You don’t see many luxury goods shops, as the region has been deindustrializing since the 1990s. There are modernist 1920s cement buildings scattered in some of the old central parts of the city, but nowhere is it attractive. There is a nine-hour Chinese movie about the city falling on hard economic times, with its three segments called “Rust,” “Remnants,” and “Rails.”
If you travel a lot, you should not restrict yourself to “nice” places, which are more likely to disappoint.
Many of the city’s faces seem to have Korean, Japanese, or Turkic elements, befitting the location and the history.
The main sight is the Manchu imperial palace, a smaller, more accessible, and more atmospheric version of Beijing’s Forbidden City, but with hints of 17th century Manchurian and Tibetan styles. This city ruled China in the early years of the Qing Dynasty, before the torch was passed to Beijing.
Embedded in Marshal Zhang’s Mansion is the best museum of money and currency I have seen; the Marshal was a heroic leader in the war against Japan, but later made “a wrong choice” and spent much of his 100-year life under house arrest.
The two major tombs in the city have little to offer except long walks on flat plains leading essentially nowhere.
For food the city shines, even by Chinese standards. Laobian Dumpling serves what are perhaps the best dumplings I have had, and Xin Fen Tian is the place for fine regional specialties. The city’s cuisine blends meat-heavy, dumpling-related Manchu dishes, rich and earthy casseroles, stews, and mushrooms, and finally Shandong-inspired seafood styles, stemming from the proximity to the coast. The quality of the local fruit is high, blueberries and cherries included, and the nuts are famous throughout China.
Here is Wikipedia on the Soviet-Sino conflict of 1929, in which Shenyang (then Mukden) played a significant role. The Mukden incident of 1931 was used to provoke/excuse the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. Nowadays, Shenyang is a major stop on the North Korean refugee route to Laos (China returns them to NK, but some other countries will send them to SK).
Hardly any non-Chinese tourists come here, and that seems unlikely to change. Yet this is a rich corner of history and cuisine, a former leader of Asian industrialization, a major seat of historic conflict, a crossroads of cultures, and now a mostly forgotten piece of turf. What more could a boy want?
If Shenyang stays sleepy, the world will remain safe!