China: Six of the best things to see in Guangzhou

CHEN CLAN ACADEMY

The 1890s ancestral temple of the Chen family is the best and largest traditional structure in Guangzhou. The complex is made up of 19 separate buildings decorated with ornate glazed pottery and intricate carvings in wood and stone depicting birds, animals, musical instruments and merrymaking courtesans. Along the roofline stand rows of pottery figures from Chinese mythology. The main temple has a shrine and table altar in gold leaf, while courtyards are filled with contorted penjing (bonsai) trees in ceramic pots. Part of the complex is a folk-art museum displaying intricate embroideries and ivory carvings. See en.visitgd.com

CANTON TOWER

The 604-metre Canton Tower soars in a spectacular design of two twisting ellipses with a narrow waist, providing it with an unusual and elegant silhouette, further enhanced at night with LED lights in changing patterns and colours. An observation deck at 488 metres – one of the world's highest outdoor decks – is best visited at night when twinkling lights cut through Guangzhou's often polluted air. An open-air staircase that winds around the building's waist is another dizzying experience, and a great way to see the tower's steel structure. You can also ride around the summit in spherical, glass-enclosed cabins. See gztvtower.info

GUANGXIAO TEMPLE

The cheerful and charming Temple of Bright Filial Piety, where you're welcomed by a Laughing Buddha, is probably the earliest of the city's temples and has a 1500-year history associated with early Buddhist missionaries to China. The elegant great hall has sweeping red eaves and dates from the 12th century. There are also two 10th-century iron pagodas whose remarkable decoration is still in fine condition. The attractive grounds are dotted with Buddha statues, trees and small pavilions carefully looked after by the resident Zen Buddhist monks. Grounds are especially pretty in springtime, when plum trees blossom. See en.visitgd.com

YUEXIU PARK

This northern-suburbs park is strung out over seven hills and dotted with various monuments and statues in leafy surrounds, making it a great escape from the urban concrete. A defensive tower, last remnant of Guangzhou's old city walls, houses the Guangzhou Museum, which exhibits Tang Dynasty ceramics, lovely calligraphy scrolls, carved ivory objects and 18th-century clocks. The top floor covers revolutionary history and the founder of modern China, Sun Yat-Sen. The Guangzhou Orchid Garden opposite the park bursts with 10,000 orchids of all varieties, as well as other tropical plants, and has a lovely tea pavilion. See guangzhoumuseum.cn

TEMPLE OF THE SIX BANYANS

This temple and shrine for Buddhist relics, founded in AD537, boasts several huge statues of Buddha and Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. At the centre of the complex stands Flower Pagoda, the city's tallest pagoda. From the exterior, it appears to have nine storeys, although inside you'll have to clamber up 17 for fine city views. The pagoda houses a copper pillar cast in the 14th century covered in representations of Buddha. This is a fully operational temple and many locals come to pray, providing a pleasant bustle amid swirls of smoke from incense sticks. See en.visitgd.com

MAUSOLEUM OF THE 72 MARTYRS

Guangzhou has always been a rebellious city far from imperial power in distant Beijing and, before the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, was a major centre for the republican movement. This memorial to those who died in an uprising against the local governor is one of China's most famous revolutionary monuments and a bemusing architectural jumble that includes Buddhist symbols, a mini French palace, an Egyptian obelisk and a replica of the Liberty Bell. It catches breezes on a hillside, and is especially beautiful in autumn, when chrysanthemums flower. See en.visitgd.com

Brian Johnston travelled at his own expense.

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