A Local's Guide to Shenzhen
Dom Herrera, 13.03.19
Shenzhen, a small fishing village turned mega-metropolis, is unrecognisable if you were to compare snapshots of it with the version of itself that existed only 30+ years ago.
Today, it’s mainly known for its booming economy thanks to its position as one of China’s tech hubs. However, Shenzhen is much more than just a city with a couple of hundred skyscrapers that connects mainland China to Hong Kong.
Like with most cities that are experiencing tremendous development, Shenzhen is a story of old and new. And, although the world’s memory of the old Shenzhen might be fading and will soon be lost in history, when you visit, it doesn’t take long for the city to remind you of what it once was.
And don’t get us wrong — the limitless potential of the new Shenzhen is pretty exciting too!
Shenzhen is multi-lingual
There are two main languages spoken in Shenzhen. Like most of mainland China, the primary language spoken is Mandarin. However, you’ll find that many locals also speak Cantonese, which is the main language of the Guangdong province, where Shenzhen is located.
In addition to this, with a population that’s grown from 30,000 to over 12 million in just over 35 years, it's pretty safe to assume that a large number of people living in Shenzhen aren’t actually local. So, don’t be surprised to hear a number of different Chinese dialects when travelling around the city.
Innovation is at its heart
With all the investment resulting in gigantic economic growth over the past 30 years, it’s no secret that China has fired Shenzhen head-first into the race to become the tech capital of the world.
From automobile manufacturer and the world’s largest provider of rechargeable batteries, BYD, to Tencent, the multinational tech conglomerate that's subsidiaries include WeChat (a Chinese messaging and social media app which has over one billion active users), as well as a number of other cutting edge entertainment and media services. Shenzhen is the home for some of the most successful and fastest-growing tech companies in the world.
The first McDonald's in mainland China
Ronald McDonald and co. brought the Big Mac to mainland China in 1990 when the country’s first McDonald’s opened in Shenzhen. Today, there are more than 3,000 McDonald’s fast-food restaurants across the country.
Bonus fact: Out of respect to adults, children in China refer to Ronald McDonald as ‘Uncle McDonald’.
Credit: Mike Mozart
Shenzhen travel tips
Opt for aparthotels over regular Western-style hotels. They’re just as comfortable, can offer great service and come at a much cheaper price!
Be flexible with travel
Boat, bike, train, tram, metro, ferry, plane and car. There are so many different ways to get in, out and around Shenzhen, that it can be a little daunting.
The best way to tackle travel around Shenzhen is to be flexible with the options on offer. All public transport is affordable and fairly easy-to-use for tourists.
When travelling long distance around the city, use the metro.
When travelling short distances, take the bus or jump in a taxi. Both options are cheap. But be aware, although all bus stations are shown and announced in English, timetables are only written in Chinese. On the other hand, if you opt to take a taxi, most drivers only speak Mandarin. So you’ll need to show them a map or show directions on your phone.
Alternatively, you can ride Shenzhen’s bright green push-bikes, which can be hired at several locations outside of metro stations or tourist attractions. These are great for both the environment and your budget.
When travelling out of the city, you can reach Hong Kong, Guangzhou and other surrounding areas by China’s high-speed bullet train. Or, if you’re travelling to other cities within the country, you can get domestic flights on airlines such as Shenzhen Airlines, Spring Airlines, XiamenAir, Loong Air, Donghai Airlines and China Eastern.
It’s not the place for Chinese New Year
As you’d expect, many parts of China are great for celebrating the Chinese New Year. However, Shenzhen is not one of them.
Although it's not the ghost town that it was 10 years ago, you won’t find any big parades or street parties in Shenzhen over the Lunar New Year. This is mainly due to the fact that most migrants travel back home or go elsewhere to celebrate. And those that do stay, will enjoy small celebrations with their families.
Eating out in Shenzhen is very affordable and much easier than cooking at your accommodation. The food tastes great. Plus, there’s tons of choice with both local and rest-of-the-world cuisines.
From cheap local restaurants to Michelin star dining, Shenzhen’s food scene is as diverse as it gets. You can eat traditional food off the street, food from fast-food chains or Western classics in a restaurant setting.
Here are a couple of local dishes that we think are a must-try when visiting Shenzhen.
Shenzhen offers up some of the finest Cantonese dim sum in China. Visit a street food vendor or a local eatery to get the most authentic kind. Choose a filling, accompany it with a tea and you’re good to go. Delicious!
Cantonese Congee is a traditional Shenzhen dish that is made from rice and broth. It might seem plain to tourists, but this is a staple dish that many locals eat each day. You can add other ingredients such as meat, shrimp or fresh herbs to enhance the flavour. But we recommend trying it plain at least once to experience it as the locals do.
Things to do
Ping An International Finance Centre
Visit the observation deck at Ping An International Finance Centre for the best panoramic views of Shenzhen.
The building has 115 floors and stands at 1,965 ft tall, making it the tallest building in Shenzhen, the second tallest in China and the fourth tallest in the world!
The observation deck is situated on the 113th floor and is completely free to visit.
This 37,000 square metre museum has over 20,000 historical and cultural items to see and is a great way to learn about the old Shenzhen that existed before skyscrapers dominated its skyline.
OCT Loft Creative Culture Park
Shenzhen’s cultural hipster hub, OCT (Overseas Chinese Town) Loft Creative Culture Park, has an abundance of chic restaurants, bars and cafes, as well as some of the cities best art galleries. Its super laid-back atmosphere makes it the perfect place to relax away from the bustle of the city.
Window of the World and Folk Village
The Window of the World is home from home — regardless of where you come from. From the Statue of Liberty to the Pyramids of Giza, this park has 130 reproductions of the world’s most recognisable landmarks all in one place!
Not far from the Window of the World is the Splendid China Folk Village. The Folk Village offers a similar experience to the Window of the World, but with China’s most famous attractions instead. Miniaturised versions of The Great Wall of China, the Terracotta Army and The Forbidden City are just a few of the landmarks that make up more than 100 major Chinese tourist attraction replicas in the Folk Village.
The two best beaches in Shenzhen —Xiaomeisha and Dameisha — are both located in Dapeng Bay. Both beaches are great, but the golden sand and clear waters of Xiaomeisha just edge it for us. You do have to pay a small fee to visit Xiomeisha. However, this means its less crowded than Dameisha and generally a lot cleaner.
Featured for its killer value in our Black Friday blog, the Dongmen market is perfect for cheap goods and tasty food. But be warned, It can get really overwhelmingly busy. However, if you don’t mind a little chaos, put your bargaining skills to the test and bag yourself a souvenir or two.
Shenzhen has built itself a nice reputation among thrillseekers due to the many theme parks dotted around the city. Our pick of the bunch is OCT East, which is split into three different parks — Tea Stream Valley, Knight Valley and Yunhai Valley. Make sure to ride the Mountain Flyer in Knight Valley, which is a huge rollercoaster made from wood!
Escape to the countryside and enjoy the beautiful ocean views and verdant hills along the trail through the Nanshan mountain. The hike is serene and peaceful, but not for the faint-hearted. So, if you’re not a confident walker, maybe miss this one out.
Credit: Dan Lundberg
Take a day trip to Hong Kong or Guangzhou
With China’s high-speed bullet trains, making day trips to the surrounding areas can be done in no time at all. Just make sure to book your train in advance and obtain all the relevant visa documents if travelling to Hong Kong.
Shenzhen price guide
The local currency in Shenzhen is the yuan (CNY).
Exchange rate: $1 USD = ¥6.17 CNY (marzo 2019)
Apparthotel — ¥263.00 CNY on average per night
One-way journey on metro – (4km–12km) — ¥3.00 CNY
Taxi (1km journey) — ¥2.45 CNY
A meal for one at a local restaurant — ¥29.00 CNY
A three-course meal for one at a mid-range restaurant — ¥75.00 CNY
Bottle of water — ¥2.00 CNY
Coffee — ¥28.00 CNY
Domestic beer (0.5l) — ¥8.00 CNY
Best time to visit Shenzhen
The best time to visit Shenzhen is between the months of September–December. These are the months where the city receives the least amount of rainfall, with temperatures still remaining warm.
Which airlines fly to Shenzhen?
Shenzhen Airlines, China Southern, Air China and Hainan Airlines all offer international and domestic services to the main international airport in Shenzhen — Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport (SZX).
How far is Shenzhen airport from the city?
Depending on where you’re staying and your choice of transport. It can take between 40–90 minutes to get from Shenzhen airport to the city centre.
On the shuttle bus that is available to ride from the airport, it takes between 45–60 minutes.
Other public buses take around 50 minutes, with the longest journey taking 90 minutes.
If you’re travelling on the metro, line 11 reaches the city centre in around 45 minutes.
A taxi from the airport to Shenzhen’s centre will take a minimum of 45 minutes, with extra time depending on the traffic.
Do I need a visa to travel to Shenzhen?
If you’re visiting Shenzhen from a country that doesn’t qualify for the 24-hour visa-free transit or doesn’t have a visa waiver agreement with China, you’ll need to obtain a visa.
Most people will be able to apply and obtain a five-day visa on arrival. But for stays longer than this, they’ll have to obtain a regular visa.
People that are not eligible for the five-day visa include those from the following countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Cameroon, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Uganda, and Yemen.
Read our other local guides:
- Sri Lanka
- San Francisco
- Mexico City
- Salvador da Bahia
- The Greek Islands