Visiting The Bund in Shanghai at night

Shanghai skyline and the Oriental Pearl at night.
Shanghai skyline and the Oriental Pearl at night. Photo copyright and credit: Author

Last Updated on: 25th April 2024, 01:11 pm

“The Bund”, as it’s known in English, is Wai Tan 外滩, literally meaning “Outside beach”, in Mandarin. It is the entire promenade along the Huang Pu River opposite the iconic Shanghai skyline that consists of the Oriental Pearl Tower and adjacent buildings. The location is highly popular among locals and tourists alike, and extremely popular as a photography vantage point for photos of the Shanghai city skyline. The vast majority of people come here for the sights and photo opportunities of the city lights.  The locals come for the evening breeze in the summer. China has a huge population, and they love to go for after dinner walks, so the area can get very, very crowded at night.

If you want to come for the photo opportunities, here is something you should know:

1. The lights go out at about 10:30pm on weekdays and 11pm on weekends and Fridays (give or take half an hour). The lights of the oriental Pearl Tower, the building next to it and the lights along the actual promenade turn off at that time on weekdays and Fridays and weekends respectively. The first time I went I decided to go late, because I knew there would be a lot of people there. So I got there about 11pm. There were still plenty of people walking along Nanjing Road (the road that leads to The Bund, see ‘Getting here’, below) but there was significantly less people on the actual promenade. There were also less lights to see, and within a few minutes the lights of the Oriental  Pearl Tower and the lights along the promenade turned off. My first photo was taken when the lights were still on but the second one taken at 11:16pm when the lights started turning off.

Compare the pictures taken on the 15th and 16th:

The following were taken on the 15h of July, 2016:
DSC0775511:16pm. Oriental Pearl Tower is off. Might as well leave now.

DSC0775911:22pm. View along the promenade.

DSC0776111:27pm. View along the promenade.

DSC0777111:27pm. View along the Bund. Lights are well and truly off.

2. At popular times, it is be very crowded. This was taken on the 16th, at 8:13pm. A LOT of people were present. Crowds where everyone were facing each other’s backs, and you have to squeeze your way to the front. Thankfully the public there were generally pretty well mannered and took turns and gave way when needed, but the amount of people there was still a lot, so I wouldn’t put a lot of hope into bringing a large tripod. These photos were taken with a mini 15cm tripod that I rested on the concrete walls and balustrades. Click here (opens new tab) for a short video clip to see what it’s like there and here to see the actual view of the skyline across the river.

This was taken in July in the middle of the summer so the humidity is obvious in the night sky.DSC07805
3. In Mandarin, the Bund is called 外滩 (wài tān) and from experience, the locals may not know what “the Bund” is, even though the signs in the metro stations says this in English. So if asking for direction, better to use the Chinese name.

Getting here:
Catch the metro to Nanjing Road East station (南京东路) which is on lines 2 and 10, and get out from the exit to Nanjing Road Pedestrian shopping street (南京东路步行街). The best exits are 2, 5, or 7, but the signs inside the metro are very clear and well organised, written in Chinese Hanyu as well as English. Click here for a guide on Shanghai’s Metro.

Follow the signs outside to 外滩. (Second sign on left hand side from up to down):DSC07802

But if you need directions, ask:

外滩怎么走? wài tān zěn me zǒu? (How do I get to the Bund on foot?)

Or simply 外滩? wài tān?

It shouldn’t be hard once you get onto the right street (it’s pretty much walking straight until you get out of the right metro exit). The signs outside the metro are in Chinese but there are masses of people all heading in the same direction and the path there goes along one straight street. The distance is not long, about 400-500m but because of how many people there are, it will take around 15-20 minutes. A tip is to forget about going in a group bigger than about 3 or 4 people, because of how many people going there. its better to just follow the crowd and meet when you get there, if you all take the same route, you will end up at the same place. Also you may not hear your phone ring so if it is vital you do not get separated from your group, it is better to just stay in one place and not wander around while you wait for the other party.

You can take 1 of 2 streets from Nanjing Road East metro station:

either Tianjin Road (天津路) which turns into Dianchi Road (滇池路)


Nanjing Road East which is connected to Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street. Click here for Google Maps and here for Baidu Maps.

If you walk towards the east (right, when facing the Oriental Pearl Tower) towards the ferry wharf, the amount of people decreases significantly but the view of the OPT and the typical shanghai skyline seen in postcards and night time photography, differs significantly too.

Travelling with a wheelchair or stroller?
The entire promenade is concreted/paved and flat, however there are some steps going down to it from the street. There are also steps going to the wharf. I have seen wheelchairs here so it is possible.

Recommended stay time
This area is really for night scenery, people come here to take photos. Depending on how many people are here and whether you are here for holiday snaps or night photography, 1-1.5 hours is plenty once you are here (more if you are a serious photographer).

Crossing the Huang Pu River
The ferry costs about 2 yuan, and takes passengers across the HuangPu River to the opposite sides. Word of warning, there are A LOT of people and while you can buy a ticket in the form of a red plastic token at the window there, it is better to have a pre-loaded transportation card (insert link) because people push in and shove their money in the single window there. The attendant will grab the money and put a red token in the tray under the window, which means they won’t really see who they took the money from, which means if they take your money but you aren’t quick in grabbing your toke, someone else might grab your token.Thankfully this did not happen to me. The plastic token is given to the turnstiles when going to the ferry.

The vast number of people ready to rush out of the wharf and into the ferry the moment the gates open:DSC07833

On the other side of the Huang Pu river on the Oriental Pearl Tower side:DSC07842


The subway closes around 10-11pm, depending on the station, bigger ones will close later.

A word on catching a taxi back
On the Oriental Pearl tower side of the river, if you need to take a taxi back across the river, be ware of sky rocketing taxi prices. After 11, the taxi prices go up, and at such a popular tourist destination, there can be taxi drivers trying to rip you off. I once got in a cab with 2 friends and only after we got in and left, the driver said it will be ¥300 flat rate to get us across the river back to our hotel (about 30 minute ride away). He refused to turn on his meter and explained all taxis increase their prices after 11, especially since this was a Friday (also applicable on weekends), and stopped in the middle of the highway without a word, and expected us to get out since we didn’t like the price. We stayed as it was quite impossible to get out in the middle of a highway and pick up another taxi. Apart from that, the car was quite new and clean inside with fully functional seat belts for all passengers (there are many cab companies and most of them have old interiors with seat belts for only the front passenger) and the cab driver was nice enough.

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For more things to do in Shanghai, check out my other posts here.

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