At first glance, Shenyang may appear to be just a dusty town at the heart of the rust belt of the northeast. However this large, industrial city was the cradle of the Qing dynasty, and it was here that the Manchus had their capital, Mukden. In just a day, travelers can see sights to rival Beijing's, but without the crowds.
8am: Start the day with the ample international buffet breakfast at the Traders Hotel. This four-star Shangri-La hotel is centrally located and offers a comfortable base to explore the city.
9am: Take a taxi to the North Tomb, set in the spacious grounds of Beiling Park. In winter, the lakes are transformed into ice rinks. At the north end of the park, the sprawling tomb is very similar in layout to those of the Ming dynasty. The approach is flanked by 12 sets of stone animals, both real and mythical. Pass through a walled compound of buildings to get to the burial mound of Abahai (Huang Taiji), who instigated the war which led to the founding of the Qing dynasty, though he didn't live to see the result.
10:30am: Next stop, the Imperial Palace. Work started on this mini Forbidden City with Manchu features in 1624 under Nurhachi, and was completed in 1636 by his son Abahai. At the time, the Phoenix Tower in the middle of the complex was, at three storys, the highest building in the city. After the foundation of the Qing dynasty the capital moved to Beijing but the emperors still regularly returned to the palace as their ancestral power base. Emperor Qianlong added the western section in a mixture of Han and Mongol architectural styles. With 300 rooms in 70 buildings covering 60,000 square meters, there is a lot of ground to cover.
12:30pm: Head to nearby Shenyang institution Lao Bian Dumplings for lunch. Although there is no English menu at this two-floor restaurant, they are used to dealing with foreigners and will patiently explain their large variety of steamed or boiled jiaozi.