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Guangzhou is a sprawling port city with a host of areas and suburbs, each boasting its own business districts and tourist attractions. Guangzhou is also located close to the city of Shenzhen and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
Downtown neighbourhoods and suburbs to the north of the city are among the most built-up areas in Guangzhou. Expats in Guangzhou tend to live in areas with decent Western restaurants or good international schools. The city centre – including Liwan, Yuexiu and Tianhe – is the most cosmopolitan and bustling area, popular with tourists and city-living locals. Tianhe is particularly popular with expats.
Those looking for a quieter, suburban life should look to the Panyu and Baiyun districts, while surrounding areas also have something to offer expat families.
City living in Guangzhou
Among the top central areas are Liwan, Yuexiu and Tianhe. Liwan and Yuexiu are the political and cultural centres of Guangzhou, with a number of historical and cultural attractions and popular shopping districts. Tianhe offers something for everyone, from wealthy executives and expat families to students.
Liwan is popular among expats and tourists, with sightseeing opportunities such as Liwan Lake Park and Shamian Island.
Liwan District is also home to Shangxiajiu Commercial Pedestrian Street, ideal for shopping and dining opportunities – and a plus is that accommodation here may prove more affordable than other central areas.
Said to be the oldest district in Guangzhou, accommodation in Yuexiu may not be as modern as neighbouring central areas. That said, luxury apartment blocks are available on Ersha Island, where expats employed as top-level executives reside and international schools are within walking distance. As a central region, it is a transport hub, accessed by metro lines 1 and 2 with stations including Gongyuanqian station as well as Yuexiu Park station, which leads out to the area's main park and a historical five-storey pagoda (tiered tower) museum.
Of the central districts, parts of Tianhe and a few areas nearby are the best choice for expats wanting to live and work in the city and avoid commuting to the outlying suburbs. In addition to Western-style restaurants, there are a few international schools in the area.
Tianhe District is probably the busiest area of the city. Trendy boutiques and art galleries are dotted among clusters of skyscrapers, making Tianhe District the perfect home for expats working in the city centre as well as those interested in art and design. Culture buffs also enjoy the Guangdong Museum while nature lovers looking for a break from the concrete jungle can spend their free time in the South China Botanical Garden.
Tianhe District includes several subdivisions, including Zhujiang New Town, Liede and the Wushan area. Zhujiang New Town is a trendy cosmopolitan area with skyscraper office buildings, bars and restaurants, while Liede has a number of foreign businesses, restaurants and supermarkets specialising in imported goods – a favourite among foreigners. Students are drawn to the area of Wushan given its proximity to universities, and accommodation here is often friendly on a typical student budget.
Suburbs in Guangzhou
The districts of Haizhu, Panyu, Huadu and Baiyun spread out further from Guangzhou's city centre but remain well located and easily accessible via metro, bus and train links. Expat compounds abound in these suburbs.
South of Tianhe, separated by the Pearl River, lies Haizhu District. An island area itself, this district composes several smaller islands and neighbourhoods. Wealthy locals and expats live in some of Guangzhou’s most expensive modern accommodation, well connected to cafés, supermarkets and public transport links.
Expats looking for a quieter suburban lifestyle should look to outlying suburbs such as Panyu. Panyu is a sprawling development to the south of downtown Guangzhou which has been steadily attracting investment, especially from the technology industry. Various theme parks, a mountain, parks and lakes make this an attractive area for those with children.
Panyu has good transport links to the city and is less smoggy than many other areas. It has tree-lined streets, good international schools, several hospitals and several large shopping malls.
Top expat compounds are located in Panyu District, including Star River and a community called Clifford Estates. Here, high-rise apartment buildings are set in tropical gardens around a man-made lake, and residents have 24-hour security, access to a gym, swimming pool, restaurants and a supermarket. Clifford International School, a hospital and nearby public transport links are also easily accessible.
Huadu and Baiyun Districts
Baiyun, spreading to the north of the city centre, is also a growing area with its own developing industrial centres. The area boasts semi-rural pockets on the outskirts, some parks and good international schools. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport is on the outskirts of Huadu, making it a popular area for frequent travellers. Despite the distance from Guangzhou city centre, Baiyun is well linked by public transport, and even Huadu which is further out is reached by metro Line 3 and Line 9.
Surrounding areas and cities to Guangzhou
Expats who find work in a city or district near to but outside of Guangzhou need not be overly concerned with lack of access to schools or modern accommodation.
Zengcheng and Conghua Districts
Two regions to the northeast of the city centre – Zengcheng and Conghua – have been drawn into the greater Guangzhou metropolitan area. Despite their distance from the city, Zengcheng and Conghua Districts have no less on offer. Beautiful natural waterfalls flowing from mountain paths make for great day trips and hiking opportunities, while the hot springs allow some relaxation. The Utahloy International School in Zengcheng has a good reputation, which makes the area a viable choice for expat families who don’t mind the commute to the city centre.
Foshan borders Guangzhou and is considered a prefecture-level city. Business opportunities here also stand strong, particularly in the biotechnology and chemicals processing industries as well as the automobile industry. Expats working in these sectors may prefer to search for accommodation in Foshan – which is also well connected to Guangzhou by public transport links. The lifestyle in Foshan, though distinct to Guangzhou, is also diverse with an array of facilities and amenities, from dining and shopping to outdoor activities.
Expats working for large multinationals in sectors such as electronics, IT, manufacturing and food processing may be transferred to the industrial city of Dongguan. Dongguan has no shortage of primary schools and preschools, which is important for expat families to consider, and there are a host of annual events that are celebrated here and bring the city to life.
►To learn more about the property market, see Accommodation in Guangzhou
"It all depends in what kind of experience you are looking for. We have enjoyed Yuexiu district, but we also like Haizhu District. We were not interested in living among many foreigners." Paz gives some recommendations on the top neighbourhoods in this expat interview.
"Haizhu is nice because the air is cleaner and it is quiet for the most part. Zhu Jiang new Town is nice but expensive. TianHe is nice for the convenience but has the downsides of any other major downtown area I've been to." Check out this interview with Seth K for more on Guangzhou areas and suburbs.
Photo credits: Liede Bridge by Lycheeart; Yile Road by Scarbor Siu; Foshan by Aaron Kar. All sourced from Unsplash.
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