Okay, not quite 10 million.
But there is a lot to do in Shenzhen, a wonderful place I’ve called home for almost three years.
This southern Chinese city, which borders Hong Kong, is so much more than just tech markets and border crossings that it’s famous for.
Shenzhen actually has major tourist attractions as well as some amazing hidden gems. And I’ve seen them all!
So, if you’re stopping by this bustling city, here are my top picks.
1. Go to the top of Ping An
In my opinion, this is Shenzhen’s biggest claim to fame. It’s certainly its tallest!
The Ping An International Finance Center Tower is the fourth tallest building in the world and the second tallest in China. It stands at around 555 m (1,821 ft).
It towers over the Shenzhen skyline, making skyscrapers that would wow in most Western cities look positively puny.
There’s an observation deck at the top allowing for great views of the city and parts of Hong Kong. This is also home to museum exhibitions.
When I visited the Ping An Tower, I was lucky enough to see an exhibition from London’s V&A Museum.
I suggest visiting later in the afternoon. If you time it just right, you should be able to catch daytime, sunset and nighttime views all for the price of one admission ticket.
Admission costs 200 RMB (US$30) for an adult. In local terms, this is a hefty fee.
2. Soak up the sun at the beach
I bet you’re surprised to see this one on the list!
Shenzhen’s ‘local’ beaches are up to two hours away by car, depending on which one you choose to visit.
You can take public buses to get there or split a Didi with friends.
(Didi is an Uber equivalent and one of the best apps to have when traveling around China).
Be cautious when taking a taxi such a long distance as the driver may ask you to pay an additional cost to cover their return journey to the city.
There are plenty of beach trips regularly organized by local groups. Or, if you’re part of a big group, you could also chip in for a minibus or van.
Dameisha and Xiameisha
These beaches are the easiest to get to from Shenzhen. Unfortunately, this also means they’re the most popular so expect lots of people.
There are plenty of sun loungers and umbrellas to rent, although there is only a small area in which you’re allowed to swim.
Xichong and Dongchong
These beaches are a little further from the city, but more popular among foreigners. I think perhaps because they’re a little quieter overall.
My favorite of all Shenzhen beaches is Dongchong. At this one, you can rent surfboards, paddles boards and kayaks as well as take a trip on a banana boat. The waves are generally less than ideal for the seasoned surfer, but fun nonetheless.
Chinese people tend to avoid the midday heat and sunshine so these beaches can become very overcrowded later in the afternoon and early in the evening. During holidays and weekends, beaches will be filled with families.
I’ve found that at the busier beaches, smaller groups of foreigners can receive a little bit of unwanted attention in the form of stares or photo requests from locals.
I’m pretty sure it comes from a place of innocent curiosity, but can be a bit annoying.
I sometimes stare back or ask if I can take a photo of them too. After all, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!
There is a small entrance fee to get on to the beaches and generally dogs aren’t allowed. But for a seasoned expat like me, I’ve learned to sneak them on or promise the security guard that I’ll stay far away from everyone else.
Shenzhen beaches are well maintained overall, with public showers, bathrooms and shops nearby if not within the vicinity itself.
3. Visit Shuiwei Village
Located in Futian District, not too far from downtown Shenzhen, lies Shuiwei Village.
This bustling little area is a hidden gem in the modern city of Shenzhen and it truly comes alive at nighttime.
I’ve heard rumors that it was once the red light district of Shenzhen. Only rumors.
Decades ago, this area was a mere spider web of alleyways close to the Hong Kong border crossing, and essentially not too much has changed. It still feels quite local despite the appearance of foreign faces.
Shuiwei is home to a wide range of different bars and restaurants. Here you’ll find everything from hot pot and barbecue to dim sum. The street vendors here cook up some of the best snacks I’ve ever had.
Not entirely immune to the Westernization of Shenzhen, Shuiwei is also home to a few international restaurants and bars.
Here you’ll find arguably the best Italian food and tapas in the entire city, while other bars host weekly events such as trivia, open mics and board games nights.
One of my personal favorite spots in Shuiwei is a tap room where you can sample craft beer from breweries all across China.
The streets are also lined with massage parlors in which you can get a foot and shoulder massage for around 60 RMB (US$10).
They tend to stay open pretty late. And, let me tell you this might be the perfect end to a night filled with good food and perhaps a little too much beer.
4. See the Light of the Bay Area Ferris Wheel
Think of the London Eye, but in Shenzhen. There you have it.
Now, I will confess that I haven’t actually been on the wheel. At the time of writing this, it’s a relatively new addition to the city which means long lines.
With that said, the area around the wheel is also really nice. There’s lots of greenery, views of the bay and plenty of restaurants, both Western and Chinese, to enjoy.
Canadian coffee chain, Tim Hortons, even has a store there!
This area is actually pretty chilled out even in the evening. It’s a nice spot to grab dinner, enjoy the sunset and stretch your legs a little in the cooler evening air.
However, on weekends and holidays it becomes jam-packed.
5. Go hiking
Shenzhen is a sprawling city and what better way to see it than from above?
No, I don’t have my own private helicopter, yet. I’m talking hiking.
We’re lucky to have lots of hiking trails, each offering a different view of this modern metropolis. There are so many to choose from, but I’ve narrowed it down to my top three.
Full disclaimer: this top three changes depending on what kind of mood I’m in.
Wutong is the highest mountain in Shenzhen at 984 m! That’s over 3,000 ft.
Aside from bragging rights, it offers various trails, waterfalls, pools to cool off in and views of Hong Kong from the top.
Take a light jacket as it can get pretty chilly up there regardless of how warm it was when you set off.
This is another very popular hike. It’s located a stone’s throw away from Sea World, which I talk about further down.
At around 400 m, it’s one of the shorter hikes in the city. From the top, you can see the port and surrounding ocean.
This hike is great if you’re on a little bit of a time crunch as it can be done in only a few hours and is close to a metro station.
‘Shan’ (山) is the Chinese word for mountain.
This is my third and final hiking spot recommendation. And it’s my favorite one.
Yangtai Mountain is located in the north of the city so offers a really great view of the skyline. Seeing the city from this angle made me truly comprehend how tall Ping An is!
There are several different routes to the top and you could spend all day getting lost on them. It’s around 587 m (1,925 ft) to the very top.
Just remember to start making your way out before dark as some paths are less maintained, making them a little trickier to navigate without light.
Many hikes in Shenzhen actually follow paths of stairs, although the bigger mountains do also have more traditional hiking paths.
6. Visit Nantou Ancient Village
Spoiler alert: it’s not actually an ancient village.
Once filled with locals and alleyways of ramshackle homes, the area has recently been rejuvenated.
Now, Nantou Ancient Village is home to trendy coffee shops, local artists and creatives of all types. Still, despite its lack of authenticity, it’s still worthy of a visit.
You can really see the blend of old meets new among the cobbled streets and edgy window displays.
You can walk through the ruins of the city’s gates and there are a few plaques providing a bit of information regarding the origins and history of Nantou.
While this is somewhat sad that locals were relocated for what is essentially a tourist attraction, you can explore the area surrounding the village and catch a glimpse of what the entire area was like at one point.
Nantou is definitely undergoing massive change. Each time I visit, there is something new to take in and often the area holds special parties and events.
7. Enjoy the kitsch that’s Window of the World
You’ve probably heard of Around the World in 80 Days, but what about traveling around the world in only a few hours?
In Shenzhen you can!
At Window of the World you can visit smaller replicas of the world’s top attractions. You can have breakfast by Mount Rushmore then lunch at the Coliseum if you so desire.
Is it a little tacky? Perhaps.
Is it a little weird seeing the Eiffel Tower in the middle of a Chinese city? Yes.
Is it worth spending a day there to take silly pictures? Hell yes!
Window of the World is located about 13 km (8 mi) from downtown Shenzhen, and it’s fairly easy to get to.
You can take metro line 1 which takes you right outside. The station actually looks like the Louvre!
If you can’t be bothered catching public transport though, local tour operator Trip can take you to Window of the World (or any of the major attractions in Shenzhen).
8. Chill out at Sea World
This is expat heaven.
For someone like me who has lived here for a few years, if you ever want to forget that you’re in China, then this is the place for you.
No, this is not the infamous water park. Shenzhen’s Sea World is actually a giant outdoor plaza built around a retired cruise ship.
Located in Shekou which is a sub-district of Nanshan – the district with the most foreigners living in it – this is a social hub for many an expat.
Here you can find virtually any type of food you want: Brazilian, Mexican, Italian, German, Indian, British, American, Turkish…
There’s even a little bit of Chinese in there too if you look hard enough.
Sometimes at the weekends or around the holidays, there are little markets selling handicrafts.
You can even board the ship, which is called the Ming Hua, and enjoy a bite to eat as you people-watch the families enjoying the area.
There’s a fountain and light show daily, complete with a cheesy pop song or Disney number as its backing track. You can watch this from the ship’s deck or from the surrounding area.
9. Have fun at Happy Valley
Happy Valley is a theme park. Theme parks are fun!
It has three big rollercoasters, a river rapids ride and a crazy boomerang-esque water ride that will drench you. There are lots of other smaller attractions too.
There’s also a water park attached to it, but this is closed at certain points throughout the year. If you’re desperate to splash around, I recommend checking if it’s open ahead of time.
Yes, I did arrive at the theme park with my bikini on under my clothes, only to be disappointed.
Unlike many theme parks I’ve been to, not just in China, this one is really conveniently located in the middle of the city. It’s only a 10-minute walk from one of Shenzhen’s main metro lines.
The park isn’t massive in terms of size, but it’s definitely big enough to fill a day.
There are various performances throughout the day as well as seasonal events throughout the year.
10. See Dafen Oil Painting Village
This little neighborhood is home to over a thousand painting workshops and more than 10,000 painters!
It’s been said that, at one point, upwards of half of all oil paintings sold in the world came from Dafen Village. It seems like a tall tale, but it could very well be true.
It’s located a little bit out of the city center in the northeastern district of Longgang, but is well connected by metro.
While you could spend a few hours just wandering these streets and admiring paintings, there is plenty to do here if you love art.
The Dafen Art Museum is free to visit and holds around 40 different exhibitions each year. You can also try out painting for yourself at one of the workshops. An oil painting experience is usually under 100 RMB (US$15).
It might be quite obvious, but worth noting that the paintings are replicas. Don’t expect to find a Van Gogh treasure in these streets.
Nonetheless, the skill needed to produce such quality art is very impressive.
If you’re on vacation in Shenzhen and wondering what you can bring back for your family and friends, paintings make great souvenirs.
You can also check out this blog for more Chinese souvenir ideas.
Coco Park is actually the name of a shopping mall underneath Ping An and is filled with bars and nightclubs. After dark, you’ll either love or loathe this place!
Shenzhen Bay Park features a running track and breathtaking views of Hong Kong. There’s a path you can follow along the bay which will eventually bring you to Sea World.
Lianhuashan Park is right in the middle of the city. There’s a great view of the Civic Center from the top of the hill.
Frequently asked questions about Shenzhen
Where is Shenzhen located?
Shenzhen is on the coast of southeast China. It’s one of the most heavily populated cities in Guangdong province. Shenzhen is less than 30 km (18 mi) from Hong Kong.
Why is Shenzhen important?
It’s China’s biggest tech city so it’s important for innovation. It has a stock exchange and is one of China’s most influential business hubs. It’s geographically close to Hong Kong which makes it strategically important. And in recent decades, migrants from all over China have come to Shenzhen to make a living (it was previously an undeveloped fishing village).
What’s the best thing to do in Shenzhen?
People really enjoy hiking in the mountains, which are lush and green, or going to one of the beaches (which are up to two hours away). If you prefer touristy things, you could climb Ping An Tower, visit Shuiwei Village or see the kitsch Windows of the World.
Heading to Shenzhen soon?
If you’re planning a trip to China, don’t forget the internet is censored.
So, when using Wi-Fi you won’t have access to your favorite sites and apps like Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Gmail, Google and heaps more, unless you get a VPN before you go.
Just make sure you download it before you arrive as the signup page will be blocked in China.
As you can see, there is plenty to keep you busy in Shenzhen.
Like most cities in China, you’ll experience crowds most places you go. But making minor tweaks to your itinerary, like visiting one of the beaches further out, can make all the difference.
It’s easy to get around Shenzhen on your own, but if you need to jump on a tour then check out local operator Trip.
And, if you have a recommendation, let me know in the comments so I can go and check it out.
I hope you get to experience Shenzhen soon!
Are you traveling all around China? I recently visited Inner Mongolia and absolutely loved it. Check it out.
Main image credit: Supplied by Olivia Seaton-Hill.