One of the most modern cities in China, Shanghai gives the overriding impression of a bustling metropolitan where businesspeople rush to work, consumers flock to shopping centers, and tourists elbow their way through the crowds at The Bund.
Little do visitors know that besides its towering skyscrapers and multi-level highways, Shanghai also features fascinating traditional customs and lifestyles hidden in its narrow alleys, local parks, or humble spots that are far away from the typical tourist’s eyes.
I was no exception. Before my trip to Shanghai last year, I could only think of the city’s fancy skyscrapers whenever someone mentioned its name.
Fortunately, a local guide named Stephanie volunteered to take me on a free Shanghai day tour and opened my eyes to 6 things to do to explore local life in Shanghai. Despite my low expectations, these experiences all turned out to be AWESOME and later became wonderful memories that I still cherish after leaving the city.
If you also want to go beyond the crowded tourist attractions and explore the amusing local life in Shanghai, check out the list below!
Explore local life in Shanghai with these 6 things to do
1. Wander around Shanghai’s narrow alleys
While Shanghai is more renowned for its modern buildings, it’s the narrow alleys with decrepit old houses that nourish the city’s soul.
Wandering around Shanghai’s narrow alleys allowed me to spot countless interesting things about the local life here. 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.
Just by glancing at these laundry items, I could guess whom each household comprised of, e.g. whether there was any rebellious teen in the family, whether it was a single mom’s dwelling, or how many little children were living there. It suddenly became a fun guessing game for me and my travel companion while strolling through these alleys.
There are also many other interesting things to see around Shanghai’s narrow alleys. I could, for instance, notice traditional Chinese decorations on people’s doors, enjoy the homely smell of lunch flying out from someone’s kitchen, or simply watch the locals going about their daily life.
2. Meet your prospective parents-in-law at Shanghai Marriage Market
Shanghai Marriage Market is one of the most awkward yet amusing events I’ve been to in China. Held weekly at People’s Park, Shanghai Marriage Market is where parents showcase their sons’ and daughters’ profiles to help them look for potential spouses.
At Shanghai Marriage Market, hundreds of umbrellas lie neatly on both sides of the walking path. On top of each umbrella is a piece of paper with handwritten descriptions of the child including physical appearance, Zodiac sign, education level, occupation, and income.
Of course, what these parents look for in their prospective sons/daughters-in-law are also clearly stated. These include how much money they should make, how many assets they’re expected to own, how tall they should be, etc.
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.
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 exciting activities. People’s Park is definitely one of the best places to experience local activities in Shanghai.
4. Learn more about Shanghai’s culture and history at Duolun Road
Dubbed 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, dwelled over 100 years ago. Despite my limited knowledge about them (except 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.
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.
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. 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 much had it not been for her excellent guidance.
Unlike other free tours in Shanghai, Shanghai Greeters’ tours are customized to cater to the interests of each guest. There is no fixed itinerary and they welcome individual travellers as well.
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!
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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10 thoughts on “Explore Local Life in Shanghai | 6 Things To Do”
I didn’t get to the back streets of Shanghai when I visited but I did get to try the street food. I would have loved to see the marriage market. It sounds quite interesting.
The marriage market sound really interesting. What a crazy tradition.
The food looks amazing! The bride/groom market sounds incredible to me, what a surprise! In Southern Italy and some islands of Greece they also hang their laundry above the streets and is really interesting to see people’s clothes indeed! Thanks for this interesting post.
Oh I didn’t know that. Need to visit Southern Italy and some islands of Greece soon!
I haven’t heard of a marriage market before. I can’t believe this is a thing! A very interesting part of Shanghai life. I also love that locals take tourists on tours around the city for free.
I find it interesting that while such a market seems so unbelievable to us foreigners, it’s a totally normal thing for the locals 🙂 That’s why I love exploring the local life wherever I travel to.
That’s a fascinating post , I love to explore the local culture and tradition..the pics look a lot like smaller cities in India too. Great insights
Oh really? I have to visit India soon 😀
How interesting to read! I didn’t know about the wedding market, this is a bit scary. I wouldn’t like my family to interfere in my choice for a partner lol! It’s always the best to visit places from a local perspective! Thanks for the info!
Amazing post about shanghai. Here is much population but customized.