Long overshadowed by its flashier neighbors of Hong Kong and Macau, Shenzhen, China, is in the midst of its own ascendance. While the city has long been an economic powerhouse, it’s only recently started to attract travelers’ attention.
Shenzhen’s modern founding may have occurred just four decades ago, when it was designated one of China’s original Special Economic Zones, but since then, it’s transformed from a quiet region into one of the world’s fastest-growing cities. In 2018, it even surpassed Hong Kong in terms of GDP.
It’s among the cities with the most skyscrapers, ranking third, with the behemoth Ping An Finance Centre, currently the fourth tallest building in the world, and plans for many more in the next few years.
With further developments to the already impressive skyline, a vibrant food and cocktail scene, and more direct flights, Shenzhen is quickly shedding its reputation as China’s Silicon Valley or simply the mainland link to Hong Kong. Things are changing here at a rapid pace, even as China continues to clash with Western powers and cope with political strife. Visit now, before everyone else catches on, with help from our recommendations, including a splashy new hotel, the tasting menu you must try, and tips on preparing for your trip.
Where to stay
A string of prominent new hotels has sprouted across Shenzhen in recent years, the newest being the Park Hyatt. Opened this summer in the city’s central business district of Futian, the 48-story property mixes Park Hyatt standards (in-room tech senses when you enter, automatically opening curtains and letting sunshine stream through floor-to-ceiling windows) with the style of a traditional Chinese guesthouse (rooms feature wooden sliding doors, cloud-patterned fabric wall panels, and decor in bright blues, greens, and golds). A huge pool encased in a glass atrium looks straight up at the hotel’s sister tower, the Ping An, while a half-dozen restaurants and bars offer everything from Cantonese specialties to craft cocktails.
Also new this year is Raffles Shenzhen, which abuts Shenzhen Bay in the Nanshan District. In addition to 168 stylishly appointed guest rooms, the hotel boasts a signature spa, an indoor swimming pool, and six restaurants and bars, including Long Bar on the 71st floor with live music and notable views of the city. Even if you’re not staying on site, make a reservation at the elegant RUI Lounge for afternoon tea—an extravagant service fit for royalty.
Elsewhere in the city, Japanese lifestyle brand Muji opened its first-ever hotel in 2018, bringing its signature minimalism to 79 smartly designed guest rooms. A long-awaited and oft-delayed Mandarin Oriental is still in the works, but several other big-name hotel brands, from the Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton to the St. Regis and Shangri-La, are in Shenzhen.
Where to eat and drink
Luxury hotels catering to Western travelers demand fine-dining restaurants that do the same. Enter Ensue, which opened on the top floors of the Futian Shangri-La in September. Here, Christopher Kostow (known to most as the executive chef at three-Michelin-starred the Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley) serves a masterpiece of a tasting menu steeped in French technique and local ingredients. Diners can expect gourmet standbys like foie gras and wagyu beef alongside more traditionally Cantonese dishes like fish congee and geoduck sashimi.
When it comes time for a drink, head to Goon Goon, the first mainland China outpost of Hong Kong brewery Young Master. Helping to pioneer the craft beer scene in Shenzhen, the tap room and restaurant in the UpperHills shopping complex showcases 20 different brews, plus surprisingly delicious food that melds salty, rich, pickled, and spicy flavors to keep you ordering approachable sours and citrusy IPAs all night long.
If you’re more of a cocktail person, head to the Attic in the Park Hyatt, which features nearly 100 different types of gin and a drink menu that highlights local ingredients. Next door in the Ping An Finance Centre, Obsidian Bar is another new option, opened by the team behind China’s popular Fannou bars. The multi-story space boasts a deep whiskey list, expertly crafted cocktails, and a swanky members-only lounge. For a touch of local nightlife, spend some time in Coco Park, a mall area with a strip of party-centric bars and music clubs, plus cheap barbecue joints for afterward.
What to know before you go
In an effort to make travel to Shenzhen slightly easier, the city recently began offering 144-hour, visa-free entry. Double-check that your plane ticket applies, however—it must be be a multi-city ticket without any other stops in mainland China (for example, you could depart from New York, stop in Shenzhen, and then travel on to Hanoi). Given the somewhat vague rules and uneven enforcement, obtaining a traditional visa is likely still your best bet.
Travelers might also consider downloading Didi, the Chinese stand-in for Uber, for help getting around the city, as well as WeChat, a messaging app that also allows for mobile payments via QR codes. Know that, when in Shenzhen, you’ll be able to access your social media and Google-powered apps if you use data on an international cell phone plan, but you’ll be out of luck when connected to public Wi-Fi.
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