Some influential internet sites, like Wikipedia, claim that Chinese people consider Guangzhou to be cultureless and not especially interesting. We beg to differ: we absolutely loved the city! You’ll also find websites saying that it’s China’s richest city, yet somehow we felt it was more rundown than other Chinese megacities. We chose well where to stay in Guangzhou so we could enjoy it in its uncorrupted form. Surely they are planning something big, and many old neighborhoods might disappear soon. So we were happy to visit Guangzhou before that happens.
Where to Stay In Guangzhou
Guangzhou has three central districts. Yuexiu, with its historic buildings and narrow streets, has an old Chinese vibe. Liwan seems somehow monumental, typical of the city centers of major Chinese cities. Tianhe, on the other hand, is skyscraper central. These three districts are quite large, so you have to stay in the right location. Hence, in Yuexiu District stay in the City Center, in Liwan District stay in the Old Town (Xiguan), and in Tianhe District, you have to stay around Huacheng Square.
Hotels in Guangzhou – Our Tip
Take note that hotels in Guangzhou (and all of China) for under 40 eur, usually come with a very hard bed. It’s the Chinese standard and supposedly good for your back. It happened to us in Xi’an. We couldn’t resist the temptation and booked what we thought would be a great hotel. In all honesty, the hotel was quite good, but the bed was as hard as a rock. We slept so bad we decided to up our budget. So spend a bit more and get yourself a good night’s sleep. You need to be fully rested to enjoy the ton of things to do and see in Guangzhou!
Yuexiu is in the center of Guangzhou. That’s why most metro lines and major streets converge here. The city’s main shopping alley, Beijing Street, is in the center of Yuexiu. Most of the important places to visit in Guangzhou are here: the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-Sen’s Memorial Hall, the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees, the Guangxiao Temple and the Sacred Heart Cathedral. Additionally, Guangzhou’s most popular green area, Yuexiu Mountain and Park, is in Yuexiu.
Hotels in Yuexiu
Due to its central location, Yuexiu has a wide variety of options. We like the Guangdong Yingbin Hotel, near the Temple of Six Banyan Trees. The hotel offers classic design and nice views. The Sun Yat-Sen’s Memorial Hall and the Yuexiu Mountain and Park are just a step away. Another option is to stay close to the Pearl River in LN Hotel Five. The newly opened hotel features slick design and magnificent river views from the roof. Lively Beijing Street is quite close too.
The Old Town is our favorite. We stayed inside the so-called Lychee Bay Scenic Area. It’s a beautiful street packed with authentic old houses surrounded by a lush park with a huge lake – Liwan Lake Park. We loved strolling around this crumbling neighborhood and were ecstatic when we stumbled upon a lovely Chinese opera in the middle of Liwan Lake Park. We also loved walking down the Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street and the amazing colonial neighborhood on Shamian Island. Outstanding!
Hotels in Liwan
To us, the best place to stay in Guangzhou is the Old Town. It somehow feels magically stuck in time. We stayed in the Citadines Lizhiwan Guangzhou Hotel, within the Lychee Bay Scenic Area. The hotel is a beautiful neoclassical building, part of a pedestrian area full of authentic old houses. Shamian Island is another great location. The Guangdong Victory Hotel is a beautiful colonial building on the island. This elegant hotel offers comfortable rooms, a fitness center, and a sauna.
You’ll find neighborhoods like the Business Area of Guangzhou in most other Chinese megacities. But there is one thing that sets this area apart: Its gigantic pedestrian zone. Yes, the skyscrapers are impressive, and the Canton Tower is truly beautiful, but the green oasis inside the Zhujiang Road called the Huacheng Square (Flower City Square) is quite unique. That’s what cities should be all about: enjoying your time walking in peace. Don’t forget to check the Guangzhou Opera House and Guangdong Museum at the end of the square.
Hotels in Tianhe
If you are wondering where to stay in Guangzhou when visiting for business, your best choice is Tianhe. You won’t find small family-owned hotels or guesthouses here. Instead, hotels are huge and geared to business travelers. The H’ Elite Hotel, right next to Huacheng Square in the heart of the district, blends contemporary and traditional design. Rooms are big and have superb views. Another nice hotel nearby is the Leeden Hotel Guangzhou. This contemporary Chinese style hotel has all modern-day conveniences, including a gym and a pool. Of course, the views are pretty cool too.
The Best Place to Stay in Guangzhou:
Close to Pedestrian Streets
Everyone talks about the wonderful places to visit in Guangzhou. However, most tourists ignore the city’s cool pedestrian streets. We loved them! It’s where you get to feel Guangzhou’s vibrant energy. Beijing Street, north of the Pearl River, is by far the most popular one. It seems the entire city is there, buying at the fancy international shops. On the other hand, Shangxiajiu Street has a Chinese vibe. It’s full of Chinese copycat products! Shamian Street is the main drag on Shamian Island, and it’s quite different. We loved walking under the shade of century-old trees admiring the elegant buildings. Go all the way to Maima Street, in front of the Sacred Heart Cathedral to find street vendors selling all sorts of products. Finally, don’t forget to visit Lychee Bay Street inside the Lychee Bay Scenic Area.
The Best Places to Visit in Guangzhou
One afternoon, we were walking around Liwan Lake Park when we heard music. It was a live Chinese Opera production under massive trees! The music and voices were gorgeous, and the costumes fantastic. This is a memory we will carry forever. We learned afterward that they do have opera productions regularly at the park.
Another thing we loved about Guangzhou was the so-called Xiguan houses. These Chinese merchant houses date back to the beginning of the 20th Century. Though they dot the entire neighborhood, the area around Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street and the continuing Enning Road is especially interesting.
On the other hand, Huacheng Square is the centerpiece of contemporary China. We had a great time walking about the big green area between the buildings. You get to see some of China’s most impressive modern architecture.
Beijing has the Art District 798, Shanghai the M50 contemporary art district, and Guangzhou the Redtory. Hip restaurants and fancy art galleries have set base in this old abandoned can factory. As you can imagine, the area is the favorite hangout of young artists and designers.
If you don’t have much time to spend in Guangzhou, the building you should not miss is the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall. You can see skyscrapers just about everywhere, but this building is unique. This is traditional Chinese architecture and interior design at its best!
On the other hand, the twisted Canton Tower is a masterpiece of 21st-century architecture. For a short time, it was the tallest tower in the world. If you have time, go all the way to its rooftop observatory to enjoy some of the most spectacular views of Guangzhou.
Day Trips from Guangzhou
The area around Guangzhou is pretty fascinating. What’s more, China’s infrastructure makes day trips from Guangzhou very easy. We recommend going to the Diaolou watchtowers. The UNESCO World Heritage Site towers display a unique fusion of Chinese and Western structural and decorative forms.
Another magnificent place just a few hours from Guangzhou is the famous River Li. Impressive Karst Mountains in various forms and shapes line some 50km of the river. It’s a great place to admire our planet and one of our favorite places in the entire world.
An alternative plan for a day trip from Guangzhou is Mount Danxia, another World Heritage Site. Massive tall cliffs surround the rock formations of the Danxia Landform.
Tips on Navigating Guangzhou
As you probably know, you can’t use international applications such as Facebook, Twitter, or Google in Guangzhou. Actually, anywhere in China. That means Google Maps is off too. Eitan couldn’t be happier since he is not fond of fake technology. So, how do you get around? Baidoo has the best map of China, but it’s entirely in Chinese. Another option is Bing Maps, but it’s not perfectly accurate. Thus, we recommend getting a reliable VPN service. This service allows you to connect to Google Maps as if you were not in China. Eitan recommends having your hotel address written on paper in Chinese. All you have to do is show it, and people will make sure you get back home safely. Even if locals don’t speak English, the Chinese are very polite and helpful. They took such good care of us!
How to Get to Guangzhou
Most tourists fly to Hong Kong‘s airport and then hop on a train to Guangzhou. You can take either the old line or the new high-speed train. Old trains depart from Hong Kong’s Hung Hom Station in Kowloon and arrive in Guangzhou East Railway Station. There are 9 daily trains, and the journey takes approximately 2 hours. High-speed trains depart from Hong Kong’s Kowloon West Station and arrive in Guangzhou South Station. There are over 30 trains each day, and the journey takes roughly 1 hour. Take note that there is an airport 28km from Guangzhou. Foreigners landing there can get a 72-hour free stopover visa.