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Here are some of the best things to do in Guangzhou 

China’s sprawling southern capital can be reached in less than two hours from Macao. What are you waiting for?

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ARTICLE BY

PUBLISHED

READING TIME

17 Minutes

Guangzhou has always been a big, bustling, overwhelming place. Even 150 years ago, it had a population of around 944,000 – more than twice the size of Chicago, nearly a third bigger than Calcutta, and dwarfing European cities the likes of Rome, Amsterdam and Copenhagen. 

Western travellers were awed by its sights and teeming life. “How to describe it in sober English is more than I can tell,” declared the famous Victoria travel writer Constance Gordon-Cumming, who visited Guangzhou – then called Canton – in 1879 and attempted to capture the experience in her Wanderings in China. “Canton stands by itself in every impression it conveys … I wish I could give you a faint idea of a thousandth part of what I saw.”

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Today, with a population of 18 million people, Guangzhou retains its allure. It is not merely the capital of Guangdong province, and the home of Cantonese culture, but the great metropolis of southern China. This is an economic and administrative powerhouse, a cultural and culinary hub, and a place – like so much of China – where ancient history seamlessly blends with a dazzling future.

The best part is that these spectacular offerings are only a short distance away from Macao. Hop on one of the many high-speed trains from Zhuhai Station and you’ll be there in roughly one hour.

In a city the size of Guangzhou, no list can be definitive, but here are some suggestions of what to see and do.

Beijing Road (北京路步行街)

Guangzhou’s famous pedestrian precinct, Beijing Road, seen on 27 March 2018
Guangzhou’s famous pedestrian precinct, Beijing Road, seen on 27 March 2018 – Photo by thebigland

Measuring approximately 1.5 kilometres, the car-free Beijing Road is one of Guangzhou’s most vibrant commercial areas, with a record-breaking 100 million visitors last year. Regardless of whether you are looking for the latest fashion or a souvenir to take home, this pedestrian precinct has your shopping needs covered, thanks to its vast array of shops, malls and stalls. 

There are also plenty of dining options here as well, with everything from your typical fast food restaurants to eateries that serve delicious Cantonese-style food. Some of the local places nearby that are worth checking out include Wing Chun Scallion Pancake (咏春葱油饼), a small snack shop whose savoury flatbread attracts long queues; Tao Yuan Fine Food (陶园美食), a restaurant that specialises in made to order claypot rice, and Fu Lin Shi Fu (富临食府), an eatery that not only serves iconic Cantonese delicacies such as salt and pepper squid, but also more inventive ones like, well, cheesy curry beef. 

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While shopping and dining are the main selling points, there are several historical sites nearby. Beijing Road was built on top of the ruins of ancient thoroughfares that date as far back as the Tang Dynasty (618- 907 AD). Remnants of these earlier roads are on display for pedestrians, who can view them through panes of glass embedded into the present street. 

One other historic structure worth mentioning is the massive Buddhist Dafo Temple, located on one of Beijing Road’s side streets. With a history of over 1,000 years, the temple has been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times, reflecting the shifting fortunes of China’s various imperial dynasties. However, it has now been restored to its former glory and is a majestic sight when illuminated at night. 

Opening Hours: Most businesses operate between 9 am and 10 pm
Location: Beijing Pedestrian Street, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province

Guangzhou Library (廣州圖書館)

A detail of the exterior of Guangzhou Library, seen on 19 August 2021
A detail of the exterior of Guangzhou Library, seen on 19 August 2021 – Photo by Leo Lei

Libraries don’t normally appear near the top of must-see lists, but Guangzhou Library isn’t just any old library. Opened in 2013, the nine-storey facility was a collaborative effort between a team of Japanese and Chinese architects who designed the shape of the building around the Chinese character ‘之’ (zhi). The library’s exterior is meanwhile constructed to resemble piles of books that are stacked one on top of the other. The end result is an architectural marvel. 

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The interior of the Guangzhou Library is equally impressive, with its large open foyer and glass bridges that connect the different wings of each floor. There are nearly 11 million books on the shelves here. English reading materials are available on the second floor, which has a selection of English newspapers and magazines, and the eighth floor, which is where the multicultural collection is housed, with 50,000 books from 13 different countries. 

Opening Hours: 9 am to 9 pm (1st to 7th floor, north wing), 10 am to 5:30 pm (1st to 7th floor, south wing and 8th to 9th floor)
Location: 4 Zhujiang East Road, Tianhe District, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province

Pearl River evening cruise (珠江夜游)

Evening cruises of the Peal River, departing from brightly lit wharves, are unmissable
Evening cruises of the Peal River, departing from brightly lit wharves, are unmissable – Photo by Shoaib Asif

An after-dark cruise along the Pearl River – China’s third longest – gives you a chance to get to know the waterway that was Guangzhou’s original lifeblood. You can also glimpse landmarks such as Canton Tower, Guangzhou Bridge and the Xinghai Concert Hall. The scene at night, with all the city lights, can be spectacular.

Cruises, which can last anywhere from 55 minutes to 80 minutes, depart from eight piers. The most popular sailings leave from Tianzi Wharf and Dashatou Wharf, which is the largest. If you’re looking for an upmarket experience, try the cruises operated by the Information Times or Pearl River Dream Star

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Tickets can be purchased in-person or online via various WeChat mini apps and third-party websites such as Trip.com. Your fare will include tea and snacks. Make sure you get to the pier at least 30 minutes before departure and ensure you have your passport or other valid ID ready. 

Pro tip: Don’t confuse the cruises with the Water Bus, which is a form of public transport. 

Opening Hours: Normally between 6 pm and 10:30 pm
Price: Varies, Between 68 yuan to 198 yuan. 

Canton Tower (廣州塔)

The Canton Tower, seen here on 14 July 2019, is a city icon
The Canton Tower, seen here on 14 July 2019, is a city icon – Photo by Lycheeart

The Canton Tower established itself as an iconic landmark as soon as it opened in 2010. With a height of 600 metres, it is one of the tallest towers in the world and China’s second-tallest building (the loftiest being Shanghai Tower).

In designing the building, the architect Mark Hemel said “Our aim was to design a free-form tower with a rich and human-like identity that would represent Guangzhou as a dynamic and exciting city.” 

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The tower is especially stunning at night, illuminated with a dazzling array of colours between 7 pm and 10 pm.

The building is also equally impressive on the inside, with a range of dining, entertainment, shopping and thrill rides. Don’t miss the Spider Walk, the longest spiral staircase in the world, with 1,088 steps, or the drop tower – said to be the world’s tallest. There are also multiple observation decks with stunning panoramic views of the city. 

Opening Hours: 9:30 am – 10:30 pm
Location: Yuejiang West Road, Haizhu District, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province

Guangzhou Opera House (廣州大歌劇院)

Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera House, seen here at sunset in a file photo from 2017
Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera House, seen here at sunset in a file photo from 2017 – Photo by Scarbor Siu

Designed by Zaha Hadid, the Guangzhou Opera House is a gorgeous building that warrants a visit, even if you’re not catching a show. From the outside, the asymmetrically shaped opera house – with its steel lattices – looks dazzlingly futuristic, but its design is in fact based on Hadid’s vision of two stones, washed up on the bank of the Pearl River, which the building faces.

The building’s 1,804-seat opera hall, 443-seat experimental theatre and spacious gallery have played host to over 2000 art events and 3000 performances since its opening in 2010. Dining options include the vegetarian restaurant, Di Shui Fang, plus the Art Park Café and a fast food outlet. 

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Pro tip: the opera house is close to the Guangdong Museum, Guangzhou Library and Canton Tower, so you can easily tick them off as a group. 

Opening Hours: Tours run between 9:30 am to 4:30 pm on Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays only. Visitors can also enter on non-performance days. 
Location: 1 Zhujiang West Road,Tianhe District, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province

Guangdong Museum (廣東省博物館)

The design of the Guangdong Museum, seen here in January 2021, is inspired by a traditional Chinese lacquer box
The design of the Guangdong Museum, seen here in January 2021, is inspired by a traditional Chinese lacquer box – Photo by Bao Zhonghui

Designed by renowned architect Rocco Yim, Guangdong Museum’s appearance is meant to evoke an ancient Chinese lacquer box  – the kind that you would store precious objects in. That’s entirely fitting, for the venue houses one of the largest collections of historical objects in the world, numbering more than 160,000 pieces. 

With 77,000 square metres of floor space, the five-storey museum showcases everything from Chinese calligraphy to wood carving and ceramics. There is also a permanent exhibition that covers the history and culture of Guangdong, in addition to an area dedicated to the province’s natural resources, fauna and flora. 

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Temporary exhibitions are regularly scheduled, with recent ones covering topics such as the traditional dresses of Southern Chinese ethnic groups and the bronze artefacts of bygone civilisations that populated the Yangtze River basin. For the latest information, be sure to check the museum’s website

Opening Hours: 9 am to 5 pm (Closed on Mondays)
Location: 2 Zhujiang East Road, Tianhe District, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province

Yuexiu Park (越秀公園)

The sprawling Yuexiu Park, seen here in November 2021, is a valuable greensward in the heart of built-up Guangzhou
The sprawling Yuexiu Park, seen here in November 2021, is a valuable greensward in the heart of built-up Guangzhou – Photo by sisi zzling

At 690,000 square metres, the centrally located Yuexiu Park is Guangzhou’s green lung, with beautiful landscaping, three lakes, several gardens, as well as amusement areas for children. 

The 97-year-old park also features Zhenhai Tower, which was first built in 1380 and is now home to the Guangzhou Museum; the Five Ram Sculpture, completed in 1959 and now one of the symbols of Guangzhou; and the 37-metre Sun Yat-sen Memorial, which was constructed in 1929 and is dedicated to the founder of modern China.

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When visiting the park, make sure you keep a map handy as the sheer size of the area means that it is easy to lose your bearings. 

Opening Hours: 6 am to 10 pm
Location: 988 Jiefang North Road, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province

Yong Qing Fang (永慶坊)

A street in the Yong Qing Fang quarter, seen in October 2019
A street in the Yong Qing Fang quarter, seen in October 2019 – Photo by GuoZhongHua

Yong Qing Fang is a small historic quarter once famed for the Cantonese Opera performers who would congregate here and perform in its Grand Theatre (now known as the Jinsheng Cinema). 

The area fell into disrepair over time, but a three-year revitalisation effort that ended in 2019 has given the area a facelift while preserving the original look of the buildings. Check out the ancestral home of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, and the Cantonese Art Opera Museum, where there are performances and displays of elaborate costumes.

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There are lots of trendy shops in the area too, and several cafés worth checking out, including Coffeeology, Mstand and Sveglia

Location: 99 Enning Road, Liwan District, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province

Changzhou Island (長州島)

Tourists seen at the gate of the former Huangpu Military Academy, Guangzhou, on 5 February 2019
Tourists seen at the gate of the former Huangpu Military Academy, Guangzhou, on 5 February 2019

Covering an area of just over 7 square kilometres, Changzhou Island – or Dane’s Island, as it used to be called – can be accessed by subway or ferry and makes for a good edge-of-town excursion. 

Despite its size, the island is packed with many important historic spots such as the Huangpu (or Whampoa) Military Academy, which was founded by Sun Yat-sen in 1924 and was responsible for training some of modern China’s most famous generals, including Lin Biao and Guan Linzheng. 

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Other noteworthy sites include the 1911 Revolution Memorial Hall, Zhongshan Park and an assortment of temples and ancestral halls. The island is also home to a foreign cemetery – testament to the historic trading communities that were once based here.

Bikes are available for rent. 

Shamian Island (沙面島)

Despite having an area of only 0.39 square kilometres, Shamian Island was one of Guangzhou’s most important foreign trade ports during the Song (960-1279) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasty. 

Following the Second Opium War (1856-1860), it was split between the British and French as two separate foreign concessions, with the former controlling two-thirds of the territory. While the two European nations no longer hold a stake in the island, their influence is still clearly visible, with dozens of Western-style buildings, including churches, schools and former consulates. Foreign firms from countries such as Portugal, Japan and the United States also built structures on the island, making the area a truly unique blend of East and West. 

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Some of the most notable sites include Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel and the Shamian Christian Church, which were built by the French and British respectively. These days, they have become popular destinations for young Chinese couples looking to get their wedding photos taken. Nature lovers will also fall in love with the island, as it is also home to 137 ancient trees, with the oldest one over 300 years old. 

Apart from visiting the historic buildings, Shamian Island also has a decent selection of restaurants serving everything from Chinese and French to Thai and American cuisine. 

Guangzhou Restaurant (廣州酒家)

Dim sum, steamed in traditional bamboo baskets, is an essential part of any visit to Guangzhou
Dim sum, steamed in traditional bamboo baskets, is an essential part of any visit to Guangzhou – Photo by kofookoo.de

No trip to Guangzhou is complete without at least one visit to a dim sum restaurant. With so many options, it can be difficult to make a choice, but Guangzhou Restaurant is a safe bet. The chain traces its history back to 1935 and consists of 21 branches spread across the city, but the flagship restaurant on Wenchang Road probably has the most appeal to visitors.

The three-storey eatery seats 1,500 people and overlooks a large banyan tree growing inside the restaurant. All your usual favourites are on the menu and the standard is decent. Guangzhou Restaurant has won four consecutive Michelin Plate designations and appeared in a number of television documentaries.

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Expect to pay anywhere between 130 to 250 yuan per person. Keep in mind that dim sum is only available during the morning and early afternoon, with a separate dinner menu offered at night. 

Opening Hours: 7 am to 10 pm
Location: 2 Wenchang South Road, Liwan District, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province

Guangzhou Sacred Heart Cathedral (廣州聖心大教堂)

The Gothic-style spires of Guangzhou Sacred Heart Cathedral, seen on 23 January 2021
The Gothic-style spires of Guangzhou Sacred Heart Cathedral, seen on 23 January 2021 – Photo by Loegunn Lai

This 161-year-old place of worship is another reminder of the time when Guangzhou was a major meeting place between East and West, and is easily the grandest church in the city. 

Construction of the structure first began in 1863 and was overseen by the first vicar apostolic of Guangdong, Bishop Philippe François Zéphirin Guillemin, who died two years before it was completed in 1888. Construction was slow going, with the church being fashioned from granite that was labouriously mined in Hong Kong and shipped upriver to Guangzhou. 

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Today, the “Stone House,” as locals call it, holds the distinction of being only one of four Gothic-style churches in the world to be fully constructed with granite. 

Opening Hours: 8:30 am to 11:30 am, then 2:30 pm to 5 pm, from Tuesday to Friday; 8:30 am to 5 pm on weekends. Closed on Mondays.
Location: 56 Jiiubuqian, Yue Xiu District, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province

Xia Jiao Night Market (厦滘夜市)

Guangzhou’s street food is second to none
Guangzhou’s street food is second to none

One of Guangzhou’s best eat streets, Xia Jiao’s 300 metres are lined with dozens of stalls that offer every possible regional street food – from pancakes and crayfish to skewered meat, vegetables, and noodles of all kinds. It’s all very affordable, with many snacks costing between 10 to 30 yuan. You can get there via a short walk from Xiajiao metro station (Exit A).

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About a few hundred metres from Xia Jiao lies the OMG Internet Celebrity Street, with its own night market and restaurants sprawling over a covered city block. The place draws a mostly young crowd with funky stores, cafés and Instagram-ready backdrops.

Opening Hours: 6:30 pm to midnight (approximately)
Location: Xiajiao Nanhua Road, Panyu District, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province

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