Welcome in the Year of the Monkey in Guangzhou, where the annual flower fair is in full bloom and the city is backdrop to a spectacular outdoor spring festival

Chinese New Year, which signifies the beginning of the year in the Chinese lunar calendar, is also known as the Spring Festival. In 2016, the first day of the New Year falls on 8 February and the Chinese enjoy eight to 10 days off – a period considered to be a major public holiday throughout the country. Guangzhou is one of the more fascinating cities in which to experience the festivities, with warmer weather, a cornucopia of celebrations and the honouring of ancient traditions.

In Guangzhou, don't miss the Cantonese-style Spring Festival flower fairs that are held across town. These horticultural delights are usually arranged in the centre of each district, so that it's convenient for locals to purchase plants and flowers, as well as craftwork and auspicious home decorations.

A flower display of musical instruments in New Citizens Plaza

A flower display of musical instruments in New Citizens Plaza

The fairs will extend from the usual three days to 15 days this holiday season, with carnival-like events, such as folk performances, cultural heritage displays, temple fairs and lantern shows. You won't feel lonely in Guangzhou during this time, as thousands of people will throng the streets to soak up the fun. Even if you aren't there to buy the flowers, the festive scenes of families or couples with fresh flowers and the cheerful decorations, combined with all the illuminated lanterns and lights on the streets, should lift your spirit and inspire your photography.

A light show in Huacheng Square for the opening of the Spring Festival Flower Fair

A light show in Huacheng Square for the opening of the Spring Festival Flower Fair

Another recommendation for something eye-catching is to visit Huacheng Square in Zhujiang New Town. During the festival, the city's largest outdoor square, which offers grand views of the river and iconic landmarks, will transform into a bright paradise of glittering lights and a landscape flowing with peach blossoms. A huge and enchanting tangerine tree – probably the tallest in the world – on the venue's south side will be a magnet for photographers. Mark on your calendar the series of shows incorporating music, lights and water, and other conventional festivities. The entertainment runs every night from 5 to 22 February, from 7 to 10.30pm.

The new aquarium in Grandview Plaza

The new aquarium in Grandview Plaza

A newly opened aquarium has become a mesmerising attraction in the Grandview Plaza, which is only a block away from Mandarin Oriental, Guangzhou. It enables people from the tropical city of Guangzhou to experience life in the chilly Arctic Ocean. View massive shoals of fish, as well as sharks, from outside the 30-metre-long aquarium, and enjoy various other aquatic experiences, such as underwater shows and seal feedings. A popular attraction in the city centre, the mall can satisfy all your demands for dining, shopping, entertainment and family fun.

At Guangzhou Opera House, there is an innovative multi-sensory exhibition of the artworks of Vincent van Gogh (until 21 February), in a show that dispels the notion that one must tiptoe quietly through silent museums. The painter's masterpieces are on display on giant screens, walls, columns, ceilings, and even the floor, incorporated with light, colour and sound. The Van Gogh extravaganza creates vibrant comparisons between the images and individual perception. 

Guangzhou Opera House, designed by Zaha Hadid

Guangzhou Opera House, designed by Zaha Hadid

For art lovers, the most anticipated international event is the first Asia Biennial/fifth Guangzhou Triennial (until 10 April). With an exhibition at the Guangdong Museum of Art focusing on the theme 'Asia Time', it ambitiously explores the development of Asian art in a global context.

The Chinese love food and snacks with literal or auspicious significance for holidays and gala occasions. Some classic foods are eaten specially during the Spring Festival. Jin deui (fried balls of glutinous rice flour coated with sesame seeds) are crispy on the outside but chewy inside, with the aroma of fried sesame. The pastries are popular in southern China because they look like golden balls, and the Chinese saying, 'Jin deui rolling around and filling the house with gold', is believed to bring wealth to the household. For more tasty treats and Cantonese food with a modern twist, drop by Mandarin Oriental, Guangzhou's Jiang restaurant. And raise a sophisticated glass to the New Year in the hotel bar, The Loft.

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Jessie Huang
Jessie Huang, managing editor of www.lifeofguangzhou.com (a city guide to Guangzhou in English). Born in Guangzhou, she loves the city where she lives and works, and is proud to introduce traditional Cantonese culture to the world.

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