On our latest trip to China, we made Shanghai our home base for 6 days, staying in an eclectic Airbnb near Jing’An Temple that felt like part hostel, part Brooklyn loft, part Chinese-version-of-Ron-Weasley’s-house (Harry Potter fans, this place legitimately felt like the Burrow).
Having our motley Woks of Life crew of travelers stay in Shanghai for an extended period turned out to be a great approach. Many additional destinations are easily accessible from Shanghai as day trips, allowing us to escape the skyscrapers and mega malls for a couple days to explore a traditional Chinese garden, tea farms, a lake, and a small water village.
On our Shanghai day trips, we visited Hangzhou (home to Dragon’s Well tea and the famous West Lake), Suzhou (site of one “Humble Administrator’s Garden” that wasn’t really all that humble), and Zhouzhuang (a “Venice of the East”).
Along the way, we experienced China train travel, ate a Hawaiian pizza at 必胜客 (aka Pizza Hut), sampled actual local and regional foods, and saw a very small slice of China outside the big city (no pizza pun intended).
So, without further ado, here are three great Shanghai Day trips you can take next time you find yourself there, along with (of course), plenty of photos.
3 Great Shanghai Day Trips
Shanghai Day Trip 1: Hangzhou
Hangzhou is the capital of China’s Zhejiang province, easily reachable by train from Shanghai. There are over a hundred trains traveling between Shanghai and Hangzhou’s East Railway station each day, and the shortest travel time between the two cities is just 45 minutes.
In just one day, we could see why Hangzhou is often hailed as one of the most beautiful cities in China. We drove through green spaces and well-manicured roads, visited Longjing Village, famed for its terraced fields of fragrant green tea, and saw West Lake, a body of water that has inspired Chinese writers, poets, and artists for centuries.
We took the bullet train from Shanghai’s Hongqiao Railway Station to Hangzhou. We took the metro to the train station. For anyone from New York City, the Shanghai metro is an absolute dream. Train arrival times are counted down by the second, and a train always arrives within less than 2 minutes. While the stations can be crowded (it IS China, after all), they are clean and easy to navigate, even for a bunch of foreigners like us.
Door to door, it took us about 2 hours to get from our house in Shanghai to Hangzhou East Railway Station.
There, we met up with our driver for the day––my mom had rented a little van to transport the eight of us to our various destinations.
First stop was Longjing Village.
Longjing translates to “Dragon’s Well” in English, and the village is famous for its eponymous fragrant green tea.
We wound our way up a stone path…
Into the tea fields themselves, which the farmers in the community run as a co-op.
The air was clean and fresh, a marked contrast from the city, and the terraced tea fields were quiet and peaceful.
Down in the village, we were called into the home of one of the tea producers, who allowed us to sample her ming qian Longjing Tea, or tea picked prior to the Qingming festival on April 5. These tea buds are younger and considered to have the best flavor.
After the tea farm, we headed to a restaurant on Hangzhou’s West Lake for lunch.
There, we tried some of the region’s specialty dishes, including Beggar’s Chicken (a chicken baked in clay), West Lake Fish in sweet and sour sauce, Dongpo Pork (a rich and fatty braised pork belly––check out our Dongpo Pork recipe here), and Shrimp with Longjing tea. All delicious.
After lunch, we went to check out West Lake, which is one of China’s UNESCO World Heritage sites and considered one of Hangzhou’s most scenic places to visit.
We walked around the lake for a bit, sampling some street food snacks along the way, though we did have to fight through some pretty crazy tourist crowds.
These were crispy scallion flatbreads – so good!
It was a misty, cloudy day, which some say is the best kind of weather to experience the lake in, as the mist creates an atmosphere akin to an ancient Chinese painting.
Shanghai Day Trip 2: Suzhou
Suzhou, west of Shanghai, is known for its canals and classical gardens. We got there via a rented van, which picked us up in the early morning hours at our Airbnb.
The Suzhou museum was on our list of things to see, but alas, my mom didn’t know they were closed on Mondays! So while we ended up missing out on the museum, we instead headed straight to The Humble Administrator’s Garden, which dates back to the 1500s.
The garden is the largest in Suzhou and it’s also considered by some to be the finest in Southern China.
While it was somewhat crowded, we were told that this number of Monday morning visitors was NOTHING compared to how crowded it could get on weekends or peak travel times. Avoiding the crowds is always something to think about when traveling in China. Suddenly, coming to Suzhou on a day the museum was closed didn’t seem like the worst idea.
We had lunch in a restaurant near the garden. A no-frills home-cooking type establishment with a particularly poorly translated menu:
I do feel the need to explain how this translation happened, because while it seems INCREDIBLY far off what it’s actually supposed to say, when you get over the hilarity of it and break it down, the mistakes sort of make sense.
So what it’s supposed to translate to is: “Suzhou-Style Soup Dumplings.” However, the “苏” in 苏州 (Suzhou) is the same as the “苏” in “苏联” (Soviet Union), hence the “Soviet-style” part. The “小笼” (xiaolong) in xialongbao can be translated to “small cage,” though that part of the word is meant to describe the small bamboo baskets they’re steamed in. Finally, “包” can be translated either to “bun” or…bag.
And there you have it! Chinglish menu translations explained.
Shanghai Day Trip 3: Zhouzhuang
With time still to kill in the afternoon, we drove from Suzhou to the water village of Zhouzhuang, a little less than an hour’s drive away from the garden. You could do Suzhou and Zhouzhuang as two separate day trips, but since they’re so close together, you can pack them into the same day as well.
Zhouzhuang looks like what you might imagine China looked like a couple hundred years ago. The village homes are well-preserved, and they’re home to not only souvenir shops but also residents still living there.
We had fun wandering through the winding alleyways, checking out the wares in all the little shops and watching the boats float by in the canals.
We sampled some local eats, including sticky rice treats and Zhouzhuang’s famous tipang, a braised pork leg that you could have vacuum packed for transport home. For more photos, see our Zhouzhuang trip post when we lived in Beijing.
As night fell, colored lights lit up the village.
We piled back into the van and drove back to our Shanghai home, where we looked forward to a late-night bowl of noodles and warm beds.
Do you have any other ideas for Shanghai Day trips to share? Let us know in the comments!