China has been rolling out a new 72-hour transit visa exemption policy in major cities throughout the country, making visiting China even easier. Now travelers from the U.S., Canada, and 49 other countries can include China as an additional destination on an existing trip without needing to get a visa. Under the policy, visitors are able to enter select Chinese cities for up to 72 hours without a visa, as long as they have a booked plane ticket to a third country or region within the 72-hour time period. This applies to the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Shenyang, Dalian, Xi’an, Guilin, Kunming, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Xiamen, Harbin and Tianjin. China continues to expand this policy to additional locations throughout the destination. In the meantime, these cities are the ideal stopovers or add-on destinations for travelers already in Asia.
Shenyang is the capital of Liaoning Province, as well as the largest city in northeast China based on urban population. It is steeped in history: Shenyang was first used by the Manchu people as their imperial capital in the 17th century (before it was moved to Beijing) and later served as the confluence for many battles on the world’s stage, such as Japan’s defeat over the Russian army in 1905 and the start of war between China and Japan in 1931. Today it is a major industrial center and transportation and commercial hub, while maintaining its ancient relics and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Now that you can visit Shenyang for up to 72 hours without getting a visa, the only question is what you want to do while there. The good news is that Shenyang is very doable within three days. Here are some of the top things to do in Shenyang to make the most of your 72-hour trip:
Shenyang Imperial Palace
Located within the city, the Shenyang Imperial Palace – also known as Mukden Palace – is the only existing royal palace in China outside of the Forbidden City in Beijing. The main structure of the palace was built in 1625 by Nurhachi, the first emperor of the Qing Dynasty, and was completed in 1636 by his son, Abahai (also known as Huang Taiji, the second emperor of the Qing Dynasty). Nurhachi was buried in the Fuling Tomb, while Abahai was buried in the Zhaoling Tomb, both of which are within the Shenyang Imperial Palace grounds. The palace, two tombs and vast grounds are today listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The palace covers an area of almost 15 acres, though it is only 1/12th the size of the Forbidden City, but equally as important as this was the original imperial palace in China. It consists of more than 300 rooms, formed around 20 courtyards. The architectural style of Shenyang Imperial Palace is unique, as it is based on the shape of nomadic tents used by the Mongolian and early Chinese cultures. The Shenyang Imperial Palace houses many ancient cultural relics, including Nurhachi’s sword and Abahai’s broadsword, as well as paintings, calligraphy, pottery and sculptures.
Shenyang’s largest park, Beiling Park is the location of the Zhaoling Tomb, where Huang Taiji, the second emperor of the Qing Dynasty, is buried along with his wife. Beiling means “north tomb” but the Zhaoling tomb is just one portion of the larger park. The park’s ponds, trees and flora are the backdrop for locals flying kites, dancing, and cycling. In the winter, the frozen ponds serve as ice skating rinks and sledding areas. The park provides an excellent place to stroll and take in the scenery, history and culture. The entrance fee to the park is 6 yuan, or about one U.S. dollar. Getting there is quite easy, either on foot from the imperial palace or using Shenyang’s excellent subway system from the downtown area. It is the Beiling Gongyuan metro stop.
Located in the center of Beiling Park, Zhaoling Tomb’s impressive stone walls and Qing Dynasty era buildings are both historic and impactful. Entrance to the tomb requires a separate ticket from the park (30-50 yuan, depending on time of year), though ticket-holders to the tomb then do not have to buy a ticket for Beiling Park. Zhaoling Tomb is the largest and grandest of the “Three Mausoleums” (which include Zhaoling Tomb, Fuling Tomb, and Yongling Tomb in Xinbin), the only three imperial tombs north of the Great Wall of China. There are also more than 2,000 pine trees along the grounds of Zhaoling Tomb, most of which are more than 300 years old. The history, artistry and culture are quite palpable and worth discovering.
Located in the eastern suburb of Shenyang City near Tianzhu Mountain, Fuling Tomb is the resting place of Nurhachi, the first emperor of the Qing Dynasty. Constructed in the early 17th century, Fuling Tomb covers almost 50 acres and includes grand red gates of carved stone lions and various animals, grand archways, a 108-step stairway, and the Square Castle, which surrounds the mausoleum at Fuling Tomb. Tickets cost 30-40 yuan, depending on time of year.
The Shenyang Botanical Garden is located approximately six miles from the central business district of Shenyang City. Its 467 acres incorporate plants and flowers from various areas throughout northern China and Inner Mongolia, with approximately 2,000 varieties including rare pine trees. There are also undulating hills, a lake, flowers, waterfalls and pavilions. Twenty small gardens make up the southern portion of the botanical garden, while Cuihu Lake, the Steam Locomotive Museum, hotels, and greenhouses make up the northern portion. At the lake, there are paddle boats, amusement rides, as well as almost 50 chain bridges that cross over the lake, each with its own style and design. Visitors delight in crossing the varying bridges, with some that bounce, some with nets, and more fun ways to cross over. The 20 gardens reflect varying themes, from the peony garden to the azalea garden, roses, lilacs and even varying countries from around the world. An area called “Xing-Xing Paradise” was specifically designed for children. Entry to the Botanical Gardens costs 50 yuan.
Liaoning province boasts a type of cuisine called Liaocai, which uses garlic, ginger and other spices, making it flavorful, but not too hot. Because of its northeastern location, Shenyang has many northern Chinese, Mongolian and even Korean influences, so many barbecue stands can be found on street corners throughout the city. While Shenyang doesn’t have one distinct dish, it makes up for the dearth in a wide variety of options, from white-tablecloth restaurants in top-notch hotels to local noodle shops and small food stands.
Of note is Laobian Jiaozi Guan (or Laobian Dumpling Restaurant), next to the Imperial Palace. Founded in 1829, Laobian is known for its excellent traditional dumplings, which have a unique shape and variety of delicious fillings. Lumingchun was built in 1929 and stands as another one of the oldest restaurants in the city. It is famous for its chefs’ skills and remains one of the few restaurants in the city still offering the Man-Han Banquet, a feast that includes many traditional dishes from Shenyang history and Manchu and Han culture. Finally, West Tower Street is known for its Korean food offerings, and Huihui Ying for its Muslim food.