Beijing vs Shanghai 🥇 Which City is Actually the Best?
The debate of Beijing vs Shanghai is a never-ending one and with good reason — they bare so many similarities, yet at the same time so many differences!
Beijing may have a longer (much longer) history, but Shanghai’s the business and financial hub of China.
They’ve got their pros and cons, and today we are going to give you a stronger insight into those.
Have you been to Beijing or Shanghai? Which is your favourite? Tell us in a word below.
|Click to jump to a section||Beijing (北京)||Shanghai (上海)|
|Weather (天气)||Cold and dry winters. Hot summers. Some snow, so bring a parka and a bunch of coats.||Cold and dry winters. Hot and humid summers suck. Usually no snow, but still bring a parka.|
|Transportation (交通)||Incredibly efficient and accessible. Buy yourself a transportation card for 20 RMB.||Also incredibly efficient and accessible. A transportation card is 20 RMB.|
|History (历史)||Thousands and thousands of years of history as China’s on and off capital. It shows.||A few hundred years of actual significant history. Concessions are interesting.|
|Culture (文化)||Geared more towards traditional China.||Geared more towards modern day China.|
|Language (语言)||Mandarin. Beijing dialect is very easy to understand. Less English speakers than Shanghai.||Mandarin. Understanding Shanghainese requires learning it. Lots of English speakers.|
|Attractions (景点)||All of China’s history — the Great Wall, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square. Alleys: hutongs.||The Bund, Yu Garden, City God Temple, Tianzifang, Nanjing Road. Alleys: lilong and shikumen.|
|Food (美食)||Influences from Shandong and halal cuisines, e.g. Peking duck and lamb hot pot.||Light and sweet, e.g. xiaolongbao and Yangzhou lion head (aka pork).|
|Nightlife (夜生活)||Great. Many Chinese craft breweries.||Great. A lot of cocktails with their own twist.|
|Entertainment (娱乐)||Sanlitun is the home of foreign brands in Beijing. Beijing is home of China’s indie music scene.||Nanjing Road is the biggest shopping street in Shanghai. Shanghai is China’s technological hub.|
|Cost of Living (生活费用)||High for China, relatively alright worldwide.||Highest in China (more expensive than Beijing), relatively mid-ground worldwide.|
|Education (教育)||Good international schools for kids. Has China’s best universities.||Good international schools for kids. Also includes China’s best universities.|
|Safety (安全)||Crime is rare. Just watch out for scams.||Crime is rare. Just watch out for scams.|
Beijing vs Shanghai – Weather (天气)
You’ll get all four seasons (四季) in both cities, but Shanghai’s winters are marginally warmer.
|JANUARY||-3 °C / 27 °F||5 °C. /41 °F|
|FEBRUARY||0 °C / 33 °F||7 °C / 44 °F|
|MARCH||7 °C / 44 °F||10 °C. /50 °F|
|APRIL||14 °C / 58 °F||16 °C / 61 °F|
|MAY||21 °C / 69 °F||21 °C / 70 °F|
|JUNE||25 °C / 77 °F||25 °C / 77 °F|
|JULY||27 °C / 80 °F||29 °C / 85 °F|
|AUGUST||26 °C / 78 °F||29 °C / 80 °F|
|SEPTEMBER||21 °C / 69 °F||25 °C / 77 °F|
|OCTOBER||14 °C / 51 °F||20 °C / 67 °F|
|NOVEMBER||5 °C / 47 °F||14 °C / 57 °F|
|DECEMBER||-1 °C / 30 °F||7 °C / 45 °F|
Beijing Weather: meh. Winters (冬天) often fall below zero with some snowfall (降雪) and are pretty dry.
Temperatures in the summer (夏天) are hot and kind of dry. There’s also a rainy season (雨季) in the summer, though it’s usually not that big of an issue.
Shanghai Weather: it’s okay. The weather’s slightly better than Beijing. Winters rarely fall below zero, though it’s pretty dry (干燥).
The heat and humidity in the summer suck, namely humidity (湿度). The rainy season in the summer is not that big of an inconvenience. Have an umbrella.
Pollution (污染): Is Beijing More Polluted Than Shanghai?
Yes, Beijing is more polluted than Shanghai.
Pollution can be measured by the Air Quality Index, which runs from 0 to 500. Anything above 150 is deemed “Unhealthy” for the general population. Here is a helpful guide from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Beijing Pollution: in 2019, Beijing saw 120 days where the AQI was above 100 (unhealthy for sensitive groups) according to the Beijing Municipal Ecology and Environment Bureau.
It’s getting better in comparison to previous years with vast changes made.
Shanghai Pollution: in 2019, Shanghai saw 63 days where the AQI was above 100 (unhealthy for sensitive groups) according to the Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Ecology and Environment.
Air pollution has gone down considerably in the past couple of years when it would regularly surpass 150.
Suggestions (建议): you’re welcome to bring a PM2.5 mask if you want, but it’s also widely available in China. Most people don’t wear them if the AQI is bad, but some do. People usually exercise less outside if it’s above 150 or 200 AQI, though. Also, download an AQI app on your phone.
Beijing vs Shanghai – Transportation (交通)
Transportation in Beijing and Shanghai is fantastic, you can’t go wrong with either.
Public transit (公交) is expansive in both cities, and they’re pretty walkable as well.
Subway systems (地铁): very efficient and inexpensive; Beijing and Shanghai boast the longest subway systems in the world by far. They also have the highest annual riderships.
Suggestion: download 北京地铁通 (Beijing) and 上海地铁通 (Shanghai) on the app store for an interactive map their subway systems. It’s convenient for finding the fastest route from Point A to Point B.
Taxis (出租车) and rideshares (网约车): also wonderful in both cities! Fairly affordable and easy to use.
Bus systems (公交车): even more expansive than the subway systems.
If you want to ride the bus, do some more research into your local area.
Trains (火车): Both cities have multiple train stations that are widely connected to the rest of China, where you get your pick of bullet trains (高铁), sleeper trains (卧车), and more.
There’s a high-speed rail connecting Beijing to Shanghai that takes a bit more than 4 hours. China also offers the world’s longest and most extensively used high-speed rail network.
Airports: Beijing and Shanghai both have two main airports. International flights usually come through Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK; 首都国际机场) although the new Daxing Airport will gradually take over as Beijing’s top airport.
Shanghai Pudong International Airport is Shanghai’s main airport (PVG; 浦东国际机场), with Hongqiao (SHA; 虹桥国际机场) coming in second in terms of passenger numbers.
Shanghai also has a maglev (磁悬浮列车) from Pudong International Airport to Longyang Road on Line 2 of the subway, but people usually just take the subway. It’s very fast, though.
Beijing vs Shanghai – History (历史)
Sorry Shanghai, but Beijing wins this by a landslide.
Beijing has the upper hand as the on and off capital (首都) of China since the early dynasties (朝代), and you can definitely tell from the architecture (建筑) of the city to the slightly more traditional culture of Beijing people.
Shanghai was actually mostly a fishing village (渔村) up until the end of the First Opium War (第一次鸦片战争) in the mid-19th century.
After a treaty (条约) was drawn, Shanghai was forced to open up and only then did its significance begin to expand into what it is today.
In summary, Beijing’s historical significance far surpasses Shanghai’s historical significance. If you’re coming to China with its history in mind, Beijing’s the place.
Beijing vs Shanghai – Culture (文化)
It’s pretty hard to assess Beijing and Shanghai by saying one is more “cultural” than the other.
Both Beijing and Shanghai have a lot of culture, when it comes to discovering life in China.
Beijing better encompasses the history of China, where China’s thousands of years of history can be more seen through everyday streets and its people.
Compared to Shanghai, people in Beijing generally speak less English and are more traditional (传统).
On the other hand, culture is also how a country holds itself in the present day. Shanghai better encompasses the advancement of China, where the city has really embraced internationalization (国际化) and modernity (not to say that Beijing hasn’t, but Shanghai has more so).
It has its own combination of the old and new of China, with an emphasis on the new. Shanghai is China’s Global Financial Center (全球金融中心) for a reason.
If you want to see the culture of China, it depends on what you’re looking for. From a historical standpoint, Beijing’s better. From an international standpoint, Shanghai is.
Beijing vs Shanghai – Language (语言)
Whether you move to Beijing or Shanghai, you’ll be fine language-wise.
People in Shanghai may speak more English (英文) in general, but many do in Beijing anyway. Shanghai just happens to have more.
Both are incredibly international places to live so although you don’t need Mandarin under your belt to get by, it certainly helps.
The distinguishing factor of the Beijing dialect (北京话) is the added -r’s (儿). The dialect in the south tends to be much softer, whereas people often compared the northern accent and “Beijing Hua” to that of a pirate!
Shanghai’s a different story. Shanghainese (上海话) might as well be a complete different language to Mandarin, because most of it is unintelligible to a Mandarin speaker. Most people speak Mandarin anyway, it’s all good.
Attractions (景点): Which Are Best, Shanghai or Beijing?
Generally speaking, Beijing has more attractions. It’s your usual list:
- The Great Wall (长城)
- Forbidden City (故宫)
- Summer Palace (颐和园)
- Tiananmen Square (天安门)
- Temple of Heaven (天坛)
- …and more.
Beijing has more attractions because of — you guessed it — it’s long, long, long history.
Many of these places are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites (there are around eight or nine in or near Beijing).
Comparatively, Shanghai has less attractions:
- The Bund (外滩)
- Yu Garden (豫园)
- Nanjing Road (南京路)
- City God Temple (城隍庙)
- Tianzifang (田子坊)
- …and more.
They’re less historically significant but hey, Shanghai houses China’s most recognizable skyline. That’s pretty cool.
For old alleys, Beijing has its hutongs (胡同) and Shanghai has its longtang (弄堂) and shikumen (石库门).
Beijing vs Shanghai – Food (美食)
A meal can range from around 10 RMB (1.45 USD) to several hundred yuan (or even more, but that’s up to you).
If you like xiaolongbao, I suggest you also try shengjianbao (生煎包) and Yangzhou lion head (扬州狮子头; it’s pork).
Beijing cuisine (京菜) has very strong influences from Shandong cuisine (鲁菜). It’s also influenced by Muslim halal cuisines (清真菜).
Cooking methods include steaming with specific spices, roasts, and instant-boils (quickly cooking meats in boiling water). 涮羊肉 is a type of lamb hot pot.
Shanghai cuisine (上海菜) is a part of Jiangsu and Zhejiang cuisine (江浙菜) and as a result, its food is pretty light and sweet. 江浙菜 pays attention especially to the freshness of food, and aim to maintain it’s original taste. 腌笃鲜 is a soup with cured pork, fresh pork, and bamboo shoots.
With more than 20 million people each in Beijing and Shanghai, there’s a pretty good selection of international cuisines.
Shanghai might have a greater variety as it has had greater Western influence.
Beijing vs Shanghai – Nightlife (夜生活)
Nightlife is solid in both cities, you just have to know where to go (easy to find out).
However, Beijing is more centered around craft breweries (精酿啤酒厂) and Shanghai is more centered around cocktails (鸡尾酒) and such.
Still, you should keep in mind that these are some of the biggest and busiest cites in the world.
They have their own specialities, but you’re going to find an abundance of craft beer and fancy cocktails in either place, don’t worry.
Beijing’s nightlife scene is centered around Sanlitun (三里屯) in the Chaoyang District (朝阳区).
Craft breweries require a bit more research as they’re often tucked away in hutongs, or Beijing alleys.
In the Dongcheng District (东城区), LTL Beijing suggest:
– Luga’s (卢卡斯)
– Side Street (街旁)
– Cafe de la Poste (云游驿发式牛排餐吧)
– …and more.
In the Chaoyang District (朝阳区), LTL Beijing suggest:
– 京A Brewing Co.
– Paddy O’Shea’s
– XL Bar and Restaurant
– Legend Bar (老牌酒厂)
– Great Leap Brewing (大跃啤酒)
– Arrow Factory Brewing (箭厂啤酒)
– Slow Boat Brewery (悠航鲜啤), Sanlitun (三里屯)
– Beersmith (鲜啤吧)
– …and more.
Shanghai’s nightlife scene is centered around downtown Shanghai’s Huangpu District (黄埔区), Xuhui District (徐汇区), Jing’an District (静安区), and so forth.
Suggestion: download Meituan (美团) or Dianping (大众点评), aka the Chinese equivalent of Yelp. They have everything.
Beijing vs Shanghai – Entertainment (娱乐)
Music scene: for China’s indie music scene, Beijing’s the spot. Maybe Mars (兵马司唱片), a Chinese independent record label, was founded there and has produced acts such as Carsick Cars (晕车车) and Dear Eloise (亲爱的艾洛伊丝).
Nevertheless, Beijing and Shanghai are often the two only pit stops for international acts coming to China.
Shopping: hard to say. Beijing has its Wangfujing Shopping Street (王府井步行街), Qianmen Street (前门大街), and Nanluoguxiang (南锣鼓巷).
Shanghai has its Nanjing Road (南京路), Huaihai Road (淮海路), and Tianzifang (田子坊). Both cities have an abundance of shopping malls and plazas and streets.
Nearby trips: both cities have a number of attractions for day trips or longer. Beijing has a lot of historical sites (名胜古迹) such as the Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty (明十三陵) and the Great Wall.
Shanghai has quite a few water towns (水城) such as Wuzhen (乌镇) and Zhouzhuang (周庄). Suzhou (苏州) is also technically a water town!
Beijing vs Shanghai – Livability (宜居性)
Beijing vs Shanghai — which city is best to live in?
Here’s an unhelpful answer: it depends! Frankly, they’re pretty similar.
As Tier 1 cities (一线城市) in China, the relative cost of living (生活费用) of Beijing and Shanghai to other Chinese cities is very high.
Compared to its western counterparts, living in Beijing and Shanghai can actually be pretty affordable. The cost of living in Shanghai is slightly more expensive than the cost of living for Shanghai.
This, of course, depends on a multitude of things, from where you live to your spending habits to your work and everything in between.
Additionally, Beijing and Shanghai offer some of China’s best universities and international schools for kids.
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Conclusion — Beijing or Shanghai? Which is Better?
So there we have it, your complete guide to Beijing vs Shanghai!
Here’s another unhelpful answer: it’s depends on you.
Both cities have their specialities, and it’s easy to understand why someone would love one and hate another.
Talk to our staff, we all have differing opinions on which we prefer. Do you have a preference? Tell us in the comments below!
You’ll have your fair share of Chinese history living in Shanghai, but history in Beijing is simply a lot richer due to its, well, history.
At the same time, while you’ll definitely feel China’s advancement and modernity in Beijing, Shanghai is still China’s global financial center.
Shanghai’s historical but Beijing’s more historical, and Beijing’s fast but Shanghai’s faster.
You can sometimes forget you’re in China when living in Shanghai, but that won’t ever happen with Beijing.
Beijing can almost feel suburban once in a while, but most of Shanghai is so obviously metropolitan. It’s up to you.
One things for sure though, both Shanghai and Beijing are great places to learn Chinese, don’t believe us? Check it out…
Beijing vs Shanghai: FAQs
Is Beijing better than Shanghai?
Beijing has more of China’s history but Shanghai is all about showcasing modern China.
Both cities are incredibly accessible with public transport. Is Beijing better? We don’t know, but both have their perks. Everyone has their own opinion on this debate!
Ultimately there is no right or wrong answer!
Is Beijing or Shanghai more expensive?
Shanghai is slightly more expensive than Beijing, but as Tier 1 cities, the cost of living in both cities is relatively high compared to the rest of China. Compared to the West, both Beijing and Shanghai are pretty affordable.
How bad is the air quality in Shanghai?
Not that bad. In 2019, Shanghai only had 63 days where the Air Quality Index (AQI) surpassed 100 (aka unhealthy for sensitive groups). Most of it time, the AQI was between good and moderate.
Is Beijing more polluted than Shanghai?
Yes. In 2019, Beijing had 120 days where the Air Quality Index (AQI) was above 100 (aka unhealthy for sensitive groups), about double compared to Shanghai’s 63 days.
Is Beijing close to Shanghai?
Beijing and Shanghai are about 1,214.1 km (754.4 mi) apart.
It takes approximately 4 hours and 18 minutes by high-speed rail and 2 hours and 15 minutes by airplane.
How safe is Shanghai?
Generally speaking, Shanghai is very safe. Violent crimes rarely happen and petty crimes are more common in comparison, though it’s not that popular either. Scams, however, are a lot more prevalent.
How much is the bullet train from Shanghai to Beijing?
The bullet train from Shanghai to Beijing is approximately 560 RMB (81 USD) for a second-class ticket and 940 RMB (136 USD) for a first-class ticket.
This will vary depending on seasons and holidays. The trip takes about 4 hours and 18 minutes.
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