This folksy urban village of narrow lanes and alleys is a pleasure to visit in itself, but what makes Dafen simply unmissable is the hundreds of art studios and shops churning out reproduction oil paintings by hand, from Van Gogh's sunflowers (yours for less than ¥100) to enormous, gilt-framed scenes of mounted cavalry or galleons at sea rendered in lavish detail, costing upwards of ¥2000. Or why not go pop art with a Mona Lisa–meets-Minions mash-up?
All this has earned Dafen the nickname of 'the world's art factory' – at one time churning out 60% of the world's olil paintings – a reputation the authorities have sought to upgrade with the staging of the first Dafen International Oil Painting Biennale in 2018, improved road access and renewed focus on the (rather overblown) Dafen Art Museum built in 2007. But for now, the place remains quirky and full of character.
For a wacky souvenir, you can order a bespoke painting (you astride a unicorn, perhaps?) for a negotiable fee, and return to collect it a few days later. Dafen is also a good place to buy Chinese brushes and ink stones, which make excellent buys for the artistically inclined. To get to the village, exit the metro and take a left after Walmart.