Unlike most of China, Guangzhou is not likely to elicit the level of curiosity that can be a bit overwhelming in other parts of the mainland. That’s because long before Marco Polo shipped up in the port of Canton (as it was then known during the 14th century), Guangzhou had a well-defined foreign quarter that has by and large remained a constant through the centuries. Spoiled by its lush Pearl Delta location, cantonese cuisine offers a choice and variety of food that is a world away from its pale western imitations. With a vibrant, rocking nightlife and an array of shopping options around the city, it has everything you could desire for a few days stopover.
The city is defined by its ancient core north of the river between Renmin Lu to the West and Yuexiu Lu to the East. The west of the city is a sprawling mass of eating and shopping around Changshou Lu. Tianhe is the new business centre with skyscrapers and shopping malls vying for space. The former foreign quarter on Xiamen Island offers peace and seclusion from the bustle of downturn while up and coming Honan on the south bank has shed its seedy image of the past to offer a bustling shopping alternative to other more established venues. A short hop outside the city, an escape from the hustle and bustle is offered by the White Cloud and Lotus Mountains, a favoured weekend venue of the masses.
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Cruises through the heart of the city take up to 2 hours depending on routes and dinner (optional). Routes typically go past Shamian island, returning through Renmin bridge and Haizhu bridge before winding up at the Gaungzhou suspension bridge. Options include a light show at Bai-e-Tan.
Address: De Shatou dock, Yanjiang Road, Guangzhou
Discovered in 1983, the Nanyue Tomb is in its own way a match for Xian’s much lauded Terracotta Army. It houses the tomb of Zhao Mo dating back some 2,000 years and grandson of the Nanyue kingdom founder Zhao Tao. Exhibits include host of gold, jade and other trinkets from the period.
Address: Jiefang Bei Road, Guangzhou
Huaisheng Mosque boasts Guangta, believed to be the world’s oldest minaret outside Mecca dating back to the 7th Century. The mosque was the pivotal point of the 15th century foreign quarter. Not open for internal viewing.
Address: Guangta Road, Guangzhou
China’s biggest park covers an expanse of 90 hectares. Amid all the greenery it includes a hall built in the memory of Sun Yatsen, the man considered to be the founder of modern China. It also has the oldest and largest Taoist temple Sanyuan Gong, in Guangzhou, dating back to AD 319.
Address: Jiefang Bei Road, Guangzhou
If you have a day to while away, this is hard to beat. For rest and a bit of peace from the heat of the city, it’s well worth the trip where at the weekend, you will be joined by the locals in their multitudes. A cable car will take you to the top. Tour buses 1 and 3 go there as well as taxis.
Cantonese cooking is world-famous and yet the watered-down version we know in the West fails to do justice to the delicacy and vibrancy of the real thing. Because of its extraordinarily fortunate location on the Pearl River Delta, the wealth of food is enormous and the locals’ expectations are subsequently demanding.
This huge 8-floor restaurant serves more than a 1,000 dishes with a massive variety of Dim Sum. An institution among locals, the roast suckling pig and crispy chicken are legend. A must if you are in town for a few days.
Address: 63 Yanjiang Road, Guangzhou
Excellent dim sum in congenial surroundings, especially in summer because of the huge outdoor patio. Not cheap but very popular with the post club crowd as one of the best known round-the-clock eateries.
Address: 903 Renmin Bei Road, Guangzhou
Delicious Vietnamese-inspired food with tangy curry soups, frog legs, spring rolls and a whole host of other yummy dishes. People will queue for this place and once you’ve eaten here, you’ll understand why.
Address: 8/F Metro Plaza, Huifu Dong Road, Guangzhou
One of the best dim sum restaurants in Guangzhou where virtually every animal part you can imagine is on sale. Although expensive it is revered by locals in the know who are happy to fork out that extra bit. Has every possible kind of dim sum you might want – at a price!
Address: 20 Dishipu Road, Guangzhou
Popular city-wide chain, especially with the city’s youth. The food might not be great but the lively mix of food, youth and chic décor seems to be a major draw as most branches are full to the brim.
Address: Jiefang Bei Road, Guangzhou
Guangzhou offers the full shopping experience from spotless shopping malls that would make western offerings blush with shame in comparison, to thoroughly basic and noisy street markets where almost anything goes.
For sanitised shopping, Beijing Road pedestrian street (09:00-22:00) has everything on offer from well-known brands to rudimentary offerings. It is not as upmarket, however, as the Zhengjia Plaza (228 Tianhe Lu, metro 1, 3 Ti Yu Zhong Xin www.zhengjia.com.cn/en/) in the heart of Tianhe. It houses many top brands from the West and also has an icerink and huge cinema. China’s biggest mall, up to 500,000 people pass through its doors at its busiest. Nearby Tee mall (208, Tienhe Lu) nevertheless is still the city’s most popular shopping venue with brand names covering every type of good.
As with all hotels in China, substantial discounts are available from the rate card so be sure to ask. Out-of-season and weekday bookings in particular can see discounts up to 70% off. Prices given are rate card and only a guide. Do avoid Guangzhou in April or October when the trade show sees room rates jump by anything up to 400%.
Garden Hotel is one of Guangzhou’s most famous hotels with attractive and nicely decorateed rooms. The location is superb and the revolving restaurant on the top floor is a big attraction.
Address: 368 Huanshi Dong Road, Guangzhou
Grand Hyatt Guangzhou is a 5 star luxury hotel with over 350 rooms, and the 5 star service to match. The hotel has stunning views of the Pearl River and the Sky Lobby is the best place to take in the panoramic beauty.
Address: 12 Zhujiang West Road, Pearl River New City, Tianhe
Decent mid-range hotel with its biggest plus point its location on Shamian island. Dating more than a 100 years back, it includes sauna, gym and a host of other facilities.
Address: No.53, Shamian North Street, Li Wan
A reasonably priced modern European-style hotel which offers decent mod-cons in the heart of the city just around the corner from Times Square.
Address: No. 1418 Guangzhou Avenue, Middle Guangzhou , Tianhe
Definitely the best of budget accommodation, offering clean 8-bed dorms or double rooms and has some lovely views over the river. Convenient location. As one of the cities cheaper offerings, you are advised to reserve your room.
Baiyun International Airport opened in August 2004 and is located 28 km from the city centre. Flights connect to nearly 100 domestic cities and also to numerous international destinations. There is a shuttle bus to the city centre and a metro station. There are a bunch of express buses that will take you to the main destinations in the city departing every 15 minutes from 7am until late night. Depending on the journey, prices vary from RMB10-36.
Guangzhou’s metro opened in 1999 and is rapidly expanding. Tickets range from RMB2-12, but if you are going to be in Guangzhou for a week or more, you are well-advised to purchase a Yang Cheng Tong card which can be used for all public transport (except ferries) and other amenities including public phones. It will save you money in the long run.
Not the most comfortable way to move around but certainly the cheapest. Air-conditioned buses are double the price of their older cousins at RMB2, but in Guangzhou’s humid summer, it is a price worth paying!
Taxis are cheap, quick and convenient. A starting charge of RMB7 for the first 2.3 km gives way to an incremental rise of RMB2.6 per km plus a RMB1 fuel surcharge.