There’s much more to Shenzhen beyond counterfeit bags and business conventions. We uncover the city’s artistic side to give you the perfect weekend trip itinerary

Welcome to The Weekender, a recurring travel series focused on destinations ideal for a quick getaway. With less than 48 hours at your disposal, escaping from the clamour of Hong Kong becomes a lot more feasible when you can just pack your bags and come back recharged on Monday. This week’s tried-and-true agenda (yes, we actually went there): Shenzhen.

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Photo: ThinkStock/yangyang1991

Shenzhen has undergone one of the most dramatic transformations in urban history. Over the past three decades, the once-rural fishing village has evolved into a metropolis for tech and export activities, with a transportation system and cityscape to rival neighbouring Hong Kong. 

Despite the metamorphosis, the city still carries the reputation of being a stopover — for business conferences, various vices and counterfeit shopping. Unbeknownst to many, Shenzhen’s arts scene has been flourishing for the last few years, with a flux of new coffee houses, galleries and performing spaces popping up left and right. 

We scratched beneath the Special Economic Zone’s corporate surface to bring you a guide to the most noteworthy spots. You’ll be surprised at the culturally enriching experiences that have been hiding in plain sight, just less than an hour away.


First Off, Know Where to Stay

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Photo courtesy of Futian Shangri-La

Luohu might be a convenient part of town with the highest concentration of hotels, but staying so close to the border means you’ll be rubbing elbows with groceries-hauling crowds. The Central Business District of Futian provides an alternative entry point to Shenzhen, and the area quiets down considerably after office hours. 

If you’re indeed staying in the area, make some time for Shenzhen Central Park — a gorgeously massive public green space that don’t hardly get enough attention from work-obsessed citizens. A stone’s throw away from the park are the Civic Centre, the City Library, and the Concert Hall, so the cultural artistic and cultural side of Shenzhen will be at your fingertips. 


 Rest Your Head in Style

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Photo courtesy of Futian Shangri-La

Standing 40 tatler_stories high, the sleek Futian Shangri-La Hotel slices a sharp silhouette amongst cookie cutter commercial buildings in the area. Beyond just a comfortable place to spend the night, staying at the hotel was a riveting experience of Eastern-inspired luxury. From the lacquered mahogany furniture to the intricately embroidered fabric headboards, the spacious rooms had the finishing touches of a modern chinoiserie aesthetic.

Given Shenzhen’s status as a tech mecca, the bathrooms were similarly furnished with an embedded bathtub TV and state-of-the-art rain shower system. Guests are supplied with an array of L'Occitane bath and skincare products with an Asian-inspired scent of jasmine and bergamot.

Futian Shangri-La Hotel, 4088 Yi Tian Road, Futian District, Shenzhen, China;  +86 755 8828 4088


 Find the Best View…and Relax

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One of the eight themed treatment rooms at Chi Spa; Photo courtesy of Futian Shangri-La

There’s hardly an activity more relaxing than taking a slow breakfast and watching traffic at The Horizon Club Lounge — the hotel’s executive club on the 37th floor. The vehicles — looking like toy cars from the uninterrupted bird’s eye view — zip through the lush canopy of Shenzhen Central Park like blood flowing through the veins. Shaped like a bird ready to spread its wings, the silver Civic Centre shimmers at a distance. 

Despite being in the heart of it all, the hotel does a good job of shielding its guests from all the hubbub: an essential oil massage at Chi Spa will obliterate your exhaustion, and a spacious plateau garden is at your service, should you need some fresh air.

Futian Shangri-La Hotel, 4088 Yi Tian Road, Futian District, Shenzhen, China;  +86 755 8828 4088


 See Some Art (and Pose with It, Too)

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Photographed by Venus Wong

The nerve centre for the city’s creativity is OCT LOFT Creative Culture Park, a sprawling cluster of buildings repurposed from an industrial site. Now an enclave for local fashion designers, furniture shops and coffee houses, the artistic complex is ideal for whiling away the afternoon. Stop by PP Design Gallery to pick up eclectic home goods from revered brands such as Seletti, HAY and Tom Dixon. Even if you’re not in the mood for decorating, the innovative visual merchandising will draw you in. 

Connecting the graffiti-covered buildings are pavements lined with luscious greenery and sprinkled with intriguing murals and sculptures — all prime backdrops for some Instagram action. It’s not surprising that the venue often play host to jazz concerts and movie screenings. Not artsy enough for you? Stroll to the neighbouring OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, where the exhibition hall showcases interactive audio and visual artworks from a rotation of young contemporary Chinese artists.

OCT LOFT Creative Culture Park, Kaiping St, Shenzhen, China


 Get Your Culture Vulture on

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Photographed by Venus Wong

Tucked behind one of the industrial buildings at OCT LOFT is Old Heaven Books, a beloved independent bookstore café. Every city has a bookstore and coffee shop favoured by the intellectual set, and Old Heaven is both. Racks upon racks of books on architecture and design are squeezed behind vintage cassette tapes and vinyl records. The crowded café area has walls lined with even more books, and the space looks charmingly dishevelled with mismatched furniture and vintage electronics. 

Budget your visiting time around the first or third Saturday of each month in order to accommodate T Street Market, a pop-up market for artisanal goods and local designs.

Old Heaven Books,  Room 120, Block A5 OCT-LOFT, Huaqiaocheng, Nanshan District, Shenzhen, China; +86 755 8614 8090


Hit up the Hottest Art Space in Town

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Photo courtesy of Artron

Though still relatively under-the-radar, Artron Art Centre is quickly becoming one of Shenzhen’s premier artistic landmarks. The complex, which opened its doors in 2015, houses the world’s largest art library with over 120,000 related books in 10 different languages. The centre is a hybrid between a library, gallery and museum, with an invaluable collection of calligraphy, paintings and photographers from some of China’s most important contemporary artists. The most awe-inspiring feature is the Atron Wall, in which the seemingly endless wall — spanning  50 metres wide and 30 metres tall — is covered with 50,000 books about art.

Artron Art Centre Shenzhen, 19 Shenyun Road, Nanshan District, Shenzhen, China; +86 755 86083056


Taste All of China

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Photo courtesy of Shang Garden

Shenzhen is very much an immigrant city, and the influx of people from different parts of China means many regional Chinese cuisines are all available here. Not to be missed is Huaiyang cuisine — a school of cooking originating from Jiangsu province that prizes knife skills and intricate plating. Ingredients are typically braised and given minimal seasoning so the taste is preserved in its freshest form. 

A great place to experience this cooking style is the chic bistro Shang Garden, where the disciplined execution and presentation are meant to impress. The superior broth with matsutake mushrooms, sea cucumber and tofu is practically a work of art: over 3,600 cuts are made on the delicate sphere of tofu, imitating the look of the embroidered fabric balls frequently used in Chinese cultural celebrations.

For traditional Cantonese fare, Victory Restaurant remains a local favourite since its opening in 1989. The chain operates several locations throughout the city and is a trusty option for no frills dim sum and seafood dishes.

Shang Garden, 4088 Yi Tian Road, Futian District, Shenzhen, China;  +86 755 8828 4088  

Victory Restaurant, 2/F, Hang Tian Mansion B Tower 2, 4019 Shen Nan Avenue, Shenzhen, China;  +86 755 8826 6255


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