If you’re traveling to Southeast Asia, there is a decent chance that you will have a layover in China. I had almost 12 hours to spend in Shanghai on a layover between New York & Bali, and I can’t recommend it enough. Shanghai is incredible and is well worth the visit not just on a layover but on a trip of it’s own, too! It has a very easy transportation system, many incredible and unique districts that are easy walkable, and phenomenal (affordable) food. If you are flying through Shanghai or still deciding on a layover destination, here are a few pointers to get you started and a list of all the things you can do in Shanghai for a day. The photos in this post (and most of my other posts) are taken on the Sony A7 RII which you can purchase here.

The Basics

Storing Luggage

I love a long layover. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you know that I often book my flights only with long layovers. 1. It’s typically cheaper 2. It allows me to see a new destination and 3. It’s a nice break to be able to go outside, walk around and grab lunch especially in between long haul flights. If you have a long layover, chances are you will need to store your luggage somewhere. Luckily most (if not all) airports have affordable storage areas where you can leave your luggage for a set number of hours or a full day. In Shanghai, the storage areas in the airport open at 6AM, this is very important to keep in mind as you choose your flights or if you already have one. My flight got into Shanghai a little after 4AM and I had to wait to give in my luggage (just something to keep in mind regardless of where your layover is – a little extra research can go a long way). Also, the only store open in Shanghai that early was Starbucks – which luckily serves breakfast.


Shanghai has an incredibly easy subway system and you absolutely must take a ride on the Maglev, a train that quite literally levitates as it operates on two magnets and can go an impressive 268 mph! A one way ticket costs less than $10 and you can take it right from the airport (bottom right) to Longyang Rd.  On Longyang Rd. you transfer to the green 2 line heading towards East Xujing (left on the map), and the stop you get off on is North Nanjing Road.

Subway Man of Shanghai, China

Subway map of Shanghai, China

Nanjing Road

Regardless of whether or not you like to shop, Nanjing Road is a must if you are in Shanghai. It is also the train stop that will put you in a good place to start your layover journey! Nanjing Road is known as “China’s Shopping Street” – it is massive and the road itself stretches almost 4 miles! There are hundreds of large buildings with unique architecture and small shops, too. You can find literally anything. I recommend walking down Nanjing Road until you reach The Bund.

Elona Karafin standing on East Nanjing Road shipping district of Shanghai, China

The Bund

If you take Nanjing Road all the way down, you will hit the stunning waterfront area called The Bund. There you will be greeted by picture perfect views of Shanghai’s stunning skyscrapers in the Pudong District. The Bund is also one of the most touristy areas in Shanghai so getting there early will help if you are looking to get some good shots! Another interesting part about The Bund is that some of the architecture along the waterfront will truly transport you Paris … interestingly enough that’s because Shanghai’s French Concession is there.

View of the Oriental Pearl Tower from The Bund in Shanghai


After walking down the area of The Bund, I recommend spending an hour or so walking around the streets aimlessly. Have Google maps available in offline (if you won’t have service), so that you always have a sense of navigation. Exploring an area of a new city without a master plan is usually the best way to get a feel for the local vibe. In many areas, no one spoke English at all so we weren’t even able buy water or snacks because the shopkeepers were not comfortable communicating. That was a bummer. Likewise, many small cafe’s and restaurants don’t have menus in English (but luckily they have pictures of some of the dishes) so I had to point to what I wanted to order. The food in Shanghai was overall very affordable – a huge breakfast of rice, chicken, eggs, tea and juice was less than $10.

Man riding moped down a street in Shanghai, China

Man selling bread in an outdoor shop in Shanghai, China

Shop in Old City Shanghai selling yogurt and fruits

Old City Shanghai

After The Bund and a little exploring, make your way to the Old City. This area of Shanghai will teleport you back to Ancient China with stunning traditional architecture and decorations, massive temples, and hundreds of local shops. If there is anything you must see during your layover, it is definitely Old City.

Street in Old City Shanghai

Main street in Old City Shanghai

Street in Old City Shanghai

The Financial District

Shanghai is quite incredible because it will teleport you to so many parts of the world; a little bit of Paris, a hint of the U.K., Ancient China … and now, Dubai? The Financial District in Shanghai has quite the resembles to modern day Dubai and it’s also home to Shanghai’s Oriental Tower, also known as The Pearl. To get there, you have to take the same green line 2 train from your starting point (Nanjing Road) and take it one stop (heading towards the airport) to Lujiazui!

Financial district in Shanghai, China

Stop by the Ritz-Carlton Pudong for a drink – below is the view from their outdoor rooftop bar!

Elona Karafin looking at the view of the Oriental Pearl Tower from the top of the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai

There is definitely a lot more to see and do in Shanghai so please consider it for more than just a layover. However, if you are a bit pressed for time, this should be a good itinerary for your day!