Beijing and Shanghai capture much of the international spotlight when it comes to China but back at home, on the streets of China’s villages and towns, Guangzhou is the place people want to see.
Designated as a special economic zone, Guangzhou was the first part of China to boom and the city continues to lead the country’s economic growth. This is China’s richest city and home to the highest number of millionaires and immigrants dreaming of being millionaires. Below are some of the best sights in Guangzhou. And, if you're staying, avoid the flea pits with our pick of the best international hotels in Guangzhou.
Recipient of a raft of international architecture awards and a blushing amount of critical praise the Guangzhou Opera House is a flagship construction projects and one of the most impressive Opera houses ever built. Accurately described as smooth pebbles floating on a river bed, the building is at once relentlessly urban but also subtle, fluid with easy contours and unpredictable turns. While it’s the architecture that’s the attraction the hall is also a regular host to world-class operas and theatre.
When Hong Kong was little more than a barren rock squabbled over by warring pirates and weary farmers, Guangzhou was already becoming the first Chinese city to open to foreigners in the modern age- even if this was more of an ultimatum delivered by a fleet of gunships than a choice. Shamian Island was the site of the original foreign trading settlement – and foreigners from Britain, France and several other countries were confined to the island. Much of the colonial architecture they erected remains, from grand, veranda fronted buildings to the Protestant and Catholic churches that remain in service. It’s still possible to get an impression of a colonial time gone by. Read the full guide to Shamian Island.
China has an almost addictive attraction of throwing up skyscrapers and nowhere is it more noticeable than Hong Kong and Guangzhou. The twisting, turning, gravity defying Canton Tower was once – albeit briefly – the tallest building in the world and still towers over the first of skyscrapers in the city. Nicknamed twisted firewood due to its sweeping braided appearance, visitors can take in the view from the 108th-floor observation deck or take a trip around the very top of the tower inside a cable car. As well as views over Guangzhou there are also a number of swanky restaurants in the tower.
Six Banyan Tree Temple
Guangzhou doesn’t really revel in its history as much as it should. Few cities can claim to have influenced the world as much as Guangzhou – from gunpowder and fireworks to its immigrants who can be found in every far-flung corner of the globe. One of the best historical sights in Guangzhou is the Six Banyan Tree Temple. Originally built back in 537, the current building dates from 1373 and was restored in the 1900s. The complex features a number of ornate temples and halls that you are free to visit as well as an impressive and – when climbed – exhausting – eight-storey pagoda.
Chime Long Circus
There is good news and there is bad news here. The Chime Long circus is one of the biggest and the best in the world, employing world class acrobats, clowns and dancers who perform in Broadway quality choreographed stunts and acts. The performances are on par with everything Cirque du Soleil can throw together – some would say better. The bad news is the animals. Despite a burgeoning international reputation the Chime Long Circus continues to involve animals – including tired looking elephants and grumpy looking bears – in their acts. They’re not entertaining and they’re not needed and until Chime Long does away with them you may feel like crossing them off your visit list.