Guangzhou is known as many things, from China’s Southern Gateway to ‘the world’s largest knock-off factory’. The latter is a not-so-affectionate reference to the city’s position as an important cog in China’s trade machine – but, hey, who doesn’t love a bargain?
Formerly known as Canton and dating back to 216BC, Guangzhou has been an important trading city throughout its history and is now a manufacturing hub, exporting around the world. As we said, who doesn’t love a bargain?
But bargain-hunting, be it on an industrial scale or a smaller personal-shopping one isn’t the reason most people come to Guangzhou. Come to think of it, neither are the tourist attractions. Though as far as trade centre locations go, the idyllic Pearl Riveris pretty high up there.
Instead, people come to Guangzhou for a glimpse of Chinese life in all its eclectic, vibrant, history-laden and stray cat-infested glory – from the complex Tianhe to the ritzy suburban Dongshan. Behind the carefully cropped photograph of China that tourism companies try to peddle as the real deal, there is a city where the locals are surprisingly liberal and you can dine on China’s best cuisine in the gardens of Bei Yuan and Pan Xi.
Guangzhou Top 10
10. Shamian Island Peacefulness personified, yet remarkably close to downtown Guangzhou.
5. Han Nan Yue King's Tomb Museum See the second emperor of the Southern Yue Kingdom – or what remains of him anyway.
9. The Qingping Market If you’re looking for the exotic, you’ll find it at this morbidly fascinating (in terms of both sight and smell) market.
4. The Statue of the Five Goats The symbol of Guangzhou, this statue is conveniently located next to the Zhenhai Tower – the best (and most exhausting) way to see the city.
8. Baiyun Mountain How is it that the third most densely populated city in China has room for a recreation spot with a golf course, temple, gardens and sculpture park?
3. CITIC plaza A retail, office and residential complex complete with a sports centre and metro station. Sounds impossible? Not when you see it in all its 80 storey glory.
7. Guangdong Olympic Stadium The petal-like architecture of this stadium is possibly even more fascinating than seeing an event here might be.
2.Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall Combines modern structure, traditional Chinese architecture and some awesome performances.
6. Temple of the Six Banyan Trees The six Banyan trees no longer exist, but the 17 storey flower pagoda might even trump them.
1. Pearl River Cruise As nice as Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour. Not by day, perhaps, but do it at night and you’ll see why.
- Chigang Pagoda - This famous pagoda of Guangzhou was built in 1619.
- Temple of Six Banyan Trees - This ancient Buddhist temple was built in 537.
- Baiyun Mountain - This “White Cloud Mountain” became famous between 476 BC and 221 BC as famous individuals visited to enjoy its beauty.
- Pearl River – The name derives from the pearl coloured shells that lie at the bottom of the river.
- Museum of the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King - The tomb is more than 2, 000 years old and displays objects from the Han Dynasty.
Guangzhou Art & Culture
- Guangzhou Opera House - This opera house was completed in 2005 and is the largest performing art centre in this area of china.
- Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra - This orchestra was founded in 1957 and is based in Guangzhou.
- Chen Clan Academy - This was a school built in 1894 by the 72 Chen.
- Canton Fair - With more than 109 sessions, it is the largest international trade fair of its kind.
- Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall - This monument was built in 1931 and is dedicated to Dr Sun Yat-Sen.
- Victory Plaza - This shopping plaza consists of two towers and was completed in 2007.
- Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street - A pedestrian street located in Xiguan old town of Guangzhou.
- Teem Plaza - This is the commercial centre of the city and contains restaurants, boutiques and other shops.
- Hualin Jadeware Street - This street mainly sells jewellery and jade at both retail and wholesale.
- Wende Calligraphy and Painting Street - The street is next to Beijing Lu, with stores that sell craftworks and calligraphy.
Gay & Lesbian Guangzhou
- Happy Monk - This pub is large and has a terrace.
- Rich-e - The translation of this gay bar and disco is “coming out of the closet”.
- Velvet - A club that is open after all the others close in Guangzhou.
- DanDang - Gay karaoke that is visited by many locals and puts on plenty of shows.
- Bear Pub - A gay bar that is very smoky and decorated extensively with pandas.
- Lotus Shan - This mountain site has a red sandstone quarry that was mined as much as 2, 000 years ago. It also contains a military barrack built in 1664 and a pagoda built in 1612.
- Guangzhou Martyrs Memorial Garden - The park is dedicated to those that fought and died in 1927 during the Communist uprising.
- Ziangjiang Wild Animal Safari Park - An outdoor safari park in the Panyu district.
- Yuntain Garden - A garden located at the base of White Cloud Mountain and famous for its rare trees and flowers.
- Huadu Square - This square is a recreation park that contains statues, a large fountain, outdoor theatre and outdoor dance area.
- Watch or play a game of football at the stadium in YueXiu Park.
- Twirl on the ice at an ice skating rink in Grandview Mall.
- Play a game of basketball at one of the many courts at the TianHe Sports complex of Guangzhou.
- Enjoy a game of golf at the Sino Golf and Country Club.
- Play a game of tennis on the indoor or outdoor courts at Er Sha Dao.
From the quaint to the bustling to the historic (each of them with those damn stray cats), Guangzhou’s neighbourhoods provide as much an insight into the local culture as they do into the daily activities of felines. But they aren’t all about pollution and poverty – and some are actually relatively cat-free.Dongshan
Peaceful elegance is something you more often find on postcards than before your eyes when in China, despite the optimistic marketing of tourist companies. Dongshan is one of the few places you’ll find this tranquility, but it’s been injected with an equal dose of cool. Many of the historic mansions have been renovated into upscale bars, cafes, restaurants and clubs.
Starting at Dongshan Kou Metro Station, make your way up Junyi Road, stopping in at as many eclectic-chic bars as you’re allowed into (most are as exclusive as they look). And if you thought having food-envy sucked, walk up Yandun for a close-up look at Guangzhou’s answer to Bel Air.Shamian Island
Away from the pollution of Guangzhou city is the idyllic Shamian Island. The island is home to several hotels and shops, but it’s the architecture that draws crowds. The island is an odd blend of French, British and Chinese structures – the most notable being Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel, Christ Church Shamian and the White Swan Hotel.
Even more eclectic than the architecture, however, is an odd statue depicting a young Chinese woman wearing shorts and talking on a mobile phone. Besides that, there’s little else to do here – but hey, isn’t that the point?Tianhe
For a neighbourhood that means ‘a river in the sky’ and which was until recently mostly comprised of rice fields, Tianhe is surprisingly metropolitan. The first major project was the Tianhe Sports Centre in the 1980s, and many others soon followed – much to the lament of rice lovers.