Guangzhou is bursting with life. There is an energy to the city that for many embodies their ideas of what rapidly developing China is like. Buildings are shoved in everywhere, often seeming to spill out of their restrictive plots of land to find a little extra space above the equally clogged streets and alleys to the point where they are almost touching the city’s ubiquitous flyovers. This is one of China’s most prosperous cities, and the people here move at a pace suggesting they are chasing after the opportunities that China’s growth is bringing. Guangzhou feels like a more organic version of Hong Kong – stripped of pretense and more chaotic.
The old Canton has a long trading history, dating from its time as a post on the Maritime Silk Road. And with Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in 1979, Guangzhou was a trailblazer in the new capitalist world. The ingenuity and entrepreneurialism of the locals is the key factor that makes the city so animated.
Although it has a few interesting temples and one fascinating excavated ancient tomb, Guangzhou is low on classical style sightseeing attractions. It’s a city you experience rather than trudge around from one designated point of interest to another. Highlights of Guangzhou include a cruise along the Pearl River, with lights and neon blazing on both banks, and the tranquil vestige of the colonial era – Shamian Island. But the real treasure of the city is the life in its streets and the activity in its alleys: a stimulating mixture of color, sound and movement.
Guangzhou has a tendency to polarize visitors. Some will find it too large, too hectic and too materialistic, while others will be intoxicated and exhilarated by the electricity in the streets. Whatever the case, what is undeniable is that Guangzhou has character. It’s one of those cities that you can sense as a living, breathing organism all of its own.
Who should travel to Guangzhou?
Guangzhou is a major destination for business travelers all year round, but especially during the biannual ChinaImportand Export Fair (Canton Fair). Guangzhou isn’t as popular for tourism, but any traveler who enjoys large, exciting cities should come here for a look. Guangzhou is not as sophisticated as Shanghai or Hong Kong, but it has a very special character of its own.
How long is needed to see Guangzhou?
At a minimum, you could get a feel for Guangzhou and see the major attractions in two full days. But it’s better to allow three or four days to experience it properly. If the city does cast a spell on you, you will wish you had more days to explore it. If you hate it, you can always leave early.