Guangzhou is known as many things, from China’s Southern Gateway to ‘the world’s largest knock-off factory’. The latter is a not-so-affectionate reference to the city’s position as an important cog in China’s trade machine – but, hey, who doesn’t love a bargain?
Formerly known as Canton and dating back to 216BC, Guangzhou has been an important trading city throughout its history and is now a manufacturing hub, exporting around the world. As we said, who doesn’t love a bargain?
But bargain-hunting, be it on an industrial scale or a smaller personal-shopping one isn’t the reason most people come to Guangzhou. Come to think of it, neither are the tourist attractions. Though as far as trade centre locations go, the idyllic Pearl Riveris pretty high up there.
Instead, people come to Guangzhou for a glimpse of Chinese life in all its eclectic, vibrant, history-laden and stray cat-infested glory – from the complex Tianhe to the ritzy suburban Dongshan. Behind the carefully cropped photograph of China that tourism companies try to peddle as the real deal, there is a city where the locals are surprisingly liberal and you can dine on China’s best cuisine in the gardens of Bei Yuan and Pan Xi.
Guangzhou Top 10
10. Shamian Island Peacefulness personified, yet remarkably close to downtown Guangzhou.
5. Han Nan Yue King's Tomb Museum See the second emperor of the Southern Yue Kingdom – or what remains of him anyway.
9. The Qingping Market If you’re looking for the exotic, you’ll find it at this morbidly fascinating (in terms of both sight and smell) market.
4. The Statue of the Five Goats The symbol of Guangzhou, this statue is conveniently located next to the Zhenhai Tower – the best (and most exhausting) way to see the city.
8. Baiyun Mountain How is it that the third most densely populated city in China has room for a recreation spot with a golf course, temple, gardens and sculpture park?
3. CITIC plaza A retail, office and residential complex complete with a sports centre and metro station. Sounds impossible? Not when you see it in all its 80 storey glory.
7. Guangdong Olympic Stadium The petal-like architecture of this stadium is possibly even more fascinating than seeing an event here might be.
2.Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall Combines modern structure, traditional Chinese architecture and some awesome performances.
6. Temple of the Six Banyan Trees The six Banyan trees no longer exist, but the 17 storey flower pagoda might even trump them.
1. Pearl River Cruise As nice as Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour. Not by day, perhaps, but do it at night and you’ll see why.
- Chigang Pagoda - This famous pagoda of Guangzhou was built in 1619.
- Temple of Six Banyan Trees - This ancient Buddhist temple was built in 537.
- Baiyun Mountain - This “White Cloud Mountain” became famous between 476 BC and 221 BC as famous individuals visited to enjoy its beauty.
- Pearl River – The name derives from the pearl coloured shells that lie at the bottom of the river.
- Museum of the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King - The tomb is more than 2,000 years old and displays objects from the Han Dynasty.
Guangzhou Art & Culture
- Guangzhou Opera House - This opera house was completed in 2005 and is the largest performing art centre in this area of china.
- Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra - This orchestra was founded in 1957 and is based in Guangzhou.
- Chen Clan Academy - This was a school built in 1894 by the 72 Chen.
- Canton Fair - With more than 109 sessions, it is the largest international trade fair of its kind.
- Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall - This monument was built in 1931 and is dedicated to Dr Sun Yat-Sen.
- Victory Plaza - This shopping plaza consists of two towers and was completed in 2007.
- Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street - A pedestrian street located in Xiguan old town of Guangzhou.
- Teem Plaza - This is the commercial centre of the city and contains restaurants, boutiques and other shops.
- Hualin Jadeware Street - This street mainly sells jewellery and jade at both retail and wholesale.
- Wende Calligraphy and Painting Street - The street is next to Beijing Lu, with stores that sell craftworks and calligraphy.
Gay & Lesbian Guangzhou
- Happy Monk - This pub is large and has a terrace.
- Rich-e - The translation of this gay bar and disco is “coming out of the closet”.
- Velvet - A club that is open after all the others close in Guangzhou.
- DanDang - Gay karaoke that is visited by many locals and puts on plenty of shows.
- Bear Pub - A gay bar that is very smoky and decorated extensively with pandas.
- Lotus Shan - This mountain site has a red sandstone quarry that was mined as much as 2,000 years ago. It also contains a military barrack built in 1664 and a pagoda built in 1612.
- Guangzhou Martyrs Memorial Garden - The park is dedicated to those that fought and died in 1927 during the Communist uprising.
- Ziangjiang Wild Animal Safari Park - An outdoor safari park in the Panyu district.
- Yuntain Garden - A garden located at the base of White Cloud Mountain and famous for its rare trees and flowers.
- Huadu Square - This square is a recreation park that contains statues, a large fountain, outdoor theatre and outdoor dance area.
- Watch or play a game of football at the stadium in YueXiu Park.
- Twirl on the ice at an ice skating rink in Grandview Mall.
- Play a game of basketball at one of the many courts at the TianHe Sports complex of Guangzhou.
- Enjoy a game of golf at the Sino Golf and Country Club.
- Play a game of tennis on the indoor or outdoor courts at Er Sha Dao.
From the quaint to the bustling to the historic (each of them with those damn stray cats), Guangzhou’s neighbourhoods provide as much an insight into the local culture as they do into the daily activities of felines. But they aren’t all about pollution and poverty – and some are actually relatively cat-free.Dongshan
Peaceful elegance is something you more often find on postcards than before your eyes when in China, despite the optimistic marketing of tourist companies. Dongshan is one of the few places you’ll find this tranquility, but it’s been injected with an equal dose of cool. Many of the historic mansions have been renovated into upscale bars, cafes, restaurants and clubs.
Starting at Dongshan Kou Metro Station, make your way up Junyi Road, stopping in at as many eclectic-chic bars as you’re allowed into (most are as exclusive as they look). And if you thought having food-envy sucked, walk up Yandun for a close-up look at Guangzhou’s answer to Bel Air.Shamian Island
Away from the pollution of Guangzhou city is the idyllic Shamian Island. The island is home to several hotels and shops, but it’s the architecture that draws crowds. The island is an odd blend of French, British and Chinese structures – the most notable being Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel, Christ Church Shamian and the White Swan Hotel.
Even more eclectic than the architecture, however, is an odd statue depicting a young Chinese woman wearing shorts and talking on a mobile phone. Besides that, there’s little else to do here – but hey, isn’t that the point?Tianhe
For a neighbourhood that means ‘a river in the sky’ and which was until recently mostly comprised of rice fields, Tianhe is surprisingly metropolitan. The first major project was the Tianhe Sports Centre in the 1980s, and many others soon followed – much to the lament of rice lovers.
Size is clearly the name of the game in Tianhe, which now also boasts the 80-storey CITIC Plaza, the Pearl River Tower skyscraper and TeeMall shopping mall (which Guangzhoueans – sounds like something out of Star Trek, doesn’t it? – claim, wrongly, is the biggest in Asia). Even the urban village of Shipai is relatively large, making Tianhe a rather optimistic day-tripping destination.Downtown
Although recently famous for the recent discovery of an ancient tomb, it isn’t a totally dead neighbourhood. Some of the best Guangzhou eateries can be found in the streets here (or off the streets – these aren’t dodgy stalls we’re talking about). Huanshi Dong Road has many gems for the gourmet foodie, while Jianshe Liu Road is as peaceful as you can hope to get anywhere in Guangzhou city. Downtown is also where you will find the World Trade Mall. Strangely, one of the best things here is the VIP ladies room – yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like.Panyu
This now-district is probably still lamenting the fact that it actually used to be a city, but it’s nevertheless a pretty vibrant place. It’s also features a higher number of tourist attractions than many think exist in all of Guangzhou. The Yuyin Mount Garden is one of the four most famous gardens in the Guangdong Province (yes, you’re probably booking your flight right now, aren’t you?). Other ‘must-sees’ (it’s a relative term where Guangzhou is concerned) include the Liahuashan Wonderland and Chime-Long Paradise.
Guangzhou Eat & Drink
Considering its plethora of upscale dining choices, it’s probably a good thing that Guangzhou’s shopping scene is relatively small (for your wallet as well as your stomach). Cantonese delicacies are widely believed to top all the regional cuisines in China – to the extent that the Chinese themselves have a saying: ‘Eat in Guangzhou.’ Well, alright… here are 10 places to do so.
Lai Wan Market ‘Market’ refers to the theme of this upscale dim sum restaurant, not the prices. Interesting décor, too, a cross between an English pub and a Chinese junk.
Bei Yuan The largest garden-style restaurant in Guangzhou. To give you an idea of its size, it includes a mini-mountain.
The Dong Jiang Restaurant The dishes here are as busy as the street it’s in – try the Duck Stuffed with Eight Treasures.
The Connoisseur If anything can compete with Guangzhou’s garden-style eateries, it’s the French opulence of Connoisseur.
Caigenxiang Vegetarian Restaurant A vegetarian restaurant is always a good choice for those seeking to avoid eating animals they didn’t even know existed.
The Silk Road Grill Room It takes a lot to live up to a name like this, but Silk Road does it – and more.
Da Tong Restaurant Cantonese cuisine isn’t for everyone, but with over 1000 dishes on the menu, including stewed chicken claws, this might discover the exception.
Pan Xi Restaurant This lakeside garden-style restaurant will be the most beautiful place you’ve ever eaten at ever anywhere.
Snake Restaurant: If you thought this was one of those crazy places that served all sorts of snake dishes, you were right.
Guangzhou Restaurant: This place has trained many famous chefs. You won’t recognise their names, but all you need to know is that they do amazing deep-fried poultry.
At the end of January, the city buzzes with the excitement of Chinese New Year, which features far more than just enormous fake dragons. Chinese New Year usually means family time for locals, but don’t be fooled into thinking this means there’s nothing for tourists to look do.
At the end of the Chinese New Year the city lights up with the Lantern Festival, a less gaudy version of Christmas lights.
The saying ‘no Flower Festival, no New Year’ is a bit confusing, but a celebration of warm weather and flowers makes total sense.
How many dancing Chinamen can you fit on one boat? Find out at the Qintong Boat Festival in April.
The city’s biggest event, by far, is the Guangzhou Trade Fair held in April and October. It’s also the one that sends hotel rates skyrocketing.
Celebrated by eating luscious fruits, sweet moon cakes and warm taro, September’s Mid-Autumn Festival might just be the best time to visit Guangzhou.
The Dragon Boat Festival is held on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month of every year in the Chinese calendar (also known as June-ish).
December’s Guangzhou International Documentary Festival isn’t particularly international, but features work by some of the most talented Chinese directors at public screenings across the city.
From paintings and drawings to ceramics and sculpture, the Guangzhou Baiyun Art Fair in December displays beautiful (and bizarre) pieces from all over the world.
When To Go
Intense humidity marks the summer season (June to August/September). That and the crowded streets mean it’s not the most pleasant time to visit Guangzhou.
Spring and autumn are the most comfortable seasons, although trade fair visitors may snag the best hotel rooms in April and October.
Winter is quite pleasant in Guangzhou, with temperatures rarely dropping below 10°C (50°F).
What To Miss
There’s a reason Guangzhou is often called ‘the world’s largest knock-off factory’. If 90% off Chanel seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Guangzhou has some of China’s finest cuisine, so if you want to try crocodile or snake, do it at a restaurant – not at a side-street stall.
If you’re up for a tour, look for a legit place. Forking out your money to a random guy peddling discounted sightseeing is not recommended.
Taxis are the best way of getting around for visitors – just remember to write the destinations down.
If you speak Cantonese, buses are great, but if not they’re best avoided. Drivers don’t speak English and will be unable to help.
The Pearl River port city of Guangzhou, with a metro population of 10 million, precedes only Beijing and Shanghai in China. With occupation that dates back to 214 BC, the city has had a vital role in the economy of Asia throughout history. Now the urban heart of the Pearl River Delta, Guangzhou's legacy as a commercial hub endures. If China is the Factory of the World, the city is a valuable cog in the machine.
As a tourism destination however, Guangzhou offers endless wonder. The climate is moderate and the city has enough attractions to keep you busy for a week. Throw in a rich culinary heritage and you have the recipe for a wonderful vacation.
Like the rest of urban China, Guangzhou is in the middle of a construction boom. Regular alterations to the cityscape drive postcard manufacturers mad.
The most obvious icon is CITIC Plaza. The 80-story skyscraper is a retail, office and residential complex, with a sports centre and new metro station.
Guangdong Olympic Stadium, with a radical design and shape, is somewhat of a curiosity. The foremost tribute to “The Flower City” was to host several events for the 2008 Summer Games but instead, will serve as the principal home for the 2010 Asian Games.
Baiyun Mountain is one of several public recreation locales around Guangzhou. With superlative features however, from a golf course to Nengren Temple, myriad gardens and a sculpture park, Baiyun may be the best. Cable cars to the top promise the best views of Guangzhou and the provincial landscape.
The Temple of the Six Banyan Trees is a superb temple built 537. The Buddhist shrine is one of the most distinctive monuments in Guangzhou.
Shamian Island is a peaceful getaway, in close proximity to downtown Guangzhou, replete with colonial-era architecture.
Guangdong Provincial Museum has a superb collection of relics and artwork that herald from ancient and dynastic China.
Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park is a scenic tribute to the founder of the Republic of China.
The ideal way to experience Guangzhou is to stroll about the city markets and commercial streets. They represent an event in of themselves. With names like Flower Street, Jade Street and Bridal Street, you can easily discern what wares they hawk. Qingping Market is famous or notorious rather, as a place to purchase and consume a wide variety of exotic animals.
The Dragon Boat Festival, held in either May or June to coincide with the fifth day of the fifth Lunar month, draws fierce competitors to the Pearl River.
The Mid-Autumn Festival in September or October illustrates the important link in China between special foods and celebrations. In this case, moon cakes are the choice delicacy.
Chinese New Year of course, is a massive occasion in Guangzhou. Often the only chance for workers to vacation and see family, parts of the city can feel rather empty, though celebrations do abound.
With a subtropical climate and imprecise seasons, intense humidity marks the summer season in Guangzhou. As a result, spring and fall remain the most popular and comfortable seasons to visit the city. International trade fairs in April and October however, monopolize the vast majority of hotel rooms.
- Winter (December to February) 10-21°C
- Spring (March to April) 15-25°C
- Summer (May to September) 23-33°C
- Fall (October to November) 15-29°C
Guangzhou on Wikipedia
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