Why Guangzhou is China's most liveable city

Guangzhou has been ranked as China’s best city in which to live – here’s why


BY TOM LEE
An editor and journalist who has worked in Asia for a decade, Tom Lee is the former head of South China’s That’s PRD, one of the country’s largest English-language publications.

 

A 2018 report by the United Nations and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has named Guangzhou as China’s most liveable city – and it’s not hard to see why. With its internationally acclaimed dining scene, rich cultural life and serene natural beauty, the southern provincial capital has much to offer. As one of the Chinese mainland’s four top-tier cities, it is at the forefront of modern living, yet simultaneously maintains a decidedly relaxed way of life. Locals are fond of saying that there’s always ‘plenty of time’ to get even the most urgent tasks done – offering a welcome break from the often frenetic pace of Beijing, Shanghai and nearby tech hub Shenzhen.

1. The architecture

The Guangzhou government’s progressive attitude to design has attracted some of the world’s finest architects to the city, including the late Zaha Hadid, whose striking Opera House sits on the banks of the Pearl River. Next door is the Mall of the World, a public square where families and tourists flock to gaze at the gorgeous, inventively designed buildings that frame the open-air space. These include the Guangzhou Library and the Guangdong Museum, as well as the Canton Tower – one of the tallest structures in the world, which residents say resembles the shapely form of a woman.

2. The food

Since the 1980s, Guangzhou’s close proximity to Hong Kong and Shenzhen, plus its ties to overseas, has made it one of the first beneficiaries of China's ‘opening up’ under former leader Deng Xiaoping. As a result, you’ll find a fantastic selection of international restaurants in the city, including Morton’s Grille for bacon fat braised ribs, Sultan Turkish Restaurant BBQ for Middle Eastern classics, and city favourite Social&Co for casual Western. If you prefer something more local, there’s Bing Sheng on Xiancun Road. The restaurant has always been popular with Guangzhouers, but it’s now getting some international recognition too, having recently been named one of the top restaurants in China by French gastronomic guide, La Liste. Joining it is the upscale Jiang by Chef Fei, housed in Mandarin Oriental, Guangzhou – it exudes sophisticated luxury and serves up incredible authentic flavours.

3. The scenery

No other major city in China has quite so much greenery right on its doorstep. Whether you prefer an energetic hike up White Cloud Mountain (Baiyun Shan) or a leisurely stroll through Tianhe Park, you’re never far from nature. If you enjoy the water, book a cruise down the famous Pearl River – so-called because it contains a stone island resembling a huge pearl, polished by the constantly flowing water of the river. For a touch of romance, opt for a night cruise to see the river illuminated by a rainbow of lights. A little further out of the city is Lotus Hill, which has a giant statue of the goddess of compassion, Guanyin, overlooking a lush garden.

4. The culture

Make time to explore Guangzhou’s long and fascinating history. Those interested in China’s ancient southern kingdoms should visit the Museum of the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King, where a jade burial suit forms the centrepiece of the collection. For an overview of the region’s arts and crafts, visit the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, a traditional Guangdong structure filled with wood and ivory carvings, local instruments and colourful pottery. There’s also a brilliant new museum dedicated to Cantonese Opera, situated in the old part of town, as well as thousand-year old mosques and Buddhist temples. Don’t miss the ever-popular Shamian Island, where numerous brides-to-be are snapped for pre-wedding photos amid colonial-style French mansions.

5. The shopping

A buzzing retail scene is another reason to love Guangzhou. At the heart of Tianhe, the city’s most modern district, is TaiKoo Hui, within the same building as Mandarin Oriental, Guangzhou. Here all the most fashionable brands can be found, including Burberry and Gucci. Not far away is the flashy Parc Central, Guangzhou’s ‘stadium for retail’, where brands including Apple and Tesla have their flagship stores. Designed by Benoy, the architecture references the Chinese symbol for peace, harmony and fortune in its steel monocoque roof structure, while the glass canopies are supported by tree-like columns sympathetic to the green surroundings. If you’re looking for souvenirs, visit the tucked-away Jade Street, near Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street. Here, as the name suggests, you’ll find hundreds of small shops selling jade items, from bracelets and rings to paperweights and vases. For traditional Chinese tea, try Nanfang Tea Market. The area covers 20,000 square metres, so you’re sure to find a tea set you like, plus a tightly pressed block of tea to take home.

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