As China’s third-largest city after Shanghai and Beijing, Guangzhou is a prosperous metropolis that’s full of vigour. It has played the all-important role of being a port city on the Pearl River for centuries, and is still a thriving centre of commerce and trade till date.
Like Beijing and Shanghai, Guangzhou’s rich heritage has made it a cultural hotbed. The Cantonese culture that we know so well in Singapore heralds from this Southern Chinese city, which is still as authentic and celebrated as it was centuries ago.
As a destination that offers both the modernity of a cosmopolitan city and the history of a time-tested one, Guangzhou has become a tourism favourite over the years. The sheer number of colossal upscale malls has made it famous for being a shopping paradise, but there are also scenic spots that are well worth a visit.
Here’s how to spend your time in China’s Cantonese gem.
WHERE TO STAY
W Guangzhou is a stylish escape away from the rest of the city. Its location on the banks of the iconic Pearl River means that the views are phenomenal, regardless of which room or suite you choose. Nature-inspired decor take centre-stage within the establishment to exude a homeliness that’s hardly found in other hotels. Dining options include I by Inagiku, which offers an evocative fusion of Japanese cuisine, and Yan You, where Cantonese dishes are given innovative twists in a traditional setting.
Address: 26 Xian Cun Road, Pearl River New Town, Tianhe District, Guangzhou, China
Langham Place Guangzhou
Punctuating the skyline as an architectural masterpiece, the Langham Place Guangzhou has wowed its visitors thanks to its unusual facade. The grandiose structure is conveniently located just a two-minute walk away from Pazhou International Exhibition Centre, and overlooks the Pearl River and the glittering cityscape beyond.
The same attention to design is given within. The contemporary rooms are tastefully furnished, with marbled bathrooms for a touch of sophistication. The Sky Bar is rife with signature cocktails, making it the perfect spot to catch the sunset or admire the skyline from above.
Address: 638 Xingang Dong Road, Haizhu District, Guangzhou, China
Dusit Devarana Hot Springs and Spa, Conghua
With a nickname like the “City of Flowers”, it’s easy to see why Conghua in Guangzhou is an ideal spot for this luxurious oasis. The entire property is focused on the hot springs experience, with 23 indoor and outdoor pools that offer aromatic and therapeutic experiences. The hot springs are only the beginning of your urban retreat here; the hotel rooms are also decked out in modern Thai-inspired furnishings for an exotic twist.
Three on-site dining options are available here. The Cut Hu Xuan Chinese Restaurant is a favourite for its menu of local Cantonese and Conghua cuisine. Southeast Asian flavours are also available at the all-day Devarana Bistro.
Address: 352 Yuquan Avenue, Liangkou Town, Conghua, Guangzhou, China
WHERE TO EAT
Many would know Guangzhou for being a gourmand’s paradise, and rightly so. The city is the birthplace of Cantonese cuisine — one of the eight great cuisines in China that has become such an integral part of the nation’s culture, and has grown to make its mark on the gastronomic scene worldwide.
Jiang by Chef Fei
Today, Guangzhou is full of star-studded restaurants that have been heralded as the very best by the Michelin Guide, and Jiang by Chef Fei sits at the upper echelons of this list.
Arguably the city’s finest Cantonese restaurant, Jiang by Chef Fei scored top honours this year by becoming the city’s first two-Michelin-starred establishment. The upscale Chinese restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel earned the extra star with its menu of innovative fusion of Japanese, Western, and traditional Cantonese cooking techniques. Signature dishes here include the “Char Siew” Wood Roasted Pork Belly, the Steamed Hele Crab with Sticky Rice Wrapped in Lotus Leaf, and of course, the dim sum.
Opening hours: Lunch: 11.30am — 2.30pm (weekdays); 10am — 3pm (weekends and public holidays); Dinner: 5.30pm to 10pm (everyday)
Address: 3F Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 389 Tianhe Road, Tianhe District, Guangzhou, China
Guangzhou Restaurant – Wenchang Branch
For all-day dim sum, Guangzhou Restaurant is a locally-endorsed favourite that’s been around for 84 years. The dining establishment has several branches across China, with the original outpost at the Shangxiajiu pedestrian shopping street in Guangzhou being its flagship outlet.
If you’re feeling fancy, reserve a seat on the third floor of its flagship outlet, where Cantonese cuisine is served in a fine dining setting. The atmosphere on the second floor is suitably more convivial with casual all-day dim sum being served, while the first floor offers a sit-down restaurant environment. The dishes may be on the pricier end, but this iconic restaurant deserves a visit if you’re in the city.
Address: 2 Wenchang Nan Road, Liwan District, Guangzhou, China
WHAT TO DO
Dr Sun Yat-Sen’s Memorial Hall
As a Chinese philosopher, physician, politician, and the first president of the Republic of China, Sun Yat-sen has had a resounding legacy that’s still prevalent around the world. Spanning 16 acres at the foot of Yuexiu Mountain lies the biggest hall that has been built in his name, and it is a must-visit spot for both history buffs and nature lovers alike.
Now listed as one of the first-class cultural relics in Guangdong, the memorial hall is a majestic masterpiece that pays tribute to Sun’s philosophies and work. The grandest of them all is the Main Building, an intricately-built blue and red ancient octagon house which is now home to pictures, writings, and tributes to the revolutionary leader.
Even if history isn’t your biggest interest, the park grounds are still a welcomed escape from the city. Around the main building is the ‘Tree in Tree’. The nearly century-old banyan tree famously holds other smaller banyans with its arms, and has become quite an attraction in itself.
Directions: Take metro line 2 and get off at Memorial Hall Station.
Opening hours: 8am — 6pm
Admission fees: 10 yuan (free admission for non-exhibition areas)
Address: 259 Dongfeng Middle Road, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou, China
Guangzhou Orchid Garden
Nestled in the heart of the city lies a picturesque respite that’s filled with more than 200 species of orchids and over 300 species of other fauna. The 3.9-hectare area — located near the western entrance to the Yuexiu Park — was rebuilt from a botanical garden more than half a century ago. Today, the garden is well-known for its beautifully landscaped grounds, with ponds, sculptures, and pagodas.
Orchid exhibitions are held throughout the year in this garden, with tea being served in the Xi Yin Pavilion to allow guests to fully immerse in the city’s refined culture.
Directions: Take metro line 2, get off at Yuexiu Park Station, and take Exit B2. The garden is a five-minute walk away.
Opening hours: 8am — 6pm
Admission fees: 8 yuan
Address: 901 Jiefang North Road, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou, China
Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street
As one of the three most famous commercial centres in Guangzhou, expect Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street to be a vibrant showcase of the city’s best. It is here where you’ll still find Xiguan folk customs alongside unique Lingnan architecture. Besides being an interesting blast from the past, the area is also a shopping haven, with more than 250 shops on both sides selling goods that range from clothes and electronics, to specialised crafts and souvenirs.
Directions: Take Metro line 6, and get off at Cultural Park Station. Head north for about 600m.
Address: 6 Xiajiu Road, Liwan District, Guangzhou, China
Beijing Road Pedestrian Street
If you’re up to trade some serious jostling for good bargains, head over to the Beijing Road Pedestrian Street. The shopping paradise — located in the centre of Guangzhou — welcomes more than half a million eager visitors on a busy day, thanks to its sheer number of shops, restaurants, and cultural venues.
For the best Beijing Road experience, skip the large department stores and head into the smaller boutique ones instead. Quality Cantonese cuisine is also rife here, so you’ll find plenty of commendable dim sum spots to fuel up before your big spree. Historical attractions along this busy street include the Big Buddha Temple, with a history dating back to 971 A.D., and The Site of Nanyue Kingdom Palace, an excavation site which showcases the ruins of a circa-3rd-century royal palace and its artefacts.
Directions: Take metro line 6, and get off at Beijing Road Station. Leave from Exit B.
Address: Beijing Road, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou, China
Eight Views of Ram City
The Eight Views of Ram City are a collection of Guangzhou’s eight most famous tourist attractions, and are all worth checking off your bucket list. If you’re strapped for time however, these are the most scenic and iconic ones to make a stop while you’re in the city for a visit.
At 600m tall, Canton Tower is inarguably the most imposing and awe-inspiring landmark this sprawling city can offer. While already impressive by day, it’s at night when the tower truly shines, with lights that fully accentuate its architectural complexity.
The country’s highest TV tower (and the third largest in the world) is distinctive for its twisted design – courtesy of Mark Hemel, who was inspired by the feminine beauty of a woman’s body. Besides TV and radio transmission facilities, the tapering tower also houses observatory decks, restaurants, and exhibition spaces, making it a prime spot if you’re seeking a good view.
Directions: Take the metro line 3, get off at Canton Tower Station and get out from Exit A.
Opening hours: 9.30am — 10.30pm
Admission fees: Cloud and Star Observation Deck – 150 yuan
Address: 222 Yuejiang Xi Rd, Haizhu District, Guangzhou, China
Now more formally known as the Canton River, the Pearl River is one of Guangzhou’s top sights for its splendour at night with lights shining brilliantly along the river. It stretches 2,000km to make the top three in China’s longest rivers list — after the Yangtze River and the Yellow River — and is so named because of the pearl-coloured shells that lie at the bottom of the waters. Ten bridges span the river today, and a cruise down one of its many channels will bring you past the city’s historical sites and modern skyline.
The Baiyun Mountain is another postcard-worthy location to check out. Its name is derived from the views of the mountain’s peaks when it’s shrouded in mist. The otherworldly sight is accompanied by plenty of lush greenery, earning it its nickname as the “City’s Lung”. As you stand atop the mountains, you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the whole city and the Pearl River.
Address: Baiyun South Avenue, Baiyun, Guangzhou, China
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 8am — 5pm
Admission fee: 5 yuan
Singapore Airlines flies daily to Guangzhou
This story first appeared in Lifestyle Asia Singapore