Guangzhou is the capital of Guangdong province, in southern China. China’s third largest city is conveniently located at the top of the Pearl River Delta, two hours by train from the former European colonies of Hong-Kong and Macau.
The city has a long history which is reflected on its cultural landmarks. Here is a list of five places to go in Guangzhou to get cultural, from the most recent to the oldest.
1. Zhujiang New Town – three cultural landmarks
The city of Guangzhou has hired the best architectural firms to build a new central business district. Go to Zhujiang New Town to look at the skyscrapers and three of the Guangzhou’s newest cultural landmarks. Start with the new opera house designed by Zaha Hadid. There are guided tours of the inside between 10 AM and 4PM during which you can gaze at this dramatic structure.
In front of the opera, you will find a giant black and red cube: it’s the museum of Guangdong. Popular for its collection of calligraphy and wood carving, you can enter for free (don’t forget your ID). The space layout is impressive and will wow architecture lovers.
Standing next to the museum and designed to look like a stack of open books, Guangzhou’s new library is another grandiose building. Get inside the atrium for to get another impression.
Subway: line 3 or 5. Stop at Zhujiang New Town station
2. Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall
Built with funds raised by local and overseas Chinese in memory of Sun Yat Sen, a Chinese revolutionary, president of the first Republic of China, his Memorial Hall is an octagonal pagoda-shaped building in the middle of Guangzhou.
Converted into a museum, the visitor can grasp the complexity of Chinese modern history at a time the country was struggling to make its way out of feudalism.
Subway: line 2. Stop at Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall station
3. Chen Clan Academy
This impressive academic temple was built at the end of the 19th century by members of the Chen clan. It was the place where the sons of the Chen were to live and study for the imperial examination. Now transformed into a Chinese folk art museum, the Chen Clan Academy embodies the finest example of Lingnan architecture, notable for its delicately carved miniature scenes.
Subway: line 1. Stop at Chen Clan Academy station
4. Shamian Island
In Chinese it means “Sandy Island” and I often compare it to the Bund in Shanghai because of the European architecture of its buildings. Shamian Island used to be the designated place where Western merchants were to live while doing business in Guangzhou. Relatively quiet, it is a very sought-after week-end hangout amongst locals and expats who enjoy walking on the paved streets of this historically-rich neighborhood of Guangzhou.
Subway: line 1. Stop at Huangsha station
5. Hualin Temple
According to the Chinese legend, Boddhidharma, a famous Indian Buddhist monk, set up an altar to preach Buddhism in the 6th century. One thousand years later, in 1655, a Zen master named Zongfu rehabilitated the place and built a temple he named Hualin. Divided into several halls, the most impressive is the Arhat Hall built in 1849. There were five hundred statues of arhats (Buddhist saints) that were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. All the statues were replaced during the reconstruction of the hall in 1990’s.
Hualin Temple is situated in the heart of Xiguan, an old neighborhood of Guangzhou and next to a vibrant jade market. You ought to pay a visit there on your way as well.
Subway: line 1. Stop at Changshou Road station