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China > General information > Region and city guide > Guangzhou attractions (part 1): Shamian Island, Tomb of the Nanyue King, Temples and Churches

Guangzhou attractions (part 1) 


While not as overrun with major monuments as some Chinese cities, Guangzhou has sights ranging from traditional Chinese temples to colonial churches, lively markets such as Qingping and the Jade Market and contemporary art displays.

Sightseeing in
Guangzhou has been made much easier with the
advent of the subway system - closest stations are listed where convenient. However, if you’ve only got limited time, then a city tour could help you to get the most out of the city. Most hotels have travel desks and can arrange tours – be sure to check that guiding is in English, how many people will be in the group, how long you’ll have at the sights, and if there are any hidden costs. 


♥♥♥ Shamian Island 
(Huang Sha subway) 

This quaint green island, ceded to the British under the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing, is an architectural testament to bygone days.
When the British and French set up here they built grand villas, churches and embassies, planting trees that have now become giant banyans overhanging the streets. 

  Guangzhou Shamian garden

                                                                                          Guangzhou Shamian garden

There were gates barring entry to Chinese just as foreigners had been denied access to
Guangzhou. Discontent with foreign influence led to a protest demanding the return of Shamian, which resulted in 50 people being shot by colonial troops on June 23, 1925, giving Liuersan (6/2/3) Lu its name.


Although Shamian lies just a few yards of muddy water from the flyovers of Liuersan Lu, it manages to completely separate itself from the dynamism of downtown, and everything moves a little slower.  


The island is only half a mile long and half as wide. Traffic is restricted and the main thoroughfare, Shamian Dajie, is pedestrianized, which makes Shamian a great place to explore on foot. Five numbered smaller streets run south from Shamian Bei Jie, bisecting Shamian Dajie and continuing to Shamian Nan Jie, where you’ll find the dominating White Swan Hotel.

If you’re staying on the island, chances are you’ll come across most of its sights. However, there are a few targets you could try and aim for, foremost of which are the Anglican and Catholic churches, set at opposite ends of the island. Both can be visited during services.   


Shamian Island  - Statue, a changing China

Strolling around Shamian you’ll be confronted by two recent phenomena – the sight of American moms and dads with their newly adopted Chinese babies and an abundance of bronze statues commemorating Shamian’s colonial past as well as its cosmopolitan present.

Although there are so many statues that you struggle not to trip over them, some give particular insight into China’s changing social world.

Opposite Shamian Park you’ll see a statue that traces the development of women in China – from the traditionally dressed, shorter and repressed woman of yesteryear, to the scantily clad, taller and confident Chinese woman of today.

This statue on Shamian Island represents a changing China

Peasant Training Institute

Zhongshan Lu (Tues-Sun; ¥5; Nongjiang Suo subway) 

During the failed Communist- nationalist alliance of the mid-1920s, both Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai taught at the newly established Peasant Training Institute, housed in a former Confucian academy. The institute aimed to educate and thus liberate and empower the rural masses.

Mao’s time here helped to
formulate his views on Socialist revolution, based on rural rather than urban support. Although the buildings remain attractive, there is little to see here, except for a few photos of Communist martyrs who were executed in the 1927 Shanghai massacre.  However, the site still manages to draw scores of domestic tourists, principally for its connection with the late, Great Helmsman.

Sun Yatsen Memorial Hall 

Dongfeng Zhong Lu (daily 8 am-6 pm; ¥5; Jiniantang subway) On the northern side of Dongfeng Zhong Lu you’ll see the grand, cylindrical Sun Yatsen Memorial Hall, constructed in 1931 on the spot where Sun took the presidential oath in 1912. The hall is set in parkland just south of Yuexiu Park and its blue-tile roof covers an auditorium that can seat thousands. 


♥♥ Tomb of the Nanyue King 

Jiefang Bei Lu (daily 9 am-5:30 pm, last admission 4:45 pm; ¥12 and another ¥5 to enter the tomb itself; YuexiuPark subway) 

Located on Jiefang Bei Lu, the tomb of Zhao Mo, discovered in 1983, dates back to the Han dynasty and is Guangzhou’s premier historic sight. Zhao Mo was the second ruler of the Yue, a breakaway southern kingdom, and he was buried in grand fashion, complete with an entourage of concubines and slaves.

There are over 500 artifacts on display, including the burial suit itself, which is made up of countless tiny jade tiles. The entire exhibit is well-presented and organized and there is an English language video.


Temples, Mosques & Churches

With its international history, Guangzhou has places of worship for many denominations, but if you only have limited time, Six Banyans and Hualin temples are the ones to search out. 


Chen Clan Temple 

Yin Long Li (daily 8:30 am-5 pm; ¥10; Chen Jia Ci subway)  

Set in the west of the city, this temple was founded in the late 19th century with money collected from families with the surname Chen (a common Cantonese family name). It was designed as both a place of ancestor worship and an educational center for future generations of Chens and managed to escape the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. The temple holds a series of colorful and ornately decorated courtyards with fine stonework and carved screens. 


Huaisheng Mosque 

Guangta Lu (no entry to non-Muslims; Gongyuan Qian subway) 

Huaisheng Mosque reflects Guangzhou’s long trading history with the Arabic world and is the spiritual home of Guangzhou’s Hui people. Although access is restricted to Muslims, you can get a peek at Guangta, allegedly China’s oldest minaret, built by Abu Waqas in the seventh century. This area was known as Fanfang, or the foreigners’ enclave during the Ming dynasty and it remains a Muslim part of town with some good halal restaurants and niurou mian (beef noodle) canteens. 


Hualin Temple 

Hualin Xin Jie (daily 8 am-5 pm; free; Changshou Lu subway)  

Hualin Temple was founded by the Indian monk Bodhidharma in 526 AD, although the version you can see today dates from after the Cultural Revolution. The 500 life-size arhats that line the walls were added in the 17th century. Hualin is one of Guangzhou’s most vibrant and lively temples, especially if you visit during a festival. 


Temple of the Five Immortals 

Huifu Xilu (daily 9 am-noon & 1:30-5 pm; ¥5; Gongyuan Qian subway) Dedicated to the mythical five characters who supposedly founded Guangzhou, this temple was first built in 1377, although it has recently had a major overhaul. Of most interest is the lofty bell tower, which contains a clapper-less five ton bell; if you hear this bell ringing, head for the hills as it’s supposed to mean impending disaster!

♥♥ Temple of the Six Banyans 

Liu Rong Lu (daily 8 am-5 pm; ¥1 entry, ¥10 to climb the tower; Gongyuan Qian subway) 

Just off Jiefang Bei Lu and set amidst a crop of religious stalls and shops, this is one of
Guangzhou’s most celebrated and active temples. It was named in the 11th century by the poet
Su Dongpo for its six banyans
(liu rong), all of which have subsequently died.

There is also a
Guanyin Temple within the grounds, but these days, Liu RongTemple is more famous for the towering Flower Pagoda (Hua Ta) which stands beside it. Although it appears
as if there are only nine stories from the outside, there are actually 17
levels to this 187-foot tower.

The stairway is cramped and the upper floors were closed at
the time of writing, so check before paying the extra ¥9 to ascend the tower, but if you can get all the way to the top
you’ll be rewarded with good views. 

The Flower Pagoda, Guangzhou

                                                                                                                         The Flower Pagoda

Guangzhou travel guide homepage  

Getting to Guangzhou,  

Getting around Guangzhou  

Guangzhou attractions (part 2): Parks, Zoo, Museums and music 

Guangzhou pictures

maps of Shenzhen and Guangzhou

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