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As if there’s not a lifetime of things to do in Shanghai already, there’s tons of great little getaways, day trips just beyond Shanghai, you might want to try. They’ll help you escape the city and introduce you to some fascinating history and some of China’s most beautiful sights.

1. Suzhou

Old Suzhou is a charming canal city (often ambitiously dubbed “Venice of the East”) with over 2500 years of history and stories. Full of parks and pavilions, and willow-lined lakes – the largest being Lake Tai – with walking/cycle tracks around them. Many of the attractions here are UNESCO listed, preserving them for the ages. The new side of Suzhou is completely the opposite – a futuristic tech park with soaring skyscrapers and cutting-edge international businesses, with lovely lakeside hotels and modern eateries. Just one hour northwest of Shanghai by high-speed train.

2. Nanjing

The name may not be familiar, but means ‘capital of the south’ (Beijing means ‘capital of the north’). Parts of the 14th century wall remain as reminders of its strategic importance in its 2500 year history, which included the Opium Wars. You might be more familiar with its former name Nanking, synonymous with the Japanese atrocities preceding World War 2, vividly recalled in the excellent Massacre Memorial Hall museum. This beautiful city is nestled amid mountains and lakes 300km (less than 2 hours) from Shanghai, and considered one of the more delightful destinations in China.

3. Hangzhou

Hangzhou is all about West Lake, an 8000-acre willow-lined UNESCO-listed beauty. Two causeways reach into the lake, and a wide promenade attracts tourists and locals in droves. Many historical buildings, pagodas, and city gates line its shores. Around 40 high-speed trains connect it with Shanghai daily, a sub-1 hour ride. Zhejiang province (of which it’s the capital) is full of attractive mountains and nature, so if you’re a keen hiker you might want to pack your boots and head out to Daming Shan, or try a serene yoga retreat.

4. Zhenjiang

Fancy a day trip to a little island in the middle of the mighty Yangtze, full of history? Less than 90 minutes from Shanghai by high-speed train, Jiaoshan Park is filled with canals and waterways. You can rent a boat, but many find the highlight to be clambering up the hill to see the 7-storey Ten Thousand Buddha Pagoda. Once you’ve caught your breath, you’ll enjoy the sweeping views along the spectacular Yangtze delta. En route, you’ll see a fort used to battle the British during the first Opium War. 

5. Changshu

Changshu is in Jiangsu province, and its lake is called Shanghu. Any questions? The bamboo-lined lake is right in the middle of the city (similar in many ways to Hangzhou’s more famous West Lake) and you can take a gondola-style boat through the nature reserve, which features a crane sanctuary (no, not the construction type which is so familiar in Shanghai). Around you’ll notice the mountains are covered in tea plantations. On the northeast side of the lake are enjoyable restaurants where the specialty of the house is roast duck.