Front gate of Zhaoling Tomb. Photo: flickr.com
Shenyang is a city of wide boulevards filled with cars, looming tower blocks, shiny, new shopping malls and countless KTVs. With so much of the amenities of modern life around, it can be easy to forget that this city was once an ancient capital of not only Liaoning, but China itself, and before that the Manchu kingdom. Like any capital, Shenyang boasts a rich cultural heritage that spans from the Stone Age all the way to present day. From Neolithic settlements to palaces fit for the emperor himself, there are many historic and cultural attractions that are a great way to spend a free morning or afternoon. If you’ve never had the opportunity to explore historic Shenyang, then these are the best attractions to start with. Once you have a greater idea of the history of the area, you may look at the city in an entirely new light.
1) The Mukden Palace View In Map
The Mukden Palace, commonly referred to as Shenyang Gugong, is the jewel in the crown of Shenyang’s cultural heritage. Thanks to its pre-Qing Dynasty origins, the palace has strong Manchu and Mongol architectural influences; from intricate brick gables and carvings to buildings whose form has been inspired by the shapes of nomadic tents. Considering the complex has been standing for a little under 400 years, it’s in remarkable condition right down to the golden dragons that flank the imperial throne.
There are 114 buildings and around 20 courtyards, and though this might seem rather small when compared to the only other surviving imperial palace in China, Beijing’s immense Forbidden City, there is a lot to be said for The Mukden Palace’s more compact size and diminutive celebrity. You can visit the palace on a weekday in mid-summer without having to queue or being swamped by other sightseers. The courtyards are smaller and quieter and this gives the Mukden Palace a more relaxed, intimate feel. While strolling through the courtyards, gardens and passageways, you may even turn a corner and find yourself alone. This is a great place to while away an afternoon with quite stunning surroundings.
Add: 171 Shenyang Lu, Shenhe District, Shenyang
Tel: 024 2484 3819
Opening hours: 9:00-16:40 (winter); 8:30-18:00 (summer)
Price: 60 RMB
Getting there: By subway, take Line 1 to Huaiyuanmen. By bus take number 222 or 223
2) Zhaoling TombView In Map
The palace aside, the next notable place to visit in Shenyang is the Zhaoling Tomb, which sits in the middle of leafy Beiling Park, the largest public park in the city. The tomb dates from 1643 and holds the remains and shrine of Qing Dynasty Emperor Huang Taiji and his Empress. The tomb itself is a large mound of earth with a single elm tree growing at its top, but it’s the surrounding buildings that provide the most interest. The complex has 38 buildings in all, and these are surrounded by two sets of stone walls. The inner wall has a raised walkway joining four turrets which can be accessed to give elevated views of the buildings and the surrounding parkland.
Although the mausoleum complex follows the system of the Ming Dynasty, it has also blended local characteristics and the traditional architectural styles of the Manchu people. There are some stone animals lining the route to the tomb, and inside the carved stone eaves are particularly impressive, so too the hand painted ceilings of some of the buildings. That said, it’s also worth looking at the stone beneath your feet. The stone steps that lead up to The Silk Burning Pavilion are flecked with gold.
Add: Beiling Park, 12 Taishan Lu, Huanggu District, Shenyang
Tel: 024 8690 1330
Opening hours: 7:00-19:00 (summer); 8:00-17:30 (winter)
Price: 36 RMB
Getting there: By subway, take Line 2 to Beilingongyuan
3) The Xinle RemainsView In Map
Near the Zhaoling Tomb on the west side of Beiling Park, the remains of a Neolithic society were found in 1972 and the site has been turned into a small museum. The people who lived there, known as the Xinle, were simple hunter-gatherers who lived in angular thatched huts, some of which have been recreated as part of the visitor attraction. The society was matriarchal with female leaders dressed in tiger skins and jade bracelets. Over 7,200 years ago tigers roamed the flatlands of Dongbei, and the Xinle hunted them using bow and arrow.
This is a fairly interesting attraction. There are open excavation trenches showing the archaeological finds and inside the huts there are some rough manikins around a fire pit giving some impression of what life was like in Xinle times. If you visit on a quiet day you may even get a guided tour for no extra charge, and though this will all be in Chinese, the guide is very enthusiastic and rather good at making you understand what she is talking about. You may even pick up a few new Chinese words as well.
Add: 1 Longshan Lu, Huanggu District, Shenyang
Tel: 024 86809440
Opening hours: 9:00-17:00
Price: 20 RMB
Getting there: By subway, take Line 2 to Xinleyizhi
4) Liaoning Provincial MuseumView In Map
Liaoning’s Neolithic history isn’t just restricted to the Xinle. In fact, Dongbei is littered with archaeological discoveries and many of the artefacts found can be seen in the Liaoning Provincial Museum. As well as stone age pottery and tools the museum’s permanent collections include weapons and armour from various imperial dynasties, an exhibition dedicated to the Qing Dynasty itself, a collection of inscribed stone tablets from imperial mausoleums and, of course, plenty of fine historic porcelain.
There is a large exhibit on the evolution of Chinese money and all the various shapes Chinese coins have been cast in, from the archetypal round coin with the square hole, to knife and spade shaped coins as well as some examples of the first paper money in the world. The ground floor also has a number of galleries dedicated to 20th century painted scrolls.
Add: Government Square, 363 Shifu Avenue, Shenhe District, Shenyang
Tel: 024 2274 1193
Opening hours: Tue-Sun, 9:00-17:00
Getting there: By subway, take Line 2 to Shifuguangchang
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Keywords: history of Shenyang Shenyang top historic attractions shenyang cultural heritage palaces and old settlements Shenyang best sights of Shenyang
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