Shenzhen, once a small enclave close to Hong Kong has been growing at an incredible speed since being named a Chinese Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in 1980. It’s as if Robin, the loyal sidekick, took steroids, bulked up and started intimidating Batman! Shenzhen wants to dominate in-bound tourism in the region and it is an exciting, engaging and friendly place for a city-break.
Named a UNESCO ‘city of design’ and quickly becoming China’s creative capital, Shenzhen sits just a hop away from Hong Kong. In fact, when visitors arrive at Hong Kong International Airport, they are actually closer to Shenzhen than Hong Kong. The metropolis is home to 12.2 million people with over 17 million in the metropolitan area. This unprecedented development has arisen in just over 40 years! Given its rapid growth, I suspect in just a few short years it will be challenging Hulk-sized cities like Shanghai and Beijing for the top spot.
Like many rapidly growing cities Shenzhen’s population is young and well educated. With only 6% of the entire population over the age of 60, many with advanced degrees, it’s no wonder this city is bursting with innovation and creativity.
Shenzhen is a centre for manufacturing and considered China’s most successful SEZ. Shenzhen is also leading the way in cultural and creative industries, so travellers interested in modern art, design or style, prepare to fill your boots and your suitcases!
You’ll either fly into Shenzhen (SZX) Airport, which is 27.9 km away or Hong Kong International Airport Airport (28.9 km). SZX is a modern and convenient facility and less crowded and intimidating than HKG. You can travel to wherever you’re staying by train, bus or taxi, depending on your preference. The Airport Express Line is probably the easiest public transportation, running between Futian and Bitou. For taxis, expect to pay around $14.00 if you’re staying within the city.
Here’s a Pro-tip: The airport stop is in the centre of The Airport Express Line so make sure you’re headed in the right direction on the platform, or the trip could be longer than expected!
Shenzhen is all about the future. Here are my favourite places to visit in the metropolis:
- Window of the World is Shenzhen’s most popular attraction, and certainly one of its quirkiest. It holds 130 miniature replicas of world sites and landmarks from London’s Houses of Parliament to Rome’s See the sites and eat the foods of the world, all within this 120-acre park. This makes for a great, family-friendly day out.
- History and art lovers will enjoy spending time at the Splendid China Folk Village, also known as the OCT, a sister site to the Window of the World. Here you’ll find replicas of Chinese landmarks and exhibits of a wide variety of cultural influences across history. Check out monuments of The Great Wall of China and famous artworks like the Terracotta Warriors.
- Wutong Shan Mountains – Those looking for a bit of nature to balance out the city can retreat to Shenzhen’s highest mountain. Hike the more gradual incline of the trails or challenge those glutes by taking the stairs on a roundtrip of 6.2 miles!
- Sea World is the number one entertainment hub and tourist attraction of Shenzhen. Americans take note, there are no whales or dolphins in sight; this commercial district has a very different porpoise altogether! Shoppers will delight in the array of imported goods, with plenty of restaurants and bars to fuel up after a day of commerce. Make sure to check out the ‘Ming Hua’ ship. Once a cruise ship, it is now permanently moored and used as a floating hotel. For those who love a bit of flash and splash, stay late to catch the evening light and water show.
Here’s another Pro-tip: Check out the height of Shenzhen’s art scene at the OCT-LOFT complex and the surrounding neighbourhood. This once industrial compound is now an enclave of burgeoning artist and designers. Spend the afternoon ducking into art galleries, hip coffeeshops and independent bookstores while admiring the modern architecture and street art.
Shopping is practically a religion in Shenzhen. Here are some great ones to visit:
- Luohu Commercial City – This bustling emporium has practically everything in the world. There are even massage parlours dotted along the area to help you destress from the noble pursuit of bargain hunting.
- Coco Park – Eat, drink and be merry here! Located in Futian this is a one-stop entertainment zone from great restaurants to luxury brands, there’s even an obstacle course in the courtyard to keep kids happy.
- Huaqiangbei Commercial Street is a technophile’s candy shop. If you’ve come to Shenzhen for the electronics, this is your main port of call to dive into the best the city has to offer.
After all the shopping and sightseeing you’ll need refreshment. Here are my favourite restaurants in the city:
- 1881 Chinese Restaurant – Head here for elegant dining and mouth-watering Chinese cuisine in the Luohu District. Everything that touches the woks here turns to gold. If you’re dining with a group of three or more, make sure to order their succulent roast Peking Duck, then fight over every morsel!
- Haidilao Hotpot – this is my favourite hot pot restaurant in Shenzhen. Those looking for a traditional and interactive Chinese dining experience must try hot pot, where diners cook thinly sliced meats, tofu and vegetables in steaming hot broth in the centre of the table. It’s such a relaxed and fun way to eat and one of my very favourite ways to try a bit of everything.
- The Shang Palace in the Shangri-La hotel is one of the best places for fine dining and dim sum in Shenzhen. Diners are spoilt for choice as the menu also includes a variety of Huaigang dishes created by Chef Anthony Dong, as well as Cantonese roast meats, Sichuan and Chiu Chow dishes.
With such young and well-educated residents, you can bet that Shenzhen knows how to party. Here are my favourite nightspots:
- Electronic music has really taken off in Shenzhen —some of the coolest DJs from Berlin are even making appearances in Shenzhen’s growing night club scene. To join in the electric rhythm of the night head to the Pepper Club in the Futian District.
- The Terrace is one of Shenzhen’s most popular bars. Not only does it serve an array of drinks while featuring live music it also serves delicious Thai food. The perfect trifecta of a good night out!
- For those wishing to grab a drink poolside on sultry nights, head over to the V Bar at the Venice Hotel in the Shahe Residential District.
Shenzhen has an array of excellent hotels providing impeccable hospitality to rival nearby Hong Kong. Here are my favourite places to stay while visiting:
- For travellers looking for the ultimate stay in the lap of luxury, the Mission Hills Resort in the Longhua District might be what you desire. Modern rooms, a full-service spa, a golf course, water park and health club are all at your disposal.
- Shenzhen’s Shekou No. 6 Garden Hotel proudly supports five eco-friendly villas for sustainability-minded travellers who don’t want to compromise style, comfort or location. This excellent property is situated in central Shekou and within walking distance to Sea World, Metro Line 2 and Huigang shopping centre.
- The 41-story Crowne Plaza Hotel located in the city’s central business district of Fitian is my recommendation for those who want all there is to see and do in city on your front doorstep.
Shenzhen is a modern marvel that is trying to welcome the world. The next time you need a shopping fix consider Shenzhen over its neighbours. You will love it!