Guangzhou is today an ostentatious statement of the PRC’s economic prowess. Rice fields are a recent memory in districts like Tianhe, now home to enough skyscrapers and shopping plazas to rival Hong Kong. It’s easy to get sucked into the commercial clamour, spending all ones time dining-out in the recently developed Zhujiang New Town or reaching new hedonistic highs along the Party Pier. But if you’ve come to relax, historic Guangzhou still offers some charming leafy neighbourhoods and a pace-of-life more equitable with a Mediterranean town than a bustling manufacturing hub.
Historically, only the walled city was known as Guangzhou, with the surrounding areas known as Panyu. Panyu is now the name given to the largest district south of the Pearl River. Other previously autonomous areas have been sucked into to this swelling metropolis including Nansha District and the outlying towns of Conghua and Zengcheng. Neighbouring Foshan was connected to Guangzhou via metro in 2010.
At 34 km2, Yuexiu is one of Guangzhou’s smallest districts. Yet the provincial and city governments are both situated in Yuexiu, making it the regional administrative centre. The district is far less conspicuous than the central business district in Tianhe, with a number of tranquil backstreets to explore on foot. The old financial quarter of Taojin is home to the Friendship Store – the only place to purchase foreign goods in more ideological times. Nearby you’ll find the iconic Garden Hotel, which stands before Jian Shi Liu Ma Lu, a vibrant international food and beverage street.
Tianhe district started developing after the Tianhe Stadium was constructed in 1986. It is now home to some of Guangzhou’s most extravagant modern attractions, including the International Finance Centre, as well as a plethora of shopping malls.
Liwan has some fantastic cultural attractions to boast of. Shamian Island on the Pearl River was a foreign concession conceded to the British and French by the Qing dynasty rulers. On the island, which is now a popular recreational quarter, streets of stunning colonial villas have survived. Liwan also administers Fangcun, sometimes known as China’s floral valley. Of the many botanical attractions you’ll discover, the Lingnan Flower Market and Guangzhou Flower Expo Park are most celebrated.