The largest cities of most of the countries often serve as a starting point for exploring these countries. Usually there is one main city, which is a center of everything. However, the largest countries in the world, such like China, don’t have only one main city, but at least a few. In China they are Beijing in the north, Shanghai in the east, Chengdu in the middle west, Urumqi in the far west, and Guangzhou with Hong Kong in the south. And while Beijing and Shanghai are a large single cities, Guangzhou and Hong Kong are actually a part of a giant city cluster, containing at least 6 cities, all concentrated around Pearl River Delta. In this post you will find a complete itinerary for the Pearl River Delta region with plenty of useful information and tips for you to plan your own adventure.
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 Geography of Pearl River Delta
- 2 Canton – Guangdong (广东) explanation
- 3 How to explore Pearl River Delta
- 4 The cities of the Pearl River Delta Region
- 4.1 Hong Kong
- 4.2 Shenzhen
- 4.3 Dongguan
- 4.4 Guangzhou
- 4.5 Foshan
- 4.6 Zhongshan
- 4.7 Zhuhai
- 4.8 Macau
- 4.9 Taipa-Coloane Island
- 4.10 The end of your Pearl River Delta Region journey- Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge
Geography of Pearl River Delta
Let’s look on Google Earth, disconnecting all the names, borders and other objects, remaining only a pure Earth surface. Zoom to where China is, to its southern coast. The coast comes from the north and gradually turns to west. In a certain point, it suddenly penetrates into the north, forming something like a sharp bay. Zoom closer and you will see three large rivers joining in the north edge of the bay. These rivers are called East River (Dong Jiang- 东江), North River (Bei Jiang- 北江) and West River (Xi Jiang- 西江), which is the longest one. They join together in a complicated system of canals and islands. This system is called Pearl River (Zhu Jiang- 珠江).
Proceed zooming. Now you can turn on the names and borders on the map. And you will see the whole area around Pearl River highly urbanized, although mixed with a lot of green hills and parks. This giant urban area starts from southeast with a peninsula and islands around it- this is Hong Kong. Northwest of it is the next city- Shenzhen. Proceed more northwest- it is Dongguan. And on its northwestern edge is Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province.
Now turn south. The neighboring to Guangzhou city is Foshan. South of it is Zhongshan and its neighboring Jiangmen, which is somehow separated from the main cluster. Finally on its left south end is Zhuhai and a small peninsula and an island under it- Macau. Today Macau and Hong Kong are connected by a long modern bridge (it was built last year- in 2018). Thus the whole Pearl River Delta is encircled by a road and city system. The next step is: explore it!
Canton – Guangdong (广东) explanation
Canton is the westernized name of Guangdong (广东), which sounds a little different in Mandarin and Cantonese. The western people heard it in Cantonese, then changed it into “Canton”. Now it is an important Chinese province in South China. And Han Chinese is the main ethnic group of its population- particularly their Cantonese language subbranch. In the same time Hong Kong and Macau are administratively separated from Guangdong Province into two Special Administrative Regions with special political status and different visa policy. But their main local language is still Cantonese.
You might also like: 5 must-see cities to visit in Mainland China
How to explore Pearl River Delta
If you come to China with this idea to explore Pearl River Delta, you should expect mainly modern cityscape, but mixed with green mountains. Yes, it is well combined with a lot of nature, so it is not such polluted, as Shanghai and Beijing area. Obviously, such highly developed area is very well arranged with a convenient transport system, so moving through it is very easy.
The cities of the Pearl River Delta Region
Now let’s take a look to the cities of Pearl River Delta, following the counterclockwise direction.
Hong Kong is a famous world city, well known for many of its symbols- skyscrapers, high life standard, kung fu movies and elite spirit. It is located in a peninsula with very complicated shape, divided into Kowloon and Northern Territories. It has also two large islands- Hong Kong and Lantau, as well as many other smaller islands- all arranged in something like a labyrinth.
This territory was a British colony until 1997, when the United Kingdom transferred it to China. And of course, it influenced and contributed to its current cultural image. Many of Hong Kong’s symbols and landmarks exist due to this period of its history.
Main destinations- symbols and landmarks of Hong Kong
If you come to Hong Kong for the first time, of course first you must its most important destinations, which are the basic presentation of Hong Kong. First, notice that Hong Kong is not only a maze of skyscrapers, but the largest part of its territory is actually a wild natural area, where you can see jungles with monkeys and other animals. However, the best is to start first from the high developed city area- its “concrete jungle”.
– Tsim Sha Tsui. This place is located in the southern edge of Kowloon Peninsula and offers the best view of Hong Kong cityscape. There is a coastal “Alley of Stars”, where you can see the magnificent skyscraper forest of Hong Kong Island, as well as the printed hands of famous movie stars on the ground, like Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and many others.
– Mong Kok. This area is located inside Kowloon Peninsula and is the best example of the typical Hong Kong narrow streets, full with ads. This is also the best shopping part of Hong Kong.
– Hong Kong Island’s north coast. This is the thickest skyscraper “forest” in the world, and the most elite part of Hong Kong. Here you can walk on streets of Central, Wan Chai and Admiralty areas without be able to see the sun. And everything is luxury and glamorous.
– Victoria Peak and the Peak Tram. It is another famous attraction of Hong Kong. Victoria Peak is a small mountain, located just south of the skyscrapers, offering stunning panorama to the whole city, especially to its urban part. And there is a tram, now used as a tourist attraction, which runs on the steep slope of the mountain, reaching its peak.
– Tian Tan Buddha Statue in Lantau. It is another landmark of Hong Kong, known as “The Giant Buddha”. There is something like a “contest” in the world now, for the largest “Buddha Statue” and this one is obviously one of the first place in the chart.
– Disneyland of Hong Kong. There are many Disneylands in the world, and this Disneyland is one of the most famous of them, although it is smaller and cheaper.
There are also many other points of interest- churches, temples, museums and resorts, but they are “2nd class” destinations, for deeper explore and longer stay in Hong Kong.
Off the beaten places of Hong Kong
As I already said, actually only a small part of Hong Kong is covered by skyscrapers and concrete jungle. The rest is mountains, deep forests, small villages and hidden beaches, as well as tiny islands, some of which- uninhabited.
On the west
The western part of Hong Kong is dominated by Lantau Island. Actually, most of this island is mountainous and covered by wild forest. There are some interesting places and mountain trails in this island. One of them is Tai O Fishing Village, where you can see traditional houses, built on pillars on the sea, as well as stunning views to the sea coast and the mouth of Pearl River Delta. There are two main mountain parks in Lantau- North and South Lantau Country Park, as well as some nice beaches like Pui O Beach.
On the east
The best places on the east are located in Sai Kung district. Most of this area consists of wild mountains. These mountains start from the eastern side of Kowloon, including Lion Rock and Ma On Shan. Further east is Sai Kung Country Park, where you can find the best beaches of Hong Kong- Ham Tin and Tai Wan, on Tai Long Wan bay. They are reachable only on foot and attract mainly adventure seeking people. There are also the best campsites of Hong Kong in this area. Other interesting places are Yan Chau Tong Marine Park, Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark, Wong Shek area and Long Ke Beach.
On the south
The southern part of Hong Kong consists mainly of islands, some of them uninhabited, or with one-two small villages, also with the southern part of Hong Kong Island, which is again mainly nature. Some of the best islands for relax, beach and walk are Cheung Chau, Lamma, Hei Ling Chau and Po Toi. Some of them are reachable by boat from Hong Kong pier, while for others you have to go the nearby pier and find a boat there.
On the north
The north part of Hong Kong is covered by New Territories administrative area and again, it consists mainly of mountains and small towns and villages. One of the best nature place there is Hong Kong Wetland Park.
The Hong Kong part of your travel itinerary
So, depending on your time, you can build your itinerary in Hong Kong according to the above information. First start with the landmarks and symbols of Hong Kong, and the areas of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island- Central. You can explore them for 2-3 days. And If you have more time, proceed deeper. For about 7 to 10 days you can reach every part of Hong Kong, including the wildest natural areas.
Proceeding to Mainland China + Pro Tips
Meanwhile, if you want to proceed exploring the Pearl River Delta, you must obtain your Chinese visa. If you haven’t done it in advance, you can do it in Hong Kong. The office, where you can apply for a Chinese visa is in Hong Kong Island- Central (Wan Chai) area. Here is your necessary information where and how to do it (http://www.fmcoprc.gov.hk/eng/zgqz/bgfwxx/).
When you finish your trip in Hong Kong, it is time to move northward. The most popular way is to get the train to Lo Wu or Lok Ma Chau stations, where are the two main border check points. Another border check point, also popular, but not the most convenient (since you can go there only by Hong Kong city buses, which are more complicated to find, and if you are coming from Kowloon, you have to change at least 2 buses), is Shenzhen Wan. Pass through the checkpoints and you will find yourself in Mainland China, in Shenzhen.
This city is well known as the “Chinese answer to Hong Kong”- a highly developed urban area, again with skyscrapers, highways and boulevards, mountains and parks, but in more “Chinese style”. It is also an industrial centre, producing mainly computer and mobile technologies.
If you are coming from Hong Kong, there are a few border checkpoints, through which you enter Mainland China and Shenzhen. Once inside, it is time to explore Shenzhen’s main symbols and landmarks first.
Main destinations- symbols and landmarks of Shenzhen
Shenzhen is relatively new city, so there is not too many old areas to see. However, one of the places that you must visit is Lao Jie (老街)- a shopping area with old traditional Chinese buildings.
Another good place to see in Shenzhen is Splendid China and Chinese Folk Cultural Village. Here you can see the best presentation of the whole China- its best sites and its 56 recognized ethnic groups with their culture.
But the most famous park is Window of the World, where you can see something similar as the above, but about the whole world. Here you can find Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, Pisa Tower and many more.
If you like museums, there are a lot of them. The best are Shenzhen Museum, Shenzhen Art Museum, Guangshan Yue Art Museum and Dafen Oil Painting Village.
And of course, a walk just around the streets of Shenzhen is worth for initial impression about this city and the other cities of the Delta.
Off the beaten places in Shenzhen
Just like in Hong Kong, there are a lot of mountains and parks in Shenzhen. The main mountains parks are Lianhua Mountain Park, Shenzhen Garden and Flower Exposition Park. But if you are looking for a really wild area, you have to go to east- to Dapeng. There you can find an ancient fort, dated from Ming Dynasty- Dapeng Ancient Fort. And if you proceed south of Dapeng, you can reach the best beach of the whole Pearl River Delta- Xichong.
So, after spend 2-3 days in Shenzhen, you can proceed to the next city of Pearl River Delta- Dongguan. You can do it by bus from Luohu Bus Station, or by the regular buses from Xixiang area (blue buses, running between Shenzhen and Dongguan). Another option is to take metro to the last metro station of Shenzhen- Bitou Station. And from there take a taxi to Chang’An, which is the first town area of Dongguan.
Dongguan (东莞) is not such famous city like Hong Kong, Shenzhen or Guangzhou, but as a part of Pearl River Delta is worth to visit. It is also a relatively new city, mostly populated by migrants from other Chinese provinces, especially Hunan. Dongguan has been known as “the sex capital of China” due to the large number of prostitute places. But now the government did everything possible to change its image and stop this “industry” from development.
There is not much to see in Dongguan, but you can still find a few places that are interesting to visit. Most of the destinations in Dongguan are actually mountain parks. The best mountain parks are Lianhua Mountain, Dalingshan Forest Park, Tongsha Ecological Park, Qifeng park in Dongguan Proper, and the far eastern Guanyin Mountain Park. And there are another nice park whith is not mountainous- Songshan Lake, with a large lake in the middle and excellent conditions for walking, biking and entertainment.
Other places worth to visit are located in Humen town of Dongguan. They are all related with the Opium war, of which Humen played a very important role. These places are Humen Opium War Museum and Fort Humen Shajiao Emplacement.
You can explore all these places by the city bus system. Every bus station in Dongguan has not only intercity buses, but local buses too, so you can travel by these buses to move around Dongguan. You can also go to Songshan Lake park and rent a bike- an excellent way to explore the parks and other areas of this city. There is a light rail system in construction now, from which Line 2, connecting Humen and Dongguan Railway Stations is already in use.
One-two days in Dongguan are enough to see the best of this city. Then its time to move to the main center of Pearl River Delta- Guangzhou. You can move there by bus from any of the Dongguan bus stations.
Guangzhou (广州) is the capital of Guangdong Province and the city, known as Canton (although as I mentioned, Canton is the changed pronunciation of Guangdong, not Guangzhou). Guangzhou consists of a main urban area and many other satellite suburbs, mostly built on the islands of the Delta. It has much longer history and many places to see. Just like Hong Kong, there are some main destination, which are symbols and landmarks of the city and must to visit.
Main destinations- symbols and landmarks of Guangzhou
– Liwan Old City
This is the oldest area of Guangzhou. Here you can see not only its old houses and narrow streets, but also to visit many museums, enjoy a park with a lake and a lot of Chinese traditional buildings in Cantonese style. One of the best and must visit place in this area is Cantonese Opera and Art Museum. Another place worth to visit is Liwan Park and Liwan Museum.
– Pearl Riverside
The central canal branch of Pearl River is the most attractive part of this river system, offering great views to Guangzhou cityscape, dominated by its skyscrapers and the emblematic Canton Tower. You can walk on the riverside or take the ferry from the wharf east of Shamian to Canton Tower, enjoying some really stunning Guangzhou views.
– Canton Tower
This is the second tallest building in China. Made in a modern art design, it is really worth not only to walk around it, but to enter inside to its observation deck. Entrance fee: 150 CNY. And only some 200 m south of it you can see another tower- ancient, traditional. It is Chigang Pagoda, a really nice place to relax.
This is a well known Western neighborhood of Guangzhou, famous for its European classical style buildings. It offers a tranquil atmosphere, beautiful spots for photos, museums, local shops with souvenirs and a nice riverside park.
– Yuexiu Park
It is another famous park, located in a hill. Apart with a lot of attractions, ponds and alleys there, you must visit its two landmarks, which are actually landmarks of Guangzhou as a whole. The first is Zhenhai Tower- a Ming Dynasty pagoda, now used for Guangzhou Museum. And the second is the symbol of Guangzhou- Five Rams Stone Statue.
– Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall
Guangzhou has played an important role in the life of Sun Yat Sen, one of the leaders and founders of Republic of China. It is built on the site of his office and now is a museum, dedicated to him.
– Chen Clan Academy
It is a beautiful and richly decorated Cantonese traditional building complex, once belonged to a wealthy family. Now it is turned into an art museum with splendid ivory sculptures and other art pieces.
– Nan Yue Kings Mausoleum
It is an important museum, dedicated to the ancient history of Guangzhou, particularly about Nanyue Kingdom. Its most important attraction is the burial suit of a Nanyue king, made by thousands of jade pieces.
– Baiyun Mountain Park
This is the largest and most famous mountain park of Guangzhou, a favorite place for relax for the local people. Apart from the lush forests covering the mountain, there are a lot of amusement attractions or just spots for picnic, sport and other outdoor activities.
Off the beaten places in Guangzhou
Guangzhou is actually full of many other interesting places, some of which are little known. I would mention a few really beautiful old traditional style complexes, which are worth to visit. The most splendid of them is Baomo Garden, located in the southern suburbs of the city. Its combination of ancient pavilions in northern and Cantonese styles, lake ponds with bridges, wall reliefs, artificial waterfalls, flowers and trees make is really like a fairy tale.
The other old traditional complexes include Lingnan Impression Garden, Yuyin Shanfang Garden, Shawan Old town and the remote Langtou village.
There are many other hidden places, but maybe the most interesting of them is the memorial of the Tropic of Cancer, located in the far north suburbs of Guangzhou, in Taiping town.
Turn south and southwest
You need longer time to explore Guangzhou, at least 2 days for its landmarks and maybe more than a week to explore it in details. After you finish wandering in this city, is time to turn southward, on the western side of the Delta. The next city is Foshan. You can go there again by bus or by Guangzhou-Foshan metro line.
Foshan (佛山) is a smaller city, now famous for its furniture industry. But apart of it, it has some interesting places to visit, among which you must include two landmarks.
The first one is Zumiao Temple- the Ancestral Temple. It is not just a temple, but architectural museum, presenting the old traditional Cantonese culture.
And the other one is Xiqiao Mountain Park. It is an ancient extinct volcano, with a giant Buddha statue on its top, offering great views to the city.
There are many other places of interest to visit, although not of such importance. Among them more worth are Liangyuan Park, Taoci Town, Lotus World (which is the largest Lotus sanctuary in the world) and South China Sea Temple.
So you can stay in Foshan 2 days, then proceed further south, to the next city of the Delta- Zhongshan. Again, the most popular and cheap way is by bus.
Zhongshan is located entirely within the islands of the Pearl River Delta, bordering on the west to Jiangmen City and the western, main canal of Xi Jiang (West River). This city is relatively new and doesn’t have too much to see. It is usually just a stop point on the way from Guangzhou to Macau. Most of the city is just an ordinary urban area, just like any other big city in China. And the places of interest here are mainly parks.
It is a beautiful park in the eastern part of Zhongshan, which has been actually a park since 700 years ago. A nice place to relax around its ponds.
Fu Feng Pagoda
It is a 400 years old pagoda, dated from the times of Ming Dynasty. It has octagonal shape and is a beautiful masterpiece of the Chinese traditional architecture.
Wuguishan Mountain Park
It is a beautiful mountain park with stunning natural scenery. With its 531 m altitude, it is one of the highest peaks of Pearl River Delta, after the mountains of Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Dongguan.
So, after your stop in Zhongshan, you can proceed further south, almost closing your circle around Pearl River Delta. Again, the best way is by bus.
Here Pearl River Delta gradually opens in a wide estuary, turning into a sea bay. So, the eastern coast of the river is actually a sea coast. And some of the extreme far pieces of land of Zhuhai are actually islands in the South China sea. That’s why the name of the city means “Pearl Sea”, rather than “Pearl River”.
Zhuhai (珠海) has been an old fishing village cluster, which developed into a big city, influenced by the neighboring Portugal colony of Macau. And there are some symbols and landmarks which are really worth to visit, before you leave Mainland China.
The first one is the symbol of Zhuhai- the Fisher Girl Statue. It is related with a local legend, a romantic love story. Located at the sea coast, it is really a must to visit.
Then you can proceed walking southward on the sea coast of Zhuhai, enjoying the splendid panorama to the estuary and Macau’s coastline. At the far distance you can see islands and the open sea. The water is not clear, due to the river flow, but the view is beautiful.
Another direction to explore is in northwest. There is a large park, called Banzhangshan. And there is an important landmark, called New Yuanming Palace, which is a replica of Beijing’s Yuanming Palace. Beside the main buildings of the palace, there are a lot of other pagodas and pavilions, with a really great places for photos.
Finally, if you have time, you can try reaching some of the remote islands of Zhuhai. They are called Wanshan Archipelago, and include the islands of Hong Kong and Macau too. Most of them are actually uninhabited rocky islets, while in some you can find a few towns and fishing villages. Some of these islands are really worth to visit and enjoy the local remoteness and tranquility.
You can go to Zhuhai’s Xiangzhou Northern Wharf and take a ferry to Wanshan Archipelago. The main islands to visit there are Dong’Ao, Wailingding, Hebao and Guishan. And for this trip it is better to arrange at least 1-2 additional days from your itinerary.
Now, after your stay in Zhuhai, finally is time to leave Mainland China. Go the the urban center of Zhuhai. From there just on foot you can cross Gong Bei, the border checkpoint with Macau. From here your Chinese visa is out of use.
Macau (澳门) is the Hong Kong’s “little sister”- a former Portugal colony, now a part of China as a “Special Administrative Region” since 1999. Here you can see a unique mix of Chinese and Portuguese culture. Now it is known as “Las Vegas of Asia” due to its gambling industry, but it has actually much more to reveal.
Macau has two main parts- Peninsular Macau and Island Taipa-Coloane. Peninsular Macau is the main historical part of the city and can be explored on foot, since it is very small. Here you can see most of Macau’s symbols and landmarks.
– The Ruins of St. Paul. It is the southern wall of a church, which has been destroyed by fire almost 200 years ago. Richly decorated, now it is one of the most famous symbols of Macau.
– Monte Fortress and Macau Museum. There is a hill just east of The Ruins, where you can explore the history and culture of Macau in its main museum, and enjoy stunning panorama from the top of this hill.
– The Old City area. South of The Ruins is the old part of Macau. Narrow streets, old houses in Western style, a lot of souvenir shops, cafes, decorations, as well as various activities can be seen there.
– Grand Lisboa. This is the most famous building of Macau. With its flower-shaped form, it became one of its symbols. Now it is a hotel and a casino, but its image outside, as well as its exhibition inside make it really worth to visit.
– Tower of Macau. This is Macau’s tallest structure. The tower offers not only a great view to the city, but also opportunity for extreme sports, such as bungee jumping.
– Lotus Square. This is another symbol of Macau- a lotus sculpture, presenting the city’s bloom.
– Guia Fortress. This hill has a long history related with the colonial period of Macau. You can hike it and visit its two white landmarks- the Chapel and the Lighthouse.
This actually has been two separate islands, but now they are connected artificially by reclaimed land, called Cotai Strip, where the most glamorous casino and resort complexes are built. Another interesting place to visit there is Taipa Houses Museum, presenting a few beautiful houses in Portuguese architectural style.
You can take a free shuttle bus from the border checkpoint or from Grand Lisboa area, which will take you to Taipa and Cotai Strip. From there you can take a taxi, local bus or even rent a bicycle from Taipa Waterfront Cycle Track. Finally by bicycle you can reach the southernmost areas of Coloane, where you can find some really remote and off the beaten places, such as Ka Ho Church- a silent tent-shaped church in the extreme southeast of Macau.
The end of your Pearl River Delta Region journey- Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge
Now the most attractive way to back to Hong Kong is by the new HZM Bridge, which is the longest sea crossing road system in the world. It is not a one bridge, but a few bridges and tunnels, connected in an artificial island.
So, you can take a shuttle bus from Macau Port, which will take you to Hong Kong for about 40 mins.- to Lantau Island. Thus you make a full circle around Pearl River Delta.
A whole round trip of the Delta would need at least two weeks itinerary to make it as a useful exploratory journey. Of course, you can easily just visit only some places of this area for shorter time. But a full trip would give you a great impression of this part of China- the core of Guangdong Province, its history, geography, its culture, people and everything which you find interesting, fun and relaxing. Finally, such a journey can give you a really unforgettable experience and a desire to proceed further exploring China.
This is a guest post by: Krasen and Ying Ying of Journeybeyondhorizon.com
Krasen and Ying Ying are a travel couple from Bulgaria and China. They love to explore our planet and they want to make it meaningful. Follow their journey on their blog. You can also check out their adventures on Instagram and Facebook.
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