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72 Hours in Guangzhou

China has been rolling out a new 72-hour transit visa exemption policy in major cities throughout the country, making visiting China even easier. Now travelers from the U.S., Canada, and 49 other countries can include China as an additional destination on an existing trip without needing to get a visa. Under the policy, visitors are able to enter select Chinese cities for up to 72 hours without a visa, as long as they have a booked plane ticket to a third country or region within the 72-hour time period. This applies to the cities of Beijing, ShanghaiGuangzhou, Chengdu, ChongqingShenyang, Dalian, Xi’an, GuilinKunming, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Xiamen, Harbin and Tianjin. China continues to expand this policy to additional locations throughout the destination. In the meantime, these cities are the ideal stopovers or add-on destinations for travelers already in Asia.

Guangzhou is the capital of Guangdong Province in South China and the third-largest city in China. Once the starting point of the Silk Road, this ancient trade port city sits on the Pearl River and serves as an important transportation hub and political, economic, scientific and cultural center for the region. Now that you can visit Guangzhou for up to 72 hours without getting a visa, the only question is what you want to do while in the capital city. The good news is that Guangzhou is doable within three days. Here are some of the top things to do in Guangzhou to make the most of your 72-hour trip:

Yuexiu Park

Situated at the heart of Guangzhou, Yuexiu Park encompasses 200+ acres, including three man-made lakes, hills, gardens, pagodas and bridges, locals fishing or practicing tai chi, and ancient sculptures. Rent a bicycle to traverse a larger portion of the park or simply stroll to take it in leisurely. A must-see within the park is the Five Rams Statue, which commemorates a legend that says that more than 2,000 years ago, the city was barren until five immortals rode in on give rams and blessed the city with prosperity. Today Guangzhou is sometimes referred to as the “City of Rams.”

Guangzhou City Museum

The Guangzhou Museum is located within Yuexiu Park, atop Yuexiu Hill. The museum is housed in a red five-story building, which is also known as Zhenhai Tower or the Five-Story Pagoda. The tower was built by Zhu Liangzu, a ruler during the Ming Dynasty, in 1380. It has been destroyed and rebuilt five times, but now sits safely in the park and houses relics from Guangzhou’s 2,000-year history. The tower is a landmark within the city and the museum makes for a fascinating visit.

Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall

Sitting as the base of Yuexiu Hill is a memorial to Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a Chinese revolutionary and the first president of the Republic of China. Stop by this octagonal building to see Chinese architecture and decoration, which is represented in the red and gold décor (China’s national colors) and the details throughout this building. Inside the memorial hall is a grand concert venue that seats thousands of people.

Chen Family Temple & Guangdong Folk Art Museum

The ancestral temple of the Chen family, also sometimes called the Chen Clan Academy, was a place of study and worship that has been meticulously preserved since it was built in 1894. The buildings inside feature exquisite decorations of wood, brick and stone carvings, as well as gazebos, halls and courtyards. The temple now also functions as a museum under the auspices of Guangdong Folk Arts Museum, where a variety of local characteristic folk arts and crafts are on display.

Temple of the Six Banyan Trees

There is a quartet of temples in Guangzhou that are among the city’s most recognizable landmarks, especially the towering pagoda at the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Also known as Liurong Temple, it is more than 1,500 years old and one of the foremost Buddhist temples in Guangzhou. A famous litterateur from the Song Dynasty visited the temple and found the surrounding six banyan trees and roofline that looks like flower petals visually appealing. When the abbot of the monastery invited him to offer a name for the site, he proposed its current-day name – the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees and the Flower Pagoda. Inside you’ll find many cultural relics including a Laughing Buddha statue made of copper, as well as visitors lighting incense.

Shamian Island

This tiny island is a sandbar within the Pearl River with a literal name (Shamian translates to “sandy surface”). Its small size, tree-lined neighborhoods and pedestrian-only boulevards make it a good place for a pleasurable stroll. Once home to wealthy foreign merchants after the first Opium War, Shamian Island is today an ideal area for leisurely walks or a meal or cup of tea at one of the cafes on the southwest side of the island overlooking the river. Though Shamian Island has in the past served as a trade port, a point of defense during the second Opium War, and both a French and British concession, it was transformed at the turn of the 20th century to include consulates, banks, and Western-style mansions.

Pearl River (Zhujiang)

One cannot visit Guangzhou without somehow seeing the Pearl River. Also known as the Guangdong or Canton River, the Pearl River plays a central role in Guangzhou’s landscape. Made up of four separate river systems that join up in Guangzhou and then flow into the South Sea, the Pearl is the third largest river in China. It is named for the large stone island in the river bed that is huge, rounded, and smoothed, much like a large shining pearl. Guangzhou has 10 bridges spanning the river, plus many hotels and restaurants along its banks that provide lovely views. At night, the bridges are lit with colorful lights and the surrounding skyline shimmers in the dark. By day, cruising along the Pearl River is an excellent activity for visitors to the area. For those looking to see the Pearl River on foot, there is a 14-mile “scenic corridor” the runs alongside the river.