Before you begin
Just across the border from Hong Kong on the Chinese mainland, lies the first tier city of Shenzhen, where around 15 million people live, work and entertain themselves.
Whether visiting or living in Shenzhen, this article will introduce some of the better scenic spots, historic sites and themed attractions. Shenzhen is a sprawling city covering ten districts, so you’ll need to plan carefully to make the most of your time – places to see are listed by district to make this easier.
Depending on your expectations, you may find some attractions quite touristy and possibly even tacky – but that’s the nature of Chinese entertainment. Take time to look beyond this, and you are likely to have some great experiences and get to sample the unique and wonderful culture that China offers.
Getting around Shenzhen
The well developed public transport system is both efficient and inexpensive. Choose from taxis, private drivers, buses and the ever expanding metro. Check out Getting around Shenzhen and Hong Kong Border Crossings, for more detailed information. There are also handy maps on most street corners, that although in Chinese will give you a good sense of your location and direction.
Tip: if you have a VPN, Google Maps shows streets in both English and Chinese. It’s a great resource for showing taxi drivers where you want to go and for finding your way around.
Finally, here you find the reviews of the best hotels in Shenzhen.
When to visit Shenzhen
Anytime of the year is good for a visit to Shenzhen. The climate is the same as sub tropical Hong Kong – mild winters and hot and humid summers. Shopping malls and larger restaurants are all air conditioned, but a mountain hike in 30 degrees might be better attempted in the cooler months.
It rains more in the summer months between May and September, but you’ll also experience days of clear blue skies to make the most of your visit. You certainly won’t experience the pollution of cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but the skies are hazier in the cloudier, winter months.
Plan your visit carefully around the times of Chinese festivals. Whilst many Chinese citizens leave Shenzhen to return to their home towns, you may find travel arrangements difficult. Hong Kong / Shenzhen borders are crowded and can be painfully slow to cross. Public transport is busy and sometimes even unattainable.
How long to stay in Shenzhen
For short visits from Hong Kong, a couple of days will certainly give you a taste of the city. If you want to visit two or three different districts then you’ll struggle to see everything in a week.
If you have a full tourist visa, you might be better spending a few days in Shenzhen followed by a trip into the neighbouring provinces to see the “real” China. Travel in China is relatively cheap, and high speed trains, buses and internal flights can whisk you inland quickly to more rural scenic areas of natural beauty.
A word on visas
You will need a valid visa to enter Shenzhen or be eligible for a five day VOA (visa on arrival) which can be obtained at the border. For more information on visas check out our comprehensive guide here – Chinese Visa Applications
Nanshan is in the south western area of Shenzhen and is home to many of the city’s attractions, as well as many of the technology businesses that have made the city famous. You could easily spend two or three days here if you enjoy theme parks, shopping, food and drink. The most popular attractions are listed below, but other options include the Shenzhen Safari Park, Shenzhen Bay Boulevard and Nantou Ancient Town Museum (currently closed for renovations).
1. Sea World
In the quieter suburb of Shekou, you’ll find Sea World – a popular plaza – not an aquarium as the name suggests. There are a lot of western and European style restaurants, cafes and clubs. It’s also popular for its imported German and Irish beers, and you’ll maybe feel at home in bars like McCawleys, The Tavern and the more upmarket Terrace – all catering for both the Chinese and the large expat community living in this area.
Central to Sea World is The Minghua, originally an ocean going liner, built by the French in 1962. It’s been remodelled into a hotel, with a large outdoor bar area and restaurants. Each evening at 7.00pm and 8.00pm you can watch a short, ten minute water fountain display, set to music with the ship as a backdrop. There’s an additional display at 9.00pm on the weekends. It’s a bustling area in the evenings with occasional live music. However, other than food, drink and promenading there isn’t much else to do here.
There’s a lot of development underway and a new luxury shopping mall, an arts centre and an iMax cinema are all due for completion by 2016. You can stroll along the seafront facing Hong Kong and there’s access to the newly constructed Hilton Hotel. If your budget is limited, there are a number of smaller Chinese hotels close by. I particularly like No. 6 Crystal Garden – a lovely boutique hotel on a quiet back street between Shekou Port and Sea World.
Metro: Shekou Line 2 (Orange) to Sea World – Exit A directly into Sea World Plaza.
2. Nanhai E-Cool
Just a short walk along XingHua Road from Sea World, you’ll find Nanhai E-Cool. This is the old Sanyo factory that has been redeveloped into more than 100 small creative enterprises.
If coffee is your thing then you won’t be disappointed. There are lots of small cafes serving excellent coffee, cakes and snacks. It’s a great place to lunch, away from the larger western chains in neighbouring Sea World. You’ll also find restaurants, wine bars, design shops, clothes and the occasional creative art installation. It’s beautifully shady too on a hot day as the small streets are lined with leafy trees.
If you enjoy street walking, you’ll have a more authentic experience if you venture just a little further west, past Nanhai E Cool continuing along Xinghua Road, and into Haicheng Street. You’ll find yourself very suddenly in the thriving Chinese community at Shuiwan. There are many small Chinese stores and restaurants serving good seafood, hotpot and Beijing duck. At night this area comes alive with street sellers and you’ll find good street food if you want a cheap “on the go” bite to eat. You can access this area from either Sea World or Shuiwan metro stations.
In my experience, you can wander quite safely here and explore the shops selling cheap trainers, t-shirts and bags. In Shangle Street which runs parallel to Haicheng Street, you can haggle in the small shops and get some good deals. There are also a few smaller Chinese supermarkets if you need to stock up on supplies.
Metro: Shekou Line 2 (Orange) to Sea World Exit A – follow directions for walking above.
Walking from Sea World Entrance – walk east along Xinghua Road, past Starbucks on the corner and turn left by Baking Workers.
3. Tien Hou Temple, Chiwan
Built originally in the Song Dynasty, the Tien Hou Temple has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. But by Shenzhen standards it appears old and is constructed in a traditional style. It’s not far from Sea World and you can take a taxi, metro or bus.
The temple is still in use and some of the buildings are being renovated to provide a small museum of the temple’s history. For a 15 Yuan entrance fee, you can walk wherever you want, climb three levels of buildings, explore the Drum Tower, take photographs and enjoy the pungent smell of incense. The temple is beautifully decorated, although a little worn at the edges, but it feels authentic and un-touristy.
There’s an incense burning area in front of a central hall where Tian Hou, goddess of the sea, dominates the lesser god of wealth, Caishen and the bodhisattva of compassion, Guanyin.
Find out more about the history of the temple here: The Goddess of Tianhou Temple
Metro – Shekou Line 2 (Orange) to Chiwan Exit C. Turn right – walk approx 10 minutes along the road.
Bus – M371 or 226 from outside Sea World Metro Exit C. Stops directly outside the temple.
4. Nanshan Mountain
Stand in the entrance to Sea World and look inland – you’ll see the lush green hills that make up Nanshan Mountain. This is a challenging hike, either up and down or on a circular walk. I say challenging, if you aren’t super fit, because it comprises over 700 neatly concreted steps to the top, generating far more of a burn on the calf muscles than a natural climb. Allow 1 to 1.5 hours for the up and down hike, or twice as long if you take the circular route. Look out for the map of the area on the left as you approach the entrance.
There’s no entry charge and the mountain is open from 6.00am – 9.00pm every day, although we’ve never seen it gated outside these hours. There are usually food sellers with fruit and water both on the way to the entrance and at the top of the mountain. There are also squat toilets at the top, but remember to take your own toilet paper!
On the way to the mountain you’ll pass the International Conference Centre on the left. In the basement of this building is a bowling alley with ping-pong tables. All equipment can be hired. It’s open between 3.00 and 10.30pm.
By Metro: Shekou Line 2 (Orange) to Sea World Exit D. Turn right out of metro and walk to Minghua Road. Turn right into Minghua Road and walk ahead to NanHai Blvd. Cross the road and turn left, then immediately right into Yanshan Road. You’ll pass a 7/11 store – cross to other side of road, continue past the Convention Centre until the road branches 3 ways. Yanshan Road continues left – follow this shaded road to the start of the walks. There are two routes up – look out for wooden signage on the way to the entrance that have maps detailing your options.
By Bus: To Haiyang Building (Haiyang Dasha)
From the West, alight from bus and turn right to corner of Minghua Road. Follow instructions above for Metro. From East, alight from bus and turn left until you reach Yanshan Road. Turn right, follow instructions above.
5. Window of the World
Window of the World is a large theme park (tacky alert!) providing the chance to stroll around miniature replicas of 130 of some of the most famous sights in the world. All of the continents are represented and you can visit the Sydney Opera House, The Palace of Versailles, Mount Rushmore and even journey by raft through the Grand Canyon.
The park provides plenty of interest if you have kids, although those “well travelled” might find this a little less exciting than the real thing! As well as the monuments, there’s a cable car, an indoor ski slope and an archery field. Night time entertainment and firework displays take place at the weekends.
Tickets (2015 Prices): Adults 160 Yuan, Children over 1.2m 80 Yuan. Children under 1.2m and seniors over 70 can enter free of charge. Evening performances are extra.
Opening hours: 9.00am to 22.30pm
Metro: Take Shekou Line 2 (Orange) to Window of the World station. Take exit J and the ticket office is directly ahead of you.