A Local’s Guide: Getting Around Shanghai in 10 Ways

Getting around Shanghai in the past was not so easy. When I was still living in Shanghai, the public transportation was Trolleybuses, buses, and ferries. They were not only slow means of transportation but also less efficient. Many had to use bicycles to get from A to B quickly. People spent a significant of time on the road. People occasionally took taxis because of their high price, compared to the usual living standard.

But nowadays, getting around Shanghai is very easy. A highly developed public transportation network, including 18 metro lines, more than 1400 buses, the Maglev Train, taxis, ferries, elevated pedestrian paths, elevated highways, tunnels, bridges, reaches 6.340 km². Locals and visitors can use one or more means of transportation to arrive anywhere in Shanghai efficiently.

The following are the common types of local transportation:

  • Metro lines
  • Buses
  • Sightseeing bus
  • Walking
  • Huangpu River cruise
  • Huangpu river ferry
  • Trolley Buses and Trams
  • Taxis
  • Bicycle
  • Maglev

Metro lines

Metro is the best and comfortable way when getting around Shanghai. Immune to the ground traffic, the metro is a fast and cheap way to travel within the city. The metro network will get you close to all the top attractions and hotels. Navigating the subway is relatively easy. Sightseers can navigate the 18 metro lines based on signs, maps, and station announcements, both Chinese and English. Metro runs in general between 5 a.m. to 11 p.m, though different lines have individual hours. And tickets are available from the ticket office or the vending machines in metro stations. For more information, consult the Shanghai Metro’s official website. 

Swipe the ticket to enter the metro station. Keep your electronic ticket because you have to insert it into the exit barrier when you leave. However, during the rush hours, the metros are very crowd.

Some of the busy lines are:

  • L1: to the Shanghai Railway Station
  • L2: to Shanghai Pudong International Airport
  • L4: a circular line
  • L3: to South Railway Station
  • L11: to Disneyland Park, the longest route with 81 kilometre

Buses

Buses are the cheapest form of transportation, but first-timers may find it challenging to onboard a bus in Shanghai. Unlike the metro, not all buses in Shanghai offer English translations. The downtown lines announce stops in Mandarin, Shanghai dialect, and English. Other lines announce stations in Mandarin and Shanghai dialect only. 

About 1400 bus routes operated by numerous different companies reach city center and suburbs. There are daytime buses, rush-hour buses, and night buses. Besides, buses are always available next to each metro station. The base rate is 1 or 2 yuan for buses. 

Should you decide to board on buses, you can buy a Public Transportation Card, which is valid for taxis, buses, tourist buses, long-distance buses, metro lines, maglev trains, and ferries. There is a ticket machine on each bus at the entrance. You swipe the card, and the fee is deducted automatically. Or prepare small coins or banknotes and pay the bus driver.

Some bus lines charge the passengers by distance. So you have to pay cash onboard. To figure out which bus number will get you to your destination, ask for help in your hotel.

Sightseeing bus

The Shanghai sightseeing bus is a strong recommendation for travelers who desire a one-day or two-day city tour. It is also a perfect option for travelers who have a few hours layover in the city can also take the sightseeing bus hop-on hop-off Shanghai to enjoy a short visit. The sightseeing bus offers several options, including as Huangpu River Cruise.  

With 24-hour and 48-hour tickets, both allow unlimited rides during the validity period of your ticket. Tourists can enjoy a free audio guide on Shanghai sightseeing buses in eight languages – Chinese, English, Korean, French, Spanish, German, Russian, and Japanese.

Walking

Strolling through Shanghai cityscape is an awe-inspiring experience. One of my favourite ways to discover Shanghai is to visit neighbourhood on foot. Some of the attractive neighbourhoods are particularly good places for walking, such as:

  • The tree-lined streets in the Former French Concession
  • Huangpu riverside promenade
  • Arts and crafts shops in Tian Zi Fang
  • The People’s Park with the famous marriage corner
  • Neo-gothic St. Ignatius Cathedral in Xiujiahui and its nearby Xujiahui park

With restaurants, shops, and residential areas all situated next to one another, you will find many pedestrian zones in these areas. Besides, sidewalks and pedestrian paths are well-maintained. Getting around Shanghai on foot is the best way to explore the local culture.

Huangpu River cruise

The 50-minute Huangpu River cruise is a relaxing way to enjoy the panoramic view of Shanghai, including the international buildings on the Bund and the breathtaking skyscrapers of Lujiazui on the eastern bank. River cruise starts from one of the three piers:

  • Shiliupu Wharf (十六铺码头), B1 floor, No.481, Zhongshan East Second Road, Huangpu District, Shanghai (上海市黄浦区中山东二路531号B1层 十六铺码头1区)
  • Shiliupu Wharf (十六铺码头), B1 Floor, No.551, Zhongshan East Second Road, Huangpu District, Shanghai (上海市黄浦区中山东二路551号B1层 十六铺码头2区)
  • Qinghuangdao Road Wharf (秦皇岛码头), No.32 Qinghuangdao Road, Yangpu District, Shanghai (上海杨浦区秦皇岛路32号 秦皇岛码头)

You can buy tickets for day cruises and evening cruises at the piers. 

Huangpu river ferry

The Huangpu River running through Shanghai divides the city into two. The three islands that belong to Shanghai, Chongming, Changxing, and Hengsha, are separated from the city area by the river. Therefore, ferries play a significant role in daily life. You would not imagine that a ferry operation in Shanghai already has a hundred-year of history. Today, because of convenience and low prices, ferries are still popular choices for pedestrians and cyclists.

On this ferry website, you will find detailed route information, including maps and schedules.

Ferries to five main ports of islands are:

  • Wusong Passenger Transport Center, No.271, Huacheng Road, Baoshan District, offers lines to Chongming (Xinhe), Changxing (Majiagang), Hengsha
  • Shidongkou Port, No.1, Shengshi Road, Baoshan District, offers lines: Chongming (Xinhe, Nanmen)
  • Wusong Port, No.100, Songpu Road, Baoshan District, offers lines: Chongming (Nanmen, Baozhen, Xinhe), Changxing (Majiagang), Hengsha
  • Baoyang Port, No.18, Baoyang Zhi Road, Baoshan District, offers lines: Chongming (Nanmen, Baozhen), Changxing (Majiagang), Hengsha

Trolleybuses and Trams

The first tram line in Shanghai opened in 1908. It stretched six kilometers from Jing’an Temple to the Bund. However, since the 1970s, trams were replaced by trolleybuses gradually. 

After half of the century, both Songjiang and Zhangjiang districts opened new tram lines. The new trams use modern technology and have a futuristic looking. The new trams fill the gaps in the local public transportation network. 

The first trolleybus in Shanghai started on November 14, 1914. It ran from Fujian Zhong Lu to Beijing Dong Lu, with a total length of around a kilometre. Therefore, Shanghai became the first Chinese city to have a trolleybus system.

Today, the Shanghai Trolleybus system is the oldest continually operating trolley bus system in the world. Trolleybuses have line numbers under 30, and they go mainly in the downtown area.  

Both trams and trolleybuses are part of the Shanghai public transportation network. And the ticket price is as low as 1 or 2 CNY.  

Taxis

Taxis are everywhere in Shanghai. Most taxi drivers are honest. Sometimes, new drivers could have less experience since they just arrived in the town. To avoid an unpleasant situation and to have the best service and comfort, look for the top taxi companies:

  • The turquoise blue taxis of Da Zhong Taxi (tel. 800/6200-1688 or 021/6258-1688)
  • The yellow taxis of Qiang Sheng Taxi (tel. 021/6258-0000)
  • And the blue taxis of Jin Jiang Taxi (tel. 021/6275-8800)

In general, make sure you get into a licensed taxi before you embark on your journey. All licensed taxis have a logo on top of the car, a transparent shield separating the driver and passenger, a meter, and an illuminated vacancy disk on the dashboard. There is a starting price for the first three kilometres. The price will increase for every additional kilometre. Additionally, between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., the rates are slightly higher. 

It can be almost impossible to find a taxi during rush hours or when it rains. Nowadays, many locals use Apps to reserve a Taxi. A lot of empty taxis are just on the way to pick up those guests. You can ask your hotel reception to get a Taxi for you. In general, outside of rush hour, taxis are readily available and an inexpensive option. 

Bicycle

Bikes are useful tools to navigate some sites in Shanghai. Dedicated cycle lanes have been part of the roads. Bike-sharing in Shanghai has been popular for many years. You just scan the bike to unlock it and then lock it up whenever you reach your destination.

The problem for the travelers is the payment method, either Alipay or WeChat, both require a mobile phone and a bank account in China. It is easy to get a temporary mobile phone number but not a bank account. 

The good news is that you can rent a bike online. Unlike the simple bikes from the sharing services, the bikes from China Cycle Tours (Huaihai Zhong Lu 358, no. 52, tel. 0/1376-111-5050) are well-equipped and have high quality.  

Or join an organized bike tour and follow the tour guide to explore Shanghai on two wheels. Some popular tours are such as 3-hour biking and local food tour or half-day old Shanghai small group bike tour (day & night).

Maglev 

Opened on January 1, 2004, the Shanghai Maglev is the first commercial maglev in the world and offers a fast and convenient way to travel between Pudong International Airport and Longyang Rd. Station near the Century Park. The 30 km distance is covered in 7 minutes and 20 seconds, reaching a maximum speed of 441 km per hour. 

Most visitors arriving from overseas travel through Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) located on the eastern edge of the city, nearly 47 km northeast of the city centre. Most visitors coming through this airport either take a taxi or the Shanghai Maglev train into downtown.

Utilize the means of transportation and getting around in Shanghai 

To utilize the traveling time, you need to know the pro and cons of the means of transportation. My suggestion and experience are:

  • Take Maglev and/or metro to and from Shanghai Pudong International Airport
  • Take a sightseeing bus or a tour if you only have half-day or one day.
  • Use buses, trams, trolleybuses, and the metro to visit major sights.
  • If you visit places outside the city center, such as one of the water towns, take the metro combined with the local buses or taxis.
  • When you stay in Shanghai for a couple of days, find time to explore the city on foot or on two wheels.
  • When you are in a hurry, flag down a taxi. 
  • If you plan to live, work, or study in Shanghai, you have plenty of time to discover the city. Then you would be able to try the bike-sharing service since you would be able to use Alipay or WeChat payment.  

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