Shanghai can get pretty expensive, but there’s still tons of fun to be had without doing too much damage to your wallet. Below are some of the cheap – and sometimes free – things you can do in Shanghai.

Street food crawl

One of the best things about Shanghai is the city’s street food. Not only are they tasty and easy to find, but it's all super cheap too, making it an easy choice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Kick start your day with youtiao (deep fried dough stick) and congee or grab a congyoubing (scallion pancake); each will only set you back RMB2-3.

For lunch, order yourself a steaming basket of xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) or a bowl of noodles, jiaozi (pot sticker dumplings) or some shengjianbao (fried soup dumplings). All run just RMB8-12.

Cap off the day with a bowl of fried rice or noodles for RMB6 with a side of skewered barbecued veggies, meats and other goodies for a few kuai a piece.

Take a stroll through a park

Tucked in between the stacked high-rises, massive malls and madness of the street are some of China's most beautiful and peaceful parks.

In the city centre, the parks are a bit busier than those in the suburbs, but they're are still great for a meditative stroll, brisk jog, lunch break, afternoon picnic or even just some people watching. Our picks are Fuxing Park, Xiangyang Park and Zhongshan Park which are very popular with older local, who enjoy using the park to do their morning exercises, play board games in the afternoons and dance in the evenings.

 

For creative types, you'll adore the Jing’an Sculpture Park which is a 15-acre park that displays enormous artworks created out of stone, steel and other materials by artists from around the world. The Shanghai Museum of Natural History is also inside park.

There are larger parks a bit further from downtown. At Century Park in Pudong where there is tons of open green space to lay down or play on, and activities like paddle boats and tandem bikes for rent.

Get cultured at a museum

Museums are a great - and usually cheap - way to learn more about any city. Luckily enough, Shanghai is full of museums. Some are free, but even the ones that have an entrance fee aren’t expensive.

One of the best free museums is the Shanghai Museum, which houses more than 120,000 historical relics and other ancient Chinese artifacts. Though there’s an entrance fee of RMB20, the new Shanghai Natural History Museum (in the middle of the Jing’an Sculpture Park, mentioned above) is a fun place to visit if you have time and want to talk a walk on the wide side with some dinosaurs and other interesting animals.

For something unique, the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center is a fascinating place to meander around. Located in a hidden basement of a pretty blah apartment block downtown, this privately owned museum has walls lined with nearly 5,000 propaganda posters. It’s well worth the RMB20 entrance fee, though you're unlikely to leave without something from their well-stocked (and reasonably priced) gift shop as well.

Just wander around

The best way to see the city is probably by just wandering around the city for a couple of hours. And the best thing is, it’s free!

Shanghai is a bustling city with many different pockets full of energy and history that are just waiting to be explored. Some of the more popular areas for a walking tour are along The Bund, with its the fabulous art deco buildings on one side of the river and the gleaming modern Shanghai skyline on the other, Old Town (near Yu Gardens) to get a glimpse of Shanghai back in the day and the tree-lined streets of the Former French Concession.

There are also trendier parts of town like Tianzifang that are always fun to walk through. Get lost in this maze of tight pathways that wind and weave through this old lane. Despite it’s touristy attraction causing it to be quite crowded, this area is definitely a must-see. The labyrinth of lanes can get you lost multiple times, but at each turn you will find that there is always something new to discover – whether it’s a hole-in-the-wall café, craft store, art gallery or random place selling random chackies. You can wander around Tianzifang for an entire day and never find yourself at a loss of stuff to see, do or eat.