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Shanghai’s subway system is one of the best in the world and the world’s largest rapid transit system by route length. Using it can save you a ton of money by avoiding taxis or DiDi (China’s equivalent to Uber – a ride-sharing app). Plus the traffic can be really bad so a subway trip can save you time as well as money. Tales you may have heard about how crowded the subway can be are certainly true, though we only had one experience with crowded trains since we avoided rush hour.
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1. Find the nearest station
Use the Google maps app (which you can download and use offline) to find the nearest station to your location. You can also ask your hotel front desk but our experience was that most front desk people’s English was very basic. Our hotel was on the outskirts of town (hotels can be expensive otherwise). We took a DiDi from the hotel to the subway as a cheaper alternative to a taxi.
2. Purchase your ticket
Approach one of the ticket machines. The good news is that there is a translation button on the upper right corner so that you can read the instructions in English. You’ll press the name of the station you’re going to and the machine will indicate the purchase price. You will also have the option of selecting how many tickets you wish at that price, making a family or group purchase easier. Insert the funds into the machine (they do not generally provide change, so be prepared). A ticket will be dispensed.
3. Walk through security
Many of the stations we went through required us to put our bags through X-ray machines. We didn’t have to empty our pockets though.
4. Select the platform in the direction you are going.
Again, the good news is that the signage is often in English as well as Chinese.
Be mindful of the signs indicating how to get on and off the train. To embark, stand to the side of the doors since exiting passengers will use the middle and you don’t want to be run over!
5. Follow Google map directions
Use the Google map app. The map directions on signs are not properly translated and don’t always make it clear if you have to change trains. The app didn’t steer us wrong.
The other benefit of using the Google map app is that the directions will tell you which exit to use. For example, we rode the metro to the Shanghai Tower. Lujiazui Station has six exits. It would have taken us a while to figure out we needed to take exit 6 without the app.
Once you arrive at your destination, you’ll need to turn in the ticket. If it was a single-use ticket, you’ll feed it into the turnstile. If you purchased a multi-use pass, just tap the ticket and the fare will be deducted from your balance.
In addition to downloading Google maps for Shanghai to use offline, you can download (or print) a metro map here.
I really encourage you to give it a try. Riding on the Shanghai subway is an experience not to be missed. Take it to go downtown to explore (we took it to the Shanghai Observation Tower upon our arrival). Or take it to go to the airport from downtown or from the airport to downtown. Or take it to the airport to ride on the Maag train – the fastest train in the world.
Don’t be afraid to give the Shanghai subway system a spin!
Annick, The Common Traveler