Q. We are flying to New Zealand this Easter and will have a stopover in Shanghai. Would it be possible for us to go out of the airport and explore the city for a day with our nine-year-old son? If so, what would you recommend we do? Moreover, would we need a visa? E Eymin, via email
A. Shanghai is a vast city, modernising at a dizzying pace, and makes a fabulous stopover – even for a single day. So it is well worth jumping through the bureaucratic hoops to get a visa, as you must if you wish to go out of the airport. You need to obtain visas in advance from the Embassy of the People's Republic of China, Visa Application Centre, Morley House, 26 Holborn Viaduct, London EC1A AT (020-7842 0960;chineseembassy.org. uk), price £30 per person.
China's commercial hub, the venue for the 2010 World Expo, has seen rapid and impressive construction – from the soaring skyline to the expanded metro system. As such, choosing what to see in such a short space of time is challenging. What might appear to be an adult-oriented city does have enough to satisfy children too, from wildlife to green spaces.
First focus your attention on the two sides of the Huangpu river and the city centre, which you can reach from Pudong airport by a shuttle bus. Number 5 stops at both Shanghai railway station and People's Square, with singles costing 18 yuan (£1.80); the alternative is to catch the astonishingly fast magnetic-levitation airport express train, though this leaves you some way short of the city centre.
Get to grips with the city from the river: boat tours are offered along the Huangpu by a handful of companies. The Huangpu River Cruise Company (00 86 21 6374 4461) has trips that take you past the distinctive Oriental Pearl Tower, the historic 19th-century buildings of The Bund and the old city. Boats depart from Jinling pier, just off The Bund and tickets start at 35 yuan (£3.60).
More watery pursuits can be had at the Ocean Aquarium (00 81 21 5877 9988; sh-aquarium.com), one of Asia's largest. Located in Pudong just beyond Pudong Park and the Oriental Pearl Tower, it houses 10,000 marine creatures including sharks, jellyfish, turtles, sea otters and myriad fish. There's also a 155m underwater viewing tunnel, enabling visitors to get up close to sharks and rays. It opens daily 9am-6pm; admission is 120 yuan (£12.30) for adults and 80 yuan (£8.20) for children.
A short walk away in Pudong Park is the Natural Wild Insect Kingdom (00 86 21 58 406 950; shinsect.com), which is full of creepy crawlies, reptiles and amphibians. It opens Monday to Friday 9am-5.30pm; admission is 35 yuan (£3.60) for adults and 20 yuan (£2.10) for children.
If your son is interested in science, you could venture to Pudong's Science and Technology Museum (00 81 21 6854 2000; sstm.org.cn) which is half way between the airport and the city centre. The impressive glass and steel building houses equally impressive hi-tech exhibits on science, technology and natural history, as well as an IMAX cinema and 4D theatre. Open Tuesday-Sunday 9am-5.15pm, 60 yuan (£6.20).
No child's visit to China would be complete without seeing one of its most famous and loved inhabitants – the panda. While there isn't scope during your short visit for seeing these endangered creatures in the wild, you could venture to Shanghai Zoo (00 86 10 6268 7775; shanghaizoo.cn/en), on the western outskirts of the city. It isn't the most impressive of zoos, but it is set in leafy surrounds that offer a pleasant antidote to the urban sprawl. The zoo houses more than 6,000 animals, including red and giant pandas, and there is also a small amusement park. It opens daily 6.30am-5.30pm and admission is 30 yuan (£3). Children under 1.2m are admitted free.
Finally, make for the laid-back, low-rise French Concession, and some green space in the shape of Fuxing Park. A peaceful, tree-lined walk could be the ideal way to end your brief stay in Shanghai – and perhaps inspire a return trip to the city, next time for longer.
Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London, E14 9RS, or e-mail email@example.com