Latest Posts

Travellers Guide to Daily Budgets in Shanghai, China

Travel and Eat Well in Shanghai for under $50 per day.

Continuing with our series of ‘Backpacking Budget Guides to China‘, this week we focus on the daily costs of staying in Shanghai.

Generally speaking, Shanghai will be one of the more expensive cities that you may visit during your stay in China.  That doesn't necessarily mean it blows your budgets out.  But with the fact it's the financial capital of China, local higher wages of workers (especially in Pudong) are of course going to mean higher costs of living overall.

Shanghai is the eating mecca of China.  It's seriously good and there is just so much choice available.  You may well find that dining out in Shanghai will leave you thinking you may have tried some of the best food in all of China.  And we aren't just talking about Chinese cuisine either.  Because of the centuries of western influence (especially France) there are some really incredible places to eat Italian, French, British & American cuisine.  But again, just be mindful of your wallet.  Generally speaking these types of places are on par with prices back at home.. So you won't be eating cheap if you decide to eat the upmarket western food.

Our total overall daily budget whilst in Shanghai came to $73 per person if we include our train fares for getting to Shanghai from Nanjing and the bullet train we caught to Beijing.  Without these, the average daily living costs came to $47 per person.  So really Shanghai is a sub-$50 city to travel within.

This wasn't the first time we had visited Shanghai.  About 5 months earlier we stayed there before heading to Ningbo to study, that time we stayed in the French Quarter at Le Tour Traveler's Rest Hostel.  Which was nice, but on the pricey side of things at about $50 per night ($25 each).  But again, it was very nice and central.  I will come onto where we stayed on this trip later on…

You might be asking, can I travel in Shanghai for cheaper than $50 per night?  Well yes.. you can. There are places that do shared dorm style accommodation which are up to a good quality, in fact Le Tour does that but is on the more expensive side of hostels.. Realistically you should budget for anywhere between $35 – $40 if you want to enjoy yourself in Shanghai.. Anything you budget less than this will result in not being able to do as much.

Chinese Currency (RMB) Information:

Current exchange rates for 1 US Dollar to Yuan (¥).

1.00 USD = 6.06298 CNY
US Dollar Chinese Yuan Renminbi
1 USD = 6.06298 CNY 1 CNY = 0.164935 USD

These rates don't change all that often. The exchange rate between Yuan and £ Sterling is usually around 10RMB per £1, so 100RMB is £10 – simple to work out the true costs for us brits!

Travel tip: If you want to know more about the Chinese currency (Renminbi), it's various denominations and how you pronounce it.. Then read our guide on Currency: Chinese Renminbi Denominations.  If you want to learn how to count in Chinese before you get there, read our guide on How to count numbers in Chinese 1-10 to 1,000.

Our average daily living costs in Shanghai:

To get things moving, below is our average daily expenses (per person) in RMB (¥), US ($) and UK (£).  You can reliably use these average travel costs, providing you are a group of 2 or more, sharing accommodation and transport in most cases. These figures do not take into consideration single occupancy rates.  These costs also exclude our train fares between Nanjing > Shanghai and also Shanghai > Beijing.  We got stuck with paying for Business Class train to Bejing so that kind of cost us a lot than we weren't anticipating!  More on that later..

Accommodation Meals Transportation Attractions Sundries
153 RMB
$10
£6
107 RMB
$17
£10
13 RMB
$2
£1.20
3 RMB
$0.50
£0.30
110 RMB
$18
£11

We used the Subway (Metro) system basically every day in Shanghai and it still only cost us $2 per day, each.  You will notice that our attraction costs are just $0.50 per day.  That's mainly because we only really did 1 paid attraction (Shanghai Propaganda Museum), which I will come onto later..

Below are these top figures broken down a little further for you..

Accommodation:

For this 2nd trip to Shanghai, we stayed at Naza Place Hostel.  It's located really close to Pudong, in fact about 10 minutes away by the Subway.  However in terms of being close to Nanjing Road and the main central tourist spots it's a little further out.  And it takes perhaps around 45 minutes – 1 hour to get to the high speed rail station.

Would we recommend staying here?  Not unless they have refurbished the place since we visited.. By the looks of their website, that might have happened now.  The only reason we chose this was it had a sort of good location, but without the price tag of hostels in downtown.  The double ensuite room we had came to $20 per night ($10 per person).  So I guess that is the price you pay for a double hostel in Shanghai.  Honestly, this was the worst place we stayed in China though..

Travel tip: The French Quarter is the best place to stay for backpackers.  You can get some OK deals out of season, but be prepared for your accommodation to be the largest chunk of your budget here.

Meals:

OK, so we kind of splurged in Shanghai on food.  Maybe because it was an excuse to be out and away from our Hostel!  But there are some great places to eat and drink, I could imagine living the life of luxury as an expat.  At an average of $17 per day, we really did go all out in Shanghai.  Some of our favourites were..

Morton’s The Steakhouse (Chicago favourite!)
Just two words you need to know HAPPY HOUR. This is without a doubt the best value happy hour in Shanghai and you will leave feeling fat and drunk. Here is the deal, you turn up at 5pm (Monday – Friday) and grab a seat at the bar. Order a cocktail or Mortini which are priced from 45RMB (just under £5 / $8 each).  Then until 7pm, you will get an unlimited supply of Steak Sandwiches delivered to your table every 15 or so minutes.

Marks & Spencer Cafe – West Nanjing Road
The cafe upstairs has a large selection of M&S favourites, including pastries, breads, crisps, sweets, frozen meals and wine / beer. The cafe serves some simple things such as sandwiches, salads / soups and coffee / pastries. It is a nice break away from all the busyness of West Nanjing Road and has a good view of the road below. Well worth a visit if you are British at least.

Roosevelt Bar – For the best position to take the ultimate snapshot of The Bund
There is nowhere better in Shanghai (easily accessible) to take a beautiful panorama of The Bund. They also run a Buy-1-Get-1-Free offer on cocktails from 5pm – 8pm every week night. There is also an offer from 2pm – 8pm on all draft beers a Buy-2-Get-1-Free.

Noodle Bull (Multiple locations)
This taiwanese modern eatery serves noodle dishes either soup based or dry along with a few sides. The choice is small, but what they do well is make every plate perfectly balanced in flavour and with a budget price tag on top! Well worth a visit and if you want to be sneaky, find your way through the maze that is this building to the top where the building ventilation system is for some fantastic views of the city – coupled with some really nice cool breezes during the hot summer nights!

Hooters Shanghai (Pudong Branch)
Located on the waterfront in Pudong, Hooters is open all day serving lunch, dinner and dancing ladies on chairs. We only went here because it offered a drinks happy hour that once ended, then had a chicken wings happy hour straight afters – so 50% off beer and wings which otherwise would have been very expensive for bars and restaurants in shanghai pudong area in general.

Read our full list of Top 10 Favourite Bars and Restaurants in Shanghai.

Transportation:

Our daily transport costs came to barely $2 per day using the Subway for 100% of our travel.  You can get pretty much anywhere on the Subway, which is definitely the most developed in the whole of China.

A little word regarding our train fares for getting in and out of Shanghai…

Nanjing South Railway Station (南京南站) to Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station (上海虹橋站) takes roughly an hour. But Shanghai's high speed rail station is like other new stations far away from the city centre.  The transport links into the city are good though, although my tip would be to go to the manned kiosks, rather than using the machines as it takes less than half the time (Just make sure you know where you are going!).

We travelled in 2nd class, which is lovely and spacious.  This cost each of us just $20 one-way and they leave every half hour or so.

Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station (上海虹橋站) to Beijing South Railway Station (北京南站) takes roughly 5 hours.  Again you have to travel out of the city centre to get to this station and it's kind of a similar situation on the other side.  We should have booked this ticket a few days beforehand.. Because we ended up getting stuck with Business Class tickets only left by the time we got to the station.  This meant our train to Beijing cost $100 each.  I can't complain too much because that is a 1,300km journey in Business Class.

You can watch our High Speed Adventure below:

Traveller Tips: We have written a comprehensive guide on train travel in 7 tips for travelling by high speed rail in China which might help you with planning your travels by train.

Attraction costs in Shanghai:

Truth be told, we didn't see many attractions in Shanghai.  Partly because Shanghai isn't that type of place and also the attractions on offer are just outright expensive.  If you want to go to the top of the tallest building, then it's like $30.. Which we decided to spend instead of food.

We did however go to the Propaganda Poster Art Centre.  It costs just 40RMB ($7) entrance fee and is in a really peculiar place.  You might get a little lost, so read the directions on their website first.  Without a doubt probably a place you do not want to miss out on visiting whilst in Shanghai.  At the end of it, they also have some great souvenirs for reasonable prices, including original artwork.

Sundries

Our sundries came out pretty high, which surprised me at first.  Then I remembered that we bought a few new clothes and some nice sunglasses from an Outdoors shop.  Otherwise this would have been a lot lower.

  • Supermarkets (Walmart / Tesco's) are the cheapest places to buy everyday groceries like big bottles of water, snacks, chocolate, medicine, beauty products, etc..  Our average shops came to about $5 each per day.  Even imported food stuffs are cheap, such as Lay's Crisps and McVities biscuits.  You can buy many of your comforts from back home in China for roughly the same price you expect to pay at home.
  • Laundry costs can vary wildly, if you are staying in a hostel with laundry facilities sometimes it's completely free or just $1 per load.  Otherwise expect around $3 per kg.  4* Hotels will charge you a lot more, perhaps $5 per item.. Which makes it cheaper to just buy new clothes!
  • Refreshments / drinks cost us on average $2 per day, each.  That includes my occasional beers!  A big bottle of beer from the supermarket can cost as little as $1. Or in hostel bars / restaurants as low as $2 for a big bottle.  When we were in Shanghai, the temperature got up to the mid 40's (Celsius) on some days, meaning we bought a lot of iced drinks throughout the days to.. well stay alive!!  If you are a fan of fruity iced drinks, I recommend trying out coco tea outlets.
  • Souvenirs, I bought a couple of posters at the Propaganda Museum, which came to $20 in total.  I can't wait to have my own house to put them up!
  • Snacks were a mainstay of our diets in Shanghai.  Crisps, chocolate and my favourite.. Ice Cream all averaged at $1 per day each.
  • Massages are a kind of must-do in Shanghai, especially the foot ones.  Cristabel not liking that close contact by strangers (Stranger Danger!) decided to not join me.  I think I went for at least 3 or 4 which in total came to about $30 overall.  Just an FYI on them though, just be careful and don't be tricked out by scams.. Read more in our recent article The 10 Worst Tourist Scams in China.

How much we spent in Shanghai over a 7 night stay (2 people)

The below table shows our full travel costs for 7 nights in Shanghai.  Based on 2 people travelling together, so if you are in a group of 2 or more, half the amounts displayed and that's a good indication of planning a daily budget for Shanghai per person. Please bear in mind that in this table, I have added both train journeys at the start and end of our trip to Shanghai.  This is just a sample of what we spent on everything whilst there.

Total Cost (¥ RMB) Total Cost (US $) Total Cost (UK £)
Accommodation ¥826 $136.24 £81.57
     – Hotels / Hostels ¥826 $136.24 £81.57
Attractions ¥40 $6.60 £3.95
     – Entrance Fees ¥40 $6.60 £3.95
Meals ¥1,496 $246.74 £147.73
     – Breakfast ¥62 $10.23 £6.12
     – Dinner ¥990 $163.29 £97.76
     – Lunch ¥444 $73.23 £43.84
Sundries ¥1,528 $252.15 £150.97
     – Laundry ¥10 $1.65 £0.99
     – Misc ¥1,030 $169.88 £101.71
     – Refreshments ¥82 $13.52 £8.10
     – Snacks ¥162 $26.80 £16.05
     – Souvenirs ¥120 $19.79 £11.85
     – Supermarket ¥124.30 $20.50 £12.27
Transportation ¥2,317 $382.16 £228.80
     – Bus ¥4 $0.66 £0.39
     – Subway (Metro) ¥178 $29.36 £17.58
     – Train ¥2,135 $352.14 £210.83
Grand Total ¥6,207.80 $1,023.89 £613.02

Pie Chart: Daily costs of backpacking in Shanghai

As you can see from our pie chart below, the majority (37%) of our daily costs were spent on Meals.  This is a big contrast to our budget spent in Beijing, which was Accommodation's share.  Our Accommodation in Shanghai was one of the cheapest per night we had whilst in China.  That was simply because we stayed in nicer places in other cities.  Transportation costs shown exclude our train fares to and from Shanghai, they are simply are daily Subway costs.

Shanghai Budget Pie Chart

What is the cheapest Daily Budget you could backpack in Shanghai on?

This is a good question, and worthwhile knowing what the bare minimum you could travel on, in Shanghai.  Let's say you are 2 people sharing and are keen to see a lot of things..  I think perhaps by sharing and cutting back on some of the expenses we incurred.  You could get a hostel on average for $8 a night in a mixed dorm, meals maybe could average $10-$12 a day, transport isn't a problem, as we are talking about $1 per day. Attraction wise, there isn't much to see, but if you do see things it will cost you big time.  Sundries could maybe average instead at $5 per day (you have to buy bottled water and if you are travelling in the peak seasons, you're going to need more than just water to survive!).  This would mean the minimum you need to backpack in Shanghai on is $25 – $30 per day, per person (in a group of 2 or more).  But that will mean missing out on some of the nice things about Shanghai – the awesome restaurant choice!  Street food is good and all, but I find eating at a nice table, with a great view more enjoyable.

That concludes our guide on building a daily budget for backpacking in Shanghai.  I hope we have answered your questions on how much does it cost per day to travel.  Post any additional questions in the comments section.  If you want some more information on things you can do in Shanghai, then read our Shanghai thread, or our China thread.

About Darryl Hall (85 Articles)
Darryl left the shorelines of England in 2013 to study and travel in China and South East Asia for a year. Darryl is a co-founder of escapingthedesk.com, a travel blog with the aim of sharing travel tips, country & city guides for other backpackers. Visit my Google+ page.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: