A Visitor's Guide to Guangzhou, Capital of Guangdong Province

shamian island guangzhou
Peter Stuckings / Getty Images

Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province in China's southeast, is known more for its economy and proximity to Hong Kong than for being a major tourist destination. The city and the area around it (now the province of Guangdong) was formerly known in the West as "Canton" so that may be a familiar name to you from history books.

Indeed, Guangzhou has a long history of trade and business. Many travelers might find themselves there on business trips or en route to Hong Kong.


Guangzhou is just three hours (by bus, 40 minutes by plane) from Hong Kong. It sits on the on the Pearl River that empties into the South China Sea to the south. Guangdong, the province, hugs China's southern edge and is bordered by Guangxi province to the west, Hunan province to the northwest, Jiangxi province to the northeast and Fujian province to the east.


Always a center of trade to foreigners, Guangzhou was established during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). By the 200 AD, Indians and Romans were coming to Guangzhou and in the next five-hundred years, trade grew with many neighbors far and near from the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Later it was the site of much fighting between China and Western trade powers such as Britain and the US and the closure of trade here incited the Opium Wars.

Features & Attractions

The Huanshi Lu, or circle road, and the Zhu Jiang, Pearl River are the boundaries for central Guangzhou, where most places of interest are located. Within the Pearl River at its southwest bend sits Shamian Island, the original site of the foreign concession.

Shamian Dao, Island
This is probably the most interesting area of Guangzhou as the original buildings are in a varying degree of decay and it provides a welcome and quiet respite from the street-activity in the rest of the city. Gentrification is happening and you'll find sidewalk cafes and boutiques occupying the sites where French and British traders once operated.

Temples & Churches
There are several temples and churches of interest in Guangzhou and are worth a peek in if you're so inclined.

  • Temple of Six Banyan Trees, Liurongsi Huata - the Banyans are unfortunately long gone but the pagoda dating from 1097 is a popular attraction that can be climbed. It appears to have only nine stories but in fact, there are seventeen.
  • Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel - a restored French Catholic chapel on Shamian Island.
  • Bright Filial Piety Temple, Guangxiao Si - a large and influential Buddhist temple complex, one of the most interesting in Guangzhou.
  • Ancestral Temple of the Chen Family (or Chen Clan Academy), Chenjia Ci - an interesting compound with nine halls, six courtyards and nineteen buildings all enclosed within its own complex. Great for anyone interested in traditional Chinese architecture.


  • White Cloud Mountain, Baiyun Shan - A half-day respite from Guangzhou city, the mountain sits in Guangzhou's northeastern suburbs. You can wander around, take a cable car to the top (locals favor the evening views) visit the Mingchun Valley Aviary and the Nengren Temple.
  • Yuexiu Park - the largest park in downtown Guangzhou with manmade lakes and hills.

Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Dr. Sun is revered as the founder of modern China. There is a gallery displaying pictures and letters of Dr. Sun.

Getting There

Guangzhou has one of the largest international airports in China and there are numerous connections to major domestic cities. It is also well connected by bus, rail and boat transport, especially to other cities along the Pearl River Delta such as Shenzhen and Hong Kong.

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