Having Visitors in Shanghai: What to do

Where to go, where to eat and what to see for elderly visitors, children and teenagers

by Jennifer Stevens | Fri, January 13, 2017

As an expat, there’s nothing more exciting than having friends and family visit. You get the opportunity to show off your new home, introduce them to a new culture, and hopefully convince them that you’re not completely insane for living abroad. However, you also have to plan what to do, where to eat, and make sure everyone has a good time. “Most people tend to get nervous about having visitors,” says Community Center Shanghai (CCS)’s Linda Ellis, who teaches a class entitled “I’m Having Visitors! What Should I Do?” “Shanghai is so different from most of our home cities, and there are so many aspects of Chinese culture to show our guests.” 


Linda, who taught the class for more than three years, says the trick is not to get too hung up on details. “Show them a few of the landmarks, but I find that most people just want to know what life is like here. Don’t over-plan; just let them experience it." She also recommended to try out some tours to get to know the city better, in order to be your family's own tour guide. 


We took Ellis' advice. We signed up for tours, explored restaurants and parks, and put together a list of the best things to do when you have visitors – whether they’re coming with teenagers, little ones or if they’re older, like my parents. There’s something here for everyone. 


Elderly Family 

Shanghai can be overwhelming for elderly visitors. There are motorbikes whizzing by in all directions, cramped subway cars and high pollution days. There’s the occasional public squat toilet to watch out for, and the task of navigating the extensive food scene. According to Val Grub, author of the blog Travel with Aging Parents, “Many studies indicate that people become less adaptable to change as they get older. For many people, breaking schedules, even for fun activities, can be challenging. And when you’re traveling, particularly to a foreign country, the differences can be more jarring.” To make Shanghai a more enjoyable experience, here are some suggestions:

  • Ease them into the culture. An easy way to do this is by taking them to the more Western areas first, like Kerry Parkside mall in Pudong or the Jing An Kerry Centre in Puxi. Other suggestions would be to avoid the subway the first day or two, and to make sure not to hop on during peak hours.  
  • Fuxing Park is a good way for elderly visitors to experience local life. Make sure they visit before 10am to really see the park come to life. They will see people practicing tai chi, ballroom dancing, singing and playing games. 
  • Of course, every guest wants to see the Bund, but this usually requires a lot of walking. To make sightseeing more enjoyable, take them on a one-hour river cruise from the Ship Terminal at the south end of the Bund (127 Zhongshan Dong Lu). Cruises run from 10am to 9pm, and tickets can be purchased right before departure.
  • Newman Tours is a great company to use for a variety of guests, but particularly for the elderly, as they offer a wide range of well-researched historical tours. Their most popular takes place in Xuhui District, taking guests down idyllic tree-lined streets to see sights like the building where Richard Nixon signed the Sino-US Communiqué and a Russian Orthodox church run by a man known to have had magical powers. 
  • Keeping in mind that it’s important to ease your elderly guests into the culture, and that many have dietary restrictions, they can still enjoy local flavor at Western-style Chinese restaurants like Lost Heaven and Sichuan Citizen. If they are more adventurous but fear the street stalls, UnTour Shanghai food tours might be an option for them. Their most popular among the elderly is the Street Eats Breakfast tour. 


Family with Young Kids 

There is no shortage of things to do for families in Shanghai, especially those with young kids. But besides the surplus of activities, it’s important for visitors with small children to know that their children will be safe and cared for. Jennifer Marshall, an expat and mother to a one-and-a-half-year-old, says, “People in Shanghai are crazy about little kids. They smile, they allow you to cut in line … the way they interact with foreign kids is really special.” With that in mind, here are some activities to keep families with young children happy and entertained: 

  • Shanghai Wild Animal Park, out in Pudong New Area, is a great way for families to spend a day getting up close and personal with over 200 species of exotic animals. You’ll need to take a taxi, so get there early to enjoy the expansive space.
  • For a thrilling evening on the town, see an acrobatic show at Shanghai Circus World. The venue feels like a true circus, with no bad seat in the house. There are about 15 different acts, each one more exciting and unbelievable than the last. It’s a great night out for the whole family. 
  • Spend a day in Lujiazui, taking in the sights at the Jin Mao Tower observation deck, walking along the promenade and checking out the sea life at the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium. For meals, Super Brand Mall has enough restaurants to please everyone.
  • Century Park, off Metro Line 2, is a great place for the kids to run around and get away from the bustling city. It’s the largest park in Shanghai and is beautifully landscaped, with biking trails and a lake where you can ride paddleboats.
  • Newman Tours has a Shanghai Family Tour, where kids and parents get to play traditional Chinese street games, as well as an Ancient Shanghai Tour, where families can feed carp and learn how to make money bracelets. If the kids are a little older and interested in food, UnTour’s Hands-On Dumpling Delights Tour will allow them to taste various types of dumplings and learn how to make their own. 


Family with Teenagers

Traveling with teenagers can be tricky. They’re at the age where they want to go off on their own and be treated like adults, and they’re craving independence. Usually this is a problem when traveling abroad; however, visitors will be happy to know that Shanghai is extremely safe, with enough activities and public transportation to let their kids roam free. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Give teens some freedom to explore, but give them the tools to do so while keeping their parents sane. Get them a transportation card (available for purchase at every station). Inexpensive cell phones can be purchased all around the city, even at Carrefour, and are a big stress reliever when hosting guests of any age. 
  • The fake market next to the Science & Technology Museum is a big hit with teens and is accessible from inside the metro station on Line 2. Girls love looking at the fake bags, boys love the fake jerseys and everyone loves the technology options, including Beats headphones and cordless speakers. 
  • Walking along Nanjing Lu Pedestrian Street, with stores like Forever 21 and H&M, is a nice reminder of home without the dangers of cars or motorbikes.
  • China Cycle Tours offers full- and half-day excursions around the city. They stick to paths with bike lanes, provide helmets and are led by knowledgeable guides. Additionally, Newman Tours has a Shanghai Gangster tour and a Shanghai Kung Fu Tour that are big hits with the teenage crowd. 
  • KTV singing rooms all over Shanghai boast the latest international hits and can be a fun nighttime activity for teens and families alike. 
  • As for restaurants, this largely depends on how adventurous the teenagers in question are. Hot pot places are great for sharing, with Hai Di Lao being a favorite among families. Jia Jia Tang Bao at People’s Square is a fun place to try soup dumplings, as is Yang’s Fried Dumplings directly across the street.