The 10 best Shanghai tours for the truly tour group-phobic

The 10 best Shanghai tours for the truly tour group-phobic

Forget the flags, matching hats and megaphones, these are the anti-tour groups tours that will show everyone from newbies to life-long residents a different side of the city
Shanghai tours -- shanghai sideways
Hop in one of these sidecars and leave the typical tour group in the dust.

When we think of tour groups in China, flags, matching caps and megaphones may be the first things that spring to mind. Not exactly an inspiring image for anyone looking for a day of exploration and adventure.

But there are some exceptions to that rule -- some great exceptions.

In the last few years, a crop of tour companies has popped up offering a glimpse into particular aspects of Shanghai, from art to history and even shopping. For those not ready to sit back for a show-and-tell, these outfits help people see the city on their own by jogging through it, cycling around it or even embarking on a treasure hunt.

We find the 10 best Shanghai tours the city has to offer.

If you enjoy life in the fast lane ...

Try: Shanghai Sideways

Price: RMB 1,200 (first passenger) and RMB 750 (additional passenger) for a four-hour tour.

There are few more exciting ways to see Shanghai than from the sidecar of a 750cc Changjiang classic motorbike. The guides are both knowledgeable (particularly about the city's historic architecture) and happy to spill some little-known Shanghai secrets.

“We are passionate about the city, we truly love it and want to spread that love,” says Shanghai Sideways' Thomas Chabrières.

Highlight: The trip up to the garden atop the Shanghai Post Office is a lovely stop in the summer, but the real highlight is getting to feel like a rock star as pedestrians stop and stare at you in your cool sidecar.

Shanghai Sideways, +86 138 1761 6975, jonathan@shanghaisideways.com, www.shanghaisideways.com

If you want to check out Shanghai's best art ...

Shanghai tours --  art tourLocal art expert Rebecca Catching explains what in the world you're looking at -- and then where to find the art you'll actually like.Try: Inside Shanghai: Art Consultancy and Tours

Price: RMB 3,280 to RMB 4,000 (groups of one to four people) for a full day.

This customized tour, conducted by local curator and OV Gallery director Rebecca Catching is like having a knowledgeable friend show you the best of Shanghai's art scene, with each tour catering to the interests of the individual customer.

According to Catching, she set up the service because it's virtually impossible for newcomers to navigate Shanghai's best arts spaces without a little helping hand.

“Figuring out which are the reputable spaces and which spaces have something worth seeing takes a lot of time, especially since you may not be familiar with the artists and their work,” she says.

Highlight: Catching often takes clients to little-known and out-of-the-way venues such as Zendai’s DCA in Yangpu and Shanghart Taopu.

Inside Shanghai: Art Consultancy and Tours, rebeccacatching@gmail.com

If you want to keep fit while you see Shanghai ...

Shanghai tours -- untoursAll you need to see Shanghai from a new perspective -- sneakers.Try: UnTours' running tour

Price: RMB 460 for 10-kilometer run for one person; RMB 260 for each additional person

Description: UnTours is somewhere between a running club and a tour. The guides have been running around Shanghai for years (literally and figuratively) and know the best routes to take to show off the city's architecture, history, markets and back alleys.

Get up close and personal with Shanghai from street level.

Because the tours are private, you can go at your own pace without worrying about being left behind.

Highlight: According to UnTours' Kyle Long, starting early in the morning takes runners to parks “full of exercising octogenarians, as well as the little hidden alleyways in Old Town that are sometimes no wider than two people standing shoulder to shoulder. It's a perfect way to see the contrasts of the city.”

UnTours Shanghai, +86 150 2650 1149, info@untourshanghai.com, www.untoursshanghai.com

If you want to ride on the wild side ...

Shanghai tours -- china cycleShanghai might be a pedestrian-friendly city, but bikes still rule.Try: China Cycle Tours

Price: RMB 850 per person (one to two people), RMB 750 per person (three to five people) or RMB 650 per person (six or more people) for a full-day tour.

A full-day China Cycle City Tour takes in up to 12 Shanghai sites, including the Shanghai Museum, Ohel Moishe Synagogue, Taikang Lu and People's Square.

Don't fret if you're not super fit, Li Shen from China Cycle Tours says that almost anyone can do a bike tour.

“The rides are done at a leisurely pace along streets with cycle lanes and there are no hills in Shanghai, so as long as you can ride in a straight line you can do a cycle tour,” she says.

Highlight: Avoiding the Shanghai traffic as you whiz by on your two wheels is definitely an adrenaline rush, but the best thing about a cycling tour is the sheer amount of things you can do and see in a day. Cycling truly is a great way to get around Shanghai.

China Cycle Tours, +86 137 6111 5050, info@chinacycletours.com, www.chinacycletours.com

If you want your pants scared off ...

Shanghai tours -- newmanWhy wait for Halloween for a good Shanghai ghost story?Try: Newman Tours' "Shanghai Ghost Tour"

Price: RMB 330 (adults), RMB 280 (students) and RMB 160 (children under 16) includes Ghost Festival Dinner.

Learn about Shanghai’s mysterious past with this haunting tour option (insert evil laugh here). According to Daniel Newman, founder of Newman Tours, the Ghost Tour shows people a side of the city they can’t find in a guidebook.

He says customers “enjoy the originality of the tour, our ability to deliver it in an entertaining way and the quality of the research behind the stories.”

Highlight: According to Newman most people say their favorite part of the tour is Jing'an Park, which used to be a cemetery for foreigners. While there tours learn about water ghosts, tree ghosts and the “terrifying” Abbot of the Bubbling Well.

Newman Tours, +86 138 1777 0229, info@newmantours.com, www.newmantours.com

If you don't mind a blurry view ...

Shanghai tours -- drunken dragonsTour groups aren't just a daytime activity. Drunken Dragons ensure you'll see the best of the city's nightlife.Try: Drunken Dragons Pub Crawl

Price: RMB 150 per person

This weekly pub crawl is an excellent way to both meet people and become better acquainted with some of Shanghai's drinking establishments.

Johanna Hoopes from Drunken Dragons says it's a great night out whether you are a newcomer, or have been living in Shanghai for some time.

“If you're new to the city it's a great way to explore the nightlife options and if you've been here a while its a good way to get away from your standard Thursday night watering hole,” she says.

Highlight: It's hard to beat the complimentary shots at each venue, but meeting fun people comes in a very close second.

Drunken Dragons, +86 187 2100 4614, info.pubcrawlsh@gmail.com, www.pubcrawlshanghai.com

If you are ready to shop till you drop ...

Shanghai tours -- ShoppingRain or shine, the city's most competitive sport -- shopping -- never suffers a rain delay.Try: Shanghai Shopping Tours

Price: RMB 800 per person for the "Best of Everything" tour.

This full-day shopping tour takes in the best that Shanghai retail has to offer and includes lunch at top Shanghainese restaurant, 1221. Buy custom-made clothes at the fabric market, pearls, silk products and a whole lot of other stuff to boot.

According to founder Suzy Fewtrell, it's the guides who really set Shanghai Shopping Tours apart.

“Unlike some local tour guides, our guides do not receive commission,” she says. "Instead of focusing on selling items for commission, they are dedicated to making sure our customers have a very fun day, along with getting excellent value purchases."

Highlight: The guides are long-term residents of Shanghai, and their local knowledge means that you will probably end up saving at least the cost of the tour on your purchases. Their trusted vendors mean you are also assured of quality, which is a rare thing, particularly at the fabric market.

Shanghai Shopping Tours, +86 138 1740 5677, info@shoppingtoursshanghai.com, www.shoppingtoursshanghai.com

If you want to scratch Shanghai's glossy surface ...

Shanghai tours -- Shanghai PathwaysGet a chance to chill with the true local experts.Try: Shanghai Pathways' "Backstreets in a Southern City" tour

Price: RMB 500 for one or two people, and RMB 200 for each additional guest.

This two-hour tour takes in Shanghai’s hidden backstreets and gives visitors an opportunity to get a taste of Shanghai life -- literally -- by sampling local street food.

“We help people to see the real Shanghai and experience the city from a different perspective,” says Janny Chyn from Shanghai Pathways. "And who doesn't like great food?"

Highlight: Take the opportunity to talk to your local Shanghainese guide about their life and hear stories of growing up and living in Shanghai.

Shanghai Pathways, www.shanghaipathways.com

If you want to hunt for Shanghai's hidden treasures ...

Shanghai tours -- Yana AdventuresSometimes 'X' marks the spot, other times it's a big red banner. Try: Yana Adventures' Shanghai treasure hunt

Price: RMB 299 per person and RMB 249 per child under 16.

Learn to play mahjong, make dumplings, do tai chi and more with this treasure hunt.

Christy Lin from Yana Adventures says that they get great feedback from customers who experience the hunt because, “the tasks are designed to let you experience the real Shanghai culture.”

Highlight: The Shanghai Treasure Hunt takes in some spots in the Old City that are reminiscent of a Shanghai that is gradually disappearing. See these traditional city landscapes before they are gone for good.

Yana Adventures, +86 21 5169 2240, +86 21 5169 2241, info@withyana.com, www.withyana.com

If you want to experience Shanghai's Jewish history ...

Shanghai tours -- Shanghai JewishOhel Moishe, one of Shanghai's two remaining synagogues, is an integral part of the city's colorful history.Try: Tours of Jewish Shanghai

Price: RMB 400 per person for a half-day tour.

These four-hour tours take in some of the most fascinating elements of Shanghai’s history, and as the tour progresses the story of Shanghai as a melting pot of opium dealers, colonialists, business moguls and Jewish holocaust survivors is gradually unveiled.

Whether you are new to Shanghai, or have been in town for a while, it is a fascinating journey.

Highlight: Guide Dvir Bar-Gal says the best part of the tours of Jewish Shanghai is experiencing “Shanghai through its contrasts: hearing about the very rich and very poor, the very sweet and the very sour.”

Tours of Jewish Shanghai, +86 130 0214 6702, shanghaijews@hotmail.com, www.shanghai-jews.com

Casey is a city/lifestyle journalist from Melbourne, Australia, who has been based in Shanghai since 2007.

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