The dynamic metropolis offers both a window into China’s breakneck growth and a cradle of the country’s culture, heritage and cuisine.
Guangzhou has been a city of commerce since the days of Marco Polo, when it served as an important port on the Silk Road. From its harbor on the Pearl River, some 100 miles north of Hong Kong, ships laden with tea and porcelain would set sail for the Middle East and Europe. Guangzhou’s global significance has only risen over the centuries, transforming it into a highly competitive boomtown—China’s third largest city after Beijing and Shanghai, its skyline pierced with super-tall buildings.
But underneath its modern sprawl of skyscrapers and starchitecture, the city’s old mercantile soul still stands. You’ll find it in its pace of life, which remains placid despite all the hubbub; in leafy alleyways dotted with old houses and temples; and in low-key but tantalizing restaurants.
Now, the city is becoming the newest destination for Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, with Rosewood Guangzhou opening this month. Here are five reasons why a visit should be on your radar.
It Has the World’s Most Visionary Architecture
China’s urban planning program has reshaped the way it looks at cities over the past two decades, and Guangzhou is one of its stars. For a tangible glimpse, start in Zhujiang New Town, the city’s central business district. Here, Zaha Hadid’s futuristic Guangzhou Opera House beckons, a gorgeous complex of fluid forms conceived to conjure a cluster of pebbles on the bed of the Pearl River. Completed in 2010, the twin-boulder structure of subtly curved glass panels and granite hosts a rotating line-up of concerts and shows in its airy wave-shaped interior. Other major buildings include the Guangzhou Library—its exterior meant to evoke a cascade of books, its soaring interior arcade containing millions of volumes—and the Guangdong Museum, a monumental squared building reminiscent of a Chinese lacquer box, a fitting allegory for the treasures it stores. Canton Tower, perhaps the city’s most iconic structure, is only a 10-minute taxi ride away. Built for the 2010 Asian Games, the supertall observation tower (the world’s second-tallest tower) was designed to look “female” by its Dutch architects, and locals commonly refer to the supertall structure as “slim-waisted.” Also on the must-see list: the copper coin-shaped Guangzhou Circle and the 1,738-foot Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre. Made of glass and white terracotta and home to Rosewood Guangzhou, it’s the city’s tallest building, the third tallest in China and seventh in the world.
Its Cantonese Heritage Contains the Roots of Modern China
Guangzhou’s history goes back millennia: The Mausoleum of Nanyue King is a 2,000-year-old Han dynasty tomb, with jade discs and ornate gold seals. But it was in the 15th century that the city became a thriving commercial center and the birthplace of Cantonese culture. Today, the old quarter of Liwan retains much of its legacy, with its maze of century-old qilous—three- to four-story arcaded buildings combining shophouses and residences, with Western façade elements and Chinese interiors. Come here for a taste of old-school Cantonese lifestyle, like the humble noodle shops and jade vendors along bustling Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street. The Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, a compound built in 1894 for one of the Pearl River Delta’s oldest clans, includes a traditional shrine, Confucian school and pavilions. In its courtyards see wood, plaster and stone carvings depicting scenes from traditional Chinese dramas, intricate iron castings of flowers and mythological animals, from a phoenix to dragons, along with sculptures of folktale figures.
The history lesson continues on Shamian Island. Following the Opium Wars in the mid-eighteenth century, which solidified Western control over China’s mercantile economy, ruling officials turned the sandbank on the Pearl River into a concession for foreign merchants. British, French, Dutch, Portuguese, and American traders made it their home, bringing with them their own architectural styles. A stroll down its cobbled streets reveals beautiful French-syle mansions and stern cathedrals (like the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Lourdes), shady parks and Victorian homes.
For a look into the country’s more recent past, head to the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, which commemorates the first president of the Republic of China. Known as “the Father of Nation,” the Guangdong-born revolutionary died in 1925. At the 1931 memorial, a bronze statue of the eponymous doctor stands tall outside an octagon-shaped hall with sweeping blue-tiled roofs and red lacquer pillars, designed to accommodate over 3,000 people for public performances.
It’s the Cradle of Cantonese Food—a.k.a. Dim Sum Central
Guangzhou is pretty serious about food. The cuisine uses mostly local ingredients and prefers braising, stewing, and sautéing over the flash-frying method used in other Chinese provinces. It also incorporates sweet, thick sauces like hoisin, plum, and oyster. Noodle dishes and roasted meats—like the pigeon served at Tang Li Yuan or the famous “real-taste” chicken at Chuang Fa—are staples. But dim sum is the star of the game.
Locally known as yum cha (literally “drink tea,” of which copious amounts of which always accompany the meal), dim sum comes in a plethora of small dishes that are steamed, baked, or fried to mouth-watering perfection. Traditional favorites include har gaw (shrimp dumplings), siu mai (minced pork dumplings garnished with crab roe) and cheung fen (rice noodle sheets filled with a variety of fillings).
You’ll find dim sum perfectly executed at high-end establishments such as Michelin-starred Jade River, famous for training some of the city’s dumpling masters, as well as at laid-back restaurants like Dian Dou De, whose many locations are packed with locals on any given night. Guangzhou Restaurant, one of the city’s oldest, is another mainstay, though it only serves dim sum at breakfast and lunch.
The Shopping Is Epic
Whether it’s dried goji berries or loose tea leaves, high fashion or indie designers, Guangzhou caters to all tastes. The Qingping Traditional Chinese Medicine Market in Liwan is a trove of herbal remedies roots, and restorative tonics—you’ll find dried scorpions and deer tendons among the rows of jars. Stock up on tea—or just marvel at the sheer variety produced in China—across the river at Fangcun Tea Market. Comprising 3,000 stalls, it’s the world’s largest tea wholesaler, selling varieties like pu’er fermented teas, flower-studded green teas and dianhong, a fine black tea comprising delicate leaf tips.
If fashion is your medicine, you’ll find the major international brands at high-end malls like Parc Central and K11. For a closer look at what “Made in China” means today, The Fashion Door offers a curated selection of Chinese designers, both established and up-and-coming. And the browsing is top-notch at TIT Creative Industry Zone, a compound of Communist-era textile factories now converted into small designer boutiques, hip cafés, and indie art and design galleries.
A New Rosewood Is Opening Its Doors
Guangzhou’s rich history and forward-looking modernity come together at the new Rosewood Guangzhou. Occupying the top floors of Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre—the city’s tallest building—the hotel commands breathtaking views of the metropolis, while also being fully immersed in it: The main cultural attractions are within walking distance, as are the luxury complexes of the central business area, where the property is located. Each of the 251 rooms and 355 Rosewood Residences reflect that same binary take on past and present, featuring both Chinese decorative touches and modern design throughout. Its seven restaurants, too, celebrate international and Cantonese cuisine, continuing the cosmopolitan legacy the city is known for.
Discover A Sense of Guangzhou
Guangzhou Opera House: 1 Zhujiang West Road; +86 20-3839-2888
Guangzhou Library: 4 Zhujiang East Road; +86 20-8383-6666
Guangdong Museum: 2 Zhujiang East Road; +86 20-3804-6886
Canton Tower: No.222 Yuexiang West Road
Guangzhou Circle: Guangzhouyuan Road, across Pearl River from Nanpu Peninsula ferry station
Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre: 6 Zhujiang Dong Road
Mausoleum of Nanyue King: 867 Jiefang North Road; +86 20-3618-2920
Chen Clan Ancestral Hall: 34 Enlongli; +86 20-8181-4559
Our Lady of Lourdes: 14 Shamian Street
Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall: 190 Sunwen Middle Road
Tang Li Yuan: 12 Ruifang Lu; +86 20-8170-2228
Chuang Fa: 512-2 Guangfu North Road; +86 20-8188-1915
Jade River: 1 Shamian South Street; +86 20-8188-6968
Dian Dou De: 470 Huifu East Road, +86 20-8333-2898
Guangzhou Restaurant: No. 2 Wenchang South Road; +86 20-8138-0388
Qingping Traditional Chinese Medicine Market: 23-25 Zhuji Lu
Fangcun Tea Market: 500 Fangcun Dadao Zhong
Parc Central: 218 Tianhe Road
K11: 6 Zhujiang East Road
The Fashion Door: 8090 Hui Chao Fang
TIT Creative Industry Zone: 397 Xingang Middle Road