Shanghai’s main attractions include a futuristic skyline; the largest collection of art deco buildings in Asia; and shikumen, traditional townhouses remade as hip hotels, cafes and galleries. At least as remarkable are the high-speed rail links that make this megacity an efficient base for experiencing more of China. Get there fast, then take it slow on these day trips from Shanghai.
Canals crisscrossed by arching stone bridges make a winning first impression when you arrive in the ‘Venice of the East.’ Explore the scenic waterways of Suzhou’s Old Town by foot or gondola with a stop at Pingjiang Road, packed with snack stalls, shops, teahouses and cafes. Suzhou also counts more than 60 classical Chinese gardens that carefully recreate natural landscapes. If you visit just one, make it the Humble Administrator’s Garden, which dates back to the Ming dynasty and features pavilions set among ponds. And if you can’t get enough of the charms of canal life, continue on to nearby water towns such as Tongli or Zhouzhuang.
Getting there: Suzhou is less than 30 minutes by high-speed train from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station
This Unesco-listed heritage site inspired Chinese artists and poets of the past – and draws scores of tourists in the present – with pagodas, temples, gardens and bridges that yield iconic scenes from every camera angle. Take a leisurely stroll or cycle around West Lake, or rent a boat to watch the sunset. In the rolling green hills next to the lake, get a taste of authentic Chinese tea at Longjing Tea Plantation. You can hike through picturesque tea fields before sampling the namesake green tea at one of many family-run shops.
Getting there: Hangzhou is about 45 minutes by high-speed train from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station
Located along the Grand Canal – a historic trade route between Hangzhou and Beijing – this revitalized water town is laced with canals and buildings from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Equally storied is the local art of dyeing and printing indigo fabrics, and some such floral-patterned textiles can be seen swaying from tall poles around town. For more modern flair, check out striking contemporary structures such as the Wuzhen Theatre and the Mu Xin Art Museum, named after the hometown artist and poet. There’s also a lively bar scene near the West Gate.
Getting there: Wuzhen is about two hours by car from Shanghai
Despite being a vital Chinese port for more than 2,000 years, Ningbo remains mostly unknown to tourists, especially when compared to neighbouring Shanghai and Hangzhou. This relative anonymity helps the city to maintain a serene appeal. Ningbo has strong Buddhist roots that can still be seen in ancient temples such as the 1,700-year-old King Asoka Temple, which houses a relic of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism. On the outskirts is Dongqian Lake, a pristine freshwater lake ringed by green hills, fishing villages and stone carvings. For more urban action in Ningbo, visit Nantang Old Street for local snacks or The Old Bund for nightlife.
Getting there: Ningbo is about two hours by high-speed train from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station
Escape the tourist crowds at this mountain village dubbed ‘The Hamptons of China’ for its origins as a retreat for Shanghai’s elite. Moganshan was first developed by European expats during the 19th century, and that influence is apparent in the architecture of the stone villas, many of which have been converted into boutique inns and resorts. The village is part of a national scenic area that includes ample hiking and biking trails, waterfalls and the towering Bamboo Sea forest, which was memorably featured in the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It also includes Discovery Adventures Moganshan Park, a theme park developed by nature- and science-focused brand Discovery that offers outdoor experiences ranging from survival training to obstacle courses, zip-lining and a massive climbing wall.
Getting there: Moganshan is about 2 hours, 30 minutes by car from Shanghai