China: Sustainable City Guide – Shanghai on a budget

Shanghai is the largest city in China by population and the second most populated city in the world (24 million as of 2017). It should also be noted it hosts 90 billionaires, 370,000 millionaires and they are the largest consumers of designer goods. Whilst in Beijing I started reading the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy (FYI out now at the pictures) and what I’ve read totally makes sense since being in this country.

That’s why being in Shanghai on a budget and trying to be ‘sustainable’ was supposed to be no easy task. But somehow, we’ve managed!

Getting around

Shanghai is huge, but getting from one place to the other is actually really simple. The subway is the largest in the world with 16 different lines. Maps and signs are all very easy to follow and the subways have English writing and announcements. The cheapest way to get around is definitely by subway, as we were here four nights we purchased a three-day pass. It costs 45 yuan (£7) and provides unlimited subway use for three whole days. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve still walked miles and miles, but using the subway regularly has definitely helped. It’s also better for the environment than buses and taxis. Trust me, Shanghai is polluted enough!

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Food and drink

As you can expect, with a city full of rich people, eating and drinking out can be quite pricey. We found eating local, away from touristy areas, malls and the thousands of people was key. Near our hostel there were many restaurants and street food vendors full of local people (which is always a good sign) and the food was a fraction of the cost but just as tasty.

If you do fancy eating or drinking near The Bund there are two places I’d recommend that are reasonably priced and good quality.

  1. Captain’s Bar – A rooftop terrace with an impeccable view. Unlike all the other waterside terraces, this one is situated above a hostel, provides a great view and doesn’t come with a pricey menu. 7529153504_IMG_2663.JPG
  2. Tock’s – A Canadian bar/restaurant with buy one get one free Tsingtao beer. RESULT.

Another tip is to buy fruit and snacks in bulk at supermarkets and take it out with you throughout the day. Every morning for us starts with two bananas (because they’re cheap and plastic free). We also finally found some bagged tea (no Yorkshire, but still does the trick) so we can make a brew for on-the-go in our Stojo cups helping to avoid the ever present Starbucks.

What to do

For me there’s three main things to do when in Shanghai. Unfortunately it’s impossible to do them without battling touristy crowds, but they are still very much worth a visit.

  1. Shopping (or window shopping as was our case) around Tian Zi Fang aka The French Concession. Once you skip all the tacky gift shops you get to some seriously impressive boutiques. Hand-made/artisan fans, prayer beads, silk dresses and scarves. Bamboo postcards, wooden stamps and paintings. If you’re looking for an ethically made souvenir or some artwork to take back home, this is the place to go. Or like us, if you’re looking for a free but pleasant way to spend an afternoon, again this is the place to go.fullsizeoutput_199efullsizeoutput_199ffullsizeoutput_19a0fullsizeoutput_19a1
  2. The Yu Yuan Garden is crazy busy. But with an entry fee of just 40 yuan and pretty scenery comparing the old architecture with the new, is there any wonder? Idyllic (or would be without the crowds) ponds filled with tortoises and koi carps. Rock formations. Dynasty style buildings. Red lanterns. Throughout the day they have a traditional Chinese orchestra, unfortunately we missed the slot while we were there, but reviews say it’s amazing. Quintessential China.fullsizeoutput_19a42018-09-24 12:09:18.000fullsizeoutput_19a2
  3. Shanghai’s skyline, The Bund. The pictures speak for themselves really. You can go up the Shanghai Tower, which is the second tallest building in the world and view from their observation deck, which is the highest in the world (121st floor), but for me nothing beats viewing the skyline from below and across the Huangpu river. It’s also free!7527050496_IMG_26832018-09-24 16:37:50.368

We really wanted to go to Hangzhou, West Lake. But by public transport it would of taken 4 hours to get there and 4 hours to get back… barely any time to explore this scenic area which inspired so many dynasty poets. If we planned our trip again, we’d probably book a couple of nights in Hangzhou on top of Shanghai to be able to fit it in.


A couple of tips on how to explore cities like Shanghai and travel sustainably:

  • Use to get around and take photos of subway maps and information instead of picking up leaflets and paper maps. Shanghai has thousands of tourists arriving every day, imagine if every one of them used a paper map or leaflet.
  • Get a Travel Tap to ensure you have clean drinking water and prevent buying bottled water.
  • Always have a reusable bag, coffee cup, chopsticks or spork on hand.
  • Check out my packing list to see what toiletries I use on the go (Mooncup, solid shampoo, soap etc.).

We’re now at the end of our stay in China, the alarm is set for 2am (cry!) to head to the airport and fly to Osaka. Stay tuned for a travel guide of our three weeks in China and posts on what we get up to in Japan.

Ciao xxx

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