Hong Kong’s lesser known northern neighbor Guangzhou is just as busy, energetic, and exciting as its counterpart. It’s perfect for both the well-traveled who are looking for something a little off the beaten path or for a first timer in China. There are enough things to do to never get bored but not too many to be overwhelmed.
Formerly known as Canton, Guangzhou sits on the northern end of the Pearl River which leads down to Hong Kong. And while the city is a little grittier that say Shanghai or Beijing, there’s still plenty of luxury accommodations and high end restaurants to balance it out.
In a nutshell it’s quintessential China: a city that’s on the cutting edge of technology, art, and architecture but it never forgets its ancient roots.
When to Go
Temperatures in the city are relatively mild, but the best time to visit is in the fall and winter which lasts from October through February. Temperatures during this time range from the high 40s to the low 80s and it’s mostly dry. April through September is the rainy season and typhoons aren’t uncommon. It also becomes extremely hot making outdoor activity difficult.
Chinese New Year/Spring Festival
One of the most popular Chinese festivals is the Chinese New Year. Occurring on the first day of first lunar month, usually in January or February, this is a 15 day celebration showcases one of the city’s biggest attractions: its flowers.
Also going on during the New Year Celebrations is the lion dance performers. A traditional Chinese custom, the dance is meant to ward off evil and bring good luck in the new year.
Lotus Flower Festival
Another flora-themed event is the lotus festival. From June till August, travelers can head to Lotus Blossom Hill to see thousands of lotus flowers in bloom.
Since it’s outside the main part of the city, it makes for a great day trip.
Lotus Blossom Hill originally served as an ancient sandstone quarry that dates back to the Western Han Dynasty – around 206 B.C. to 24 A.D. The Lianhua Pagoda, built during the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), can still be seen as well as the 134-foot-high gold-gilded statue of the Goddess of Mercy.
Where to Stay
Four Seasons Guangzhou
If you want peak luxury, look no further than the Four Seasons. The 344 guestrooms are located between floors 74 and 98 of the Guangzhou IFC tower. Rooms offer clear views of the Pearl River Delta, the city, and the new telecommunications tower across the river.
All rooms include Four Seasons standard luxury with custom-designed beds and large marble bathrooms.
For the ultimate luxury experience, check out the Presidential Suite on the 97th floor. The 2,725-square-foot space includes a living room with twin sofas and matching chairs, a dining area for six with an adjacent butler’s pantry, a separate guest bathroom, and a custom-designed king bed. The floor-to-ceiling windows offer sweeping views of the city including the river and Canton Tower.
The property boasts seven dining locations from high-end to a casual. Don’t miss Italian-inspired Café Mondo, Kumoi Japanese restaurant that specializes in sushi, yakitori, and teppanyaki, or Catch, located 100 stories up and has fresh seafood and amazing city views.
After dinner, head over to Hua Spa for ultimate relaxation. The spa offers a range of treatments including traditional Chinese massage, aromatherapy hot-stone techniques, hydrotherapy, salt scrubs and mud wraps.
Good to know: the Personal Endeavour Experience allows guests to enjoy any two hour treatment from the menu for just RMB 1,288, or just under $200.
Also a top pick for luxury stays is the Mandarin Oriental, Gaungzhou. The 233-room, 30-suite property is connected to the Shipaiqiao metro station and right next to the Taikoo Hui high-end shopping mall.
Many rooms offer floor-to-ceiling windows with city views and rainforest showers. Club level rooms allow guests entrance into the Oriental Club lounge. The space provides exclusive benefits including private check-in, daily breakfast, selected drinks all day, and light dinner.
Guests have a variety of dining options from traditional Cantonese cuisine, to a steak and seafood house, and even afternoon tea and dim sum.
If clients are staying at this hotel, the spa is a must. There are six individual treatment suites, each with steam showers and changing areas as well as three couples’ suites including a VIP suite. Facilities include steam rooms, saunas, vitality pools and experience showers. There is also a temperature-controlled outdoor pool, private sundeck with outdoor massages available, and a fitness center.
The Ritz-Carlton, Guangzhou
With river views and renowned Ritz-Carlton service, you can’t go wrong with this hotel. Located near the Guangzhou Opera House, Guangdong Museum, transport hub, and Guangzhou International Conference and Exhibition Center, the hotel is perfect for any type of travel from business to leisure.
The property has 351 rooms including 35 deluxe suites and 91 luxury apartments. Blending Eastern and Western traditions, guests are greeted with a cup of hot tea upon arrival.
Amenities include a fitness center, beauty salon, and Ritz-Carlton spa with outdoor heated pool, jacuzzi, sauna, Thai care room, couple suite, and more.
Guests can grab a drink at the Churchill It British bar which features hundreds of whiskeys and cognacs and live piano. There’s also the buffet style Food restaurant offering global cuisine and the high-end award-winning Cantonese Li Xuan Chinese Restaurant. There’s also an Italian restaurant with large wine cellar, a space for afternoon tea, and a handcrafted moon cake gift shop.
What to Do
Planning to have kids (or kids at heart) in tow? Chimelong is a combination safari park, zoo, circus, amusement park, water park, golf center, and resort. This massive complex isn’t just all talk – it’s considered by many to be one of the best of its kind in Asia.
The safari park alone is one of the biggest spanning 2000 acres and housing more than 500 species. There’s even a special section dedicated to the 500 rare animals on site and includes pandas, koalas, meerkats, Asian elephants, and more.
Guests can explore the park in self-driven vehicles or from above in a cable car.
Meanwhile, the Chimelong Circus showcases performers from over 20 countries and 40 species of animals. Highlights include aerial dancers, clowns, teeterboard show, motorcycle ball of death, a horse parade, cannon act, and more.
Or head over to Chimelong Paradise, the largest amusement park in China. The 70 rides in the park range from high-adrenaline roller coasters and water attractions to interactive 4D experiences and kiddie rides.
If you’re looking for the biggest and most intense water park, check out the one at Chimelong. Spanning 450 acres, it claims the world’s largest artificial torrent as well as the world’s largest drift surfing project. Along with the intense rides, there are also 50 family friendly options.
See a Show at the Guanghzhou Opera House
Looking for a little culture? The Guanghzou Opera House is not just one of the best in China, but one of the best in the world. According to its website, it was one of USA Today’s top 10 opera houses and was awarded the Pritzker Building Award, the first ever given to a woman.
The theater has hosted prominent musicians such as soprano Renee Fleming, the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, the Dresden National Symphony Orchestra, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic.
The main opera hall houses 1687 seats while the smaller experimental theatre houses 443 seats.
Upcoming performances include pianist Dr. Zheng Hui October 29, Lithuanian National Opera Theater Ballet’s "Swan Lake" November 4 and 5, Chekhov’s “Seagull” November 16 and 17, London Phillharmonic Orchestra December 30, Broadway’s "The Producers" January 15-18, and more.
Climb to the Top of Canton Tower
One of the most famous (and unmissable) landmarks in the city is the Canton Tower. The 1,900-foot TV tower is the highest in China and the third highest in the world. At night, it lights up in a rainbow display.
On the top of the tower is the observation deck where visitors can get panoramic views of the city. Or for the adrenaline seeker, the Sky Drop is a 100-foot free fall starting at almost 1,600 feet above ground.
For a less extreme experience, visitors can check out the bubble tram. The 16 sightseeing cabins revolve around the tower at almost 1,500 feet above ground.
There’s also a spiral staircase with transparent floor for optimum views and a 3D and 4D theater.
After sightseeing, travelers can grab a bite at the Riverside Café or CHOPSTIX Restaurant 105 feet in the air.
Dinner Cruise on the Pearl River
One of the best ways to enjoy any city is on the water. And the Pearl River, China’s third longest, provides ample views of the city, especially at night when the buildings are lit up. Viator’s dinner cruise gives guests a four-hour experience gives guests unobstructed views of the city’s top sights including the Canton Tower, Haixinsha Island, and Xinghai Concert Hall.
The tour begins with private transportation from the hotel followed by a buffet dinner onboard. Afterwards, guests can head to the upper outdoor deck to take in the skyline.
Included in the tour is dinner, a local guide, hotel pickup and drop off, and the cruise.
Stroll Through Shamian Island
For travelers looking for a leisurely outdoor activity full of historical sights, Shamian Island is the place to be. The island was a former concession of England and France and the buildings reflect they style of the two countries.
Thanks to traffic control, the area is much quieter and more pedestrian friendly than most of the city. It’s a great place to stroll through a garden and see historical buildings, many of which are built in Gothic, Baroque, and Neoclassical style.
Some of the top sights include the French Church, Administration Bureau of Broadcasting of the Nationalist Government, the Consulate of United States in Guangzhou, and dozens of mansions.
Bars and cafes line the southwest side of the island providing great river views.