Visiting China soon? Start here

Visiting China soon? Start here

Shenzhen Travel Guide

Province

Guangdong

Location

South China

Population

12 million

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Language

Cantonese

Welcome to Shenzhen!

Remarkably safe, innovative, and exciting, Shenzhen is located in Guangdong province and adjacent to Hong Kong. It’s one of the biggest and most liveable cities in China. This is quite a change from its humble beginnings as a small seaside town.

Shenzhen was made a special economic zone in 1979. This meant it was open to foreign business and the city has expanded and thrived since then. Migrants from all over China moved to the city looking for work and to make money.

Shenzhen is connected to Hong Kong by bullet train, making it a popular day trip for tourists short on time. In fact, it takes just 19 minutes to travel from Kowloon to Shenzhen!

Filled with tech companies, global corporations, and creatives, Shenzhen has a reputation for being free-spirited and on the cutting edge of modern life, and this reputation is well deserved.

It also has a thriving arts, music and cultural scene, as well as great food and shopping.

Shenzhen city skyline

Shenzhen is big, modern and booming. Image by Charlottees on Pixabay.

Kids playing with art in Shenzhen

The city is increasingly known for its modern art. Image by Minator Yang on Unsplash.

The tourist experience in Shenzhen

Shenzhen has become a city of over 10 million people in just a few decades.

Because of this population explosion, many of the city’s historical landmarks were knocked down to make way for towering skyscrapers. You won’t get the same cultural smack in the face here as you would in Beijing.

However, Shenzhen makes up for this with lots of modern attractions like amusement parks and shopping centers. It also has some good beaches if you want to catch some waves or sun.

Happy Valley amusement park Shenzhen

A ride at Happy Valley Amusement Park. Image by Victor Jiang on Shutterstock.

You’ll find more English in Shenzhen than in other Chinese cities, mostly because it gets so many foreigners. Recently, the Chinese government has also started to use English on street signs and other key places around the city.

This makes navigating Shenzhen easy for tourists. However, the level of English among the locals still varies wildly, so you should still have your hotel name written in Chinese characters on your phone in case you get lost.

Things to do in Shenzhen

Shenzhen has some great attractions to keep people of all ages busy.

Just keep in mind that Shenzhen is situated in the tropical south of China. The city gets particularly muggy in the middle of the year, and you’re going to sweat if you do lots of walking.

1. Visit OCT Loft Creative Culture Park

OCT Loft Creative Culture Park

Get cultural at OCT Loft. Image by K.Shun on Shutterstock.

A lot of people think of Shenzhen as a tech and economic hub, rich and innovative, but hardly creative. But this line of thinking is in error. Shenzhen is actually almost as famous for its creative spirit and is fast becoming the creative capital of China.

You can experience this heart at the OCT Loft Creative Culture Park. Inside it, you’ll find an amazing collection of bookstores, art galleries, live music venues, bars, and quirky coffee shops.

Wandering around the massive complex is a great way to spend an afternoon, or even a couple of days!

2. Hike the Nanshan Mountains

Nanshan Mountain

Nanshan Mountain is close to the city. Image by HelloRF Zcool on Shutterstock.

Even if you enjoy cities, it can be nice to get out of them and get back to nature. The Nanshan Mountains are just 30 minutes from the center of Shenzhen and offer a moderate hike up to the summit and some beautiful views.

On a clear day, you can even see Hong Kong’s skyline with the help of some binoculars.

Despite its close proximity to downtown Shenzhen, the mountains feel like a tranquil retreat away from the noise and bustle and are a must-see in the city.

3. Eat, shop and dine at Sea World

Sea World Shenzhen

Chill out at Sea World. Image supplied by Olivia Seaton-Hill.

If you have a little extra money to spend and want to get out of the sultry weather, an afternoon at Sea World is the perfect antidote.

But this isn’t an amusement park. It’s a high-end entertainment area in the Westernized Shekou district, just a stone’s throw from Nanshan Mountain.

Here, you’ll find international restaurants, high-class hotels, parks and shopping malls.

And just a short stroll from Sea World is Keg Room, a Western bar that focuses on Chinese craft beer.

4. Look through the Window of the World

Window of the World

Window of the World metro station. Image by Dann19L on Shutterstock.

Window of the World is a theme park that pays tribute to 130 global attractions.

Seeing the Eiffel Tower and other attractions in miniature and as the locals think of them is truly an unusual experience.

It’s one of those only-in-China experiences that you just have to do!

5. Explore Shenzhen Museum

If you want to learn more about how Shenzhen became the way it is, then visit the Shenzhen Museum.

With exhibits stretching back to prehistoric times, the museum explores the history of human habitation in the region.

You can also learn more about how Shenzhen has changed over the last 40 years since it became a special economic zone and opened to the rest of the world. It’s amazing to watch how rapidly Shenzhen changed with this outside influence.

6. Wander around Nantou Ancient Village

Nantou Ancient Village

Temple gates at Nantou. Image by Victor Jiang on Shutterstock.

Although Nantou is not actually an ancient village, it’s still worth checking out.

Once filled with alleyways of ramshackle homes, the area has recently been rejuvenated. It now has trendy coffee shops, local artists and creatives of all types.

Walk through the ruins of the city’s gates and find plaques providing a bit of information about the origins and history of Nantou.

You can really see the blend of old meets new among the cobbled streets and edgy window displays.

7. Visit Dafen Oil Painting Village

Dafen Oil Painting Village

Visit Dafen if you like reproduction art. Image supplied by Olivia Seaton-Hill.

Over the years, Shenzhen has expanded and swallowed up the small villages that were once laid out around it.

Many of these villages have disappeared into the steel of the city, but some are still distinct and fascinating areas.

Dafen Oil Painting Village is one of the most creative parts of the city. Around 60% of the oil paintings in the Chinese market comes from this village and it’s filled with creatives of all kinds.

Wander the streets, watch the painters, or even try your hand at creating a work of art yourself while you’re there.

Want even more ideas on things to do? Take a read of Olivia’s blog about visiting Shenzhen.

Where to eat in Shenzhen

Although Shenzhen isn’t as famous for its food as cities like Hong Kong, it does boast food from all over China.

Shenzhen has a large number of migrants from all over China, most of whom brought their food traditions to their new city. So, you can expect to eat a huge range of cuisines from within China and from other countries while you’re visiting Shenzhen.

Be prepared to put on some weight while you’re visiting, and don’t worry about it until you get home!

dim sum

Dim sum is popular in Shenzhen. Image by StrippedPixel.com on Shutterstock.

Food delivery Shenzhen

Locals get their food delivered via apps. Image by Enxyclo Digital Agency on Unsplash.

Ba Shu Feng 巴蜀风

This restaurant is truly legendary in the city. It has recently moved to the basement of a shopping mall and offers everything from mild dishes to food that will burn your tongue, your throat, and probably everything else as well.

Expect queues, as it’s popular with the locals, but it’s worth the wait.

Address: 181 Fenghuang Rd, HuangBeiLing, Luohu Qu

Phoenix House 凤凰楼

If you like dim sum, then try the offerings at Phoenix. One of the most popular Cantonese restaurants in Shenzhen, it offers a huge range of delectable dim sum.

Cheap and cheerful, it gets crowded, so expect a lot of noise as well as a delicious meal.

Address: 4002 Huaqiang Beilu, East Wing, Pavilion Hotel

Zhuo Yue Xuan

Sometimes it’s nice to spend a little extra money on a meal and this restaurant is a good place to do it.

Serving award-winning Cantonese cuisine in elegant, refined surroundings, the chef cooks up innovative versions of traditional dishes. It also has facilities for business dinners and private functions.

Address: Four Seasons Hotel Shenzhen, 138 Fuhua San Road Futian District

The Kitchen

If you’ve been traveling too long and need a familiar meal, then head over to the Kitchen. Famous among expats for its tasty Western dishes at good prices, it’s a no-frills restaurant with good service and food. You’ll find everything from pizza and burgers to Tex Mex on the menu.

It will also be full of other travelers and expats looking for a taste of home, so make sure that you swap some stories while you’re there.

Address: 144 Min Tian Road, Futian, CoCo Park Entertainment District

The best food markets in Shenzhen

Shenzhen doesn’t have as many traditional markets as other Chinese cities, but it does have a flourishing street food scene if you know where to go.

Dongmen

This market is for anyone who wants to eat strange food on sticks, grilled meats of all kinds, stinky tofu, and shellfish. You can also buy random goods and will enjoy the friendly, delicious smelling atmosphere.

Address: Yongxin Lu, Luohu District 罗湖区永新路

Dongmen Market

Dongmen is popular and always busy. Image by Dann19L on Shutterstock.

Baishizhou

This area was booming until COVID-19 took its toll. The alleyways are now empty and few shops have managed to stay open.

Hopefully this will change though, and the once-flourishing street food scene just north of Jiangnan Supermarket swings back into gear.

Address: Jiangnan Supermarket, 92 Shahe Jie, Nanshan District 南山区沙河街92号江南百货

Baishizhou

Baishizhou has a good vibe. Image by Stefano Zaccaria on Shutterstock.

Huaqiangbei

This area is filled with restaurants and shops as well as small street food stalls. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many street food vendors as there used to be, but what’s there is first rate and worth trying.

Particularly good is the ‘chang fen’ (rice noodle roll), the Guangdong region’s trademark breakfast food.

Address: Zhonghang Lu, Futian District 福田区中航路

Where to stay in Shenzhen

As a popular tourist city, there are lots of great Shenzhen accommodation options. No matter your budget or taste, you should be able to find somewhere comfortable.

Budget

Located close to the Creative Culture Park, the Shenzhen LOFT Youth Hostel is a great choice if you’re on a budget but want to be close to the city’s creative heart.

The hostel is located in an older building once created for workers and the builder kept the older architectural features while adding modern amenities. Close to transport options, this hostel prides itself on fostering cultural understanding as well as environmental and social awareness.

Mid-range

The Shenzhen Shekou No.6 Garden Hotel is just a few minutes walk from Sea World, the famous shopping area, as well as public transport. It offers bright, cheerful rooms with wood furnishings and seating areas.

There’s also a café on site offering Western food in case you need a comforting meal while you’re in the city.

High end

For real luxury while in Shenzhen, why not stay at the Park Hyatt Shenzhen? Located in the Futian District, it offers a swimming pool, fitness center, and large rooms that come in a variety of sizes.

This hotel is also close to local attractions and to transport options, making it convenient as well as elegantly comfortable.

Transport in Shenzhen

Like most Chinese cities, transport in Shenzhen is fast, modern and convenient, but often crowded, so avoid traveling where possible in peak hours.

Air travel

Shenzhen Airlines

Shenzhen Airlines is the local airline. Image by Wangkun Jia on Shutterstock.

Shenzhen’s sleekly modern airport is known as Shenzhen Bao’an Airport (SZX).

It connects Shenzhen with most of the larger cities around China as well as international cities like Singapore, Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur.

Shenzhen’s airport is around 20 miles from the city’s downtown area, and you can easily reach it using the shuttle or airport bus.

High speed rail

Shenzhen benefits from the high-speed rail system that China is famous for. This city is one of the most important transportation hubs in south China, and has several big lines crossing through it.

You can take a high-speed train from Shenzhen to almost any city in mainland China and to Hong Kong as well.

There are several big stations in the city and the trains are fairly reasonably priced, though more expensive than the long-distance buses.

Long distance bus

The long-distance buses in Shenzhen are cheaper than the trains but they’re also slower and they don’t run as efficiently, so don’t be surprised if they’re late.

There are more than 40 bus stations in Shenzhen and the buses travel to most major cities in Guangdong province.

Shenzhen Metro

Shenzhen Metro train

The Metro is quick and efficient. Image by Andy Leung on Pixabay.

Shenzhen’s subway system is extensive, easy to use, and cost effective. Tickets range between 2 and 11 RMB and the trains are safe and punctual.

You can buy a ticket for the trains at the bilingual machines located at the stations or use a Shenzhen public transport card, which you can get from vending machines at the station. You can find out more on the official Shenzhen Metro website.

If you have a few extra minutes to read, check out Fiona’s stressful experience navigating the Shenzhen Metro and border crossing.

Local bus

Local Shenzhen buses

The city’s local buses. Image by Enxyclo Digital Agency on Unsplash.

Shenzhen’s bus system is cheap, convenient, and the buses go everywhere. However, the schedules are mostly written in Chinese, so you will need your smartphone to get around.

You can pay using WeChat or with cash, though remember that there is no change given on the buses.

Taxis and rideshare

Taxis are plentiful in Shenzhen, but the roads can get extremely crowded. At the moment, there are different colored taxis for different parts of the city. However, in the near future all of the taxis will be blue electric cars.

Taxis are fairly cheap in Shenzhen and you will need to pay through WeChat or Alipay. If you don’t have either of these, you can pay with cash, but you will need to let the driver know before you get into the cab.

There are also thousands of Didi and other rideshare drivers across the city. Just remember that drivers may not speak a lot of English, so be prepared to use the app to communicate and translate.

Learn more about the popular apps used in China.

Traveling outside Shenzhen

While you’re in Shenzhen, take the chance to travel to some of these amazing areas.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong busy street

HK is a stone’s throw from Shenzhen. Image by Marci Marc on Pixabay.

Traveling to Hong Kong while you’re in Shenzhen should be a no-brainer. It’s just 20 minutes away by train and is one of the food, shopping, and business capitals of the world.

Hong Kong is also very foreigner friendly, with lots of English everywhere, so if you need to visit a place that feels a little more familiar, give it a try.

Be aware that Hong Kong doesn’t use the same currency as the rest of China, so be prepared to convert your money. And if you have the time, take the ferry over to Macau for a whole new culture and cuisine, and even some gambling (which is banned on the mainland).

Read more in our Hong Kong travel guide.

Zhuhai

Just over two hours from Shenzhen by car is Zhuhai. This city is another special economic zone, and it boasts great coastlines, golf courses, parks and wetlands.

There are also lots of tropical islands within reach of Zhuhai, which are ideal if you’re into exploring, hiking, or even just laying on the beach.

If you want to visit Hong Kong but are worried about the cost, Zhuhai is a good alternative.

Guangzhou

Guangzhou Opera House

Guangzhou Opera House. Image by GuoZhongHua on Shutterstock.

Guangzhou is the third largest city in China and is just under two hours from Shenzhen by train, so would make for a good day trip or weekend away.

Book a show at the Guangzhou Opera House or take the kids to Chimelong Tourist Resort, a huge theme park.

Read more in our Guangzhou travel guide.

Videos about Shenzhen

Get a visual taste of Shenzhen before you visit!

Here’s a great close-up of the street food in Shenzhen, including the Dongmen and Baishizhou areas.

And if you’re into history, learn how the city transformed in just 40 years.

Don’t forget…

 

It’s easy to forget a thing or two before you head to China.

So, here are some reminders for you:

  • The right visa – if you’re only staying for a quick trip, you may be eligible for visa-free travel.
  • Cash or Alipay – your credit card may not be accepted, so bring yuan or use Alipay.
  • VPN app – if you want access to all your favorite websites and apps in China, you’ll need to download a VPN before you leave your country. Get a VPN that works in China.

Have a wonderful time in Shenzhen!

Questions and comments

Let’s chat about Shenzhen!

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Page last updated 17 May 2022. Main image credit: Baiting on Pixabay. Commercial relationship disclosure: The Helpful Panda has commercial arrangements with organizations that may appear on this page, such as affiliate links. See our terms for more info.

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