When choosing our flights we knew we wanted to make the most of the opportunity to see a slice of another country. That meant looking for a layover that allowed enough time for us to leave the airport, in a country that didn’t have a hefty visa process. It just so happens we stumbled across what must have been the perfect layover for us; 14 hours in Guangzhou with China Southern Airlines.
We want to help you make the most of this fantastic location so you can fully enjoy your long layover in Guangzhou too. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the whole process, from leaving the airport, getting the most out of China Southern freebies (yes… freebies) and everything there is to during your long layover in Guangzhou – including what to do in Guangzhou Airport for those who don’t want to venture in to the city!
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Organising a long layover in Guangzhou
Do you need a visa to leave Guangzhou airport?
If you’re from the UK (or one of the other countries listed on the government website), and you have an outbound flight from the same city, you will be entitled to a free 72-hour transit visa. You can fill in the yellow slip on the plane, but don’t worry if you forget or miss the handout, there are opportunities to do so once you reach immigration too.
What is the immigration process like at Guangzhou airport?
Not everyone on your flight will be heading to the same connection as you, so it’s important to listen out for any announcements that might be relevant to your stop. Don’t just follow the crowds through like you perhaps would on a domestic/short flight.
If you want to make the most of your long layover in Guangzhou, head straight to arrivals and find the desk for the ‘special line’. Here they’ll check your yellow slip (again, available before you reach arrivals) and stamp your passport with your temporary visa. If you have any questions – there will be plenty of airline staff dotted around ready to help you and they’re all really friendly!
Note; We did carry on only, so if you’re taking checked luggage you’ll need to double-check that your bags will be transported to the next plane for you. This varies with each airline.
How easy it is to leave Guangzhou airport?
After immigration, you will need to make your way to the departures hall. The easiest way (and the way we were shown) was to go up to floor 3 via the stairs directly opposite where you exit immigration, straight across that hallway, then back down to floor 1. This is where you’ll find the exits to the metro, buses or taxis.
If you are flying with CS and making the most of what they have to offer, head to their desk with your boarding pass. Here you’ll be given a little travel package (More on that here, or a little further down the post) as well as some handy tips on getting around the city via the Metro.
Using Guangzhou City Metro
This was what scared me the most about arriving in China. Would we be able to navigate the public transport? Will there be signs in English (first-time travel outside of a western country, remember!)?
If not, will I still be able to understand where I’m going? The answer is simply yes. Yes, you will. It is not too dissimilar to the tube in London.
If you’re not lucky enough to be given a free Metro card by your airline, simply head to the metro from the airport (it’s right underneath so just follow the escalators down) and purchase one from the machine.
You can buy a card by the journey/day/week etc. or put however much you think you’ll need, so if you’re only going to be doing one trip to the hotel or city and back you’ll likely only need one token as opposed to a full day card – the machines explain it all, and there’s an English option so don’t panic!
China Southern Airline offers
We flew with China Southern Airlines. Firstly because their prices were fairly cheap. Secondly, because it was this company that offered a 14 hour-long layover in Guangzhou.
What we weren’t expecting was the huge amount of ‘free extras’ we were offered upon arrival:
- A 24-hour metro card
- A hotel room
- Shuttle into the city
- A guided city tour
- A meal ticket
- Entrance into a museum
So my biggest tip would be to check the airline’s website – like we should have done – to see what else they have to offer, and to make sure you don’t miss out… like we nearly did. We highly recommend China Southern if you really want to make the most of your layover.
Why not read our complete review on China Southern.
Things to do in Guangzhou during a long layover
Guangzhou is the thirds biggest city in China, which makes it a great destination for a long layover. Saying that we didn’t explore central Guangzhou as much as we’d have liked.
Being my first time in a country so different to home I was craving comfort zones. Instead, we opted to explore close to our free hotel provided to us by China Southern. However, these are just a few of the things you could get up to in the city during your long layover (besides joining the Airline guided tours!)
Explore Shangxiajiu street
Shangxiajiu is one of the most famous streets in China, it is over 1km long and is home to over 300 shops including malls, restaurants and cafes. It is one of the older streets in the city but that adds to the character of Shangxiajiu street.
Every city has a famous tower that makes a great viewing point for the rest of the city. Guangzhou is no different and Canton Tower is the best place to get great views over the area. It’s 500 meters tall, has 112 floors and is in the top 10 of the worlds tallest towers. There are different Zones within Canton Tower that have different amusements for visitors, you can read more about Canton Tower here,
Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall
You can reach the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall via the Metro and it’s one of the most important memorial halls in the region. Along with the memorial hall, there is also various exhibitions and unique ancient trees that have grown in all kinda of shapes.
Guangzhou is said to have some of the best food in China, so why not spend your long layover here filling your tummy and experiencing the cuisine. You’ll not be hard pressed to find authentic food here.
— Why not try these Guangzhou city tours —
Pearl River tour
The Pearl River is the third longest in China and as it winds through the city, a river cruise is a great way to sightsee.
Visit Sacred Heart Cathedral
Built in 1888, Sacred Heart Cathedral is located in the old town and is a throwback to the cities colonial past. If you’ve travelled just a small portion of Europe, you’ll see some familiarities between Sacred Heart and Cathedrals in cities such as France or Belgium.
Located close to Shangxiajiu street, Beijing Road is another great place for food and shopping. It has more of a ‘city feel’ to it than Shangxiajui and with that comes a higher price tag, but the vibes of the hustle and bustle aren’t to be missed.
Hire a pushbike and explore!
Chinese cities are well equipped for pushbikes, Guangzhou is no exception. There are plenty of bike-share options available, all you need to do is create an account and you’re away – or ask your hotel reception/airline hostess to help you hire one. Take the cycle routes through the city and along the river to see Guangzhou from a different perspective (and faster!)
What to do in Guangzhou airport
Guangzhou airport is a pretty good place to be if you decide not to leave the airport during your layover. It’s not as big as Singapore, but it’s better than the likes of Heathrow or Gatwick.
Grab some food
Not leaving the airport doesn’t mean you have to miss out on some authentic Chinese food. The main concourse area is full of Chinese restaurants to get those taste buds tingling. If you want something a little more ‘homey’, there are several western-style places including the usual McDonalds and KFC. The restaurants are open 8am – 9pm, so you’ll need to plan around this if you have a later flight.
Shop till you drop
Shopping in Guangzhou airport is probably the best way to pass time however, it isn’t as cheap as you’d expect from a big airport. You’ll undoubtedly find the same products for a lot cheaper in the city.
Get a spa treatment
There are two spa and salon options inside Guangzhou airport. Getting a massage after a long flight is a great way to unwind and get the circulation going again but of course, with a captive audience inside an airport, expect higher prices.
See a movie
If you’re wondering what to do in Guangzhou airport that will kill a big chunk of time, why not see what’s on at the cinema located on the 1st floor in the main terminal. It’s open 7 am – 9pm so it’ll depend on what time your flight is, but if you haven’t binged watched films on your flight; now a chance to start.
Catch some Zzz’s
There are a couple of hotel options in Guangzhou airport, ranging from budget, business and first class. So if you’re wanting to catch a few Zzz’s in a more comfortable place than the waiting lounge chairs, you’ll find the hotels in the departure halls B1.
Important things to know about Guangzhou
– Internet access is limited for some websites
You’ve probably heard about the great firewall of China and wondered if it’s true. Well, it is. And its force is strong in Guangzhou. Facebook, Instagram and Gmail are just a few of the sites you’ll struggle to access in Guangzhou without using a VPN.
– Communication can be an issue
While Mandarin is the main language in China, the people of Guangzhou also speak Cantonese. There is very little English spoken here so be prepared to do a lot of hand gestures if you’re trying to find your way to somewhere, or trying to buy something. From what I remember, the Metro was very easy to navigate but once you get to the streets it can become a little hazy.
Overall, our long layover in Guangzhou was a great mini insight into Chinese culture and it’s got us craving a longer visit once we’re finished in Australia. Have you visited Guangzhou for a layover? Or perhaps you’ve had an extended visit? We’d love to hear about it!!
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Hi, with your layover in Guagzhou – how did you get those perks from the airline? My family are stopping over next April and have booked our flights through China Southern.
Hi Julia, they were included with our tickets free of charge. Once you reach the airport and get off the plane, speak to a member of staff about sorting your layover and they’ll be able to tell you where their desk is within the main airport lounge. Here they will talk you through your options and give you tickets/tour or pick up times etc. I believe they’re only available for layovers over a certain amount of hours. There’s also some information on their website too about what you’re entitled to. All the staff are really helpful though and provided us with maps of the airport to help us find where we needed to be. We hope you have a great trip, Julia!