Southern China’s boomtown, Guangzhou’s speedy development, marked by gleaming skyscrapers and a buzzing business district, belies a city which is still steeped in tradition, with quiet backstreets and colonial architecture. Its past and present as a key trading port make it one of China’s most diverse and fascinating places.
Guangzhou’s extensive subway system serves all areas of the city and is easy to navigate. The city is also served by the Guangzhou to Foshan City line, the first underground intercity service in China. Buses and taxis are easy to find, but traffic means it can take a while to get from A to B above ground.
The Pearl River dominates central Guangzhou and is the perfect place to get your bearings and understand the sheer scale of the city. The ‘Scenery Corridor’, built along a dyke to give stunning views of the water and the fast–changing skyline, is a 14km walkway that can either be covered in one go or tackled in sections.
Views along the river are particularly impressive at night when the lights of the towers blink on. The one building you can’t miss is the Canton Tower, the tallest TV tower in China at 600m. Lit up and seen from below, its architecture is mind–blowing. Head up here during the day, however, and you’ll find that the views of the city from the outdoor observation deck are even more incredible.
Although modern Guangzhou can feel inescapable, it’s not hard to find the past here. The Chan Clan Ancestral Hall, with its myriad statues and buildings in the traditional Lingnan style, is every bit as impressive as the glass skyscrapers along the Pearl.
You can escape the hectic city streets in Yuexiu Park. Guangzhou’s biggest green space is perfect for a spot of people watching, with traditional music played and exercise taken by its pretty lakes.
In the south of Guangzhou lies Shamian Island. This former colonial concession, divided between the French and British in the nineteenth century, retains its old world feel. Mansions and old houses, coupled with pretty cafes and gardens, make this one of Guangzhou’s most delightful spots. Don’t miss the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes.
For something truly historic, make for the stunning Mausoleum of the Nanyue King. This museum, home to the tomb of the King Zhao Mo, does a brilliant job of explaining the establishment of the ancient kingdoms around Guangzhou. Its artefacts are nothing short of spectacular.
Guangzhou is the home of Cantonese cuisine and, as such, has an abundance of amazing places to fill up on some of China’s best food. Panxi, on Liwan Lake, is perhaps the most famous joint in town. Its garden setting coupled with a menu serving delicacies such as shrimp with quail’s eggs, means you need to book early to avoid disappointment.
Taotao Ju dates back to 1880 and is the best place to sample dim sum. The ginger and shallot chicken is the restaurant’s best-known dish, but steaming dumplings can also be grabbed at one of the many counters over its four floors.