In just three decades, Shenzhen has risen from a humble village to a bold metropolis of 14 million residents. Today, it’s one of China’s most cosmopolitan and modern cities. People from around the world live in the Shenzhen, a transport hub for coastal southern China. The city leads in high-tech development, financial services, foreign trade, shipping and creative cultural industries. It ranked second for “economic strength” on The Economist magazine’s Global City Competitiveness List in 2012. You’ll find great food, shopping, bars, green spaces, attractions and musicians—locals call Shenzhen the “City of Pianos” because so many households have one.
Getting to and from the airport
Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport lies about 32 kilometers (20 miles) from downtown Shenzhen. Take the Luobao metro line from the airport. Or, depending on traffic, you can take a 35-minute shuttle bus ride (No. 330) to downtown for RMB 20 ($3.25 using the exchange rate $1 to RMB 6.15). A taxi will cost about RMB 100 to downtown.
Getting around Shenzhen
The city is large and sprawling, but the metro system is simple, efficient and expansive. Fares range from RMB 2 to RMB 5, depending on your journey.
You can get a taxi anywhere in Shenzhen, but don’t hail a taxi in non-stop areas. There are three types of taxis in the city—red, yellow and green. Red taxis can go anywhere. Green taxis are only allowed outside the Special Economic Zone, and yellow taxis only operate within the zone. Fares start at RMB 12.50. Make sure the driver starts the meter. And it’s a good idea to have your destination written in Chinese characters.
Where to stay
For luxury and upscale accommodation, try the Intercontinental Shenzhen (9009 Shennan Road; Ph: +86 755 3399 3388), Shangri-La Hotel Shenzhen (1002 Jianshe Road; Ph: +86 755 8233 0888), Grand Mercure Oriental Ginza Shenzhen (Zhuzilin, Shennan Boulevard, Futian district; Ph: +86 755 8350 0888), or the Marco Polo Shenzhen (Fuhua 1st Road; Ph: +86 755 8298 9888).
For midscale options, try the Novotel Shenzhen Bauhinia (Qiaocheng Dong road; Ph: +86 755 8282 9966), Ramada Plaza Shenzhen North (Meilong and Minwang roads; Ph: +86 755 8171 8888) or the Holiday Inn Express Luohu (6 Guiyuan North Road, Luohu district; Phone: +86 755 2559 6999).
Things to do and see
Fibi Yu, marketing specialist for BCD Travel in China, recommends a visit to Mangrove National Park, where you can swap city crowds and noise for the tranquillity of nature. Rent a bike or walk the boardwalk and admire the views of water and wildlife. At least 189 species of birds migrate through the preserve.
An area known as Overseas Chinese Town (OCT) contains a cluster of theme parks, hotels and attractions. One, Window of the World, features replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the Egyptian pyramids, Taj Mahal, Niagara Falls and more. It’s even got an indoor Alpine ski run. Happy Valley is a large theme park for all ages. Splendid China Folk Village reflects the history, culture, ancient architecture, art, customs and habits of the 56 different ethnic nations of China.
Visit OCT Loft, a former factory area turned art-and-design district. Idutang offers nightly performances by independent musicians, art exhibitions and movie screenings, as well as a peaceful outdoor terrace and a large drinks menu. Nearby you’ll find a design bookshop, a few commercial and non-profit galleries and some good bars and restaurants. On weekends, local designers set up stalls for a craft market.
Delve into local history at the Shenzhen Museum, which focuses on calligraphy and artefacts of Shenzhen. Also visit the He Xiangning Art Museum, which represents the traditions and culture of the Chinese people.
If you don’t suffer from vertigo, take the lift to the 68th floor of the Di Wang Building (also called Shun Hing Square). At 1,260 feet high, it’s one of the world’s tallest buildings and its top floors offer panoramic views of the city.
If you have time, head 50 kilometers east to the old Dapeng Fortress. This historic walled town was built to repel Japanese invaders in 1394. The fortress contains more than 1,000 houses, as well as shops and temples.
Where to eat
Mingle with the locals and get your fill of street food at Xiangmi Lake Food Street in the Futian District. Be warned: It does get packed. Between 70,000 and 80,000 people pass by every night.
Fibi Yu recommends the famous local delicacy of pork belly chicken soup, whose name in Chinese means “re-born phoenix.” This dish is a favorite with locals at Fuxiji. It’s at 1F, Materials Building, 3090 Ren Min Bei Lu, Luo Hu Qu, Shenzhen; Ph: +86 755 8225 4686.
For authentic Cantonese food, Fibi recommends Cui Yuan Jade Garden. Its menu of teas is comprehensive, although a bit pricey. You’ll find it at Shen Nan Avenue 9028, Yi Tian JiaRi Plaza l2 Floor 22-31, Shenzhen; Ph: +86 755 8860 6228.
Jiang Nan Wei Dao in the MixC Mall serves excellent food from China’s Jiangnan reg.ion at reasonable prices. Try the braised pork belly (dong po rou) and the fried pork buns (sheng jiang bao). A lunch for two shouldn’t cost much more than RMB 40 per person. You’ll find it at Shop B05, Level B1, The MixC, 1881 Bao’an South Road; Ph: +86 755 8269 0135.
For a fusion feast of Western, Chinese, Japanese and Thai food, go to Made in Kitchen. Here you’ll find hundreds of dishes on offer from sushi and dim sum to Thai curries. It’s at 7th floor, Kingglory Plaza, 2028 Renmin Lu, Shenzhen; Ph: +86 755 8261 1639.
For a post-work drink with a view, stop by the 360o Bar, Restaurant and Lounge. Menu highlights include classic French beef tartare served with black truffle and cognac emulsion or grilled lemon sole with kalamata olives, lemon and Cajun seasoning. It’s at the Shangri-La Hotel Shenzhen, East Side Railway Station, 1002 Jianshe Road; Ph: +86 755 8233 0888.