October 2018


Guangzhou, the Southern Pearl – China's Third Largest City
October 2018




A mesmerising view of the Zhujiang New Town skyline with the Opera House, IFC and IFP buildings over the Pearl River

Guangzhou rounds out the big three Chinese cities but is much less known or visited than Beijing and Shanghai. Until recently it was better recognised overseas as Canton, a name almost synonymouswith trade and it is trade that is both key to the city's historic sites and newfound prosperity.


Words and Photography: Mark Andrews


Guangzhou developed on its importance as a port. From 1757 to 1842 under the Canton System it was the only Chinese port open to international trade. Shamian Island is the best start for delving into this past. Literally meaning 'sandy surface', the small artificial island in the Pearl River became a British and French Concession after the Opium Wars in 1859.


Unlike much of old Guangzhou the island remains largely as it was in colonial times. Wander along the tree lined streets - some pedestrianised - and immerse yourself in architectural splendour away from the city bustle. Unfortunately, most buildings are not open to the public but notable structures to look out for include the former British Canton Club and the restored Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel built by the French in 1892.


For a feel of the Chinese past of the city, head to the Chen Clan Academy. Referred by many northerners as cultureless, the local Lingnan architectural style of the hall shows the fallacy of this view of Guangzhou. Gaudy carvings and reliefs may predominate but these provide welcome respite from the grey austerity of the more traditional Chinese style. Completed in 1893 the academy covers 15,000 square metres with 19 buildings formerly used as short-term accommodation for members of the Chen Clan and also as a Confucian school and chamber of commerce.


Enning Road and the streets around it offer a taste of what Guangzhou used to look like before it reached the 21st century. Wander around these streets and you will be greeted with Lingnan arcade style buildings of two or three storeys with the upper levels extending over the ground to provide a covered way. Typically, the lower level are shops while upstairs is residential. Notable buildings to look out for include the ancestral home of martial arts legend Bruce Lee along with Bahe Academy, which has a connection of more than a 100 years with traditional Cantonese Opera. The real attraction though is just walking around and savouring local life.

Fact box

Passport holders from 51 countries qualify for a 72-hour visa free stopover when transiting internationally through Guangzhou Airport. The time starts at 00.01 the day after you arrive and you must stay within Guangdong Province during the three days.

Day passes are available for the subway giving unlimited use within a 24 or 72-hour period.

With high heat and humidity summers are best avoided. October till April is the best time to visit as even in the depths of winter the average temperature is still well above 10°C.


'One pot two pieces' is the name sometimes given to Guangzhou dim sum culture and it is something that should be experienced at least once in the city. Cantonese food is world renowned but arguably reaches its peak in dim sum where dainty dishes of baked, fried and steamed morsels combine to form a brunch. While in Guangzhou, look for aplate of dim sum and enjoy watching traditional Cantonese Operaperformances but with or without entertainment, such a delicious meal takes you into the heart of local family life.


Zhujiang New Town is the pulsating architectural heart of modern Guangzhou. Aptly the main transport through this area is the futuristic driverless APM underground system - the least used line of Guangzhou's efficient subway system.


Canton Tower, strictly speaking just across the Pearl River from the New Town, is the modern icon of the city and was, until the Shanghai Tower the tallest building in China. The 488m high open air observation platform offers up a breezy view of the city. Architectural gems in Zhujiang New Town include the Zaha Hadid penned Opera House.

Collections span the human and natural history of the province along with culture such as Cantonese architecture and literature at the New Guangdong Museum.


The area is best seen at night with the illuminations; however, if you arrive in the afternoon the New Guangdong Museum offers a diversion while you wait. Collections span the human and natural history of the province along with culture such as Cantonese architecture and literature.


Yuexiu Park is the largest urban park and home to the Five Rams statue. In the city's mythical origins, it is said that five immortals came riding Rams and presented the locals with rice, and left the Rams behind. These animals turned into stone. Housed within the park are both the Guangzhou City Museum and Art Gallery. Nearby the main entrance is the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King. This is one of the city's premier sites, which dates back two millennia. Amongst other treasures, this site includes the magnificent 2,291-piece jade burial suit of Zhao Mo who ruled until 122BC.


Just outside the south exit of Yuexiu Park is the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. It's on the site of the former Presidential Palace where Sun had his military government in 1921. The hall charts the revolutionary connection between Sun and city.

  • image01
    image01

    A colonial building on Shamian Dajie, the main street of Shamian Island

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    The former Canton Club on Shamian Island

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    A semi open hall at the Chen Clan Academy, exhibiting the ornate and gaudy Lingnan decoration style

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Dim sum is also referred to as 'one pot two pieces' in Guangzhou

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Passengers watch from the APM

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Ancestral home of Bruce Lee

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    View of a moon globe in front of the Guangzhou Opera House

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Exterior of the latest Guangdong Museum in the Zhujiang New Town

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor is known for its life-size terracotta statues of warriors

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall and statue on the site of the former presidential palace

    Prev Next