20 Best Things to Do in Shenzhen, China

Nearly 50 years ago, Shenzhen was little more than a market town, but it has evolved into a city of more than 12 million people and one of China's top retail destinations. Many visitors arrive in Shenzhen to take advantage of its multitudes of shopping centers and stores that sell just about anything you can imagine. It's a great city to buy hand-tailored clothing, art replicas, and high-tech toys.

The city connects Hong Kong to China's mainland and is one of the largest and most popular cities in southeast China. It is best known for shopping and entertainment, thanks to its large malls and many family-friendly amusement parks. Whether you're passing through or plan to spend a few days in Shenzhen, there is much more to see beyond the shops. Whether you take some time to enjoy recreational gardens and golf courses or go on a gastronomic adventure through the city's many street food zones, Shenzhen has a lot to offer.

01 of 20

Stroll Through Fairy Lake Botanical Garden

Yellow Dancing Lady Orchid

Paul Starosta / Getty Images

Luohu District, Shenzhen, China

The Fairy Lake Botanical Garden sits alongside the city's man-made reservoir and is home to over 8,000 plant species. The public garden functions as a site for science and botanical research, but is also open for visitors. Within the park, there are many themed gardens dedicated to bamboo, magnolias, rare trees, and more. There is also a Butterfly House, where visitors can appreciate these fluttering insects while admiring rare and unique orchid varieties like the Dancing Lady.

In addition to the educational museums and exhibitions located throughout the garden, there are also many beautiful sites such as the pagodas and bridges that adorn the lake and an active Buddhist temple. There are nearly 20 hiking trails in the park that weave through the gardens and also connect to the city's greenway and Mount Wutong Shan.

02 of 20

Visit a Hakka Village

A lot of tourists spending a vacation at the traditional Gangkeng Chinese Hakka village in Shenzhen, China

ZZ3701 / Getty Images

In the southern provinces of China, Hakka villages were once a common building style in which villages were built with large defensive walls. Many Hakka structures fell into disrepair or were demolished to make way for urbanization, but there are still places you can visit to see original Hakka buildings. If you don't have a lot of time to explore villages in Guangdong and other nearby provinces, you can check out the Longgang Museum of Hakka Culture where you can see examples of Hakka-style buildings.

03 of 20

Taste the Street Food

Grilled oysters in Shenzhen China

Zhen Xue / Getty Images

Shenzhen is rich in elaborately decorated dim sum restaurants like the Shang Palace in the Shangri-La Hotel, but you can also get an authentic taste of the local culture by exploring the traditional dishes and snacks being cooked up by the city's street food vendors. There are many tours available that can guide you through the city's best eats, but the major street food spots to go on your own are the Dongmen Street Food Market, Baishizhou, and Shiuwei, where you'll find one of the city's best stands for roujiamo, which is a bun stuffed with succulent pork belly.

Stalls and restaurants represent all regions of China and sell a huge variety of tasty treats, from barbecued meat skewers to Jian Bing pancakes and candy-coated fruit. These are typical finds for any street food market in China, but in Shenzhen, you should go out of your way to try the oysters. They are locally shucked and farmed in nearby bays.

04 of 20

Go Golfing

Golfer in action at Mission Hills Golf Course

Victor Fraile Rodriguez / Getty Images

Shenzhen is home to some of China's best golf courses, including the world's largest. Mission Hills Golf Course has 216 holes among its 12 championship courses, each of which was designed by world champion golfers like Jack Nicklaus and Annika Sörenstam. The Mission Hills complex also has the largest tennis court in Asia, with 51 courts, and its own development with hotels, apartments, parks, and shopping complexes. The golf course is located about an hour outside of the city center, but if you can't get a tee time at Mission Hills, you have many other options in Shenzhen such as the Wind Valley Golf Club in OCT East that has two 18-hole courses.

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05 of 20

Watch Art in Action at Da Fen Oil Painting Village

Da Fen Oil Painting Village

Palani Mohan / Getty Images

Longgang, Shenzhen, China, 518112

Most major Chinese cities now host artist's villages, where thousands of artists live and create replicas of the world's best paintings. Da Fen, which became an artist's hub in the 1980s, stands out for its impressive past—it once produced more than 60 percent of the world's oil paintings. Just don't expect a quaint artist's retreat—the over 5,000 artists in Da Fen often produce the paintings in factory conditions, turning them out like cars on a production line.

There are also hundreds of individual artists who will paint a replica of Rembrandt or Monet in just a few hours with paintings costing as little as $40. Even if you don't plan on buying a piece of art, it's a fascinating cultural phenomenon, and walking through the dusty streets, lined with works by the great masters, is nothing short of surreal.

06 of 20

Explore Window of the World

Shenzhen window of the world in miniature landscape attraction.

Zhang Zhenghua / Getty Images

Nanshan, Shenzhen, China

Window of the World is Shenzhen's number one attraction. It is a collection of about 130 replicas of world sights and landmarks, all within the 120-acre theme park. The word "miniature" doesn't really do the recreations justice as in some cases they are two-thirds of the size of the original.

The focus is firmly on Europe, with recreations of London's Houses of Parliament, Paris's Eiffel Tower, and Rome's Colosseum. On top of the replicas, you'll find themed streets and food as well as dance shows. The park also puts on an impressive laser and light show. With its amusement park atmosphere, Window of the World is an excellent way to keep the kids entertained all day long.

07 of 20

Enjoy Theme Parks at OCT East

Tea Stream Valley

 Sitriel / Getty Images 

Overseas Chinese Town (OCT) is a massive complex consisting of nature parks, theme parks, and cultural villages. In OCT East there are two main theme parks: Knight Valley and Tea Stream Valley. Knight Valley has a water park, a tropical forest, and a skywalk made of glass, while Tea Stream Valley is the more meditative park where you can enjoy the natural setting of the Wetland Garden, take tea in the Sanzhou Tea Garden or the Ancient Tea Town.

08 of 20

Shop for Bargains

The interior of Luohu Commercial City shopping mall in Shenzhen

Jon Hicks / Getty Images

Closed Area, Hong Kong
Phone +86 755 8233 8178

There are shopping centers for almost anything you want to buy, but you'll save money if you plan and do a little research. Luohu Commercial City is where most day-trippers from Hong Kong shop. Featuring over 700 shops spread across five floors, Commercial City is an intense shopping experience with hundreds of salespeople and hustlers all jostling for your attention. It is here that you'll find some knock-offs, but at Commercial City you're going to find that quality corresponds to how much you pay. The best buys here are clothing like tailored suits, but you can also get cut-rate massages.

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09 of 20

See the Terracotta Warriors at the Folk Village

Terracotta Warriors

China Photos / Getty Images

Unnamed Road, GXJQ+FFX华侨城南山区深圳市广东省 China, 518053

If you like Window of the World, you should also see the Splendid China Folk Village, which is the sister site to Window of the World. This attraction focuses on the history, art, architecture, and culture of Mother China. It offers replicas of the country's best sights, such as the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors.

10 of 20

Take in the View from Diwang Mansion

Diwang Mansion

 Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

XX6Q+9F2, Chang Ping Da Dao, Dong Guan Shi, Guang Dong Sheng, China, 523560

You can see all the way to the Shenzhen-Hong Kong border from Diwang Mansion, one of Shenzhen’s tallest buildings. On the 69th floor of the Meridian View Centre, there are telescopes you can use to view the details of the city streets. Some of the city's other marvel-worthy skyscrapers include the Ping An International Finance Center, KK100, and the China Resources Headquarters.

11 of 20

Learn Local History at the Shenzhen Museum

Shenzhen Museum

 Atlantide Phototravel / Getty Images 

Shen Zhen Bo Wu Guan, 中信广场 Fu Tian Qu, Shen Zhen Shi, Guang Dong Sheng, China, 518027

Shenzhen seems like a contemporary city, but at the Shenzhen Museum, you can get an appreciation for the area's centuries of culture. The museum provides a detailed history and background so visitors can better understand the timeline of events leading up to the current contemporary boom. Permanent exhibitions explore art and calligraphy, as well as different eras of Shenzhen from ancient to modern times.

12 of 20

Hike the Wutong Shan

Wutong Shan

 Karl Johaentges / Getty Images

H6J4+J3V, Luohu District, Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China, 518003
Phone +86 755 2515 2005

Wutong Shan, Shenzhen’s highest mountain, is 3,094 feet (943 meters) in altitude. You can hike the scenic trails or take the stairs for the hike which is a little over 6.2 miles up and back. Most trails begin at Wutong Village and will take almost 4 hours to complete. Once you are at the top, enjoy the views of Shenzhen. The way up is quite steep and could take a while, but you'll be able to get down more quickly.

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13 of 20

Have Drinks and Dinner at Sea World

Aerial view of Shekou area, Shenzhen

 Virginie Blanquart / Getty Images

China, Guang Dong Sheng, Shen Zhen Shi, Nan Shan Qu, Nanyou, 太子路 邮政编码: 518060

This nightlight mecca is not the marine amusement park you're thinking of. It's a western-type entertainment zone where you can find beer gardens and nightclubs that draw an international clientele. There is a real ship that is the centerpiece of the complex, and the area is surrounded by water—thus the name, Sea World.

At night, enjoy the musical water fountains and fine cuisines from across the globe. There are Chinese, Korean, Indian, Mexican, and American steak house restaurants. After dinner and drinks, walk down to the docks and catch the nighttime view of Shekou harbor.

14 of 20

Climb Nanshan Mountain

Nanshan Mountain

Top Photo Corporation / Getty Images

Nanshan Mountain, Xinjian District, Nanchang, China, 330126

The trailhead for the Nanshan Mountain trail is not far from the entrance to Sea World. The path consists of about 700 steps and takes several hours to go up and return down. You'll be able to rest on benches along the way and at the top be rewarded by a spectacular vista of the Nanshan District. There is also a trail on the other side of the mountain which is accessed via a gated entrance on the right side of the gate to the Shanhaiyun Community.

15 of 20

Shop on the Cheap at Dongmen Old Street

Dongmen Old Street

 Sebastiaan Kroes / Getty Images 

A crowded, bustling old-fashioned Chinese shopping experience, Dongmen Old Street is several blocks long and has malls, market stalls, winding side streets, and plazas. The vendors sell shirts, food, handbags, shoes, underwear, and more. Be prepared to bargain at the market stalls and look for heavy discounts at the malls.

16 of 20

Visit the Fortress

Dapeng Fortress,

 Mark Murphy / Getty Images 

HGV7+4QR, Longgang, Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China, 518120

Dapeng Fortress, about an hour from Shenzhen, is a Ming Dynasty walled city that once defended the mainland from pirates. In some ways, it's a living historic village as people still reside in the preserved town. You can walk the narrow streets, go shopping, stop for a meal, or stay overnight at a quaint guesthouse. The trip from the city takes about one hour by taxi—which is the recommended means of transport as the public bus will extend the journey to about 2.5 or 3 hours.

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17 of 20

Reflect at Tianhou Temple

Tienhou Temple

 Satoshi Kawase / Getty Images 

9 Chi Wan Liu Lu, Nan Shan Qu, Shen Zhen Shi, Guang Dong Sheng, China, 518068
Phone +86 755 2685 1350

Tianhou Temple was built as an act of appreciation to the goddess of the ocean for saving Chinese explorer Zheng He after he encountered a devastating storm at sea. The temple is not original—it has been rebuilt several times over the years, but is a classic example of a traditional Chinese temple. There is a museum to visit, rooms to explore and you'll likely see locals coming to pray.

18 of 20

Walk Historic Nantou

Tower in Historic Nantou

 Ivan / Getty Images

Nantou is a 1,700-year-old town. While there are modern buildings, the location has preserved much of its history. If you enter through the town’s South Gate, you will see the original town wall that was built in the 14th century. While there are the expected modern shopping venues, you can still find old shops selling traditional Chinese herbs and household goods tucked in some of the buildings on ancient streets.

19 of 20

Amble Through Lianhuashan Park

Lianhuashan Park

 Yinwei Liu / Getty Images 

6030 Hong Li Lu, Fu Tian Qu, Shen Zhen Shi, Guang Dong Sheng, China, 518036
Phone +86 755 8306 7950

Located in the heart of Shenzhen, the 370-acre Lianhuashan Park offers a bit of green space amidst the sprawling concrete city. The park is centered by a 350-foot hill with a bronze statue of politician Deng Xiaoping at the top. From here, you'll find sweeping views of the city as well as places where families enjoy sitting to picnic and fly kites. There is also a large lake where you can rent paddle boats for a small fee. 

20 of 20

Enjoy the Creativity at OCT Loft

Man pouring hot water through coffee filter

Jianqiang Li / Getty Images

Nanshan, Shenzhen, China, 518053

Shenzhen is much more than a center for copying the Old Masters. It's becoming China’s creative capital attracting modern designers, inventors, and artists. The up-and-coming artsy community at OCT Loft is housed in what was once a manufacturing district. There are art galleries, bookstores, coffee shops, bars, and bistros. The Art Terminal is huge and fun to explore.

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20 Best Things to Do in Shenzhen, China