“The Silicon Valley of China”
Returning from a holiday in Thailand heading back to London, was nice to have this brief stopover in Shenzhen and even on a super rush, being able to visit some of the main sights, notably admiring the impressive skyline rising as far your eyes can reach. This is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, and here are some numbers and facts that will surprise you. Back in 1979 its status was raised from Town to City. With a small population and almost non-existing infrastructure other than the railway terminus of the Canton to Kowloon (in Hong Kong) line, it exploded like nowhere ever seen before in such a short time to be home of more than 13 millions inhabitants, although the numbers in question are likely 20 at any one time as the authorities estimate. Home to one of the busiest container port in the world and becoming the “Silicon Valley of China”. How all this happened this quick is simply fascinating!
It forms what is called the Pearl River Delta Megalopolis together with Hong Kong just south across the border, the major cities of Haizhou and Dongguan in the north and other cities all of which home to a population of approximately 50 million people. The province, Guangdong, is one of the most populated in China. It’s a funny fact that one can take the metro in Shenzhen to the south border, comply with the customs and immigration and take Hong Kong’s metro to continue your journey; this is how near one to each other really are.
So while on our way into Thailand the stopover was at Chengdu where we enjoyed the traditional side of China, the important tea culture so vivid over there, temples and shrines; here was totally the opposite, with a fascinating new city built in 40 years, doubling its size in almost no time. Nowadays it is one of the cities with the largest amount of super-tall towers (defined as anything over 300 meters high), and a metro system expanding from 8 to over 25 lines, that’s almost 1000 kilometres of new tracks when the project is completed.
Do not expect to see much of the traditions and old charming architecture you might have in your mind when thinking about China. This is really different and an exception to what other large cities in the country are, sharing culture and heritage with the new and modern. Visiting the city is easy in that sense, with majority of the landmark constructions around the central Shimin Square, a day is well enough if you merely plan to get a glimpse of the city itself; however, with that many other great cities in its vicinity, this can easily increase to several days even weeks. No doubt making the base in Shenzhen will work the best and the most optimal.
For further information about Shenzhen visit Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. China’s currency is the Renminbi (¥, CNY). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Shenzhen:
- Lianhuashan Park Literally meaning the Lotus Hill Park. Located at the north of the city, this vast piece of nature of what used to be the area before the city is a great place for retreat and escape the rush and busy life of the streets. The views from the higher area are the best you will get from the skyline of the entire Futian District. You can reach it via the Children’s Palace metro station.
- Futian Central Business District The entire area is enclosed between 4 avenues leading south of Lianhuashan Park, and 6 perpendicular to these with a gigantic square and open area at its centre. Museums, libraries, concert halls, civic centre, hotels, residences and offices align the sides with some of the most impressive skyscrapers in Asia among plenty of monuments and art installations.
-Library Park Just across the avenue dividing it with the Lianhuashan Park. Home to the Concert Hall and City Library, worth to see for their incredible glass roofs; the Children’s Palace at the opposite side and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
-Civic Centre One of the key elements and landmark, dividing Library Park with Shimin Square at the other side. This gigantic building is a complex of concert hall, a museum, conference centre and offices. The roof spams 490 meters, with a height of 85 meters connecting both buildings as a giant gate.
-Shimin Square Continuing south right at the other side of the Civic Centre. Shennan Avenue splits it in the middle, while the largest underground railway station in Asia, Futian, serves the area not only by metro, but by railway with direct connection towards Hong Kong and Guangzhou.
-Stock Exchange Along the western side of the square, it is one of the most recognisable towers due to its slender core yet very wide first floating floors. Designed by Dutch architect Remment Lucas Koolhaas.
-Ping An Finance Centre The second tallest building in China, and 4th in the world (as of November 2019) at 599 meters high. Also along the western side, was designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates. It has the highest public observation deck on any building in the world, offering the most incredible views of the city and well beyond especially the rural side of Hong Kong just across the river.
-Convention & Exhibition Center At the southernmost side of the square, occupying the entire length.
- Luohu District East of the city centre (Futian), the second most popular area rising constantly with new tower projects, surrounded by a large park at its west side, the main railway station interconnecting to Hong Kong at the south with the river acting as the natural border, and huge shopping malls.
-Lizhi Park Accessible by Hongling metro station at the north, or the Grand Theatre at the south. Great to get inside and walk along the lake to admire the beautiful views of the landscaping and towers in the backdrop.
-Shun Hing Square Or Di Wang Tower, located along the east side of the Lizhi Park, near the Grand Theatre and KK100. It does still hold the title for tallest all-steel skyscraper in China at 384 meters high.
-Grand Theatre Right by the southeast corner of the Lizhi Park, opposite the lake.
-KK100 Tower Next to the Grand Theatre, the metro station of the same name and a big shopping mall at its base. It is the city’s second tallest at 442 meters high.
-Shennan Middle Road Quite spectacular due to the architecture of the many towers at both sides. It’s the same major thoroughfare that traverses through the Shimin Square.
-Hongfa Temple At the farthest north edge of Luohu District, in the middle of a forest near the Botanical Gardens. It is one of the largest and popular Buddhist temple; however not easy to reach on public transportation, and certainly not for someone staying only a day in Shenzhen.
- Nanshan District To the west of the city centre (Futian), by the South China Sea. Very residential and new, where entire neighbourhoods are being created (as of November 2019) like Qianhai Bay at the west or Houhai at the east, soon to be impressive.
-China Resources Headquarters Overlooking the Deep Bay, is the city’s third tallest, and possibly the most beautiful skyscraper of them all, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates as a giant rocket. The nearest metro station is Houhai on the line 2 (orange).
-Nantou Ancient City Also known as Xin’an, located at the north of the district, the nearest metro station as of today (November 2019) is Daxin on the green line, then some 15 minutes walk. Is the most traditional place one can find in the city, and all that remains of what this place used to be before Shenzhen started to be built as such all over and around. It retains several historical sites dating back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Bao’an International Airport, like nowadays most of China’s biggest cities, is expanding continuously and becoming one of the greatest hub in the country. The chances of a direct flight here are high from the main capitals in Europe, America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, with an ever expanding network. The metro line 11 (brown) links the airport with the city centre being the most convenient and cheapest way taking approximately 50 minutes, costing just CNY 8. Alternatively, Hong Kong’s airport is just across the border and also conveniently linked to Shenzhen by train, metro, bus and ferry. Of course you need to bear in mind the border crossing with the relevant security and visa checks beforehand, especially if you require one. The cheapest way from one city to the other is by metro, reaching the last stop of each city’s network, going through the border customs and then entering the other city’s metro system, as simple as that.
From/to Hong Kong is perhaps the most popular option among tourists alike. You can get the five day Special Economic Zone Tourism Visa on arrival, which allows you to visit not only Shenzhen but the region of Guangdong, however, you are allowed to go nowhere else, for that you will need to get a valid full visa to visit China. Trains in Hong Kong depart from West Kowloon station where you clear customs in advance of the departure, and head direct without stopping at the border crossing into Shenzhen’s downtown and beyond.
Coming overland from other cities within mainland China is fast a reliable especially by bullet train. The mos important cities are already linked to what has become the largest high-speed railway network in the world, hence reaching Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’An, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Guilin and plenty more.
Once in the city you have one of the largest and most developed metro systems in China, expanding soon to be 25 lines and 1250 kilometres long. This is by far the cheapest and easiest way to move around anywhere, point to point. New, clean and reliable, it is all in Cantonese and English, very easy ticket machines and helpful staff should you need to speak to someone. Buses are also plentiful, over 500 different routes. Commuter trains are handy in order to reach the farther areas faster, and into the neighbouring cities.
For a city of this vast size you can expect to find anything in terms of accommodation you want. From the top of the notch luxurious and boutique hotels to something more modest and every range in between. Plenty of rental apartments, bed & breakfast and hotels. Name it and you have it. On a bright side, the overall cost per night at an already high quality property is really good and cheaper than initially expected. However, I cannot say much nor recommend a place since I was not in the need for a hotel due to the short time in the city merely interconnecting flights. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo or Ebookers.