Shanghai Skyline with Blue Sky

7 Must Have Apps When Visiting Shanghai

In Asia, Blog, China, Featured, Hints and Tips, Reviews by Erin Hardie11 Comments

The 7 must have apps when visiting Shanghai | We recently wrote a post about our 5 top travel apps for 2017. Well throw that out the window! It doesn’t really apply for Shanghai or China generally speaking. As most people are well aware, China is home not only to the Great Wall of China but also the cleverly named Great Firewall of China, that is: the government’s national internet censorship initiative. Notable sites and apps that visitors will find blocked in China include Google, Facebook and Instagram. Google apps scored two entries on our other list, so in the list below written with Shanghai (and China) specifically in mind, you will find some Google and other alternatives to ensure you don’t get lost or confused when visiting. Reading the list you will find that not speaking or reading any of the Chinese language, and with no google to fall back on will still not be any impediment to your enjoying a successful trip in Shanghai!

Read on for the 7 must have apps when visiting Shanghai!

1. DiDi

Taxi Booking


Available for Apple and Android

Shanghai Skyline

The classic picture from the Bund of the Shanghai skyline.

Forget Uber whilst visiting China, but also don’t stress about having to hail a cab in the street and then communicate where you want to go in Mandarin… DiDi, a taxi booking app now available in English will be your saviour! Uber was muscled out of China by DiDi who then removed certain very useful features to foreigners from the Uber app in China such as payment with a foreign credit card. At this stage DiDi does not seem to support foreign credit card registration as a payment method either, but this will not be a problem as you can book your taxi (select option taxi – not express) with the app and nominate to pay in cash! Cash is king in Shanghai and Shanghai is a very safe city so you can comfortably carry a reasonable amount with you at all times. Pro-tip: immediately after booking your taxi use the message bubble icon to send a message in English saying “I am at my exact location” this will indicate to the driver that you do not speak Mandarin and you won’t get a frustrating  phone call from your driver! If you receive a reply in mandarin you can simply hold down on it and it will automatically translate into English for you!

2. SH Metro

Train Map and Journey Planner


Available for Apple and Android

metro station signs

Phew! There are plenty of signs translated into English in the Shanghai Metro stations and the ticket machines also have an English language option available.

If you’d rather pay literally ten times less or more for your transportation across Shanghai then be sure to download the SH Metro app. This app helps you to search a destination station and/or locate your nearest station. You can also calculate your route from your nearest station to your desired destination station. If heading out on the town for the night do note that the first train is usually around 5.30am and the last train at only 10.30pm on most lines. Be sure to carry some change with you if you wish to buy a single use ticket (from 3-8 yuan), or with a 100 yuan note (approx $20aud) you can purchase a metrocard which comes loaded with 80 yuan credit. That credit is equivalent to around 20 trips with a single journey costing around 4 yuan every time you scan on at a station. If required you can then load more credit onto it at the metro station store. These stores and card sales are only available at select Metro stations – Shanghai Railway Station, People’s Square is one such and a popular destination in itself.

3. SmartShanghai

Restaurant + Bar Reviews & More!


Available for Apple and Android

This little restaurant (Shudumaocai) in the Pudong area sells incredible bowls of choose-your-own meats & veg soup! SmartShanghai has most places in Shanghai covered, although this one was a little small to be on their radar – call it a bonus tip 😉

SmartShanghai is one of those awesome all-rounder apps. It combines reviews of restaurants and bars with an ezine style homepage which helps you to get out and explore more of Shanghai with articles about the latest artists touring Shanghai or suggested new hotspots to add to your places to eat and drink list. It is a super handy app to have if you are not going to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) whilst visiting Shanghai as you will find Google Maps does not work (accurately – the information is all out of date!). This means you won’t be able to access all those excellent restaurant reviews for restaurants in your neighbourhood via Google Maps. Once you’ve found the bar or restaurant of your dreams on the SmartShanghai app – it goes one better even than Google Reviews: it gives you the address for your chosen location in English, Pinyin (romanized Chinese) and Chinese characters so that you won’t have any concerns being unable to communicate your desired destination to your taxi driver should they not speak any English.

4. Airpocalypse

Pollution and Weather Forecast


Available for Apple and Android

Shanghai in Stormy Weather

There’s no stars visible in the sky on a poor pollution and thunderstorming night in Shanghai!

A weather app is always handy to have, wherever one is traveling. However traveling to China can have its own rather more ominous considerations to be prepared for, such as air quality due to pollution. This app tracks air pollution levels and advises whether being outdoors is advised/ whether wearing of a mask is required. It also shows the weather forecast across the whole day, hour by hour with a handy slide bar feature. This app is a must for anyone traveling in winter (when air quality issues are generally at their peak in Shanghai) or traveling with kids/those with asthma and similar allergy conditions. We like this one for the combined weather report and the tongue in cheek, upbeat approach it takes to a daily issue. Today’s forecast? “It is never ok to wear crocs”, Well said Airpocalypse, well said!

5. Google Translate

Chinese Character Sign Translator


Available for Apple and Android

Chinese signs

If it’s all Chinese to you make sure you’ve downloaded the Google Translate app before you head to China!

I know we said Google is one of the sites typically blocked by the Great Firewall of China but Google Translate slips through a crack in the wall IF you download an offline version or use a VPN whilst visiting China. For the uninitiate, Google Translate is a handy sign translating tool using one’s own camera phone whilst on the go. You can also use it to translate spoken and written Chinese to English and vice versa – very handy in situations when little English is spoken! To download Chinese as an offline language option on your Google Translate app simply tap the language at the top of your screen that you wish to download – a little downwards facing arrow icon should appear next to it to indicate that you can download it. Do this before travelling to China and make sure you are connected to cellular data/wifi when you try to download the language!

6. Learn Chinese – Mandarin Phrasebook for Travel in China

Free (Pro-option for Android/ in-app upgrade available for Apple)

Available for Apple and Android

Chinese Restaurant Awning

Don’t miss out on trying local Chinese restaurants just because you don’t know how to order, get the Learn Chinese app to do all the hard work for you!

If you would like to be not entirely reliant on Google Translate/at least know and use a few pleasantries then try out the Learn Chinese app. This app is available for offline use and doesn’t lock out sections in a game-based style of learning – all topics are available at all times. This app is part-dictionary/part-phrasebook categorised under topics such as “general conversation”, “eating out” and “emergency” so that users can navigate to their required vocabulary quickly. As well as showing the Pinyin (Romanised-alphabet spelling of Chinese words) the app will also read out the word you click on so that you can hear the tonal pronunciation – or at least just play it to your waiter/taxi driver.

7. Express VPN

Virtual Private Network

App free, service paid

Available for Apple and Android

Flowers near somewhere in Shanghai

Want to know where to find this picturesque spot in Shanghai? Follow me on Instagram: @downbubbletravels

Can’t live without Facebook/Google/Instagram for even a week!?  We hear you! Here’s how to stay connected when visiting China: purchase a VPN service. We like Express VPN as a very stable, affordable and secure option that comes with a handy, very easy to use app for your phone. The app allows you to turn your VPN off when you are not using blocked apps such as Facebook which is very useful as we have found VPN use is very draining on your smartphone battery. It seems to drain twice as quick as regular use when using a VPN!

8. Bonus! China Train Booking

Online National Train Booking


Available for Apple and Android

Beer Street in Qingdao China

A busking band of guitarists showcase their skills to an alfresco restaurant audience on Beer Street in Qingdao China. If you like beer you’ll love Qingdao!

Another of the must have apps when visiting Shanghai, or at least China anyway if you are planning on heading and exploring more of China is the China Train Booking app. Use this handy app for booking your national train travel between China’s major cities, which can often be cheaper than air travel options and with the added bonus of seeing some of China’s interior! We were astounded on our trip to Qingdao by train at a section of greenhouses that went on unendingly for 10 minutes at 300km per hour! This train booking app contains all schedules and is entirely in English. Very easy to use including online payment options with Visa/MasterCard and PayPal. Unfortunately there are no e-tickets provided though and you will have to nominate to either pick up your tickets in person at the station or have them delivered to your hotel in Shanghai.

We hope you enjoyed our list of 7 must have apps when visiting Shanghai! If you’d like to save it for later please click here: (7 Must Have Apps when Visiting Shanghai) for a free downloadable PDF with all hyperlinks available. If you have also travelled to Shanghai or China recently and have an app or experience using an app to add to the list we’ve love to hear from you in the comments section below! Happy travel planning! Bye! Zàijiàn (sounds like zai-jen) Erin & Ryan!

Don't leave for Shanghai without having downloaded our list of 7 Must Have Apps! Many are useful to have in other parts of China too!