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, 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, save money on your accommodations by staying at one of these inexpensive 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 project of the government; its certainly 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. Visit their official site to find out about the events coinciding with your visit dates.
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.
Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall
This palatial octagonal building pays tribute to China’s founding father, Sun Yat Sen, whose imposing 18-foot-high bronze statue precedes the structure that now bears his name.
The Memorial Hall covers a floor area of some 40,000 square feet—blue glazed tiles, the white granite steps, and the red terrazzo pillars create stark color contrasts even before you enter the building. Inside, the life of Sun Yat Sen is commemorated through images, banners and other inscriptions.
The grounds include some beautiful trees, including a banyan “tree in tree” that embraces several smaller banyan trees within its branches; and white sandalwood that bloom in June and October.
To get here, ride the Guangzhou Metro Line 2 and disembark at the Memorial Hall station. An admission fee of CNY 10 will be charged at the entrance.
Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street
Visitors to this 0.7-mile pedestrian street in the middle of Guangzhou’s Liwan District have plenty to see and do—from bazaars with inexpensive souvenirs to wholesale jewelry warehouses to restaurants serving delicious southern Chinese food—all mosly housed in historical shophouses combining Eastern and Western influences.
Go through each of the shops along the Pedestrian Street and look for something you like—or go to one of the multistorey shopping malls nearby for a more air-conditioned, everything-under-one-roof experience.
To get to Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street, take the Guangzhou Metro line 6, disembark at Cultural Park Station, then walk some 10 minutes north to get here. The shops open at 9am and close late at night—ideal if you want to see the street lit up in a magnificent array of colors.