Any visit to Guangzhou, one of southern China’s biggest cities, will require use of the public transport system to get around and see all everything the city has to offer. Fortunately, Guangzhou has a modern and efficient public transport network that’s easy to use for foreigners and is very affordable.
Currently made up of ten lines, the Guangzhou subway serves all of the inner city and much of its suburbs, as well as the city’s international airport. Stations and rolling stock are all relatively new, as the network only dates back to 1997. Much of its present day expansion has taken place in the last ten years.
Station announcements are made in Mandarin, Cantonese and English, meaning you’re unlikely to get lost using the Guangzhou subway! Interestingly, the Guangzhou subway also includes one line (the APM, that connects Linhe West and Canton Tower) that is driven remotely, making it the only subway system in the world with a driverless underground train.
At peak hours, there are trains every three minutes or less, while at other times it may be necessary to wait up to seven minutes on some lines for a train to come.
Prices of tickets are calculated by distance, with the base fare ¥2, so knowing your destination is necessary before being able to purchase your ticket. If purchasing single tickets with cash, note that station machines only accept ¥5 and ¥10 notes and ¥1 or ¥0.50 coins.
For short visits to Guangzhou, it may be more convenient to buy a time-limited ticket. Two are offered: a 24 hour ticket for ¥20 and a 72 hour ticket for ¥50. These tickets are not automatically reclaimed by machines once they are finished, but instead make for nice souvenirs as they have been specially designed with illustrations of Cantonese language and cuisine.
A useful alternative for a longer stay is to buy a Guangzhou Transportation Smart Card (also known as a Yang Cheng Tong) for ¥10 and load up to ¥50 onto it in multiples of ¥10, from which credit will be deducted for each journey you use it on. This will save you time as well as money since there is a 5% discount on your first 15 journeys and then a 40% discount on all journeys made with the card after that. The card can also be used to pay for things in various convenience stores around the city, as well as in official taxis.
Onward travel from Guangzhou
There are three main train stations in Guangzhou, each serving a different purpose. The busiest and most visited one is Guangzhou Railway Station in downtown Guangzhou on subway lines 2 and 5, where most high-speed trains to other major Chinese cities depart, including services to Beijing, Xi’an and Lhasa.
The East Railway Station, on subway lines 1 and 3, is where direct trains to Hong Kong and Shenzhen depart from. The smallest of the three, the Northern Railway Station, is close to the airport and where some of the slower trains leave from heading for central China.
The city’s airport, Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, has direct connections all over China, South East Asia, the Middle East and to Europe. It is easily accessible to the city at the end of subway line 3 as well as by express airport shuttle services to various points around the city, though these usually take longer than the subway.