Guangzhou, glittering bastion of trade sprung from the fertile grounds of the Pearl River Delta, has welcomed travelers since ancient times when it was a port on the maritime Silk Road. This city, where dim sum was said to have been born to nourish weary merchants, now hosts the Canton Fair each year, continuing its legacy of mercantilism, and influence around the world. Modern yet ancient, bustling yet serene—perhaps its paradoxes are what led the founder of Zen Buddhism to teach and reside here centuries ago. Buzzing with an entrepreneurial spirit, it brings the curious and ambitious to its shores.
Hike Baiyun (White Cloud) Mountain
Walk up the crisscross of forest paths and gullies, connecting the 30 peaks of this 1,200-foot-tall mountain. Paths cover the entire peak, giving hikers plenty of trails to explore, and for those uninclined or unable to venture up, panoramic views of the city and Pearl River can still be enjoyed via the cable car. Vendors sell hats and water along the trails. Go after a rainstorm, to marvel at its namesake: the ring of clouds encircling the mountain.
Eat Dim Sum
To experience Guangzhou fully, dim sum must be eaten. This traditional Cantonese brunch practice was birthed in Guangdong province, and Guangzhou offers myriad options for it—everything from the pricier (such as 广州酒家 Guanzhou Restaurant) to the more economic (丘大6仔记 Qiu Da 6). Each dish arrives on a small plate or inside a steamer basket. Shrimp dumplings, taro cake, and barbeque pork buns are just a few of the dishes on most menus.
Hear Live Original Music at a Live House
Experience the South China original music scene by going to a live house—venues known to showcase live original music, indie festivals, and other art forms. Head to SDlivehouse to hear bands from China, as well international acts as they take its neon stage, performing everything from synthpop to math rock. For a more intimate setting, 191 Space also offers live music weekly, painting exhibits, indie cinema and more.
Buy Traditional Chinese Medicine at Qing Ping Market
One of the most famous markets in Guangzhou, Qing Ping, consists of multiple markets, including the Chinese medicine market, agricultural products market, and aquatic products market. Find ginseng as well as rare Chinese herbs. Turtles, scorpions, seahorses, and more can all be purchased—many of them still alive. More than 1,000 stalls display products from 18 provinces, and 30 cities, showcasing a diversity of cultures, culinary trends, and cacophony of flavors.
Explore Abstract Architecture at the Guangzhou Opera House
Looking like a giant glowing, beautiful paper boat, the Guangzhou Opera House sits on the shore of the Pearl River. Concerts, dances, and performance art happen year-round here. If you can’t make a show, you can still come to see its deconstructivism style, designed by Zaha Hadid to resemble an eroded riverbed. In addition to hosting symphonies and experimental theatre, it houses a library, reflecting pool, several performance halls, and a black box theatre. Spiraled paths connect different floors and parts of the complex in a beautiful, intricate array of granite and glass.
Cuddle at a Cat Cafe
Cat cafes have popped up all over Guangzhou, allowing you to pet cats and sip coffee at the same time. Cats are not incentivized or trained to interact with customers, so you’ll have to get creative if they don’t seem interested in you. Some cafes, like Release Pressure Cat Coffee, require a minimum purchase of a drink while others, like Galaxy Cat, simply charge a base entrance fee. Galaxy cat also hosts board games and music nights and can be reached by taking the metro lines 3 or APM to the Canton Tower station.
Cast Off on a Pearl River Night Cruise
Glide down the lifeline of the delta, the Pearl River, and see the Guangzhou skyline ablaze in rainbow lights. Bridges, buildings, and ferry boats all illuminate the river for kilometers and cruises leave nightly from Dashatou Wharf. Take pictures from the deck with the city’s behemoth landmarks, like the Canton Tower and White Goose Pool. Tickets can be purchased at the wharf beforehand and cruises range from one to three hours.
Fall Off Canton Tower
Experiences the highest free-fall drop in the world (1,500 feet), the Sky Drop. Perched on Canton Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world, you can strap in and take off, or stick with the observation deck or the bubble tram options if you want the views but fewer thrills.
Experience Little Africa's Transplant Community
Head over to the Xiaobei neighborhood, known locally as "Little Africa," to find the largest African community in China. Migration of Africans to Guangzhou began in the 1990s when traders came to ship goods back home to places like Ghana, Senegal, and Nigeria, and make a profit from being the middle man. Now a swirl of pan-African culture pulses here. Eat jollof rice and steamed fish at the African Pot and hear a plethora of African languages mixed with Chinese while shopping for Somali-style dresses.
Observe Buddhist Rituals at Guangxiao (Bright Filial Piety) Temple
Many pilgrims of Zen Buddhism venture to Guangxiao, the oldest and largest Buddhist temple in Guangzhou. Monks and nuns walk across the large courtyard, offering prayers and burning incense. The oldest building, Mahavira hall was built in 401 B.C.E. and architecture from the Tang, Song, and Qing Dynasties can all be seen throughout its squat buildings and sweeping eaves. Check out the well dug by the founder of Zen Buddhism himself, Bodhidharma.
Listen to Cantonese Opera at Liwan Park
Cantonese opera merges not only theater and singing, but also martial arts, acrobatics, and those funky costumes with massive sleeves. All plays are based on Chinese history or myths and depict character types specific to Cantonese opera, such as the painted face hero or the acrobatic clown. The venue stands next to the lake and is free of charge. Take a picnic lunch before and rent a paddleboat to enjoy the water after the show.
Belt Out Songs at a KTV
Guangzhou contains hundreds (if not more) karaoke bars. Known as KTVs, go here to rent a private room and sing songs in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese to your heart’s content. Selections range from Chinese pop to '90s hip-hop. Go with friends, order giant fruit plates, beer, and baijiu (a popular liquor made from sorghum). The more people you go with, the more ridiculous and fun it is!
Experience Remnants of European Culture on Shamian Island
Formerly split into a British and French concession, Shamian Island boasts European architecture, repurposed factories, and even two churches (one Catholic, one Protestant) on its tree-lined streets along the river. Building styles include Gothic, Baroque, and Neoclassical, while pedestrian-only areas allow visitors to wander unhindered and take pictures in peace. Plaques on the side of each building tell its past use when this was a strategic trading area for Western merchants.
Toss Drinks Back at Zhujiang Party Pier
Dance, drink, and mingle until late at one of the 33 bars or clubs in the Zhujiang Party Pier zone overlooking the Pearl River. See international DJ acts at The One Club (Wolfpack and JP Candela have played here in the past), dance salsa and cumbia at Revolucion Cocktail, or lounge on Fuel’s rooftop. Party Pier can accommodate all budgets, so bar hop until you find the place right for you.
Garden Hop at the South China Botanical Garden
The South China Botanical Garden contains China's first national nature reserve and the largest South Asian tropical botanical garden in the country. Magnolia, ginger, and palm are a few of the 30 specialty gardens maintained here. Two of the most popular attractions are the desert and the tropical plant greenhouses, and plants from all over the world can be observed throughout the complex.
View Traditional Chinese Handicrafts at the Guangdong Museum
See Cantonese art, walk through the sculpture garden, or enjoy one of the 60 temporary exhibits the museum hosts each year. Calligraphy, woodcarving, inkstones, and carvings of jade can be viewed in their regular exhibits, spanning different dynasties.
Relax With a Foot Massage at a 24-Hour Spa
Head to a 24-hour spa to de-stress with a foot massage treatment—which includes a mini head and back massage. Most spas, like Spelland Spa 水玲珑会馆 also give patrons access to other amenities like a ping pong room and movie theatre. For a solid massage without frills, check out one of the many locations of Fu Yuan Tang 扶元堂 for a foot or traditional Chinese body massage.
Learn about Chinese History at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall
Built in the traditional Lingnan architectural style, the building commemorates the life of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a political theorist and leader of modern China. Brilliant blue and red walls and a big garden beckon passersby to venture inside to see the concert and lecture halls. Read about the doctor’s life, from his birth in Guangdong to his becoming the president of China at the turn of the 18th century, as the soft sounds of concert rehearsals waft through the halls.