I visited Shanghai for a week during my school’s Lunar New Year break. Last February, the Year of the Dog, I went to Beijing. These two Chinese cities are about as different as San Francisco and New York City.
Beijing felt much more densely populated. In Shanghai, I wasn’t constantly should-to-shoulder with every person on the street. The subway was less crowded too, which made traveling around Shanghai easier and less stressful.
Finding good restaurants was easier for me in Beijing than Shanghai.
For me, Beijing seemed to have more well-known historical sites, but Shanghai had more beautiful scenery.
I never experienced a sunny day in Shanghai.
Nearly everywhere I went in Shanghai smelled strongly of cigarette smoke. Every public restroom smelled awful.
When I was in Beijing I missed the chance to visit the Forbidden City because tickets were sold out. I didn’t go to the observation decks of any of the famous towers in Shanghai because the tickets were very expensive and the wait time was three hours.
The shopping malls in Shanghai are amazing. You could spend all day in one of them. My two favorites were Global Harbor Mall (take Line 3, 4, or 13 to Jinshajiang Road) and Aegean Place Mall (take Line 10 to Longbai Xincun Station). Not only are they beautiful, but they also have everything. In addition to a variety of restaurants and clothing stores, you can find a museum, movie theater, basketball court, rock climbing wall, and dentist office all in one mall. If I remember correctly, Aegean Place had a Habit Burger (est. California). My favorite restaurant was a Vietnamese one with really good Pho and fresh juice, which I think was in Global Harbor. Sorry if I got those wrong. I waited too long to write this. Shanghai has Lawson’s, which is a great convenience store.
There were tourists from rural parts of China who may have never seen a foreigner before–or, at least, very few. Parents would encourage their kids to practice their English by speaking to me. Some people wanted to get their picture taken with me. I met very few Americans. Most of the foreigners seemed to be European. I met people from France and Austria. I even met a woman from Ethiopia.
I hope you found some of this information helpful in preparation for your trip to Shanghai.