If you like dim sum (and let’s be honest, what self-respecting foodie doesn’t?) then Guangzhou – the birthplace of dim sum is the perfect place for a weekend away.
Aside from the scrumptious Cantonese cuisine, this southern Chinese city offers plenty of things to do- from cultural attractions to jade markets, temples, and beautiful parks.
And did I mention, dim sum?
Five top spots to visit in Guangzhou:
1. Chen Clan Ancestral Hall
Usually when I see rooms filled with things behind glass cases, I do a quiet eye roll and look for the exit.
But the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall is actually a gem of a museum.
It’s hard to know where to look, with every inch of wall space expertly carved or covered with colourful, intricate artworks.
The site is positively bursting with interesting history – although it’s all written in Chinese. (I just stalked an extremely rare English-speaking tour guide who was showing around a couple).
Built in 1894, the site was once an ancestral shrine before transforming into a College, then a middle school and now, a tourist attraction.
There are also cabinets upon cabinets of insanely impressive artworks, the kind that make you ask yourself ‘How long did that take?’ or just simply, ‘How?’
2. Stroll through the Jade Markets
Jade is greatly valued in China, and has been throughout history. It represents ancient wisdom and beauty, it is also said to have healing and protective powers.
So if you’re looking for a more meaningful souvenir, why not pick up some jade jewelry from the Hualin Jade Street Market (华林玉器街).
Located on Xiajiu Rd, the market covers an area of about 10,000 sqm.
Most of Guangzhou’s jade traders are here, selling everything from rings, bracelets and pendants for under 100 yuan, right up to amazing sculptures costing tens of thousands.
There is also an outdoor market that has a much more ‘local’ feel, where you can see the traders polishing up the jade themselves.
However, be careful, as there is fake jade at the market – but to what extent, no one can be sure.
More: ‘How to Tell Real Jade From Fake‘ – Howcast
3. Hualin Temple of 500 Golden ‘Buddhas’
Tucked between the hundreds of jade vendors in the centre of the market, stands a large yet unassuming red door, with hanging red lanterns on either side.
But give the doors a push and you’ll enter into a quiet oasis – the ‘hidden’ Hualin Buddhist temple.
The two main buildings of worship boast that familiar traditional Chinese architecture and craftsmanship, with rising eaves and painted roof tiles.
The main building holds ‘the Hall of 500 Arhats’ with 500 golden statues lined from wall to wall.
(Arhat being those who are perfected people and have reached nirvana).
Here, locals carry out their religious rituals, lighting incense sticks and bowing three times in front of thier chosen shrines.
4. Li Wan Lake Park
It’s always nice to find a city that has a beautiful park at it’s core, where you can escape the rush of the daily grind.
Li Wan Lake Park is a gorgeous green spot, with a happy and calm atmosphere making it the perfect place for families, strolling couples, or tai chi enthusiasts.
In another corner of the park, are circles of locals, expertly passing a feathered shuttlecock or ‘ti jianzi’ using only their feet.
The park underwent a dramatic makeover in 2010 and so now much of the water pavilions and terraces are brand-spanking new. But with a number of old houses and towering trees it still retains its charm.
On a Sunday, there is an Open Air Chinese Opera and throughout the week you can rent a boat to take for a spin around the lake.
5. Shamian island
If you’re looking to see something ‘totally different’, then head to Shamian Island for a stroll past colourful 18th century European and American architecture, with a Chinese twang.
During the Song and Qing Dynasties, the island was an important port for international trade and was the only place foreigners were allowed to live.
For myself, just coming from Europe, it didn’t hold that ‘wow’ factor. However, it still makes a nice backdrop for photos but just don’t budget too much time here.
So after you’ve eaten your own weight in delicious dim sum, why not walk it off around Guangzhou and see some beautiful things along the way…