1 - Guangzhou New Library
Built to look like books leaning against bookends, this building provides an airy interior for reading and education. For short-term visitors, check out the 8th and the 9th floors that house exhibitions. The permanent Guangzhou History and Culture gallery on the 9th floor (take the lift to 8th and walk up the stairs) is especially worth a visit. Although all the books are in Chinese, there are enough art pieces and pictures to keep one intrigued, not to mention the exquisite rosewood furniture. If you need to catch up on news, head to the 6th floor where there is a diverse range of newspapers that includes The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and the Daily Mirror. Other floors also have an abundance of English books. Non-Guangzhou residents can get a two-month library card for free, which enables them to use the wifi as well as borrow books. gzlib.gov.cn/E/index.html
2 - Guangdong Museum
Opened in 2010 to coincide with the Asian Games, which took place on nearby Haixinsha island, this facility replaces the old Guangdong Museum and now houses its 160,000 artefacts in 21,000 sqm of display space. Permanent exhibitions include “Guangdong History and Culture” and “Natural Resources in Guangdong”, while there are also more specialist exhibitions such as those dealing with Tang Dynasty ink-stones, Chaozhou woodcarving, pottery and porcelain. Admission is generally free, though some exhibitions have an entrance fee, but you need a valid ID to get the complimentary ticket. It gets crowded on weekends, so allow for queuing time and the fact that there is a daily quota of 5,000 tickets. English guided tours (for up to 40) can be booked by calling +86 20 3804 6888. The cost is RMB200 (US$32) for two hours. Open 9am-5pm, closed on Mondays. gdmuseum.com
3 - Guangzhou Opera House
Across Flower City Square to the west, this Zaha Hadid-designed landmark, also opened in 2010, has received some bad press for its apparently slapdash construction. And indeed, some signage has already fallen off, and the ticketing area and souvenir shop are poorly lit. Still, a walk around here is enjoyable. Modern art pieces pepper the “intergalactic” surroundings, and on Saturdays and Sundays, the performing venues inside are open to the public for viewing, including the 1,804-seat “encircling” auditorium designed by Australia’s Sir Harold Marshall. This facility does not have a resident opera company, but big names do grace the stage here. This month the Boston Symphony Orchestra will be performing under the baton of Conductor Lorin Maazel, while in June Carmen will be co-presented with London’s Royal Opera House.
4 - Hua Spa
If you are here for lunchtime, consider taking advantage of the “Lunchtime Escape” package offered by the Four Seasons Hotel Guangzhou – a few minutes walk north of the Opera House. For RMB550 (US$89) or RMB680 (US$110), you get 30- or 45-minute facial or body treatment at the hotel’s Hua Spa as well as a light lunch and a juice at the Atrium lobby lounge, which looks over the city from the 70th floor. Food choices include dishes such as Hainan chicken rice, and salads. As part of the deal, you also get access to the gym and the swimming pool – also with a commanding city view. For a review of the hotel, turn to page 24. fourseasons.com/guangzhou
5 - W Guangzhou
Walk through the library and past The Ritz-Carlton to find Xiancun Road, and then head north (away from the river) for a 10-minute stroll to this new hipster hangout. The Woobar, part of the Living Room on the lobby level, is a great place for a drink amid a surreal ambiance of illuminated walls, marble floor in golden hues, abstract works of art and a wraparound bar.
On our visit, Casablanca was being projected onto the wall to the sound of live jazz. Besides the molecular W cocktails (from RMB100/US$16), another reason to head here is the “Tea-Volution,” a specially designed afternoon tea set (from RMB208/US$34) with themes such as fashion and nature. If you are visiting after 9pm, consider going to Fei Bar on level 2, which features a psychedelic interior as well as good live music and DJ action. There are glass balconies featuring different styles of seating for various group sizes and moods, as well as little private rooms between levels for intimate conversations. starwoodhotels.com