Guangzhou, or Canton as it was previously known, boasts a long and proud history, with human settlement here dating back to prehistoric times. It should come as no surprise then that Guangzhou is home to an impressive number and variety of museums, from the celebrated Guangdong Museum in Zhujiang New Town to the International Beer Museum in Haizhu.
Whether you're interested in local history, dinosaurs or beer, a museum is a great way to burn a couple hours on a miserable day. To help you decide what institution you should check out, we have compiled this list of 13 fascinating Guangzhou museums:
Museum of the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King (pictured above)
One of the most significant archaeological discoveries in China, the 2,000-year-old mausoleum of King Zhao Mo showcases a great trove of artifacts, including the renowned jade burial suit. Apart from Chinese artifacts, some pieces from Central Asia have been unearthed at the site, such as a Persian silver box, the earliest imported product found to date. From 137 BC to 122 BC, Zhao ruled the short-lived Kingdom of Nanyue, which consisted of parts of Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan provinces, as well as northern Vietnam. Hidden 20 meters underground, the tomb was brought to light in 1983, while the museum was opened above it in 1988.
Housed in a striking structure built to resemble a traditional treasure box, the Guangdong museum is most popular with youngsters (of all ages) for its dinosaur room. There’s a lot more than just fossilized remains to take in, however: the total collection comprises over 160,000 pieces. Notable permanent exhibitions explore Guangdong culture and handicrafts, from Duan inkstones and Chaozhou woodcarving to locally produced porcelain and calligraphic works.
A museum where you can throw back cold ones after learning about the art of brewing? Jackpot! This Zhujiang Beer-operated gem displays the history of beer in China, traces the evolution of historical production techniques to the present day and features a room that emulates what it feels like to be drunk. Who says learning has to be a sober activity?
Opened late last year, this technology-infused museum – complete with picturesque traditional garden – brings all the details of Cantonese opera to life via a series of exhibits that may cause sensory overload. Costumes, instruments, musical stars and political history are all touched upon through CGI clips, iPads and other gadgetry. Despite its newness (and, no doubt, expense), Chinglish still abounds, though you’ll be able to understand the gist of the various plaques.
Constructed at the tail end of the Qing Dynasty, this complex has served several purposes over time: temple for ancestor worship, place of study and, today, museum of Guangdong folk arts. The beautiful traditional buildings with their ornately carved roofs contain painting, porcelain, sculpture and other examples of creative handicrafts from the region.
Zhenhai Tower is the Canton Tower of yesteryear. An iconic five-story building in Yuexiu Park that dates back to the beginning of the Ming dynasty, it also houses the Guangzhou Museum. Largely dedicated to relatively recent political events and a smattering of examples of prime exports from the last 200 years – with some natural history thrown in for good measure – it is divided into four main sectors: Zhenhai Tower Exhibition Area, Art Gallery Exhibition Area, Memorial of the Anti-British Invasion of Sanyuanli People and Memorial of the March 29th Uprising Headquarters.
Sat in the middle of the Pearl River on Ersha Island, the Guangdong Museum of Art is home to works depicting modern China and overseas Chinese. Spread across 12 exhibition halls, the permanent collection includes contemporary pieces of fine art specifically relevant to Guangdong (especially those by the Lingnan school of painting) and China’s coastal areas, as well as works by overseas Chinese artists. In addition, the museum contains a vast array of sculptures and ceramic crafts, as well as other artworks that are important to art history. A variety of visiting exhibitions featuring pieces by world-famous artists are also hosted here.
Built on the archaeological site of the palace of the Nanyue Kingdom discovered in 1995, the museum sheds light on ancient city planning, urban development and imperial history. While only an estimated one-tenth of the site has been uncovered, relics from the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (917-971) and the remains of the earliest known royal garden in China have already been found. Thirteen dynasties are represented by over 10,000 exhibits.
As the name suggests, this was once a place where young idealists could receive political instruction, before being sent out into rural areas to educate the masses. Housed in a 14th-century Confucian temple, it was set up jointly by the Nationalists and the Communists in the afterglow of the imperial overthrow, but shuttered after relations between the two parties broke down. Today, it functions primarily as a shrine to Mao, who once lectured here.
If you like classical Chinese calligraphy and painting, this place is stuffed with examples culled from a variety of eras, alongside a handful of sculpture. Several exhibition halls are dedicated to individual calligraphers and painters of note from South China’s Lingnan school.
Liwan Museum is dedicated to the culture and history of Xiguan, a picturesque former district in Guangzhou. Inside are two separate exhibitions: Xiguan Dawu (Xiguan Grand Mansions) displays traditional folk customs, while in the Western-style establishment next to the mansion some ancient and modern handicrafts are showcased.
Legend has it that, once upon a time, five immortals descended from heaven to bless the city of Guangzhou with bountiful rice harvests. To commemorate this mythic event, the Five Immortals Temple was built in 1377 on the site where the celestial beings were said to have walked the Earth. Today, the Taoist structure houses the Yuexiu District Museum, which boasts a collection of relics such as black-and-white photographs, folk arts and crafts, and an array of Lingnan bonsai. The building itself is a remarkable architectural heritage.
Located inside Ancient Huangpu Village (黄埔古村) – worth visiting in itself – this spot provides a concise, informative introduction to Guangzhou’s history as a trading port (with the Opium War unpleasantness omitted). Those unfamiliar with the Canton System and the 13 Factories will be pleased to hear that the exhibits are accompanied by surprisingly fluent English plaques.