The ancient port city of Guangzhou is an immensely popular destination in China. Aside from its myriad attractions, Guangzhou is renowned as the home of the famed Canton fair, a trade fair, which the city has hosted every spring and autumn since its inception in 1957.
The Canton Fair or the China Import and Export fair attracts countless business people from all parts of the globe to Guangzhou every year so it’s no wonder that the city and the capital of the southern Chinese Guangdong province is one of the most popular destinations in China.
Getting to and around Guangzhou
Located north of the Pearl River Delta, Guangzhou is accessible by air via its Baiyun International Airport located 28 kilometers from the city center. Guangzhou’s international airport welcomes a host of international and domestic carriers making getting to the city infinitely easy. However, many visitors to Hong Kong, in fact, often use the regular and speedy rail links that link the two cities. Travel within the city is also facile as it features a well-developed public transport system consisting of the metro, buses, taxis and ferries.
Modern-day Guangzhou is a bustling, prosperous port city. A home to more than 13 million people, the city is a crowded metropolis featuring a cityscape littered with tall skyscrapers, parks, temples, waterfront promenades and noisy markets. The city has a rather colorful history, even though it had been recognized as an important center of trade since the 14th century when famed Italian explorer, Marco Polo arrived in Canton and was then followed by the Portuguese in the 16th century.
The Portuguese were soon followed by several other Europeans like the Dutch, the Belgians and the Swedish and even Muslim traders from India. The city came under British rule after the first Opium War in 1839 and then fell to the Japanese during the Second World War. The communists captured the city by way of the Communist Revolution in 1949, but before this event Guangzhou served as a battleground for fierce tussles between the Nationalists and the Communists.
When the progressive Chinese premier, Deng Xiaoping introduced China’s open-door policy in 1979, it aided the development and growth of Guangzhou immensely so much so that it reclaimed its position of as one of China’s leading port cities. The city, in fact, went on to host the Asian Games successfully in 2010. An event for the city spruced up its old neighborhoods and instituted other major improvements like extending its subway and building many world-class hotels to accommodate the many visitors to the games.
Today, aside from its reputation as a prominent center of trade, Guangzhou is also known to be a vibrant Chinese city offering a wealth of shopping, nightlife and dining options. The last mentioned but naturally features renowned Cantonese fare like dim sum preparations, Cheng Fun, Shrimp dumplings, steamed shao mai along with other dishes like Jidi porridge and more. Be sure to sample some of these famed dishes on your visit at the many restaurants and teahouses that litter the culinary landscape of Guangzhou.
Recommended Sights and experiences in Guangzhou
The Nanyue tomb is the final resting place of Zhao Mei, a Han Dynasty ruler who reigned over Nanyue State. This tomb came to light only in 1983 when the land below Xianggang hill was being excavated. This grand underground mausoleum features several colored murals in addition to many relics made of terracotta, jade and bronze like vessels, mirrors, belts, garments and more. The exhibits also include Asian silverware and African ivory all of which give evidence to the fact that Guangzhou has long been a center of global trade.
Huaisheng Mosque / Lighthouse Mosque
The Huaisheng Mosque is reputed to be one of the oldest mosques in China. This mosque located on Guanzhou’s Guangta Road, dates back to the 7th century and gives evidence to the fact that Islam was brought to China from the Middle East by traders. These traders established the foreign quarter of Guangzhou, which has been referred to, in various historical books. The mosque is also renowned for its lofty minaret, called lighthouse tower for it served as a guiding light for boats sailing in the river. Sailors also climbed to the top of the tower in order to use it as a lookout point and to check weather conditions.
This park that extends over 212.5 acres is the largest park in Guangzhou and is littered with various interesting sights including three man-made lakes and seven hillocks. Amongst the many sights hosted within the park includes a sculpture of five rams (a famous sculpture often used as the symbol of the city), a portion of a wall dating back to the Ming Dynasty and the square cannon site. Also located within this expansive park are additional spots like a hall built in the memory of Dr Sun Yat Sen, often referred to as the ‘father of modern China’ and Sanyuan Gong, the oldest and largest Taoist temple in China which dates back to 319 AD.
The famed Pearl River is the third longest river in China. Down the ages, this river, which is made up of four individual river systems namely the Xi River, the Dong River, the Bei River and the Liuxi River has played an important role in the growth and development of Guangzhou city. In fact, these four-river systems meet Guangzhou and flow on for another 70 km as the Pearl River until it empties into the South China Sea. Ten bridges span the length of this famous river in Guangzhou. Tall skyscrapers, plush hotels and grand shopping malls further flank both sides of the river as it flows through the city. A day or night cruise on the Pearl River is a much recommended experience in Guangzhou. If you don’t like sailing, you could also take a walk along the city’s riverside promenade known as Scenery Corridor, extending for 23 km, which allows passersby to view life on the river.
Guangxiao Si/ Bright Filial Piety Temple
Guangxio Si is the oldest Buddhist temple in Guangzhou, which dates back to more than 1800 years. The temple is an oasis of peace and calm in this perennially busy city and is yet another highly recommended sight.
Shamian Island –Colonial district
Shamian Island, situated on a sandbar in the midst of frenetic Guangzhou is home to several imposing buildings, remnants of the city’s colonial past. This tranquil locale can be reached by walking across a small bridge and is well worth a visit. This well-preserved colonial-era corner of the city features much period architecture and lush greenery including numerous banyan trees. Many of the buildings on Shamian Island have now been converted into luxurious hotels and it is well worth stopping in for a break during your expeditions around the city.