Guangzhou surprised me, to say the least. When I was planning my trip to China, I wasn’t even aware of all the cool & fun things to do in Guangzhou (also known as Canton) and decided to check it out simply because it was a free stopover on my trip to Sanya!
I was told it was just a busy trading city with not much for the discerning traveler – everyone was wrong! I absolutely loved Guangzhou for the pretty parks, amazing city spaces, scrumptious food, interesting expat bars and the wonderful people I met.
Just so more people can travel to and uncover the perks of visiting this port of Pearl River Delta, I decided to write about all the amazing things to do in this pretty metropolis of Guangzhou.
Table of Content
- 40 Kick Ass Things to do in Guangzhou for All Kinds of Travelers
- Visit Baiyun Mountain
- Admire Folk Art at Chen Clan Ancestral Hall
- Gawk at the Five Rams Statue in Yuexiu Park
- Stroll around Shamian Island
- Bite into a “Joey” at F.R.I.E.N.D.S Theme Cafe
- Eat at a Cantonese Restaurant
- Gaze at the Canton Tower
- Find Bird Eye Views of the Pearl River
- Pamper yourself and Blend in with a “Local” Haircut
- Take a Stroll around Beijing Road
- Work from a Coffee shop
- Try Deciphering Local Menus
- Bungee Jump at Baiyun
- Admire the Architecture of Guangzhou Opera House
- Walk up a Mountain to see a Pagoda
- Struggle with Internet
- Try a Local Beer or Two
- Day out at Chimelong Safari Park
- Don’t miss the Happy Hour at Happy Monk
- Ride the Cableway
- Try Local Instant Noodles
- Drink Coffee at a Colonial Style Starbucks
- Get a Hang of “Locking Love”
- Smurf it up with a Happy Meal at Mc Donald’s
- Stare Shamelessly at the City Scapes
- Visit a Supermarket
- Take a Train Journey
- Sing with the Grasshoppers
- Try a HotPot at a Local Restaurant
- Download Google Translate (Voice) and try to Communicate with Locals
- Attend a CouchSurfing Event
- Check out the Sprawling Malls
- Take the Metro
- Stay in a Hostel with Locals
- Do the Chicken Dance
- Get Lost in the City
- Explore Nansha
- Ride the Local Open air Tuk-Tuk’s
- Buy a Local Sim card
- Take a Day Trip to Shenzhen
40 Kick Ass Things to do in Guangzhou for All Kinds of Travelers
If you happen to be scratching your head about what to do in Guangzhou, scratch no more as here are some easy, fun and cheap things to do and travel experiences in Canton.
If you are looking for guided tours for the best Guangzhou points of interest, here’s a good selection –
Visit Baiyun Mountain
A hike up Baiyun mountain was one of the best things I did in Guangzhou. It was a lot of fun going up, down and all around the various parks and top Guangzhou attractions in Baiyun itself. From bird park to beautifully landscaped gardens, summits and well paved paths – Baiyun is the perfect family fun destination. Entry to Baiyun is just CNY 5 and is worth every penny.
Admire Folk Art at Chen Clan Ancestral Hall
Let’s be honest, I am not so much into art but when you hear about an ancient “academic temple”, I gotta say it piqued my curiosity manifold. I wasn’t at all disappointed as the temple was so pretty and the folk art museum depicted ancient lifestyle, tools and artifacts in an interesting manner. Entry is just CNY 10 ($1.5) so if nothing else, its a must-visit for some stunning photo opportunities.
Gawk at the Five Rams Statue in Yuexiu Park
Yuexiu park was somewhat of a maze to me, like all other parks in Guangzhou actually. Even though it has well paved paths and beautifully manicured gardens, the signage is a bit confusing but getting lost when you have no fixed plans is always fun. The five rams statue is the one thing I wouldn’t want to miss – so even though Yuexiu is pretty and has castles, lakes and the likes to keep you entertained – this statue is something you need to check out for yourself. It is one of the most popular structures in the city and is somewhat like a city emblem.
Stroll around Shamian Island
Shamian island is a lovely ancient colonial colony with a lot of history attached to it. Walking around Shamian would give you a good perspective of the golden era in this port island owned by French and British… on Chinese land. Think classic European architecture in the middle of China – intriguing, isn’t it?
Bite into a “Joey” at F.R.I.E.N.D.S Theme Cafe
Walk into Smelly cat cafe (also known as Central Perk / Friends cafe) situated in the posh Zhujiang New Town locale. You will see reruns of the popular TV sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S playing on a flat screen TV which you can enjoy from the famous “orange couch” where the gang used to hangout at Central Perk (All fans of the show will know what I mean). You can even take selfies with Joey’s stuffed toy – the adorable penguin. For avid fans, there are burgers and beers named after your favorite character – Want to try the Ross or maybe you are in the mood for Rachel today? Take a pick only at ‘Central Perk’ cafe.
Eat at a Cantonese Restaurant
Dining at a local Cantonese restaurant was one of the best experiences I had in Canton. Not only did I learn how locals clean their utensils and chopsticks in warm tea before they eat but the food was some of the tastiest I have ever had in Asia – yup! that’s how good it was.
Gaze at the Canton Tower
Standing tall at over 1900 ft, Canton tower once held the title for the tallest tower in the world. This architpectural masterpiece looks absolutely stunning at night when its lit up and draws hoards of eyeballs and photographers to it. Hence, this is my number one choice for things to do in Guangzhou at night.
Find Bird Eye Views of the Pearl River
Several spots in Guangzhou offer spectacular views of the pearl river for example Moxing summit at Baiyun, Mount Huangshan and any towers/mountains you can get an elevation advantage from.
Pamper yourself and Blend in with a “Local” Haircut
One day I was chilling in my hostel room and had few hours to spare before meeting few Couchsurfing buddies. I wondered how cool it would be to blend with the locals in one of those short perky haircuts. A quick fruitful Google search about “English speaking hairstylists in Guangzhou” bought me to a useful blog. After checking all salon options and prices, I zeroed in on So’o and I must say it was the right choice. I sent a quick “wechat” message to Michael at (mike64920) as suggested in the blogpost and got an appointment within minutes. I also mentioned I was on a budget so even though Michael’s rates were a bit steep for me, he translated my cut preferences in English to another ‘non-English speaking’ hairdresser in their salon and I got a steal of a haircut in this ultra luxury salon for just CNY 85 (Yes, that included shampoo, conditioning and blowdry)!!!
Take a Stroll around Beijing Road
Beijing road is not only a popular shopping district but I found it to be a great venue for photography and long walks. With so many pretty lanterns and buildings amidst malls and retail shops, I simply loved the vibe of Beijing road even though I wasn’t looking to buy anything.
Work from a Coffee shop
Cafes are ‘not cheap’ in Guangzhou but they are comfortable to sit and work from, for hours. Unless you are literally a digital nomad, like yours truly, I wouldn’t recommend ‘wasting’ time working during your travels. However, if you are looking for a great place to grab a coffee or catch up on emails, check out Pacific coffee outlets all around town. This cafe has amazingly comfortable sofas, power outlets with each table, free Wifi.. oh and of course great coffee.
Try Deciphering Local Menus
Some very local restaurants will have menu’s only in Chinese with no pictures. In this case, you can try deciphering what you want using dumb charades, pointing at others food or enacting your choice of meat – all viable and fun options which I have tried myself.
Bungee Jump at Baiyun
Baiyun has some fun filled extreme sport options which are great for the entire family. A mini bungee jump of just 45 feet can be a good “first bungee” to get your feet wet and wade away that nagging fear of heights.
Admire the Architecture of Guangzhou Opera House
The futuristic looking Guangzhou Opera House is a sight to behold. Designed in 2010 by Zaha Hadid, it’s awe-inspiring, unique and modern style is worth a visit.
Walk up a Mountain to see a Pagoda
Travel two hours away from Guangzhou and you will find yourself in a pristine , off beat spot – Nansha. Here you will see a pagoda sitting pretty atop a hill from almost everywhere in the city. All I could think of when I was there was – I need to go there! Tin Hua temple is surely worth a visit and is a easy hike up a hill, entry is from the dutch flower garden and you can take a bus for CNY 2 practically from anywhere in the city.
Struggle with Internet
As most of you know, Google is banned in China. Yes, that means no Facebook, Instagram or any of our favorite products. However, there is a way around it and you can use VPN – but beware, you might still suffer from S.I.S – Slow Internet Syndrome, throughout your trip. However, simply expect the worse and hope for the best.
Try a Local Beer or Two
Trying local beers is my kinda of thing and part of “immersing in the culture” when I visit any new country. Now, I pretty sure Tsing Tao is not local to Guangzhou but I loved it to bits and anything “local” to the country means local to me, as a foreigner. So Harbin and Tsingtao were my choice of beer on this trip to China.
Day out at Chimelong Safari Park
Chimelong safari park is one of the top places to visit in Guangzhou for families with kids. It’s popular for the panda enclosure but have other animal exhibits as well. Even though, I heard animals are treated well, I try to discourage animal viewings in enclosures and prefer game watching in national parks. I skipped this attraction but I hear all good things about it so wanted to mention it as one of the popular Guangzhou things to do for tourists.
Don’t miss the Happy Hour at Happy Monk
Okay so let me tell you a secret about bars in Guangzhou – They rarely ever have happy hours! So when you DO see a happy hour and get a 40 % discount on alcoholic beverages – you need to run for it. Happy monk is also a popular expat bar so at CNY 18, beer is bloody cheap and atmosphere is amazing.
Ride the Cableway
Would you like to ride in a cable car high above forests, lakes and pretty pagodas? I know, I did. Hop on a cable ride up Baiyun mountain to enjoy this wonderful experience. I would recommend just taking the cable one way so that you can enjoy hiking in the areas as well on return.
Try Local Instant Noodles
What’s a trip abroad without trying the local instant noodles? I for one, make it a point to try different versions of “Maggie” wherever I go. In Indoensia, “Indomie” stole the show for me, in Nepal its the “Wai Wai” and in China, I absolutely loved the spicy beef noodles. Be careful as they aren’t a very healthy option so don’t get hooked.
Drink Coffee at a Colonial Style Starbucks
Enjoying a cup of mocha at Starbucks is always a treat for me. However, put this Starbucks cafe in the middle of a colonial island in an artsy European style building and that instantly converts to an “experience”. You can try this at the Starbucks at Shamian island.
Get a Hang of “Locking Love”
Love locks, good luck charms and hanging love trinkets seems to be all the rage in China. Try locking love atop Moxing summit in Baiyun mountain and who knows, this might bring you are your loved ones some good luck and love.
Smurf it up with a Happy Meal at Mc Donald’s
Okay so this was actually a mistake. I got so used to ordering food in China by pointing at pictures in menus. So much so, that, when I was presented with an English menu at Mc Donald’s, I instantly pointed to a picture and ordered. It just so happened that it was a happy meal and I got “stuck” with this purple smurf house. Actually, I love the smurf decor in all Mc D’s there and now, also my beloved smurf house so I would recommend you to go and order a happy meal just to get this cute house. Trust me, no one will judge you for it.
Stare Shamelessly at the City Scapes
Well, considering I wasn’t expecting Guangzhou to be so modern (which shows how little research I did), I was awe-stuck at the beautiful skyscrapers and the entire urban landscape.
Visit a Supermarket
Okay this might not be your kind of thing, but whenever I visit a new country, a stop at the supermarket is a must. I usually end up buying a lot of instant food, beer, fruits and 3-in-1 coffee. Even if I don’t buy anything, I find supermarkets to be very interesting. In China, with everything written in Chinese, it is even more challenging to see if you can find and buy what you actually wanted. Dare to try?
Take a Train Journey
Bullet trains are all the rage in China and I can see why. I only took a slow sitting train from Shenzhen to Guangzhou (just around 1 hour) but it was so comfortable and fun. You can even book tickets instantly at electronic kiosks at the railway station. The entire process is seamless and fast.
Sing with the Grasshoppers
No grasshoppers is not a band. I just found some lovely grass sculptures in the bird park at Baiyun and well, they had some “grass” grasshoppers which is so rad. Just pretend to hold a mike and get clicked with this band.
Try a HotPot at a Local Restaurant
The first time I tried a hot pot at a local eatery, I burnt my tongue. Since I am not used to Chinese spices, my mouth was burning for over 40 mins. It was an awful feeling but the hot pot was So tasty! I would highly recommend to try one but remember.. wait before your eat. A burn from one of those can be pretty bad.
Download Google Translate (Voice) and try to Communicate with Locals
Communicating with locals or trying to do so, was a lot of fun. Most of the time I was playing dumb charades but on more than one occasion, I was handed a phone to “talk” into in English so that it would translate to them in Chinese. Lo behold, what I spoke into the mic in English never went through as intended. For example, if I had to say “Pork please”, it would translate as “Pig on roof” or something totally off and funny. It’s best to download the app yourself and “experiment” a bit before heading off.
Attend a CouchSurfing Event
Couchsurfing is undoubtedly my favorite way of making friends in a new country. I attended a CS event in Shenzhen and met couchsurfers who took me around and wined & dined with me in Guangzhou- it was such a wonderful experience and I believe I built some great friendships. To check out events in town in any city you visit, just join their local events groups and you are all set.
Check out the Sprawling Malls
Guangzhou is a hub for shopping with plenty of malls, shopping streets and retails shops everywhere. Malls are not only huge but the landscaping around them is posh and upscale.
Take the Metro
First day I was nervous about taking the subway. Mostly because I was pretty sure I will get lost. However, I jotted down my hostel name in Chinese (just incase I need to ask for directions) and headed off to explore the metro network of Guangzhou with no fixed destination in mind. I looked at the metro map and quickly found my way around. The metros were so easy, clean and fast to hop on-to and after that initial hesitation, I was all sold on the amazing metro network. I was taking the metro for every little thing and almost 3-4 times a day and even with luggage to airport/ another district. Not only is it cost effective mode of public transport but also extremely fast and convenient with 8 lines.
Stay in a Hostel with Locals
I was staying at the Lazy gaga hostel with almost all locals (And few travelers). Since Guangzhou is a big hub for business, I met so many local entrepreneurs, translators and marketing managers. It was a great cultural experience and the hostel was lovely and 5 min walk to the subway.
Do the Chicken Dance
Okay I did it twice actually. All I wanted was to order a Chicken meal but I could not explain “No Beef, No Pork” so I had to flap my elbows (like wings) and yell Chicken! Chicken!. It worked and it was a lot of fun. I saw the servers were grinning from ear to earn – hey, it’s great to make people smile, even if it means you look stupid!
Get Lost in the City
Getting lost is kind of my patent while traveling but hey, you can do it too. Just be careless and take the wrong metro line or simply forget the way while hiking in the woods. It is super easy to get lost but so interesting to explore and find your way in a new country where no one speaks your language. Try it and you might be surprised as how much fun this can be – just do it in broad daylight so that there is some hope of your finding your way back.
Running out of spots when you are wondering what to see in Guangzhou? Then, why not explore the outskirts? Nansha is just 2 hours away from downtown Guangzhou and surely a must-visit place. In fact, I would recommend spending at least 2 nights there so simply hop on a train/bus over the weekend. You can bike/hike around and spend one day at Huangshan forest park and the next admiring temples and parks around town.
Ride the Local Open air Tuk-Tuk’s
As soon as I arrived in Guangzhou (Also my first day in China), I decided to be adventurous and hopped on a tuk-tuk kind of open air vehicle from bus stop to my hostel. I might add, it was one of the craziest rides of my life. Luckily, I didn’t even get a chance to worry as I was busy trying to ensure me or my bags don’t fall off the speeding open cart as we jumped and bumped through the empty streets at night.
Buy a Local Sim card
How can buying a simple sim card be a travel experience you ask? Well, it took me 2 hours (With a local) to manage and get a local sim card and another 24 hours to get some sort of weak 2G/3G network. It is NOT easy to get a sim card for travelers so ensure you go with a local person who trusts you enough to give their ID proof on your behalf and knows how/where to score one from.
Take a Day Trip to Shenzhen
Shenzhen is just 1.5 hours by train from Guangzhou. It is a bustling city with tall towers, pretty parks and a mecca for shopaholics and foodies. A day trip to Shenzhen can be surely worth your while – if you have more time, spending a weekend is advisable.
Tip – When you are out of ideas on where to go in Guangzhou, always consider the multitude of options nearby, like I did 🙂
With so many cool things to do in Guangzhou, you simply cannot cross off this first tier city of China from your travel wishlist before giving it a fair shot. Go, visit Guangzhou now.