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Southern China’s greatest metropolis has been enthralling visitors for more than 2,000 years, and you won’t have trouble seeing why. The city offers the opportunity to explore landmarks that highlight traditional Chinese elegance set amid the gleaming steel structures of modernity. Guangzhou’s museums and mausoleums tell a story of kings and revolutionaries, while the tree-filled parkland and rolling hills invite you into the misty landscapes around the Pearl River. Whether you’re in the mood for sightseeing, history, or bargain-hunting, you won’t run out of things to do in Guangzhou anytime soon.
Named for the hill that stands at the edge of the old walled city, Yuexiu has been a center of culture and commerce since the 2nd century BC. Alongside the monuments, the district features bustling shopping streets and lush parkland with terrific views of the city.
Most of Guangzhou’s modern business district sprang up in the years of hectic growth since the 1980s. With a soccer stadium, tech center, and railway station that connects to Shenzhen and Hong Kong, Tianhe showcases modern marvels and sleek urban planning, but you can still find plenty of traditional corners like Shipai Village if you’re in the mood for narrow alleys filled with lively markets.
Despite hosting some of the world’s biggest tankers and container ships at the Port of Guangzhou, the city’s southernmost district is the place to go for open grassland, trees, and wildlife. There’s a miniature ecosystem thriving in the preserved wetlands on the banks of the Pearl River, while classical temples and carefully sculpted gardens lie amid the tree-covered hills.
Even with all the skyscrapers and modern developments, there’s plenty to remind you that Guangzhou has been hosting visitors for a very long time. Get to know some of the city’s earliest rulers at the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King, or visit the towering, colorful 11th-century pagoda at the Temple of the 6 Banyan Trees. The unmistakably Gothic architecture of the Sacred Heart Cathedral points to one facet of the region’s unique history with the West, and the nearby Huaisheng Mosque happens to be one of the oldest mosques in the world.
If you want to spend some time with nature, try the mist-shrouded forests of Baiyun Mountain or the miniature ecosystem of birds, lotus, and sugarcane plants in Nansha Wetland Park. The iconic statue of the Five Rams and Guangzhou’s Zhenhai Tower, new and old symbols of the city, greet you in Yuexiu Park, and the crowd of shops on Beijing Road Pedestrian Street give you a look at the city’s urban side. For some quick perspective on just how much city there is, try the open-air observation deck on top of Canton Tower and check out the view from a quarter-mile up in the air.
Guangzhou’s location at the center of the Pearl River Delta means you’re ideally positioned to go exploring. You can join a private guide for a dinner cruise that shows off some of the best sights along the river, visit the waterfalls and hot springs of Liuxihe National Forest Park, or take a trip to Kaiping for a look at the fortified watchtowers that stand over the countryside.
You can also get to know a few of the famous figures who can claim a connection to the region. A private tour to the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King lets you get an expert’s take on the ancient tomb, or you can fast-forward a couple millennia at the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall to learn about the founding father of the Chinese republic. If you’ve got time to visit nearby Foshan, you can learn about the origins of Bruce Lee with a look at his ancestral home—and fire up some ceramics in a 500-year-old kiln while you’re at it. There’s a treasure trove of heritage waiting in Guangzhou pretty much wherever you go.