What is the best Shanghai travel guide book for 2021? If you’re making plans to visit Shanghai, China in the next year or so, you’re going to want help figuring out what’s worth seeing, how to get around and other great travel tips. Below, I’d like to share with you my favorite Shanghai travel guide books reviewed and rated based on my own experience.

Best Shanghai travel guide books for 2021

If you plan to be heading out to Shanghai, China in the near future, chances are you’re going to want to have some sort of Shanghai travel guide book with you.

If you will be spending most of your time in and around Shanghai, though, it’s often better to grab something smaller, more compact and more detailed on Shanghai city.

Fortunately there are quite a few options available and each of them caters to a different type of traveler. Here’s a quick look at the top 5 Shanghai travel guide books:

Note: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means that at no extra charge to you, I may be compensated if you choose to purchase one of the books listed below. Thank you for your support!

Lonely Planet Shanghai Travel Guide

Lonely Planet Shanghai, one of the best Shanghai travel guide books available

Lonely Planet, the leader in travel guides, not only has a comprehensive guide to China, they have also produced a stand-alone LP Shanghai city guide book.

What’s great is that they offer this guide both as a physical book you can hold.

Lonely Planet Shanghai offers insights into suggested itineraries, traveling with kids, day trips around Shanghai, cultural insights, etc. The physical book comes with a foldout map while the ebook offers high-resolution offline maps as well as links to online Google Maps (a nifty little feature).

Here’s what you get with Lonely Planet Shanghai:

  • 320 Detailed Pages: Filled with maps, color photos, and more;
  • Offline Maps: High-resolution maps for your e-reader;
  • Full City Coverage: From Pudong to the French Concession, if you want to see everything Shanghai has to offer, this books has it;
  • Various Budgets: Tips for budget travelers as well as those who want more of a luxury journey;

It’s worth noting that Lonely Planet also offers a similar Shanghai Pocket Guide that covers the highlights of the city. It doesn’t give as much detail, but if you’re only going to spend a day passing through the city you might not need all the detail.View LP Shanghai on Amazon

DK Eyewitness: Beijing & Shanghai

DK Eyewitness Beijing and Shanghai guide book

What’s great about using the DK Eyewitness Travel guide for your Shanghai trip is that not only do you get one of the most beautifully-illustrated guides available, you also get help with travel to Beijing.

Since it’s now easy to travel from Shanghai to Beijing via high speed train, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that you can hit both major cities in the same journey.

The DK guides never go into quite as much detail as the Lonely Planet guides, preferring instead to focus energy on the sites you’ll most likely want to visit while you’re here.

The guide walks you through a 4-day itinerary at each city that makes the best use of your time, especially if that time is limited. Combine the 4-day itineraries of both Beijing and Shanghai in this book and you’ve got the perfect 10-day itinerary (including travel).

The book can be purchased as a flexi-bound guide (easier to travel with) or as a Kindle book if that’s your flavor (just like their guide for the country of China does). Thankfully, their physical books weigh in at less than 1 lb, so it won’t be a monster to carry along.

Here’s what you get with DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Beijing and Shanghai:

  • 236 Pages: Full of 500+ colorful photos including destination/transportation maps
  • Pull-Out Map: Excellent to-scale maps
  • Walking Guide: Suggested walking tours to get you off the beaten path and into the “real” parts of the city

That last one is huge. Lots of people who use this book enjoy these walking tours which allow them to see what they would have missed going on an organized tour of each city.DK Beijing & Shanghai on Amazon

Insight Guides: Shanghai Step by Step

Insight Guides Shanghai, an excellent Shanghai travel guide book for travelers

Insight Guides might not be as popular as Lonely Planet or DK, but the standard of excellence is equal to and in some cases greater than both. Insight Guides Shanghai offers beautiful color photos, easily-readable maps and boasts 15 different itineraries for exploring the city.

What I love about their suggested itineraries for Shanghai that you won’t find with other guides is that it is separated out by interest.

These interests include architecture, history, shopping, children, museums, parks, etc. Pick how you would like to experience Shanghai and they’ll lay out the best itinerary to do so.

Like every other travel guide for Shanghai, Insight Guides (IG) provides historical context to each tourist site that will allow you to appreciate it more than if you were to just visit by yourself without any guide whatsoever.

The beautiful photos will help you determine which locations you want to visit during your planning stage.

To sum up, Insight Guides: Shanghai Step by Step includes:

  • 296 Pages: All in “full color” as they advertise.
  • 15 Taylor-Made Itineraries: Separated out by interest.
  • Detailed Pull-out Map: As well as many detailed maps within.

The book is a bit heavier than the DK book, although not by much and is still worth carrying around with you during your trip. If you’d rather, in this newest edition they’ve also published.

National Geographic Traveler: Beijing & Shanghai

National Geographic Shanghai travel guide book

National Geographic offers another excellent combo-travel guide option with it’s guide to Beijing and Shanghai.

Written by Paul Mooney, one of my personal favorite China journalists, the National Geographic Beijing & Shanghai guide is one of those guides you want to read from cover-to-cover before you travel (and you can’t say that about most travel guides).

What I love about the NatGeo guide is the extensive introduction and historical context given not only to each site, but also to each district.

Shanghai has undergone so much change in just 20 years and this will help you wrap your brain around the chronology of all that before you visit.

The National Geographic Traveler guide to Beijing and Shanghai provides maps to each important district in the city as well as suggested itineraries for different length trips. The itineraries aren’t as detailed as, say, the Insight Guides I shared above, but they’re helpful enough to plan a simple trip if you just want to experience the cities in general.

The National Geographic Traveler: Beijing & Shanghai includes:

  • 344 Pages: one of the most comprehensive guides for these 2 cities available
  • Color Maps & Illustrations: beautiful photos, detailed maps & cut-away illustrations
  • Travelwise Section: hand-picked hotels, restaurants and more

Unfortunately, National Geographic has yet to offer an ebook version of it’s Shanghai & Beijing guide. It’s also at this point a bit dated (2013), but a good guide none-the-less.

This particular book is a bit heftier than the DK and IG ones, however, weighing in at a bit over 1 lb. I don’t think that should deter you from considering this Shanghai travel book, just keep that in mind as you pack.NatGeo Shanghai on Amazon

Rough Guide to Shanghai

Rough Guide Shanghai guide book

The Rough Guide Shanghai offers beautiful color maps which – and this can be super important – offer the names of places in both pinyin and Chinese characters.

The one thing I see most travelers complain about is the absence of either the pinyin or the Chinese characters (useful for taking taxis in China or reading signs) but that’s not the case with this travel guide.

In addition to all the detailed information you’ll find about Shanghai locales, Rough Guide also walks you through nearby locations like Tongli or even traveling from Shanghai to Suzhou, both of which are excellent day trips away from the busy city.

The Rough Guide to Shanghai includes:

  • 208 Pages: of full-color photos and maps.
  • Maps & Subway Guides: that make use of both pinyin and Chinese characters
  • Day-Trip Itineraries: if you have time to get out of the city

The Rough Guide to Shanghai is another smaller guide that won’t take up too much space during your travels and if you’d rather, they offer a downloadable ebook version.

It’s an excellent guide that covers the city of Shanghai in detail as well as many of it’s neighboring attractions.Rough Guide Shanghai on Amazon

BONUS: Ultimate China Travel Guide

Of course, as you’re preparing for your trip to China, there’s more to preparation than just knowing where you want to go in Shanghai.

There are tons of other questions you are probably asking about:

  • Getting money in China…
  • Using public transportation…
  • Speaking the language (or traveling with out doing so!)…
  • Getting the right visa…
  • What you should pack…

…and much, much more.

That’s where a guide like this – Travel to China | Everything You Need to Know Before You Go – comes in handy.

Travel to China | Everything You Need to Know Before You Go travel guide book

Full Disclosure: I wrote this book so of course I think it’s good. You should read the unbiased Amazon reviews for yourself, though. You’ll find that it’s been helpful to hundreds of other travelers around the world. It’s a great companion book to any of the Shanghai travel guides listed.

The way I describe it to people is that this book teaches you the “how” of traveling to China while the above Beijing travel guides go into depth about the “where”.

My travel guide is available as both a paperback and Kindle ebook download here:View Travel to China on Amazon

Final Thoughts on Traveling to Shanghai

As you can see, there are a number of excellent Shanghai travel guide books that will help you prepare for your trip.

Not all of them are updated regularly and they don’t all have ebook versions. They’re also not all suited for the same kind of traveler, so I hope this review gives you a better understanding of what fits your needs.

Whatever you decide, I highly recommend that you do some reading before coming to China. It doesn’t have to be travel guide books either – there are many good books on China that will give you context about the history and culture you’ll be seeing.

Shanghai is a wonderful city to travel and it’s really not that hard to get around. In addition to a travel guide book, it might even be worth checking out a recommended China travel agency for a guided day-trip around Shanghai.