Less than half a century ago, the area Shenzhen occupies was a sleepy little market town occupied by 30,000 people. Today, its skyline bristles with skyscrapers and its streets heave with a population of over 10 million. Shenzhen is a testament to the determination of the Chinese and the surge of growth that accompanied the manufacturing boom in the 80s.
Shenzhen has long been associated with the ugly side of economic growth. For years, most of the arrivals in Shenzhen were immigrants from within China, or business travellers. All of that has begun to change, though. Shenzhen is a city of layers; history lurks between the skyscrapers, art displays weave themselves amongst tourist traps, and nature still clings to the edges of the city. If you think that all there is to do in Shenzhen is eat and shop, think again.
1. Feel like a giant in The Window Of The World
Have dreams to travel the world, but not the budget to do so? What if I told you you could do it all in one day, all for 180 CNY (USD 27)? Welcome to The Window Of The World, where you’ll find replicas of the world’s greatest attractions, downsized. From the Great Pyramids and the Eiffel Tower to the Coliseum, The Window Of The World offers 130 attractions from all across the globe.
You can even ride a gondola through Venice or feel the spray from Niagara Waterfall. The attractions are built at a ratio of 1:1, 1:5 or 1:15. Experience the world in delightful miniature!
Window of the World
Address: 9037 Shennan Ave, Nanshan, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China, 518053
Price: 180 CNY (27 USD) for adults and children above 4.9 feet (1.5 meters). 90 CNY (13.50 USD) for children between 3.9 and 4.9 feet (1.2 and 1.5 meters), and seniors between 65 - 69 years old. Admission is free for children below 3.9 feet (1.2 meters) and seniors above 69 years.
Opening Hours: 09:00 to 22:00 on weekdays, 09:00 to 22:30 on holidays
Duration: around 2 - 6 hours required.
Access: Take the Luobao Line to the Window of the World Station. Take Exit J.
Website: Window of the World
Contact: +86 755 2660 8000
2. Have a happy day at the Happy Valley Theme Park
Guess who’s competing with Hong Kong Disneyland for the Happiest Place On Earth?! The Happy Valley Shenzhen theme park was the first park in the Happy Valley chain, which has parks in cities all over China. It’s made up of nine main areas: Spanish Square, Cartoon City, Mt. Adventure, Gold Mine Town, Shangri-la Woods, Sunshine Beach, Typhoon Bay, Playa Maya Water Park, and Happy Times.
Some highlights of the park include the River Raft Ride – but not the ride itself. Towards the end of the ride’s track, you can operate water cannons for 1 or 2 CNY (0.15 - 0.20 USD) and soak the people who are on it. Another popular ride is the bullet coaster, which has a 67.4-meter (221.2-foot) drop and goes at 134 kilometers per hours (83 mph).
Happy Valley Shenzhen
Address: 1 Qiaocheng W St, Nanshan, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China
Price: 200 CNY (30 USD) for adults and children above 4.9 feet (1.5 meters). 100 CNY (15 USD) for children between 3.9 to 4.9 feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters). Free admission for children below 3.9 feet (1.2 meters).
Opening Hours: 09:30 - 21:00 on ordinary days. 09:00 - 22:00 from Apr. 30 - May 2 & Jun. 9 - 11 & Weekends. The Maya Water Park is open only from May 1 to October 7. It’s open 14:00 - 20:30 on ordinary days. 12:00 - 21:00 from Apr. 30 - May 2 & Jun. 9 - 11 & Weekends.
Duration: At least half a day
Access: Take the Luobao Line to the Window of the World Station. Take Exit A.
Website: Happy Valley Shenzhen
Contact: +86 755 2694 9168
3. Get an overload of history at the Splendid China Folk Village
This has got to take the cake – China replicated itself! It’s the world’s largest and most comprehensive miniature park, with replications of over 100 Chinese attractions and 25 full-scale ethnic villages. To be fair, the landscapes of Splendid China Folk Village are fantastic and meticulously set out – the miniatures are superbly detailed and contain over 50,000 tiny clay figures that have been placed to look as though they’ve been living there for years.
China has over 5,000 years of history and over 55 different tribes. The Splendid China Folk Village is a great place to get a thorough lesson on all of that. Other things that should definitely not be missed are the performances – the Dynasty At War performance reproduces the battle scene of the late Ming Dynasty, and it involves more than 300 equestrian stunt actors.
Splendid China Folk Village
Address: 9003 Shennan Ave, Nanshan, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China
Price: 180 CNY (27 USD) for adults, 90 CNY (13.50 USD) for children between 3.9 and 4.9 feet (1.2 and 1.5 meters), free admission for children below 3.9 feet (1.2 meters).
Opening Hours: For Splendid China, opening hours are 10:00 to 18:00 on ordinary days, 09:30 to 18:00 on weekends and 09:00 to 18:00 from 1 to 3 May and 1 to 7 October. For the Folk Culture Village, opening hours are 10:00 to 21:00 on ordinary days, 09:30 to 21:00 on weekends and 09:00 to 21:00 from 1 to 3 May and 1 to 7 October
Duration: At least half a day required
Access: Take the Luobao Line to the OCT Station and take Exit D
Website: Splendid China Folk Village
Contact: +86 755 2660 0626
4. Surround yourself with fun & culture at the Overseas Chinese Town East
Some people spend their entire Shenzhen trips in the OCT, and it’s easy to see why. This thing is massive! It’s a mixture of nature parks, theme parks, and cultural villages inspired by both the East and West. There are two main theme parks in the OCT East – Knight Valley and Tea Stream Valley.
If you’re looking for fun and adventures, head over to Knight Valley. It has five zones: Water Park, Rapids Forest, Seafield Village, Ecological Valley, and Peak Highland. You can spend a day on water rides, explore a tropical rainforest, or navigate ecological landscapes. The highlight of Knight Valley is the Peak Highland’s Reaching The Pinnacle Skywalk – it’s a walkway made of glass.
Tea Stream Valley is for those looking for their inner zen. You can reconnect with nature in the Wetland Garden, or learn more about tea in the Sanzhou Tea Garden or Ancient Tea Town.
Overseas Chinese Town East
Address: Dameisha, Shenzhen, China
Price: Admission for Knight Valley is 200 CNY (30.30 USD), admission for Tea Stream Valley is 180 CNY (27.30). You can also buy one-day or two-day combination tickers for 300 CNY (45.60 USD) or 350 CNY (53.20 USD)
Opening Hours: Knight Valley is open from 09:30 to 17:30 on weekdays, 09:00 to 17:30 on weekends and public holidays. Tea Stream Valley is open from 09:30 to 18:00 on weekdays, 09:00 to 18:00 on weekends and public holidays
Duration: around half a day
Access: Take bus 239, J1 or Airport 6 to the OCT East bus station
Website: Overseas Chinese Town East
Contact: +86 755 8888 9888
For nature lovers
5. Go hiking on Wutong Shan
Ditch the urban jungle for a real one. Wutong Shan is Shenzhen’s highest mountain, standing at 943 meters (3,094 feet). It’s a popular destination for locals, so expect to be outstripped by elderly walkers and young families as you puff along. Wutong Shan has a few routes – you can opt for the safer route of stairs (do note that towards the top the trail is quite steep), or try out other paths that will take you into the greenery and past creeks and streams.
Most trails start out from Wutong Village. Once you’ve conquered the mountain, you’ll be treated to the sight of Shenzhen sprawled below, the glistening harbour and Hong Kong in the distance. Then it’s time for you to brave going down the stairs again.
Generally, the ascent takes about 3 - 4 hours and the descent takes another 2 hours. Bring track shoes and plenty of water.
Duration: 3 to 6 hours
Access: Metro & Bus: Metro: Luobao Line 1 (Green) to Luohu Station, then pick up the 211 bus which will take you to the bus terminus at Wutongshan Village.
6. Spot birds at the Mangrove Seashore Ecology Park
The Mangrove Seashore Ecology Park is like the lesser-known sibling of Hong Kong’s Mai Po Marshes. Throughout the year, birds migrating from Siberia will stop to rest at the Mai Po Marshes, and some will also stop by the Mangrove Seashore Ecology Park, which is just two miles (3.2 kilometers) away. It’s China’s smallest nature reserve, but the bird-watching is legendary. Even if you’re not that keen on winged creatures, you can still enjoy the peaceful, natural landscapes of the marshes and the view of Hong Kong across the bay.
Mangrove Seashore Ecology Park
Address: Binhai Road, Shenzhen City
Duration: As long as you’d like
Access: Best to take a taxi as there are no subway stations nearby
7. Have a picnic at Xianhu Botanical Garden
Xianhu Botanical Garden is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. It’s separated into six distinct areas: the Heaven and Earth Area, the Lake Area, the Temple Area, the Desert Landscape Area, the Petrified Forest Area, and the Conifers and Azalea Area. The different areas showcase different plants and landmarks, such as the Heavenly Pool and Hongfa Temple.
It’s a popular destination, so go on a weekday to try and avoid the crowds. You can expect to spend a few hours here, especially if you have kids. Some highlights of the garden are Hongfa Temple, which is the most popular and influential Buddhist Temple in Shenzhen, and Fairy Lake. You can stroll around the lake, or rent a paddle boat for an hour or so of fun.
Xianhu Botanical Gardens
Address: No.160 Liantang xianhu Road, Luohu District, Shenzhen 518004, China
Price: 20 CNY (3 USD) for adults and children above 4.9 feet (1.5 meters), 10 CNY (1.50 USD) for children between 3.9 and 4.9 feet (1.2 and 1.5 meters). Children below 3.9 feet (1.2 meters) are admitted for free
Opening Hours: 04:00 to 21:30. Certain gardens are open from 09:00 to 17:00.
Duration: At least 1 - 2 hours
Access: Take bus 382, 363, 220 or 202 to the Fairy Lake Botanical Garden bus stop
8. (Don’t) pick lychees at Lychee park
Lychee Park is so named for the 50 or so lychee trees that are planted around the lake. They bear fruit in the summer, but it always mysteriously disappears, whether they’re taken by birds or opportunistic tourists. Whether there are lychees or not when you go, don’t be that tourist. The locals will not be impressed.
Located in the Luohu District, it’s a great choice for those who don’t have the time to visit the bigger parks or nature reserves. You can stroll through the park while making your way to Shenzhen Stock Exchange. The park is full of classic arched bridges that criss-cross the lakes. You can feed the ducks or watch folk exercise in the evening. It’s a nice little park to spend an hour or two.
Address: 1001 Hongling Middle Rd, Futian, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China
Access: Walk from Hongling MTR Station
9. Get a bird eye’s view of Shenzhen and Hong Kong from Nanshan Park
Now you can workout and shop in the same day! The start of the Nanshan Mountain trail is within walking distance of the entrance of Seaworld (it’s a plaza, not an aquarium). From there, it’ll take about 2 - 3 hours to make it up and down. The trail is made up of about 700 steps, so if you’re not fit this might be a challenge. There are plenty of rest stops and viewing platforms along the way – you’ll be able to see the whole of the Nanshan District from the top.
Once you’ve scrambled up the mountain, you can look forward to getting back down to Seaworld and refuelling with good food.
Duration: around 2 to 3 hours required.
Access: Walk from Shekou line 2 to Seaworld Exit D
Shopping and more shopping
10. Watch the fountain display at Seaworld
No, you won’t find any orcas or dolphins here. Seaworld is a plaza that’s popular with locals and expats alike. It’s beautifully designed, and you should definitely visit when the sun is setting for some great views. Seaworld has a lot of Western and European cuisine. If chopsticks frustrate you and you’re looking for something a little more familiar, stop here for a meal.
The centrepiece of Seaworld is the Minghua, which was once a cruise ship. It’s now been beached and turned into a hotel. Every night, there are 2 ten-minute fountain shows that take place next to the Minghua. One is at 7 pm, and the other is at 8 pm. On weekends, an additional display takes place at 9 pm.
Address: Seaview plaza, Taizi Road, Shekou, Shenzhen, China
Access: Take the MTR to Seaworld Station
11. Overdose on caffeine at Nanhai E-cool
If Seaworld holds no appeal for you, you can always take a walk down to Nanhai E-Cool. It’s an old Sanyo factory that has been converted into more than a hundred small creative enterprises. You’ll find no shortage of cafes serving up coffee, snacks, and cakes. There are also many design shops, wine bars, and little hipster stores. There is also the occasional art installation.
It’s a nice, hip place to be in after the large chains of Seaworld.
Shekou Nanhai E-Cool
Address: 6 Xinghua Lu (next to Sea World), Shekou, Nanshan District
Access: Walk around Xinhua Road from Seaworld
12. Shop, wine, and dine at Coco Park
Get your credit card ready. Coco Park is a modern mall that has over 200 Chinese and international brands. It’s a one-stop spot for shopping, eating, and just enjoying the atmosphere of Shenzhen. Coco Park has a huge central square, which is usually packed with tourists and locals. If you’re looking for those famed cheap Chinese prices, you’ll be disappointed – Coco Park’s prices are usually higher than those in Hong Kong. You’ll definitely be paying for what you get though.
Even if shopping isn’t on your agenda, Coco Park is still great for food and entertainment. There are a ton of restaurants and cafés, all serving international and Chinese food. You can even stop by the Broadway Circuit cinema to watch a movie.
Galaxy Coco Park
Address: 268 Fuhua 3rd Rd, Futian, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China
Opening Hours: 10:00 to 22:00 on Mondays - Thursday and Sunday. 10:00 to 22:30 on Fridays and Saturdays.
Access: Take the Luobao Line or the Longgang Line to the Shopping Park Station
13. Get your geek on at Huaqiangbei District
Huaquangbei District in Futian houses the biggest electronics market in China. You can find anything – tiny, spare parts, computers, cameras, drones, selfie sticks – absolutely anything that you can think of technology-wise, it’s here. There’s probably a sentient robot in there somewhere plotting world domination!
The three main markets in the district are SEG Electronics, Huaqiang Electronics, and Cyber. The markets are like mazes; it’s very easy to lose your way in them.
If you’re worried about fake goods, well, good. There definitely are fake things here, but you can take precautions to make sure you’re not getting cheated. Apply common sense – if something seems to good to be true, it probably is. Make sure you get your items in their original, unopened box, and check that they’re working fine before handing over your money.
Address: Huaqiang Road
Access: You can walk to Huaqiang Road from the Huaqiang Road MTR Station and Huaqiang North MTR Station
14. Get lost in Dongmen Pedestrian Street
The general consensus is that you haven’t been to Shenzhen unless you’ve been to Dongmen Old Street. Dongmen spans several blocks and it consists of several malls, markets, side streets, and public spaces. It’s like a mall of shopping malls. It’s a shopping heaven. Here, you’ll find clothes, international brands, food, bags, shoes – basically anything you want.
Things are cheap, especially at the market stalls. A bit of bargaining will probably get you a good deal. Inside the malls, the prices are usually fixed, but you can keep an eye out for good discounts. If you’re keen on shopping, you can spend hours here. It’s packed during the weekends and public holidays, so try to go on the weekdays to avoid human traffic.
Dongmen Pedestrian Street
Address: Bu Xing Jie, DongMen, Luohu Qu, Shenzhen Shi, Guangdong Sheng, China, 518040
Access: You can walk there from Laojie MTR Station
15. Soak in the sun at the Dameisha and Xiaomeisha beaches
Found in the Yantian district, Dameisha is a coastal town best-known for its beach. Dameisha Beach is a wide, long stretch of fine sand with clear seawater glistening under the sun. It’s a popular beach, especially on weekends. Sculptures dot the beach – they were created by the ‘drifting generation’ of the 1940s - 1980s, depicting their wishes for a better life. You can also clamber about some rock formations along the coast.
Xiaomeisha is a smaller beach that is further up the beach. (Fun fact: da means big and xiao means small.) It has an entrance fee of 30 CNY (5 USD), and because of that it’s less crowded than Dameisha. It’s noted for having clear and beautiful water.
Address: No. 9 Dameishayanmei Road, Yantian District, Shenzhen 518081, China
Opening Hours: 08:00 - 01:00
Access: Take bus J1, N21 or M207. Alternatively, you can take the train from Luo Hu Station.
16. Rest and recharge at the Dapeng Peninsula
To get away from the city, why not take a day trip to the Dapeng Peninsula? Found in the southeast of Shenzhen, Dapeng boasts stunning coastal landscapes, ancient volcanoes, and lush forests. It’s surrounded by the sea on three sides, creating endless coastal features. Rock formations can be found along the many beaches that pepper the coastline. Some of the more popular beaches are Jinsha Bay, Xinchong, and Dongchong.
For now, the Dapeng Peninsula is still a quiet oasis, with secluded beaches and quiet mountain trails, making it a great place to enjoy being alone with nature.
Address: Dapeng Bay, Longgang District, Shenzhen 518100, China
Access: It’s very far from the city, so you might want to take a taxi
17. Commission your own painting at Dafen Village
Ever wanted a life-sized painting of yourself in a mid-century outfit? That dream can now come true – all you need is a trip to Dafen Village. It’s also known as the Dafen Oil Painting Village because it’s the largest producer of oil paintings in the world. There are thousands of artists there that paint and sell copies of great Western works. You can pick up your very own copy of the Mona Lisa, or bring a picture of whatever art you want. There’ll be someone there who can make it for you.
In addition to the overwhelming number of oil paintings that can be found there, you’ll also find art galleries, calligraphy, sculptures, and handicrafts. It’s a pleasant area that isn’t overwhelmingly crowded, and once you’ve gotten your fill of art you can stop by one of the little boutique cafes for a coffee.
Address: Buji Neighborhood Committee, Longang District, Shenzhen 518112, China
Access: Take the Longgang Line to Dafen Station. Take exit A1.
18. Visit the Hakka Villages in Pingshan
Found in the east of Shenzhen, Pingshan is largely populated by Hakka people today. Hakka Villages are large, multi-family, communal living structures that were constructed from the 17th Century onwards by the Hakka. The villages were constructed to be easy to defend – they had outer walls that were typically a meter (3.2 feet) thick, and were circular. Generally, Hakka villages only have one gate and no windows on the ground floor.
In Pingshan, there are three Hakka Villages that can be toured: Longtian Shiju, Dawen Shiju and Fengtian Shiju.
Out of the three, Longtian Shiju is the most well-preserved. It was built in the Qing Dynasty. Its style differs a little from the typical Hakka Village because it’s surrounded on three sides by water.
Access: Take the bus to Kengzhi Market Station
19. Wander through history at Dapeng Fortress
In a city as modern as Shenzhen, it’s hard to find any form of preserved history. Dapeng Fortress, though, is a Ming Dynasty walled town that has been fantastically preserved. It was initially built to defend the mainland from Japanese pirates, and then from the British during the Opium Wars.
You can wander about the streets of the fortress. People still live there, and you’ll find a variety of shops, restaurants, and guesthouses as well. Jiaochangwei, a little fishing village, is also nearby. There are many boutique guesthouses there too.
Do note that Dapeng is out of the way and will take about an hour of driving from Shenzhen. It’s recommended that you spend a night or two there to explore the fortress and the surrounding coastal areas.
Address: Nanmen West Street, Longgang District, Shenzhen 518120, China
Access: A taxi or a private driver is your best option
20. Learn about Shenzhen’s history (the sanitized version) at Shenzhen Museum
Before Shenzhen was a bustling metropolis, it was a sleepy market town, home to about 30,000 people who lived on farms and in rural villages. Although Shenzhen has been swept away on the tides of the 21st century, you can still learn about the past in Shenzhen Museum.
There you’ll find a fun and interactive of Shenzhen’s history, all the way from prehistoric times to the present day. You can wander about mock streets and squint at the artefacts on display. Do note, however, that this is China – the version of history that you’re getting here is a sanitized one, so take what you learn with a pinch of salt!
Address: 6 Tongxin Rd, Luohu, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China
Opening Hours: 10:00 to 17:30 on Tuesdays - Sundays. Closed on Mondays.
Access: Take Line 4 to the Shimin Zhongxin Station. Take Exit B.
Website: Shenzhen Museum
Contact: +86 755 755 8812 5800
21. Visit Tienhou Temple
Legend has it that when the Chinese explorer Zheng He set out on his expedition, he encountered a fierce storm in the Pearl River Delta area, but he survived. Tianhou, or Matsu, the goddess of the sea, appeared to the Chinese Emperor and told him that she had saved the expedition, and to build a temple to show his appreciation. Thus, Tienhou Temple was built.
Over the centuries, the temple has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, but it still retains an ancient air about it. You can take an hour or two to explore the temple grounds, visit the little museum inside, climb the drum tower, and take some pictures. The temple is still in use today, and the heady scent of incense helps to create an authentic and un-touristy air.
Opening Hours: Generally, temples close in the evening.
Access: Take the Shekou Line to Chiwan Station. Take Exit C.
Live like a local
22. Walk the streets of Nantou
The past and present have found a way to intertwine on the streets of Nantou, Shenzhen. It’s been around for over 1,700 years, and although urbanisation has left no corner of Shenzhen unscathed, Nantou still retains many historic landmarks. At the town’s South Gate, you can walk through a defensive wall that was built in the 14th century. The streets are a fascinating mix of ancient and modern – some are genuinely old, others have been rebuilt. You’ll find almost anything for sale on Nantou’s streets. Aside from the usual food and clothes, you’ll also find pets and the occasional medicinal stand.
23. Get a meal of BBQ and beer at the Xiangmihu Holiday Village
Xiangmihu Holiday Village is a popular haunt for Shenzhen locals who want a good time. Their agenda over there is to load up on two things 1) beer and 2) spicy barbecued food. It might not seem like the wisest combination, but that’s all part of the fun. You’ll find no shortage of restaurants within Xiangmihu that are dedicated to serving up grilled meats overloaded with pepper and spices.
Xiangmihu Holiday Village
Access: Take the MTR to Xiangmihu Holiday Station
24. Cross the border to Hong Kong for a day
There are several crossing points between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Many locals make the crossing every day, and you can join them! If you’re traveling from Shenzhen to Hong Kong, a visa isn’t required, but make sure you bring your passport.
The most convenient place to cross the border is at the Luo Hu MTR Station. Once you’re through the border crossing (which will take 30 - 40 minutes, depending on the crowd), you’ll find yourself on the Hong Kong side of the border, which is called Luo Wu.
25. Visit one of Shenzhen’s Walmarts
Yep, even in China, you cant escape Walmart. The Walmarts here, however, have a rather interesting twist to them. Expect to find tanks of live frogs and terrapins, meat – both raw and cooked – casually laid out for the taking, and rice. Lots and lots of rice. Also, the frozen section occasionally has crocodiles.
Aside from the novelty factor though, you genuinely can get useful things in Shenzhen’s Walmart. Sichuan peppercorns, for example, are hard to find anywhere else.
The past, the present, and the future
You have to remember that Shenzhen (the city) has only been around for 37 years. It’s extraordinarily young, even if the rapid growth has made it seem tired and world-weary. Some parts of the city, like Nantou, cling on to bits of the past. Others, like Futian, are sprinting into the future and the growth it promises. As you explore malls and temples, remember to take a breath and enjoy Shenzhen as it is, in the present.
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