If you intend to stay in Shanghai for more than a few days the Shanghai Jiaotong Card (上海公共交通卡) is a must. You can load the card with money and use it in buses, the metro, and even taxis, saving the hassle of buying tickets at each metro station and keeping change for buses and taxis. You can get these cards at any metro/subway station, as well as some convenience stores like Alldays and KeDi Marts. These come in regular, mini, and "strap" size (the latter being made for hanging on mobile phones), with various limited editions available for each. Only regular-sized cards can be loaded at machines (with a few exceptions, mainly at line 6/8 stations which have a special type of recharge machine made to take all sizes of cards). Most likely you will need to go to the service counter to recharge if you have an irregularly-shaped card.
Also, this card allows you to transfer lines at Yishan Rd, Shanghai Train Station, and Hongkou Football Stadium stations, as well as discounts for bus<->bus and metro<->bus transfer.
The fast-growing Shanghai Metro network has 14 lines with another 4 under construction (and expansions to existing lines), with nearly all lines operating underground (Line 3, 5 operates above ground). The Metro is fast, cheap, air conditioned and fairly user-friendly with most signs and station arrival announcements bilingual in Mandarin and English, but the trains can get packed during rush hour.
Transfers between the metro lines can require a long walk like 300m in some stations. You can transfer between lines freely with a single ticket, but except at Shanghai Railway Station between lines 3/4 and 1; West Nanjign Road between lines 2, 12 and 13; Longhua Road between 11 and 12, where a One-day Pass/Three-day Pass/Shanghai Public Transportation Card is required for transfer. Be careful, certain stations exist on two different lines with the same name but are located in different places (Pudian Road- line 4 and line 6; no internal exchange tunnel between the two stations, people have to go to either Century Ave or Lancun Lu to transfer between these lines).
If there are seats available but more passengers boarding than seats, be prepared to see a mad dash as passengers wrestle for the available seats. This is the norm so move quickly if you want a seat. Be mindful of pickpockets who may use this rush to their advantage.
Major usable lines for tourist :
- Line 1: First and busiest metro line in Shanghai. Connects Shanghai Railway Station, People's Square (center of Shanghai), South Huangpi Road and South Shanxi Road (famous Huaihai Road CBD), Hengshan Road (former pub street, very popular before 2005), Xujiahui (a south-west commercial and shopping center in Shanghai). Shanghai Stadium, South Railway Station, Xinzhuang.
- Line 2: It's the second busiest line in Shanghai, which connects many landmarks and important places of Shanghai : Hongqiao Railway Station (you can take high-speed bullet train here to go Hangzhou, Suzhou, Nanjing, Beijing, and other China cities), Hongqiao Airport T2, Jing'an Temple (a high-end commercial area in Jing'an District), People's Square (center of Shanghai), East Nanjing Road (the first and most famous pedestrian shopping street in China, you can get off here to go the Bund also), Lujiazui (east of the Huangpu River, heart of the China finance industrial, Oriental Pearl Tower and the top 3 highest building of Shanghai are here), Century Avenue, Century Park (the biggest park in Shanghai), Longyang Road (Meglev train terminal) and Pudong International Airport (Please be noted that going to Pudong airport from downtown must change train at Guanglan Road Station).
- Line 3 & 4: These 2 lines share many stations on the elevator road. Line 3 connects Shanghai Railway Station, South Railway Station, Zhongshan Park, Hongkou Football Stadium. Line 4 route is a circle and connects Shanghai Railway Station, Century Avenue, Shanghai Stadium and Zhongshan Park.
- Line 10: It also connects many Shanghai attractions: Hongqiao Railway Station (you can take high-speed bullet train here to go Hangzhou, Suzhou, Nanjing, Beijing, and other China cities), Hongqiao Airport T2 & T1, Shanghai Zoo, Jiao Tong University, XinTianDi (a refurbished Shikumen block, full of bars/shops/restaurants in 1920s Shanghai style buildings), Yu Garden (a 470-year-old traditional Chinese garden, also there's a big market nearby), East Nanjing Road (the first and most famous pedestrian shopping street in China, you can get off here to go the Bund also), Tiantong Road (famous Qipu Road market, full of cheap clothing and textile).
- Line 13: Connects Shanghai Natural History Museum, West Nanjing Road, Xintiandi, Expo Museum and Expo Avenue.
The bus system is cheaper and much more extensive than the Metro, and some routes even operate past the closing time of the Metro (route numbers beginning with 3 are the night buses that run past 11 PM). It is however slower in general, and all route information at bus stops is in Chinese, but here is a handy list of bus routes and stops in English. Once inside the bus, there are English announcements. Most buses do not require any conversation with a driver and/or conductor, while others depend on you knowing your destination and the conductor charging you accordingly. For the latter, pay the conductor directly and you'll get a paper ticket (and change, if any). The former bus types do not have a conductor but instead a driver only. Prepare exact change beforehand and drop it into the container next to the driver. It's best to have exact fare or go to a convenience store if needing change, otherwise, you may depend on stating your situation to the driver or other passengers. If you change buses with an SPTC you will get a discount on your second bus fare (and all subsequent transfers; there is a 90-minute window to do this on so if you're not spending too much time at the destination your transfer discount will apply to the start of your return journey too).
Taxi ("出租车" chūzūchē or choo-tzoo-chuh) is a good choice for transportation in the city, especially during off-peak hours. It is affordable and saves you time, but try to get your destination in Chinese characters or available on a map as communication can be an issue.
By sightseeing bus
There are several different companies offering sightseeing buses with various routes and packages covering the main sights such as the Shanghai Zoo, Oriental Pearl Tower, and Baoyang Road Harbor. Most of the sightseeing buses leave from Shanghai Stadium's east bus station.
Shanghai is a good city for walking, especially in the older parts of the city such as The Bund, but be aware this city is incredibly dynamic and pavements can be obstructed or unpleasant to walk through when near construction areas. If there is a subway entry at a busy street, the station can usually be used as a pedestrian underpass to another subway exit across the way.
As with all of China, the right-of-way is effectively proportional to weight: vehicles trump motorbikes, which trump pedestrians. Motorbikes and bicycles rarely use headlights and can come from any direction. They are the main users of curb-cuts for sidewalks, so don't stand at these. Avoid unpredictable movements while walking and crossing streets: the drivers see you and predict your future location from your speed. Also, distances are huge so you will need to use other means of transportation at some point.
A useful ferry runs between the Bund (from a ferry pier a few blocks south of Nanjing Road next to the KFC restaurant) and Lujiazui financial district in Pudong (the terminal is about 10 minutes south of the Pearl TV Tower and Lujiazui metro station) and is the cheapest way of crossing the river. The ferry is air-conditioned and allows foot-passengers only (bikes are not allowed except for folding models). Buy a token from the ticket kiosk and then insert it into the turnstile to enter the waiting room - the boats run every 10 minutes and take just over 5 minutes to cross the river. This is a great (and much cheaper) alternative to using the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel. However, the ferry stations are not directly connected to public transport so you need to walk a bit.
For locals, bicycles are slowly being eclipsed by electric scooters but they still remain an easy means of transportation for visitors who may be hesitant to communicate with drivers or board crowded mass transit--or simply to soak up some sunshine. Go to Baoshan Metro station and get a vintage bicycle; they are also easily found for sale on the street around Suzhou Creek or in the residential part of the old town.
Bicycles and mopeds are not allowed on many major roads (signs designate this), as well as in the tunnels and on the bridges between Pudong and Puxi (the only way to cross is by ferry).
Beware of the driving habits of locals: the biggest vehicles have priority and a red light does not mean you are safe to cross the street. Bicycle theft is very common. Even locked bicycles are regularly stolen. If buying a better than average bicycle, buy a good lock and lock it to something like a post. Helmets are optional.
Driving is definitely not recommended in Shanghai for a variety of reasons, even for those with driving experience in the country. Not only do you have to cope with a very complex road system and seemingly perpetual traffic jams, but also Chinese driving habits and ongoing construction. In addition, parking spaces are rare and almost impossible to find. Bicycles, scooters, and pedestrians are also all over the place--a city with a real metropolitan feel. It is also not unheard of for cyclists, motorcyclists or pedestrians to suddenly dash in front of a car without any warning. In short, do not drive if you can help it and make use of Shanghai's excellent public transportation network instead.
Whilst motorcycle rental is practically non-existent, for long-term visitors e-bikes and scooters are a cheap, fast, practical way of getting around. E-bikes don't require a driving license and are cheaper, but only have a short battery range (about 50 km) and low top speed, and are a frequent target of thieves. A cheap e-bike can be picked up from any major supermarket. Small shops also sell converted e-bikes (motor scooters converted to run on electricity) which are more expensive but are faster, more comfortable and have longer battery ranges. 50cc motorcycles require registration but don't require a drivers license, whilst anything bigger will require a driving license. Motorcycles can be bought from used-bike dealers mostly located in residential working-class neighborhoods. If you plan on riding a motorcycle, stick to automatic transmission scooters as they are much easier to ride in dense traffic than a manually-geared bike.
Motorcycles are expected to use the bicycle lane and cross intersections via pedestrian traffic lights, which is often quicker when car traffic reaches a standstill. Be careful, particularly at night, of people riding with their headlights off or riding on the wrong side of the road - remember that e-bikes don't require any driving license and therefore drivers often flout traffic laws and take creative but dangerous paths through traffic. Parking is easy - most sidewalks serve as bike-parking, although in quiet streets you may risk getting your bike stolen so make sure you have a couple of good locks.
Vintage motorbikes with sidecars are used mainly by expats and tourists. Most expatriates and Shanghainese are too embarrassed to use what many consider a particularly "uncool" form of transport. Changjiang sidecars were used by the Chinese army until 1997. There are a few sidecar owners club in Shanghai (Black Bats, People's Riders Club), shops (Yiqi, Cao, Fan, Jack, Jonson, Leo) and a tour operator (Shanghai Sideways) which are worth checking out.
By sightseeing tunnel
A bit of a misnomer, as the entire journey is underground and doesn't reveal any real sights of the city. This is the fastest way of crossing between the Bund in Puxi and the Pearl TV Tower in Pudong but also the most expensive and is essentially a tourist trap--but may also be a good bet for the directionally-challenged or those struggling to find a taxi during rush hour. Glass pods running on train tracks take a few minutes to run through a tunnel under the Huangpu River lined with a psychedelic light show and some bizarre commentary in English and Chinese. After arriving you'll be dropped off in a hall full of tourist-trap shops, which should come as no surprise since the entrance is a few meters from the TV Tower and is by no means a practical mode of transportation for locals. Avoid if possible - it's a very tacky experience - unless you're prepared to spend some cash to look at some flashing lights instead of walking 5 min to the south and taking the aforementioned ferry or walking 5 min west to Nanjing East Rd subway station and taking the Metro. On the other hand, it is also significantly less packed than either of those during peak hours.