In February I travelled to Shanghai, China to visit my cousin who has been living there for a few years. I didn’t know much about the city and I didn’t make the time to do research before I left which meant I had zero expectations. I learned that Shanghai is the financial hub of China which means that there are a lot of foreigners and a lot of Western influence.
While I was there, they got their first Tim Hortons and the line up was over an hour long. The largest Starbucks in the world is in Shanghai and you can also find restaurants like Taco Bell and Shake Shack. The thing is that everything they do, they do it better. Everything is flashy, there are fun lights on every building, and all the decor is extra and beautiful. I quickly found out was that Shanghai is a very cool city and it is also quite easy to travel as a vegan.
Before I get into how to travel vegan in Shanghai, here are some things you need to know before you go:
You need a visa to travel to China. (I didn’t know this and ended up having to move my trip, whoops!)
Facebook, Instagram, and anything related to Google is all blocked. To access them you need to download something that will allow you to connect to a different VPN location while you’re there. I used ExpressVPN on my phone and laptop, make sure to download it before you go.
China does not accept foreign credit cards. You can withdraw money from their ATMs without any charges but sadly cannot use any credit cards.
You need to download WeChat. This is how everyone communicates and every business has a WeChat account.
Getting around Shanghai is pretty easy, the subway will get you to most places in the city
When I arrived, I did some quick Google searches of vegan places to eat in Shanghai but didn’t find much. I used the HappyCow app while I was there which had some good recommendations on it, the only thing is the locations may not always be accurate because of the internet blocks. Here are some of the restaurants that I found and tried from HappyCow:
If you don’t know what Hotpot is, you get a large pot with broth and order meat and vegetables to cook and then you take them out and eat them with different sauces. This one only has vegan “meat” and vegetables to order, it’s a fun experience and if you haven’t tried it before I would definitely recommend it.
This restaurant was extremely hard to find, there are underground food courts everywhere in Shanghai and this was in one of them. People on HappyCow have posted a lot of directions on how to find it. I would say that it is worth the search, they had a large menu with a lot of mock meats, I tried one of the mock meat dishes with their mushroom fried rice and everything was really good.
I was so happy I found this cafe because it was close to where I was staying, everything was vegan, everything I tried was amazing, and they had oat milk for their drinks! One side of their food menu had Asian dishes and the other side had more Western-style like burgers and sandwiches. They also had vegan baked goods and cakes which I couldn’t really find anywhere else.
This restaurant was the most modern and trendy that we went to which also meant it was the most expensive. Every dish was really good and the menu was similar to a restaurant I would go to back in Calgary. The options were a lot healthier and it was the only salad I had eaten on my entire trip. It was a nice change from all the Chinese food I had been eating.
Sproutworks is a chain restaurant that is more casual. They have a variety of sides and proteins that you can choose from to create a meal. It doesn’t have a lot of vegan choices but it’s great for a quick and healthy meal. They have another restaurant called Ban Ban inside IAPM mall which is the nicest mall I’ve ever been to.
I was so excited when I found Lizzy’s. It was the only place in Shanghai that I could find with juices and smoothie bowls. I think that everything was vegan, they even had vegan protein and raw cookies that were amazing. I would have gone back every day if it was closer to where I was staying.
There are a decent amount of restaurants on HappyCow but there are actually so many more vegan restaurants in Shanghai. The reason they’re hard to find is that most of them don’t have English websites and you have to search for them through their Chinese search engine.
When in doubt, you can head to a temple because the restaurants there are always vegetarian with lots of vegan options.
You can also find a lot of vegan street food like a vegetable bao. I also found tofu, “pancakes”, sweet potato, rice pudding, and noodle soups. The only problem is that a lot of the street food vendors don’t speak English but if you look up how to say “no meat” and “no egg” in Mandarin you can usually get by.
Besides eating, here are some things I would recommend doing in Shanghai:
Walk down Nanjing Road
This is the largest shopping area I have ever seen. There are malls all along the street with at least 5 floors and so many beautiful stores and restaurants. Prepare to walk along the sidewalk in the largest group of people and spend a lot of money.
Take pictures at The Bund
The Bund is at the end of Nanjing Road and this is where you see the impressive view of Shanghai’s financial district. I would recommend visiting it during the day and at night.
Look at the buildings in the financial district
I would recommend going to the financial district if you want to get a closer look at the Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world, and the other tall towers beside it or the Oriental Pearl Tower. I went up to the viewing deck on the 118th floor of the Shanghai tower and you get taken up by the fastest elevator in the world. But, when you are at the top the views aren’t that great because of the pollution.
Go to Tianzifang
Tianzifang was my favourite part of Shanghai. It’s a complete maze packed with different stores, restaurants, and bars. Each little alleyway had a different theme and it was so much fun walking around. I found a weird place called “The Pink” which was completely pink, had fun signs, tons of arcade claw machines, and it was the perfect place to take photos. I also had a snack where they take out the inside of a coconut and put a straw in it so you drink the coconut water and then after you can eat the coconut meat. Crazy.
Walk around Xintiandi
I’ve already mentioned malls and shopping and food a lot and that’s because Shanghai has the most malls and restaurants I have seen in my whole life and I can’t get over how beautiful they make everything. Xintiandi has more insane malls and also an outdoor area with no cars which is nice to walk around. You’ll find Shake Shack here and also a Lululemon, where everything is double the price that it is in Canada.
Yu Garden, also called Yuyuan, is exactly what you would expect old-China to look like. It’s very affordable to visit and definitely worth it. It’s very peaceful, fun to explore, and a big contrast from the city. Surrounding the garden is a cool market area where you can walk through and find cool shops and street food.
The nightlife in Shanghai is insane, they have some of the biggest clubs and you can find something happening on any day of the week.
I loved visiting Shanghai and I hope you enjoyed reading how to travel as a vegan. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment or reach out!