One of China’s most ancient cities, Guangzhou has long been connected to the West — first as a thriving trade port and, more recently, as a manufacturing and garment hub. But the country’s third-largest metropolis is quickly shedding its skin and evolving into a fashionable getaway thanks to an influx of new restaurants, hotels and cultural experiences.
On the west side of the city, get lost in what feels like a time capsule of old Canton, with two-story Chinese shophouses and enormous public parks. On the east side, navigate through ultra-modern skyscrapers, museums and restaurants in Zhujiang New Town, the Central Business District of Tianhe. And in the middle? Leafy streets and residential pockets are quickly turning into hotbeds of trendy restaurants and wine bars.
Whether you have a 24-hour layover or a week to spare, Guangzhou is well worth a visit. Here’s five reasons you’ll want to explore the capital of Guangdong right now.
The city’s reputation as an important international travel destination was solidified when Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The Ritz-Carlton, Guangzhou opened its doors in 2008. But it wasn’t until Five-Star Four Seasons Hotel Guangzhou debuted in 2012 that the city’s modern landscape began to emerge. The ambitious property set a new tone, crowning the International Finance Centre with panoramic views, an impressive atrium and contemporary rooms.
Mandarin Oriental, Guangzhou came onto the scene in 2013 to complete the Five-Star trifecta with the city’s largest standard rooms, an enticing Five-Star spa and Four-Star Ebony grill, which holds China’s first gin bar.
Since then, a slew of high-end hotels have followed suit, including Conrad Guangzhou, which just opened in 2017. Located in the middle of the CBD (Central Business District), the Conrad is a haven for design lovers, featuring a specially commissioned Czech crystal light installation in the lobby, traditional Chinese architectural references and a collection of restaurants designed by Hong Kong-based creative Andre Fu.
Coming up next: Rosewood Guangzhou is slated to join the club later this year.
Amazing Cantonese Cuisine…
This is the birthplace of Cantonese cooking, and there’s no shortage of fantastic dim sum spots, high-end venues and casual snack stalls around town to satiate your craving. For an ultra-luxurious experience, we’d suggest booking a table at Lai Heen, the signature fine-dining restaurant of The Ritz-Carlton, Guangzhou. It’s a sanctuary of calm, serving exquisite dishes such as poached sunflower chicken, braised shrimp and delicate crab — complete with wine pairings from the sommelier.
Looking for something a little more low-key? Wait in line for famous black char siu (barbecued pork) and silky tofu braised in spring water at Bingsheng. Conveniently enough, there’s a location in Zhujiang New Town, across the street from the beautiful Five-Star Mandarin Oriental, Guangzhou.
…And Other Trendy Restaurants
Cantonese cuisine aside, Guangzhou has welcomed a stream of new eateries with influences from all over the globe. Atlas Kitchen prepares fresh salads and Sichuan-inspired sandwiches in a rustic-chic co-working space in the Tianhe District.
Meanwhile, Cocina promises Spanish flavors from a lofty, stylish perch on the trendy Zhujiang Party Pier — a collection of restaurants, bars and event venues along the Pearl River.
But Social & Co. is the place to go for excellent wining and dining. Here, you’ll find a friendly atmosphere, antipodean wines, homestyle New Zealand cuisine and pared-back interiors along a leafy residential street in the aforementioned Tianhe District.
As one of China’s oldest cities, Guangzhou offers a diverse architectural landscape. One of the best places to experience it is on Shamian Island, formerly a French and British concession in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Resembling a tiny European town, the pedestrian-only island was an important trade port along the Pearl River. Today, it’s still peppered with grand mansions, churches, government buildings and banyan trees. Among the roughly 150 buildings, the architecture varies from Gothic to Neoclassical to Baroque, and each has a plaque to explain its original purpose.
The heritage architecture provides a peek into Guangzhou’s past, while modern construction establishes the city as the powerhouse it is today. A walk along the Tianhe promenade — a pedestrian area just north of the Pearl River in the Central Business District — connects you with many of the city’s contemporary architectural highlights.
Head to Huacheng Square to take in the Zaha Hadid Architects-designed Guangzhou Library, the funky Guangdong Museum, the towering International Finance Centre and, across the river, the twisting Canton Tower — home to the world’s third-highest observation center and tallest Ferris wheel. It’s a little bit touristy, but the transparent cabins tracing the roof’s periphery provide soaring views over the city.
You can’t go to Guangzhou without checking out the thriving shopping scene. From dried foods (used in traditional Chinese medicine) in the Qingping Medicine Market to fashionable finds at Liuhua wholesale market, Guangzhou is a shopper’s paradise.
To get a taste of the local style, explore a main retail district like Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street or Beijing Road Pedestrian Street in the evening, where you’ll encounter street food hawkers, fast fashion and outposts from big-name international brands like Nike.
The Huangsha seafood market is also worth a visit — either to ogle the exotic abalone, geoduck, horn snails, cockles, cuttlefish and jumbo prawns, or sit down for a no-frills meal. There are several restaurants here where you can choose your dinner, then watch it cooked up fresh. Just be sure to come prepared with a few key Mandarin phrases, if you don’t speak the language.