but it’s nevertheless a great place to recover your energy and see a little of historic China in the middle of its most futuristic city.

Getting in: Yu Garden tickets are included with the Go Shanghai Card.

Shanghai Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour

guided hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus in Shanghai

Open top double-decker tour buses are a familiar sight in many cities around the world, and Shanghai is no exception. There are two companies offering tours and they’re a great way to get yourself oriented and to see the main sights of the city in comfort and safety.

The Spring Tour Company runs four circular routes, and Shanghai Bus Tours (formerly Big Bus) another three.

Both companies offer unlimited travel on their routes for the duration of a 24 or 48 hour pass. The full tours provide an excellent overview of the city, but if you have limited time, find the routes that best serve the attractions you most want to see and use the bus as an inexpensive way of getting there.

Getting in: Shanghai Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing Bus Tour tickets are included with the Go Shanghai Card.

Shanghai Zoo

Panda bears at the Shanghai Zoo

Shanghai zoo is a large modern zoo housing more than 6,000 animals in a location in the west of the city.

What makes it different from other zoos in the world is its collection of animals which, in the wild, are unique to China.

These include golden monkeys, South China, and Manchurian tigers, but also, of course, the pandas.

Both Giant and Red pandas can be found here in special enclosures which allow easy visitor viewing while also meeting the environmental and dietary needs of these rare creatures.

The zoo site was originally a golf course and is still an attractive green space, featuring more than 100,000 trees and a lake which is home to a variety of birds.

The zoo is kid-friendly and has restaurant and refreshment facilities; all you need in fact for a family day out.

Getting in: Shanghai Zoo tickets are included with the Go Shanghai Card.

Happy Valley Shanghai Theme Park

No Shanghai family vacation is complete without a visit to this exciting theme park. The Happy Valley theme park opened in 2009 in the Songjiang area, about 25 miles west of downtown Shanghai.

The many attractions of the park’s seven areas include roller-coasters, rides, a Western gold-mining town, a water park, a river and a jungle area.

For thrill-seekers, there’s a 197 feet drop coaster and a 15 story gyro swing which gives spectacular views.

For kids, the Happy Ocean zone includes the “Arctic Safari”, the “Jumping Frog”, the “Diving Kangaroo”, the “Bubble Bash” and the “Crazy Elves” to name just a few.

When you’re ready to relax a little, there’s a theater which stages a variety of performances and movies and if you’re homesick for some familiar food you’ll find Pizza Hut and KFC here as well.

Getting in: Happy Valley Shanghai Theme Park tickets are included with the Go Shanghai Card.

Pujiang River Cruise Tour

Pujiang River Cruise lit up at night

Like many cities, one of the very best ways to see Shanghai is from its river.

The Huangpu River (Huang Pu Jiang) runs for 70 miles from the Dianshan Lake to the Yangtse river and flows north/south through downtown Shanghai.

There are numerous cruise options to choose from, varying in length, time of day and type of vessel.

You can spend anything from 30 mins to 3 ½ hours on board, but 50 minutes to an hour is probably sufficient to see the most important sights. Night cruises are understandably popular; the myriad colored lights of Shanghai’s skyscrapers reflecting in the water make for a truly memorable evening.

Most cruises set out from the Bund, the area on the west bank of the river, and sail north.

On the eastern side of the river is the modern commercial and financial district, home to the Shanghai Tower, World Financial Center and the Oriental Pearl Radio and TV tower. A particular talking point is the way in which the two massive suspension bridges, Nanpu and Yangpu, arch above the Oriental Pearl, appearing like “two dragons playing with a ball.”

Looking to the west is the contrasting spectacle of the old Shanghai. More than 50 buildings from the colonial period have been carefully preserved along the Bund including former Western consulates, luxury hotels, ba, ks and clubs.

Check your itinerary, but your cruise will most likely go as far as the Yangpu bridge before turning back towards the Bund. The river averages more than 400 yards wide but the return journey will allow you plenty of opportunity for viewing both banks.

Boats differ widely in size and facilities offered, but you’re sure to find one to suit your preferences.

Getting in: Pujiang River Cruise tickets are included with the Go Shanghai Card.

Shanghai World Financial Center Observatory

View of the iconic Shanghai World Financial building

Briefly the tallest building in the world, the 1614 feet, 101 floor, Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC) was opened in 2008.

Apart from earning it the affectionate nickname of “the bottle opener”, the building’s height, unusual shape and unique trapezoid aperture at its apex make it well worth a visit just to view from the outside.

But the SWFC also boasts public observation decks on the 94th, 97th and 100th floors, collectively known as the Observatory. In fact, as well as performing an important function in reducing wind pressure, the aperture was specifically designed as a viewing area.

You can buy tickets in the basement of the building and ride the elevator all the way to the 94th floor where the huge observation area provides perfect panoramas of the Huangpu river and the whole city beyond.

Higher still, the windows on floor 97 are specifically designed to help you get some great photo shots and in good weather the skylight ceiling can be opened completely for an amazing “outdoor” experience.

Most spectacular of all, though not for the faint of heart, is the 100th floor Sky Walk. A 100 foot, glass bottomed walkway allows you to see the tops of the Oriental Pearl and Jin Mao towers just beneath your feet, while the teeming noise and bustle of the Shanghai streets goes on 1/3 of a mile below you.

Getting in: Shanghai World Financial Center Observatory tickets are included with the Go Shanghai Card.

The Shanghai Ocean Aquarium

There are aquariums all over the world, of course, but this one is a bit different.

Centrally located, right by the Bund and the Oriental Pearl Tower, the aquarium is home to a huge variety of exotic marine life from Asia, Australasia, Africa and beyond. Endangered Chinese species are a particular specialty and the aquarium is very keen to promote the need for conservation.

Featuring what is said to be the world’s longest underwater tunnel, some 15,000 marine creatures of 300 species find their home here, including jellyfish, moonfish, Yangtze alligators, salamander, leafy sea dragons and poison dart  frogs.

The Aquarium provides a welcome break for an hour or so from the noise and bustle of the streets, and the kids are guaranteed to love it.

Let’s Recap

Above, we summarized some of the most popular and top things to do in Shanghai for families.

Whether you’re traveling with young kids to Shanghai, teenagers, or an older crowd, there’s something for everyone to enjoy the Shanghai.

Consider visiting some of these attractions on your Shanghai family vacation to fully experience everything Shanghai has to offer you and your family.

Don’t forget to pick up a Go Shanghai Card Tourist Attraction Pass and save up to 30% on combined admission prices. Happy travels!

The information contained in this post, to the best of the author's knowledge, was accurate at time of publishing. We do our best to ensure and maintain the accuracy of this information.

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