Don't depart Guangzhou without an amble through the concession-era gem that is Shamian Island. The central east–west drag is a time-warp boulevard of faded European-style buildings shaded by columns of banyan trees. It's a charming setting and the backdrop to many a wedding photo shoot. Choose a quiet time of day, and duck into side streets where you can peek into lived-in residences with wooden staircases and cracked Victorian floor tiles.
The island (it's not really; the narrow channel to the north was dug by the British to detach it from the city) was acquired as a foreign concession in 1859 after the second Opium War. At its peak, Shamian was home to consulates, banks and trading firms from all over the globe. Today several of these heritage buildings house hotels, cafes and eateries.