Fiona Travels from Asia

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert

Explore Local Life in Shanghai | 6 Things To Do

Everyone knows Shanghai stands among the most Westernized cities in China. Nonetheless, not many are aware that this modern city, besides its impressive towering skyscrapers and multi-level highways, still maintains fascinating traditional ways of living and interesting unique customs.

I was no exception. Before my trip to Shanghai last year, I could only think of those fancy skyscrapers whenever someone mentioned the city’s name. However, as someone who loves exploring the local life at all destinations that I set foot on, I tried my best to squeeze as many local experiences as possible into my 2-day Shanghai itinerary.

Walking around Shanghai’s narrow alleys provides great insights into its local life

Fortunately for me, a local guide named Stephanie volunteered to take us on a day tour of Shanghai for free. (Scroll down for part 5 below to read about how I got to meet her). After hearing about my interests, Stephanie gladly showed us 6 things to do to explore local life in Shanghai and get to know its culture better. Despite my low expectation, these experiences all turned out to be AWESOME and later became wonderful memories that I still cherish even after leaving Shanghai.

If you also want to go beyond the crowded main attractions for tourists and explore the fascinating local life in Shanghai, check out the list below now!

Explore local life in Shanghai with these 6 things to do

1. Wander around Shanghai’s narrow alleys

While Shanghai is renowned for its mesmerizing skyscrapers and modern buildings, it’s the narrow alleys with decrepit old houses that nourish the city’s soul.

By wandering around its narrow alleys, I was able to notice myriads of interesting things about local life in Shanghai. For example, do you know that people in Shanghai dry their clothes by hanging them outdoors on telephone cables? I did not and was utterly fascinated to see that.

Locals hanging their laundry on telephone cable is such an amusing sight to watch

In addition, can you guess what’s even more amusing? Just by taking a glance at those laundry items, I could immediately tell whom each household comprised of, e.g. whether there was any rebellious teenager in the family or whether it was a single mom’s dwelling. It was indeed a fun guessing game with my companions while exploring how the locals in Shanghai lived.

By looking at these clothes, you can immediately tell who live in each household

There are also lots of other interesting things to see around Shanghai’s narrow alleys. I could look inside a local butcher’s home for instance, notice traditional Chinese decorations on people’s doors, or simply watch the locals going about their daily life.

A narrow alley in Shanghai is where visitors can explore the city’s local life

2. Meet your prospective parents-in-law at Shanghai Marriage Market

Marriage markets are unique to China. That’s why the famous Shanghai Marriage Market should definitely be on your bucket list.

Taken place at People’s Park in Shanghai, the market is where parents and grandparents display their sons and daughters’ hand-written advertisements to find them a spouse. The ads are often hung on top of an umbrella for ease of viewing. The children’s physical appearance, Zodiac sign, education level, income and occupation are stated clearly in those ads, as well as requirements for the other side.

Shanghai Marriage Market is one of the most popular marriage markets in China

Upon finding a match, the parents will exchange contact info and arrange a date for their sons and daughters. Imagine your parents taking the hassle out of dating for you! Pretty fascinating, isn’t it?

You can find more information about the Shanghai Marriage Market, including opening time, concept and activities in this article HERE.

Shanghai Marriage Market at People's Park
Shanghai Marriage Market at People’s Park
Parents look for potential sons and daughters in law at Shanghai Marriage Market

3. Join local activities at the park

If you love watching and even joining the locals in their favorite recreational activities, I highly recommend visiting People’s Park in Shanghai.

During our trip, visiting People’s Park allowed us to watch locals singing in unison, playing chess, running after their dogs, practicing martial arts, performing dance moves and doing many other interesting activities. People’s Park is definitely one of the best places to experience local activities in Shanghai.

Locals singing at People’s Park in Shanghai

4. Learn more about Shanghai’s culture and history at Duolun Road

Dubbed as the Cultural Celebrities Street of Shanghai, Duolun Road is where some of China’s most well-known cultural figures, including Lu Xun, Ding Ling and Qu Qiubai, used to dwell over 100 years ago. Despite my limited knowledge about them (except from Lu Xun whose works we used to learn in high school), it’s still quite delightful to visit such a culturally meaningful and beautifully poetic place.

Introduction of cultural celebrities who once lived on Duolun Road Shanghai
Introduction of cultural celebrities who once lived on Duolun Road Shanghai

Nowadays, these cultural figures’ houses are still well-preserved. The government has also turned some houses into antique shops, book shops and mini-museums for visitors to experience the vibes of this area.

Duolun Road in Shanghai
Duolun Road in Shanghai
Lovely houses on Duolun Road Shanghai

You can also find sculptures of these cultural celebrities along the road. Though it only takes around 10 minutes to walk from one end of the street to the other, Duolun Road is still an amusing and peaceful place to immerse in Shanghai’s local life.

5. Take a free tour in Shanghai with a local

This is my secret to experiencing Shanghai the way locals do. During my time in this bustling city, I booked a free walking tour with Shanghai Greeters – a branch of the International Greeter Association. In particular, it’s an international non-profit organization consisting of locals who volunteer to show tourists around their cities for free.

Accordingly, that’s how we got to meet our lovely tour guide Stephanie. Needless to say, our time in Shanghai became much more enjoyable thanks to her. Stephanie’s local insights came in handy as she recommended where to visit and what to see based on our requests to explore local life in Shanghai. In hindsight, we couldn’t have experienced the city that deeply had it not been for her excellent guidance.

While there are also other free tours in Shanghai, the thing I love most about Shanghai Greeters is that their tours are personalized and customized to cater to the interests of each guest. There is no fixed itinerary and their guides welcome individual guests as well. Don’t forget to contact them if you’re also interested in exploring local life in Shanghai!

6. Try street food in Shanghai

Trying street food is for me a great way to experience the local culture. When it comes to Shanghai’s culinary art on the street, the pictures say it all 🙂 Make sure to check out CNN’s list of 35 Shanghai Street Foods to tickle your tummy as well!

Trying street food in Shanghai is a great way to immerse in its local life
Sugary indulgence can be quite tempting on Shanghai’s streets
Trying street food lets you experience local life in a mouth-watering way

Would you like to explore local life in Shanghai?

So, these are the 6 things we did to explore local life in Shanghai. Have you been to Shanghai? What else did you do to explore this city’s fascinating local life? Don’t hesitate to share with me by commenting below!

Interested in exploring other cool destinations in China? Check out my blog posts about Xiangyang Ancient City Wall and Wudang Mountains!

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6 things to do to explore local life in Shanghai

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