Awesome Layover #1 – 12 Hours in Shanghai

“Awesome, I have a long layover!” Let’s face it, those are words that are rarely uttered by anyone. Travelers either want to get to their destination or return home as soon as possible. I too prefer direct flights to lower my chances of having any missed connections, unexpected delays, or boring stays in the airport, but don’t scoff at a layover so quickly. It is a golden opportunity to visit a place that you weren’t expecting. These days, I think of layovers as a bonus travel destination. It is kind of like a trip within a trip. On some occasions, like my layover in Amsterdam, I have even gone out of my way to ensure that I have a longer stay to properly explore the layover city. This is the first of what I hope are many posts about layovers I have had on the way to my main destination. This is what I did on my layover in Shanghai.

Bund View - Layover in Shanghai
View from the Bund.

I have been wanting and dreaming about visiting Komodo National Park for the last three years, and now that I am back from the land of the dragons, I must say that it was worth all the hype. However, when I first clicked “purchase” on that wonderfully scheduled Garuda Indonesia (Airlines) flight, direct from Seoul to Denpasar, Bali, I got the two words no aspiring traveler ever wants to hear (or read), “Sold Out.” Why oh why is it still listed just to tease me!!! The only affordable options were to wait till next year, or take a flight with China Eastern Airlines with a 9 hour layover in Shanghai.

I try to be as positive as possible, but if you read my post about being scammed in Beijing, you will know that I don’t exactly have the best memories of China. That experience was actually just the tip of the iceberg of my run-ins with the People’s Republic, which have included getting scammed in Xi’an, getting 7 hour delays into AND exiting Chengdu, getting sent to the quarantine room in Beijing Airport for coughing once, getting a thorough and very uncomfortable pat down in Guangzhou airport, and of course, my worst travel story of all time, getting stranded for 3 days in a blizzard in Beijing with no money. Needless to say, China and I have a long history. The country and I have a love-hate relationship that isn’t ending anytime soon, despite their $150 visa price.

I wasn’t very excited about THIS particular layover, but since it was unavoidable, I decided to research to make the most of it. By chance, I saw a post by Nomadic Chick, a blogger I follow, about the wonderful Bund area and the food on Yunnan Road. Instantly, I remembered the things I did love about China, the food, the clash between old and new, and most of all, the character. Whether you love or hate China, you can’t deny that is has character and as much, if not more diversity in its people and food than anywhere else on Earth.

Abalone Mushrooms - Layover in Shanghai
Pretty awesome mushrooms from Grandmother Shanghai Restaurant

 

We arrived at Pudong Airport on time (for like the first time ever in China) and security was relatively nice and quick. Maybe Shanghai was different after all as my Shanghainese friends have told me for years. After getting through security, I inquired about my flight out of China, which seemed to have the wrong time printed on it. Nope, it was delayed… for three hours. One thing I have to know is, how do they know a 10PM flight will be delayed when it is barely 9AM? Do they plan on being late? Well, this actually worked out for the better since we would have more time in Shanghai, and would arrive in Bali at around 6AM instead of 3AM. We decided to leave the airport in style and take the Mag-Lev, which was supposed to hit 430kph! Unfortunately, it only hit 300 kph, which is equivalent to the Korean KTX or the Taiwanese bullet train. I was a bit disappointed, but it was still pretty cool to get to the center of town in 8 minutes.

0 kph - layover in shanghai
Kind of a fail when there is a speedometer to prove you didn’t actually hit 430kph as promised. Nevertheless, it was a nice ride.

 

From here, we transferred to the subway system. I always look forward to riding the subway in other countries as it is, in my opinion, the best invention for public transportation. I never really figured out how to get a rechargeable card, but since I was only there for a day, I didn’t mind buying my ticket every time I needed the subway. What I found most unusual was the use of x-ray machines at the entrance, but I guess extra security can’t hurt. Off we went, looking for the famous skyscrapers that adorn the Shanghai skyline. Unfortunately, it was 100F (40C), making our scheduled run across this mega city a bit slower than expected. I think my biggest expense was water as I stopped by a Family Mart every hour or so. The Oriental Pearl Building was quite unique, and definitely the prettiest I saw in Shanghai.

Oriental Pearl - Layover in Shanghai
Looks like a spaceship.

Although the Shanghai World Financial Center and the new Shanghai Tower might be taller, the Pearl is really the building to see. We then moved on to the Bund tunnel which I must say, was a total tourist trap. I knew something was fishy when they offered a one-way trip for 50 RMB, but gave a ridiculous discount at 60 RMB if you went round trip. I decided to go with my instinct and just got the one way ticket.  After crossing the tunnel, you could see that just overlooking the river where all the new buildings of Shanghai making for a great view. The river also had a lot of those old tugboats going around.

Tugboat - Layover in Shanghai

On the Bund, there were quite a few interesting buildings. A mesh of old and new in this historical neighborhood which has tried to preserve its identity by restricting further construction in the area. Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side and the intense heat left us running for cover, looking for a small road with shade. Since we were planning on walking to the People’s Square, we took Fuzhou Road and stopped for some more water. My skin was already burning and Sidney was dying of dehydration. That is when we ran into Grandmother Shanghai Restaurant.

Grandma - Layover in Shanghai
Go here for the most amazing food ever.

I gave this a lot of thought, so I’m going to just say it, this is one of the top 5 places I’ve ever eaten in my life. Now granted that I am partial towards Chinese food (especially the really greasy stuff), but I don’t see how anyone could dislike the food here. For starters, almost every item on the menu has a picture, making it very easy for someone like me, who doesn’t know more than a few Chinese characters, to pick a good dish.

Braised Beef
Braised Beef

I feel stupid for not writing down the names of the dishes in Chinese, but I fully expected to return on my way back from Indonesia (my flight was delayed or course, and I missed my chance). If anyone has ever been here, please tell me the names of these foods.

Beef Soup (yeah, that is all I remember)
Beef Soup (yeah, that is all I remember)

After a few more stops at air-conditioned malls and shops, we finally arrived at the Shanghai Museum, only to find out that it had just closed. So, we headed to Qibao to visit the famous water village of the same name.

Small, but very interesting village on a river.
Small, but very interesting village on a river.

While it was a bit difficult to find, we did finally arrive and it was quite lovely. We saw a beautiful temple in the distance, but it was already closed.

This gorgeous pagoda was in the temple that was closed.
This gorgeous pagoda was in the temple that was closed.

From the pictures in this blog, it is quite something from the inside too. After Qibao, it was around 8PM, and we were about 90 minutes from the airport, so it was time to get going.

Nice reflection on the river.
Nice reflection on the river.

While I do wish I had more time in Shanghai, I am happy with the time I did have. Since I had a scheduled layover in Shanghai again on the way back, I fully expected to see more, but my flight was delayed from Bali (figures), so this was the only time I had in Shanghai. In the future, I’ll make sure to try to force a stop in this wonderful city one more time…maybe two………or three.

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Julio Moreno

Julio is a California native who has lived abroad since 2009 as an expat in South Korea and New Zealand. He is especially passionate about experiencing other cultures and visiting as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible.
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39 thoughts on “Awesome Layover #1 – 12 Hours in Shanghai

  • December 23, 2013 at 1:32 am
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    I used to think that long layovers would be a great cheap way to see a city without paying for accommodation but now I know I’m always too tired to enjoy them!

    Reply
    • December 24, 2013 at 1:20 am
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      I totally see your point here, but it really depends on the situation. This layover for example was after a 2.5 hour flight, not enough to get me tired. Another layover I had in Florida was 18 hours! I arrived at night, slept, and still had 10 hours to explore. While I did had to pay to stay the night, I always wanted to see the Everglades anyways :).
      Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  • February 14, 2014 at 5:55 am
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    I love your pics, reminds me of the good things about China. Shanghai has a lot of delights for sure. I’m a bit like Kathryn, a layover can be tiring, so unless it’s a city I really want to see, I usually don’t!

    Reply
    • February 16, 2014 at 1:20 am
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      Thanks a lot. I based a lot of my layover on your articles :). I wish I had more time, but at the same time, it was over 100 degrees, so maybe next time :). Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  • March 20, 2014 at 6:15 am
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    In order to leave the airport during an 18hour layover, you have to pay the $150 visa fee? Is there much to do in the airport, I will be travelling with the family and $600 would be pretty steep just for a day.

    Reply
    • March 20, 2014 at 7:39 am
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      There is no fee. If you are just on a layover, you may leave the airport for up to 72 hours for free, just tell them you plan on leaving and they will stamp your passports.

      Reply
      • August 19, 2017 at 1:55 pm
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        That was my question. I have a 21hr layover going and a 15hr layover coming back. I’m so excited to sneak a peek along the way

        Reply
        • August 19, 2017 at 4:34 pm
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          Great! Hope nothing gets delayed. I actually just arrived in Korea from shanghai as we speak and unfortunately, my flight was delayed from Los Angeles and didn’t have time to exit the airport. But you can definitely explore?

          Reply
  • August 26, 2014 at 10:33 pm
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    Is it fairly easy to get taxi’s from the airport? I have a 9 hr layover in Shanghai and am taking a motorbike tour of the city but am a bit nervous no speaking the language trying to get to the hotel meeting point!

    Reply
    • August 28, 2014 at 3:56 pm
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      Hello!
      I took the bullet train to town so not sure about the taxis. However, there were people in the airport who spoke English and were relatively friendly.
      Due to the massive population of Shanghai, I would bet it is faster to take the bullet train and then the subway than to take a taxi but am not 100% sure. The bullet train can hit 300kph (supposedly) and gets to town very fast.
      I would also ask the tour company for the fastest route if you can. Most people seemed to know simply English directions, so I don’t think it would be too hard. Have a great time in Shanghai and thanks for commenting!

      Reply
    • September 28, 2015 at 9:06 am
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      Hello, I have a 17 hour layover in Shanghai Pu Dong (PVG). Can you tell me about the scooter tour.

      Were did you rent a scooter and how much was it.

      Thanks,
      Ron Richards

      Reply
      • October 4, 2015 at 12:34 pm
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        Hey Ronald, the person who posted that was just a visitor so I doubt she will respond. If you click on her name, I believe she posted her email. You should be able to contact her directly and ask :).

        Reply
  • January 11, 2015 at 3:49 am
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    Great post! I will be in Shanghai for 12hours layover in 2days, i really want to try out that granmas restaurant 🙂

    Reply
    • January 14, 2015 at 6:45 pm
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      It is very close to The Bund so its pretty convenient too. Seriously, it is worth going just for that.

      Reply
  • January 15, 2015 at 6:24 am
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    Hi Julio – I am planning on a 8 hours layover this coming April on my trip to Singapore so would love your feedback on the following questions:
    1. do you have to check-out your luggage when you get out of the airport?
    2. do you need to check-in when you come back to the airport?
    3. how long is the security check-out?
    Thank you.

    Reply
    • January 15, 2015 at 1:07 pm
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      Hey Jess! I’d love to help.
      1) My gf and I travel only with carry on, so I wouldn’t know if you have to check in and out. However, from my experiences in other Chinese airports when I was taking luggage. I did not have to check out my luggage on a layover. Your airline would know for sure so give them a call. It is per airport and they know which airports require this.
      2) I did not check in. I already had my ticket and had no extra luggage but carry on, so it was not required. This layover actually happened twice, from Korea to Bali and Bali to Korea. Be advised, Chinese airports are notorious for delays. I was lucky the first time and had time to go outside. The second time, I only had 4 hours (as opposed to the originally planned 10) as the flight was delayed from Bali.
      3) Shorter than expected. It took about 30 mins total from airplane landing to being outside.
      Hope this helped and thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  • May 21, 2015 at 3:56 am
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    Hi Julio!

    Great blog! I am in desperate need of quick advice. I have the option of having a layover from 6PM-1PM the next day in Shanghai before I head back the US from Japan.

    Is it worth it? I just think by the time I get through immigration it will be late and I won’t be able to do any sightseeing, and then in the morning I probably won’t see much either with the commute and early check in for international flight.

    What would you recommend? Thank you so much for time.

    Reply
    • May 21, 2015 at 8:22 am
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      That’s pretty close and Chinese airports are known for being late. Personally, I would stay in the airport as you’d only have an hour or two max for sightseeing.

      Reply
      • May 21, 2015 at 2:37 pm
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        Julio! Thank you so much for your swift response! You rock!! I will be sure to share your blogs on my travel page. Thanks for your help.

        Reply
  • December 5, 2015 at 3:07 am
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    Great post! I’m going to Vietnam in January and will have a 7.5 hour layover in Shanghai.Do you think that’s long enough to explore a bit? I would love to leave the airport but I’m unfamiliar with the city and nervous about timing. What would you recommend?

    Reply
    • December 5, 2015 at 3:55 am
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      IF it is on time, it will definitely be enough. However, that is no small IF. Airlines into Chinese airports are notoriously late. I have been connecting in China for about 5 years with about 40 connections and I think it has been on time a handful of times.
      Even this trip, it was supposed to be TWO long layovers in Shanghai (by design) but the second one was 7 hrs late. With 7 hours, I definitely think you can make it to some interesting spots with about 2.5 hrs round trip and 4.5 hrs of exploring time (which is worth it). I would recommend you make it a game time decision though.

      Reply
  • December 29, 2015 at 9:29 am
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    Hello Julio,

    Does the airport offer lockers or place to drop off a carry on bag?

    Does the airport offer arranged free tours like in South Korea?

    Does the airport offer free showers?

    I read it’s expensive to exchange USD at the airport, do they offer an atm?

    Can you use credit cards?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • December 29, 2015 at 2:53 pm
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      I was there a few days ago again.
      Bag – yes, they do charge though.
      Tours – no free ones.
      Showers – I didn’t notice any but not sure.
      Exchange – yes and it is absolutely absurd. They charge about a 4.5% spread on top of a 50 yuan commission. I did not notice that before when I originally wrote this post. Just bs!
      Atm – they do have some but there are fees.
      Credit – outside it is used but not as widely as in the us. Lots of places prefer cash. I will know more on January second when I visit again so shoot me an email at maximuz04@gmail.com then and I’ll know in detail.

      Reply
  • April 28, 2016 at 1:36 pm
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    Do you need a visa???

    Reply
  • January 17, 2017 at 3:34 am
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    I have a Shanghai layover from 4:00 AM and depart at 1:00 PM. Do you know when the city “Wakes up”? how early can I go out into the city? It sounds like I’ll likely be delayed a bit, which might work out in my favor. Thanks!

    Reply
    • January 17, 2017 at 9:26 am
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      Unfortunately, not an early rising city from my experience. Not much you can do in that time, except maybe visit grandmothers restaurant ;).

      Reply
  • August 10, 2017 at 4:52 am
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    Stumbled upon this post after searching Shanghai layover and is very informative!

    We have an almost 10-hour layover (10:30am-8:15pm) in PVG so I guess even with delays we should be able to explore the city.

    You mentioned how cash is preferred but the charges are high for dollar conversion? What would be a good budget in US dollars for a family of 4 if we are to follow exactly where you went?

    Reply
    • August 10, 2017 at 3:38 pm
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      Thanks for posting. I actually was in Shanghai for another layover a few days ago (9 hrs this time) so I hope I am more up to date this time :).
      1) Maglev will be 40 yuan if you show proof of airplane tickets, thats 160 for 4 (25 USD). I’ve been to Grandmother a few times and the food is still reasonable. 50 USD would stuff a family of 4 easily. This of course varies a lot depending on how much you eat, but 50 is reasonable. Besides that, I only used public transport. 100 USD is enough, but I usually side with caution so 150 would be good.
      The ATMs in the airport charge a fee as do the currency exchange. I personally always exchange money in Korea (where I live) but you might be better off biting the bullet in China than the US as rates in the US are notoriously bad.
      I hope you have fun. I am actually going to be there Aug 18th-19th for yet another layover. Since I wrote this article, I’ve been in Shanghai layovers like…8-9 times.
      Julio Moreno recently posted…Korea Itinerary for 1, 3, 7 and 14 day tripsMy Profile

      Reply
  • August 11, 2017 at 4:26 am
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    Hi Julio,
    I have a 9 hours 45 mins Layover in Shanghai this December on my flight book to New York. What can you suggest to do if I’m arriving to Pu Dong at 10:30am till 20:15H (8:00pm). How much budget should I prepare if traveling alone in Shanghai? Is the Layover tours booking offering for Shanghai worth taking? or preferably do it on your own? I believe its gonna be winter that time? What would you suggest.
    And by the way I was impress of your blog.. Kudos to you for helping more people With their travel goals..
    Cheers! and All the Best,
    Dionn

    Reply
    • August 11, 2017 at 9:05 am
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      You have enough time for that village in the article and a meal at grandmothers. I’d say 50 usd is more than enough and pretty safe. 30 usd can get it done, but a bit risky depending on how much you eat. Winter will be very cold check the week before on a weather website, but you’re looking at subzero temps. I’d personally still do it, but up to you if it’s too cold

      Reply
      • August 16, 2017 at 11:59 pm
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        Hi Julio,
        Thanks for the reply..much appreciated. Just another inquiry.. Does Grandmas Resto accept Credit card ? or just the Chinese Yuan.
        I’ll be spending the White Christmas in the East Coast so I think I wouldn’t mind the cold in Shanghai.. hehehe 🙂 I will definitely do it..
        Just to be safe how much travel time do I have to be mindful of getting back to the Airport?
        This would be my first time to explore from Layover Flights I normally just sit tight and wait inside the Terminals. But After coming across to your blog, It all make sense actually.. So I will do it.. Wish me Luck…
        And Thank you very much .
        Dionn

        Reply
        • August 17, 2017 at 12:34 am
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          No idea on the credit cards as I always had cash. I would assume they do since it’s a big sit down restaurant but can’t say for sure.
          2 hrs is more than enough at pudong airport. Takes about 45 to get there from grandmas.

          Reply
  • September 9, 2017 at 8:48 pm
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    Dear Sir /Madam

    My flight from San Francisco reaching Shanghai Pudong Int. Airport at 4:30 pm evening and my next flight from Shanghai Pudong Airport to Kunming is next morning at 8:25am.

    So during this lay over time of 16 hrs , can i see the Shanghai City foe 3-4 hrs with a river boat cruise and the Bund from 6:30 pm to 10 pm in night for approx 3-4 hours .

    Please advise a package of 3-4 hrs in night 6:30 pm to 10 pm and quote is price with a English speaking tourist guide for it to pick me from Shanghai Pudong airport.

    Thanks & Regards
    Samir.

    Reply
    • September 15, 2017 at 9:50 am
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      Hello Samir,
      I am not a tour company so I don’t know of any packages and prices.
      I do know this… you probably won’t make it at 6:30… it’s very tight. Pudong is 1 hr from the city minimum and I’ve never arrived on time as delays are very common. I personally wouldn’t book anything and stick to a cruise that’s firstcome first serve around 7.

      Reply
  • October 2, 2017 at 3:43 am
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    A great blog on layover trip to Shanghai center. I will be layover from 6am-10pm this 22/Nov, what are your recommendations to visit most in Shanghai. Thanks very much for your reply.

    Reply
    • October 4, 2017 at 2:13 pm
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      The traditional village and the bund is say are # 1. Good luck!

      Reply

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