Shenyang was not a planned visit but because my second trip to North Korea got cancelled due to closed borders I now had a few days in Shenyang to explore rather than using it as a connection point for flights only. Shenyang is a nice city in north-western China to visit for a day or three to see the city and surrounding places. The Imperial Palace, a smaller version of the Forbidden City in Beijing, is the highlight but also the Imperial Qing dynasty tombs are well worth a visit. If you have the chance to visit during winter time Shenyang also celebrates the ice sculpture festival; I surely have to go back for this one day.
Shenyang, also called Mukden in the past, has been the capital of Qing Dynasty in the 17th century for a short period of time. It was during this time that the Imperial Palace was built. It is a small version of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Shenyang was occupied by Russians and Japanese. You still find some Japanese influences through the city. Shenyang developed into a heavy industry city but in recent time this is more diversifying. During the time of my visit the city of Shenyang is full of construction sites to replace the older industrial buildings. Downtown Shenyang is located around Zhongshan Square where you can find the largest statue of Chairman Mao in China. Around this square you find some great bars, restaurants and hotels and it is a great base from where you can explore the city.
Mukden Palace – Imperial Palace in Shenyang
The Mukden or Shenyang Imperial Palace was the palace of the first three Qing Dynasty emperors. It was built as a sister mirror copy of the Forbidden City in Beijing and finished in 1625. After the capital moved to Beijing the Mukden Palace became a secondary palace. The emperors would still go there but only for a short period of time. There are various buildings on the ground to explore with quite a lot of artifacts on display too. The architecture is not exact the same as the Forbidden City with more influences from Manchu and Tibetan culture. The carvings are very fine and delicate and also colorful glazed tiles are used. I really enjoyed this Imperial Palace and can recommend anyone to visit it.
During wintertime keep in mind that it gets quite early dark quite early and therefore the site closes early. I arrived there around 2PM but at 4PM it already closed. The 2 hours were just enough time to explore but it would have been better to have an hour more. Make sure you arrive direct after lunch time which I recommend the best time to visit. From the entrance of the palace you easily walk into some streets with great restaurants. Shenyang has great dumplings but also quite a lot of great Japanese restaurants. A must is to visit Laobian Dumpling restaurant with several outlets. You will get filled up with the best dumplings in town and the bill? Almost nothing! As the sun sets early go for a great Chinese massage and off to bed for the next day.
Imperial Tombs – Fuling & Zhaoling tombs
There are a total of three Qing tombs north of the Great Wall. Two of them are located in Shenyang. To visit both and not run through them I recommend to plan one day for them. In the morning head first to the Fuling tomb in the Dongling district about 10 kilometers from the city center. Once you arrive at the Fuling tomb ask the taxi driver to wait as there are not that many taxis around to take you back.
This tomb is the tomb of the founder of the Qing dynasty called Nurhaci and his wife. It was used for various ceremonies during the Qing dynasty. Its architecture is like many other tombs with an archway followed by a walkway through a forest with stone animals. Then up 108 steps to the main temple area which is walled on all sides. At the end you find the main pavilion and under the burial mount are the treasure city and the actual burial site which you cannot enter. Various other buildings are placed on the right and left side which are now used to exhibit various artifacts. When you finish have the taxi driver drop you at the Beiling park which contains the Zhaozong tomb.
Once you arrive at the Fuling tomb ask the taxi to wait as there are not that many around to take you back.
The reason to visit Beiling park and the Zhaoling tomb later on the day is that this is a great park to wander around for the afternoon. It is also more close to the city center so you can just take your time and head for dinner in the city after. The park has a small fee, but make sure you buy the ticket also for the tomb together with it as it’s cheaper.
The Zhaoling tomb is the tomb of the second Qing dynasty emperor called Huang Taiji and his family. Also at this tomb you find the sacred way with various stone animals along it. Before you enter the inner tomb area you will find a statue of Huang Taiji and along the road some of the old pavement is still in place. The tomb entrance is marked with various gates and also here the main temple area is completely walled and behind is the burial mount with the treasure city beneath. Walk through the middle to the end and return over one side of the wall back to the entrance for a bird’s eye view of everything.
To be honest these tombs all quite look-alike but they are of great historical importance. Both tombs are part of the UNESCO world heritage site comprising the Qing and Ming tombs. Myself I finished before dinner time and I just headed for a foot massage which is great after a day of walking. You can also go explore some of the modern Shenyang of course and head for dinner after. From Shenyang you can go towards the North Korean border or fly to any part in China. For me Shenyang was the end of this China trip and headed back through Beijing to Amsterdam.
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Gallery of Shenyang
Check the gallery for more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.
GPS Track in and around Shenyang
During my trips I make GPS tracks. Feel free to download them and see how we moved around and see the time frames at the various places. Hope these maps are of help for you when planning your trips.