(CNN) — If you own an iPhone, Dell computer, Microsoft tablet — or really, any digital device — you’re already more connected to Shenzhen than you might realize.
And it’s better connected than ever: Shenzhen and neighboring Hong Kong are already linked by rail, but a new bullet train opening this fall will cut the travel time from 1.5 hours down to just 20 minutes.
Lay of the land
The Shenzhen skyline.
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
On the map, Shenzhen might look like it’s an extension of Hong Kong, but it’s firmly in China territory. In terms of logistics, that means most travelers (including US citizens) need a Chinese visa to visit.
An efficient metro provides easy access to most sites and neighborhoods, but taxis are also widely available and affordable.
Take a hike
Most travelers kick off a Shenzhen trip with shopping and eating. But we’d recommend a short walk up to Lianhua Mountain in the middle of the city to get your bearings and take in the views.
It takes about 15 minutes to reach the peak, which provides excellent panoramas of the expansive urban sprawl below.
While you’re there, say hello to the city’s founding father: Deng Xiaoping, a former Chinese leader, who shaped Shenzhen into the economic powerhouse it is today. There’s a bronze monument at the top, surveying the city.
If you arrive in Shenzhen by train you’ll essentially be ejected into Luohu Commercial City — next to the terminal.
Home to affordable tailors who can replicate your favorite outfit in less than a day, the dense, five-story commercial complex offers everything from custom-made curtains to tailored suits, knockoff accessories, DVDs and electronics.
While vendors have storefronts, prices tend to fluctuate and it’s recommended to negotiate aggressively.
The chaotic shopping experience isn’t for everyone.
If it’s more of a relaxed setting you’re after, then we’d suggest checking out modern megamalls such as the entertainment-slash-fashion mecca that is Coco Park — boasting more than 200 stores, restaurants and bars.
Quirky theme parks
Shenzhen might be a hub of shopping and manufacturing, but it’s also endearingly offbeat.
Likewise, Splendid China Folk Culture Village (Nanshan District, Shenzhen 518000; +86 755 2660 2043), just a few minutes east, offers a trip through history, chronicling the country’s diverse cultural heritage.
Located near Shenzhen Bay, the vast site features full-scale replicas of ancient Hakka villages and Beijing hutong courtyard-style homes, as well as miniature versions of the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army and the Summer Palace.
Shenzhen might have a reputation as one of China’s fastest-growing cities, but it’s also home to peaceful parks and long stretches of coastline. While not quite the Philippines, side by side Dameisha and Xiaomeisha beaches — in eastern Shenzhen — provide a sunny escape from the urban buzz.
Word of advice: Avoid visiting the beaches on public holidays or in the height of summer vacation, when you’ll be pressed to find a spot in the sand.
For peace and quiet, a trip in spring and autumn is usually advised.
If you love a good spa day, Shenzhen will be heaven.
The gaudy, gold-dipped complex contains multiple floors of dimly lit massage rooms (including one communal foot-massage zone), massage pools, karaoke, video games, gym equipment, food, Wi-Fi… Essentially, you never need to leave.
And for $10 an hour for a reflexology massage — or $20 for a full-body massage — why would you?
Dafen Village is one of the world’s largest art producers.
Palani Mohan/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
Shenzhen has quickly become a hub of art and design in China — and it’s not hard to see why.
Running through August 2019, the opening Values of Design exhibition will explore the influence of design on culture both in Shenzhen and around the world.
Evolved from a defunct factory zone, the creative culture park comprises leafy lanes and open squares with exhibition spaces, large-scale installations and alfresco coffee shops.
It’s an idyllic enclave for wandering through the gardens or catching a bout of live music at one of the stylish bars. This is also where the annual Design Week takes place every April.
While you might not be in the market for a giant Mona Lisa, the area is fascinating, with many artists at work in their studios or in the street.
More recently, the art district has transitioned its focus to original artwork, aimed at the domestic market.
That means travelers will not only find copies of classic masterpieces — lots of Van Goghs and Monets — but also custom prints, calligraphy and paintings from up-and-coming Chinese artists.
Eat all day
Those seeking a Chinese feast can splurge on Peking duck at 1881, inside the Grand Hyatt.
Grand Hyatt Shenzhen
When it comes to culinary cred, Shenzhen is often overshadowed by gastronomic powerhouses like neighbors Guangzhou and Hong Kong.
But the city’s dining scene is coming into its own, with diverse options — from $5 noodles to $150 dinners.
Of course, being by the Pearl River Delta, seafood is a staple on most Cantonese menus. To sample it at the most authentic spots, take a walk down Leyuan Street, in the eastern Luohu district, where you can choose your dinner fresh from a tank.
Meanwhile, LSD Party — (a drug-free) restaurant in the OCT Loft area — pairs international art and design exhibitions with upscale Italian cuisine and boutique wines (105A, Building F1, Creative Culture Park, Shenzhen; +86 755 8610 6344).
Hang out at Bionic Brewery.
From craft beer to handcrafted cocktails to wild clubs, a night out in Shenzhen makes for a very good time.
The place also serves beer cocktails as well as non-alcoholic numbers like mate and even kombucha.
But plan accordingly: the brewery accepts cash, Bitcoin or WeChat payments… but no credit cards.
If it’s cocktails you’re craving, Providence Cocktail Bar (82 Furong Road, 107A, Xiasha, Futian, Shenzhen; +86 136 8667 1974) provides a lovely setting in the Futian District, complete with comfy leather seats and dangling Edison bulbs.
The Asian-inspired cocktail menu outlines a few “Bartender Favorites” — like a refreshing Sipsmith Summer Tonic — or “Customers’ Favorites,” featuring a rum Old Fashioned.