Guangzhou is China’s fifth-largest city in terms of population. However, it is undoubtedly the most important city in Southern China. In fact, when it comes to the economy, history, and culture, Guangzhou trails close behind Beijing and Shanghai. The city is the largest dwelling in China’s largest metropolitan area: the Pearl River Delta. Besides, Guangzhou is an outstanding city full of heritage. It hosts ancient houses, temples, churches, elegant European buildings, and super modern architecture. A gorgeous water town, enormous green square, great museums, and parks complete the feast. Finally, Guangzhou has a unique architectural style. The following 15 interesting facts about Guangzhou will make you fall in love with the city just like we did.
01 Guangzhou Hosts China’s Largest Metropolitan Area
Guangzhou is China’s fifth-largest city after Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, and Tianjin. The last Official Census of 2010 recorded 9.7 million people living within the urban area of Guangzhou. At that time, the population of the Guangzhou administrative area stood at 11.1 million. Take note that in 2010, 47.6 million people lived in the metropolitan area of the Pearl River Delta. Though in the last decade the urban population of Guangzhou kept growing, it did so at a slower pace than Chongqing and Tianjin. The city’s current population is estimated to be 13.3 million. Since Guangzhou is an important economic center, millions of migrant workers live in the city.
02 Its Name Derives From the Province’s Name
The word Guangzhou consists of two words: Guang and Zhou. Zhou means province. Thus, Guangzhou took its name from the ancient Guang Province and became its capital. Several Chinese cities got their name that way, such as Suzhou, Hangzhou, or Fuzhou. The word Guang means broad or widespread and refers to the increasing imperial power in the region. However, before the English language incorporated Guangzhou, the city was known as Canton. The word Canton came from the Portuguese Cantão, which is how the city’s name sounded to them when pronounced in southern dialects (Kóng-tûng).
03 Guangzhou Was the Only Port Open to Foreign Trade
Due to its location at the meeting point of several large rivers and the sea, Guangzhou has always been an important port and trading post. Guangzhou was already a port city in the 3rd century BC. At that time, it was the capital of the Nanyu Kingdom. In 226 AD, under the Han Dynasty, it became the provincial capital. Initially, the port traded with Arabs and Persians. However, as from the 16th century trade began with the Portuguese as well. During the 18th century, trade expanded to other European countries, America, and Australia. From 1757 to 1842, it was the only Chinese port opened to foreign trade. The trade arrangement was known as the Canton System.
04 There Is a Proper City Center
Since Guangzhou is a large city, one could say that it has several city centers. Nevertheless, the main city center is the area where the former old city of Canton used to be: Yuexiu district. The area coincides with the geographical center of the city. Besides, Guangzhou’s most important landmarks are here. The epicenter of the area is pedestrian Beijing Street, the city’s main commercial drag. Locals flock to socialize, stroll around, and shop. International brands have stores here. Most of the traditional markets are also in the city center. The most famous ones are the Shisanhang Clothing Wholesale Market and the Yide Lu Gifts and Souvenir Market.
05 Guangzhou Has Interesting Historical Sites
Since Guangzhou is a very old city, it boasts fantastic historical sites. Most of the sites are in the city center, not far from Beijing Street. The Chen Clan Ancestral Hall is one of the best examples of a traditional Chinese academic complex in the country. The Sacred Heart Cathedral is a neo-gothic Roman Catholic temple and the seat of the archdiocese of Guangzhou. The Temple of the Six Banyan Trees and the Guangxiao Temple are two of the oldest Buddhist temples in the city. On the other hand, the Huaisheng Mosque is one of the oldest mosques in the world. Finally, the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall commemorates the first president of the Republic of China.
06 There Is a Nice Water Town
Liwan District, to the west of the city center, is home to Guangzhou’s pretty water town, Lychee Bay. Beautiful old mansions line the lakes and canals within the scenic area. It’s a car-free area and there is even a small opera stage. Lychee Bay was founded in 206 AC as a summer resort. As empires came and went, Lychee Bay’s popularity among locals and tourists never stopped growing. During some time, it was an imperial garden. Unfortunately, the area fell into decay in the 1940s. Locals had to cut trees and fill canals to grow vegetables. In 1992, with the filling of the last canal, Lychee Bay ceased to exist. Luckily, after a massive rehabilitation project, the area opened again in 2010.
07 Guangzhou Has Its Own Architectural Style
The large section of Liwan district next to the former city walls is called Xiguan. The district is known for its unique buildings and atmosphere. The so-called Xiguan Houses are Guangzhou’s version of Tong Lau buildings. Wealthy merchants built two or three-story buildings with gables and tiled roofs. Especial attention was given to the lavish façades. What makes Xiguan buildings different are the arcades on the ground floors. Though the origin of the arcades is not clear, these are perfect for Guangzhou’s weather. Pedestrians shield themselves from the sun, rain, and wind under them.
08 The Pearl River Front Is Bund Alike
Beautiful neoclassical and art deco palaces line the Pearl River. Though not as many as in Shanghai, these monumental buildings tell the story of Guangzhou. The most famous building is the Canton Custom House, also known as the Great Bell Tower. Built in 1916, it is China’s oldest customs building. Another interesting structure is the elegant Nanfang Building. When it opened in 1922, it was China’s tallest building. The tower is the first building made of reinforced concrete in the country. Our favorite is the nearby art deco Aiqun Hotel, known by locals as Oi Kwan Hotel. It was the city’s tallest building when it opened in 1937.
09 Guangzhou Is Home to China’s Only Green Avenue
Every big city in China has a busy commercial area packed with super-tall skyscrapers. However, the one in Guangzhou is absolutely unique for a very important reason: it is entirely pedestrian and green. Indeed, modern tall towers surround the Huacheng Square or Flower City Square, a 1.5 kilometers long green area. It starts south of Huangpu Avenue and goes all the way to the Pearl River. The city’s museum, library, and opera are next to the river. As you can imagine, the Guangzhou skyline is superb. Across the river, perfectly aligned with the square, is Guangzhou’s iconic Canton Tower, once the world’s tallest tower. The city’s second and third tallest skyscrapers, Guangzhou International Finance Center East and West, tower above the square.
10 Wonderful Modern Architecture Is Everywhere
In the last decade or so, Guangzhou has become a magnet for extraordinary contemporary architecture. New interesting buildings range from minimalist to high tech, and bizarre. The most famous one is the lavish Guangzhou Opera designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid. She won the competition for the opera against no other than Coop Himmelblau and Rem Koolhaas. The two opera buildings resemble two giant pebbles washed by the Pearl River. The Guangzhou Library and Guangdong Museum, across the opera, are two contemporary masterpieces on Huacheng Square. Another building that grabbed the world’s attention is the Guangzhouyuan Mansion, also known as Guangzhou Circle. The building is round and has a giant hole in the center.
11 There Is an Outstanding European Neighborhood
Shamian was a historical port southwest of Guangzhou’s old city. In 1859, the French and the British opened their concessions here. They built a canal around Shamian, turning it into an island. Two bridges connected the island to the mainland. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, trading companies from the UK, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Japan built mansions on the island. These elegant buildings range in style from the neo-gothic and neo-renaissance to neo-baroque and neoclassical. Charming pedestrian Shamian Street lined with lush tropical trees, crosses the island in the middle.
12 Guangzhou Has Wonderful Parks
Guanzhou has a plethora of parks and colorful gardens. The local humid subtropical climate is perfect for vegetation to flourish. Guangzhou’s largest green area, Baiyuan Mountain, is northeast of the city center. The lovely mountain has always been an important scenic spot and the local’s favorite green area for centuries. Yuexiu Park lies between the mountain and the city center. This ancient park used to be part of the old city of Guangzhou and is famous for its Five Rams Sculpture. Among many beautiful gardens, the nicest ones are the Yuntai Garden, the Baomo Garden, and the Southern China Botanical Garden.
13 There Are Great Museums
Since Guangzhou is the cultural capital of Southern China, the region’s best museums are in the city. The Museum of the Western Han Dynasty is also the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King. This is the oldest and largest Han tomb in Southern China. The museum has a collection of more than 1000 historical pieces. The Guangdong Museum on Huacheng Square celebrates regional history. It has more than 166000 items from paintings and ceramics to calligraphy, woodcarvings, and gemstones. The Guangzhou Museum is a little bit smaller, but its building is a splendid 14th-century tower. The Guangdong Science Center is Guangzhou’s immense science museum.
14 Several Extraordinary Sites Are Near Guangzhou
Guangzhou is not the only place in the region with a unique architectural style. The Diaolao watchtowers in Kaiping County are equally impressive. The watchtowers fuse western and Chinese influences. Local people built them to protect their families from bandits, thus their fortress appearance. Regarding outstanding natural sites, there are plenty close to Guangzhou. The tall narrow cliffs of Mount Daxia are some of the most impressive natural sites in China. On the other hand, the massive karst mountains around the Li River are well known around the world. Yes, we are talking about the landscape that appears on the 20 RMB banknotes.
15 Guangzhou Metro Is China’s Third Largest
When Guangzhou Metro opened in 1997, it was the fourth metro system in Mainland China, after Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai. Since then, it has grown exponentially and now has 13 lines and an Automatic People Mover. With a total length of 475,2 km, Guangzhou’s metro is China’s third-longest. The automated people mover, a small scale rapid transit system, connects the busy commercial area along Huacheng Square. On the other hand, the Guangfu Metro Line serves both the city of Guangzhou and the city of Foshan. It is the only metro line in China part of two metro systems, Guangzhou’s and Foshan’s.