Ten Essential Transportation Tips in Shanghai

In The Art of Travel Spring 2018, 7. Free topic, Shanghai by Mark1 Comment

Arriving in Shanghai soon, or looking to increase the effectiveness of your travel around the city? Here are the top ten tips to effective transport, from arrival at the airport, to everyday commuting.

Pudong Airport – Mag-lev high speed train

Travelers often commandeer a taxi or take the metro when arriving in Shanghai for the first time. A taxi to Puxi will run you 200 RMB and takes about an hour, where the metro costs only 7 RMB, but takes an hour and a half. Taking the Mag-lev is the best route: it takes only eight minutes to traverse two thirds of the distance, and you get to look out the window while you cruise at 200 kilometers per hour. The ride costs 40 RMB.

Google Maps – fixes

The first thing you’ll notice opening Google Maps in China is that it doesn’t work at all, unless you download a VPN. For several reasons (including use of the Google suite), it’s great to have this downloaded before arriving. Next beware your location, it’s often a half-mile off, northwest (don’t ask me why). Finally, don’t trust the search capacity, only use the street address of the location you’re looking for.

Baidu Maps – Google Maps replacement

If you’re tired of fixes for Google Maps, and you’re willing to wade into the waters of Chinese app navigation, give Baidu a try. The interface is fairly straightforward, and – most importantly – the locations are accurate, including yours.

Didi – China’s Uber

One of the most useful apps you can have in Shanghai is Didi, which completed a merger with Uber (after a terrific price war) a couple years ago. Download the English version of the app to call a cab any time. Especially at rush hour, weekend nights, and during rain or snow, it’s impossible to flag a cab any other way.

Taxi payment – use your Metro Card

At some point during your time in Shanghai you will probably realize that you don’t have enough cash to pay for the ride. As an alternative payment, use your metro card, which the driver can tap on the top of the meter. Metro cards also work on buses.

Taxi instructions – Google Translate

The most common way to get instructions across these days is showing the driver a map, and letting them search around until they understand where the pin is. Instead, find your location and get the English address, then place that in google translate and tilt the screen horizontally. Drivers in Shanghai are familiar with addresses, not maps, and will immediately know where you would like to go.

Ofo or Mobike – Free bicycles!

Both Ofo and Mobike are currently in a promotional period where you can use their bikes for free. Simply download the app, scan the QR code on a bicycle, and the bike will unlock. Then you can use it for as long as you want, and leave it on the sidewalk in a legal place. Very handy and very fun.

Metro at rush hour – avoidance and mitigation

The first tip for riding the metro in Shanghai at rush hour is: avoid it. At busy stops it is common to be pushed and shoved and miss a train because there are too many people trying to get in before the doors close automatically. If you do wind up on the metro at rush hour, be patient and seek the shortest lines in the least accessible parts of the station, away from stairs and escalators. Most stations are the same format, so this will also be the least full part of the train once you’re inside.

For any travel in Shanghai, remain calm and go with the flow – it won’t always happen as you expect. When the inevitable transit mistake occurs, you’ll be prepared and able to exclaim méi guān xi! It’s nothing.


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(Image: Traffic on a highway; Source: sgsgroup.com.hk)


  1. Mark,

    I thought this was a pretty good general overview of how to get around in Shanghai–based on my own experience, there’s a few things I’d like to add to help out any future Shanghai visitors:

    -If you don’t know Chinese and still want to use a maps app, I’d actually recommend Apple maps. Because it’s not blocked on Chinas servers, there is more information provided by Chinese businesses and bus/train timetables so it will generally be more useful and accurate than Google Maps.

    -Didi is amazing, but although the app is now in English, drivers will commonly call and start talking very quickly in Chinese. To communicate, theres a chat function in Didi which has a quick set of phrases that you can send which are automatically correctly translated. I will almost always send the “my GPS location is accurate” one, especially when I’m standing out on the cold and don’t want to run to the street corner to figure out exactly where I am.

    -Contrary to the New York system (and Atlanta, but these are the only two I can attest to), stations have certain numbered exits that will be noted in your maps app. Because the stations in Shanghai are pretty big, check which exit your maps wants you to come out of (in Baidu Maps it’s denoted with a 口) and take that exit to minimize your walking distance.

    Hope this makes a good addition!

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