8 thrilling day trips from Shanghai

Many visitors to Shanghai get so caught up in the swirling maelstrom of this fascinating, vibrant Chinese city that they don't even consider what lies beyond.

The good news is that those intrepid enough to venture out from China's largest hub on a half or full day trip get to enjoy a swathe of gloriously fun options - from water towns to wine towns, from bustling cities to sleepy gardens - that add a real depth to your Shanghai holiday.

The Huangpu River flowing through Shanghai's financial district
The Huangpu River flowing through Shanghai's financial district © Moofushi - Fotolia.com

You can savour the sort of holiday making experience that you just won't find if you stay stuck in the city centre, with fast rail connections and an efficient network of buses on hand to spirit you efficiently off on an adventure.

Planning a trip to Shanghai? You can fly direct to Shanghai with Virgin Atlantic* daily from London Heathrow. There are countless fare offers available online, so check out the latest sale and book your trip to China today.

1. Chilled Hangzhou

The capital of Zhejiang Province may be home to almost 10 million people, but Hangzhou is a little more chilled than its even bigger sibling. The highlight is the epic West Lake, which poets, artists, and romantic souls have eulogised for centuries.

Gentle cruise on the West Lake, Hangzhou
Gentle cruise on the West Lake, Hangzhou © Hào Zhou - Fotolia.com

There are delicious shades of old world China you've dreamt of. People come from all over China to gawp at its islands, pavilions and graceful temples.

You should too, best enjoyed from a rowing boat at sunset as the light dances across the waters. It's great for cycling around and you can even make your way out to take in tea country too.

2. The Venice of the Orient

Given its sheer size, China had to have one place that is compared to Venice. In fact, it has several. I reckon you'll soon agree Suzhou may just be the most charming as you saunter across traditional bridges on the network of canals that are enshrouded in drifting morning mists.

The canals really have retained their charm with a wealth of flora bedecking the canal banks and the aromas are amazing after rain.

For a more manicured experience, check out the traditional Chinese gardens that make up the Classical Gardens of Suzhou, which have been recognised on UNESCO's coveted World Heritage list.

This collection of nine gardens are now included but consider checking out one or two of the other sixty or so preserved gardens that grace the region as well.

3. Posh it up in Moganshan

Put on your glad rags for a hop across to Moganshan, which is where Shanghai's upper classes go to chill at weekends or even recline in their holiday homes.

Weave through the bamboo forest on the slopes of Moganshan
Weave through the bamboo forest on the slopes of Moganshan © Beijing Hetuchuangyi Images - Dreamstime.com

It's easy to see why as the lush emerald green hills of the Moganshan National Park offer cooler temperatures and cleaner air than Shanghai, as recognised in the 19th century by British settlers who built their own summer homes here.

Some of these have been converted into glorious inns and hotels. If you want to get active hiking in the hills and through tea plantations tempts.

4. Visit the Great Wall

Ok, so we're not talking the more famous stretches around Beijing, but the Jiangnan Great Wall is as close as you will get to experience this manmade wonder within striking distance of Shanghai.

Linhai's bijou Great Wall cousin is no tourist confection - indeed it dates back to the 3rd century when it was erected by the Eastern Jin dynasty. It attracts few of the crowds further north in Badaling, making it great for photos. Don't just be blinded by the wall, though, as the city is also awash with some charming old buildings and impressive temples.

When to go to Shanghai: find out all about the weather in Shanghai plus when we think is the best time to visit China's biggest city for wonderful weather to make the most of these exciting day trips.

5. Cruise water towns

Shanghai is surrounded by a network of 'water towns' with Zhujiajiao a great bet for a visit. It is one of over half a dozen similar places whose canals are fed from Lake Tai and first came to prominence almost two thousand years ago.

Sightseeing along the canals of Zhujiajiao
Sightseeing along the canals of Zhujiajiao © ake1150 - Fotolia.com

Today it still supplies water to Shanghai. It also offers a real trip back in time to a gentler age before China's current high tech revolution.

Island-studded Dianshan Lake is massive, which has not been lost on developers who have turned it into a popular holiday and golf destination. There is also parkland, with further plans to expand the preserved land across some of the lake's islands.

6. Wonderful winelands

You might not associate China with wine production, but don't show your understandable ignorance to any of the citizens of Shaoxing, who are the heart of a rice wine making region whose wares are not just for cooking.

It's a pretty place too, so much so that it has been praised as the "Museum without Walls" with a heritage vaulting back over 2,500 years.

One fascinating place to visit is the former home of the ex-Premier of the People's Republic of China, Zhou Enlai. While you're in the area you can also check out Anchang Ancient Town and the East Lake too, which is a real green lung.

7. Infrastructure frenzy

China's economy has boomed over the last few decades, and Shanghai is the glitzy, showy face of this new wealth. Ningbo is the grittier, infrastructure flipside and a must for anyone seeking a window into this rapidly expanding global superpower as it's the country's busiest port.

It's no young upstart either with a Buddhist history stretching back for over a thousand years. Visit the 1,700 year old Asoka Temple, set betwixt water and mountain, and the Baoguo Temple, a rare and impressively preserved all wood gem. It's also something of a shopping hub so bring your credit cards.

8. Seek out delicious dumplings

This distant district of Shanghai is its own delicious foodie world. Nanxiang is renowned as the birthplace of the lip-smackingly good xiaolongbao dumplings (or steamed buns if you prefer), which you can indulge in all over town.

Enjoying delicious xiaolongbao dumplings in Nanxiang
Enjoying delicious xiaolongbao dumplings in Nanxiang © Bugking88 - Fotolia.com

Nanxiang is also known for its traditional gardens, which are an ideal venue for a post dumpling stroll before you take in the striking Yunxiang Temple and thank whatever deity you believe in, or just the dumpling chef, for the delights you have just consumed.

Nanxiang deliciously demonstrates you don't need to travel too far to add a totally different dimension to your Shanghai holiday.

Desperate for dumplings? Whether heading to Shanghai for work or play, make time to explore the charming towns and landscapes close to this mega-metropolis. Get there for less: save by booking your direct flight to Shanghai with Virgin Atlantic online today.

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Robin McKelvie

Robin McKelvie

Robin McKelvie is a Scottish travel writer, author and broadcaster. He has visited over 100 countries and regularly writes about Scotland and the Canary Islands. As well as frequently contributing to Weather2Travel.com, Robin writes for publications including The Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian, The Times and Wanderlust, and has authored more than 30 guidebooks.

Posted on Wednesday 12th December 2018 in: Asia City Excursions Virgin Atlantic

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