Whether you’re moving to China or just traveling through, Beijing and Guangzhou will definitely pop up in your research. As two giant economic and cultural hubs, Beijing and Guangzhou are both highly developed and have a lot to offer for expats wanting to live in and explore China.
As two of the biggest cities in China (Guangzhou having more than 13 million people and Beijing with a whopping 21 million people), these cities share many similarities, but they also offer two different experiences! Everything from the culture, traditions, weather, people, and expat life will vary.
After I lived in a small Chinese city for two years, I lived in Guangzhou for one year and now currently live in Beijing, so I wanted to share some of my personal experiences as an expat living in Beijing and Guangzhou.
A few different aspects comparing Beijing to Guangzhou:
- Cost of Living
- Things To Do
- Expat Life
Location/Weather in Beijing VS Guangzhou.
Geographically, Beijing and Guangzhou are in opposite parts of China. Beijing is in the northern area and has hot summers but freezing winters. It doesn’t rain often and isn’t very humid. It’s close to other big cities in China by high speed train like Tianjin (30 min), Shanghai (4 hours), and it’s easy to get international flights anywhere in the world.
Weather-wise, Guangzhou is the complete opposite of Beijing with hot, humid summers and mild winters. It rains quite a bit more, too. Guangzhou is really close to Shenzhen and Hong Kong, and it is very easy to catch a high speed train to both. I took weekend trips to both frequently – check out my weekend trip to Hong Kong here. It’s also close to other great southern destinations like Yunnan, Guangxi, and Vietnam.
Cost of Living in Beijing vs. Guangzhou
As both Beijing and Guangzhou are Tier 1 International cities, they’re a bit more expensive than other Chinese cities, but still affordable. You’ll find food and transportation are pretty cheap, though, and rent will be what you pay the most for. If you live close to the center of Beijing or Guangzhou you’ll pay much more for an apartment.
I live in the Chaoyang area of Beijing near line 2, so I’m in the center of Beijing and very close to many things. It’s very convenient and I love it, but it does make the cost of living much more expensive.
In Guangzhou I lived a little outside the city in a district called Panyu, which definitely affected my experience in Guangzhou and the cost of living. I could afford an apartment by myself in Guangzhou for the same price I paid to rent a single room in a shared apartment in the center of Beijing.
Transportation in Beijing vs. Guangzhou
Both Beijing and Guangzhou have very fast and convenient public transportation around the city including:
- Great metro systems
- Buses (download Baidu Maps to help with buses)
- Public bikes – Mobike and Ofo are two of the biggest bike sharing apps
- Taxi or Didi (Chinese uber)
Because of the 2008 Olympics hosted in Beijing, transportation has rapidly improved, making it easier to navigate, especially for foreigners. There’s an express metro line straight to the airport from Dongzhimen, too, which is very convenient. If you’re in the city center it takes longer to order a Didi though, and I find it quicker to grab a taxi if I’m going somewhere.
Guangzhou’s metro system is very new and modern and feels even easier to me to use than Beijing’s metro. There are far more options for paying with either cash or Wechat, and line transfers take way less time. Didi’s are also great in Guangzhou, and I found it easier to get Didi in Guangzhou than Beijing (aside from big holidays like New Year’s).
Whether you’re moving to Beijing or Guangzhou, you should download Didi, MoBike or Ofo, and metro maps for the city to make it easy to navigate! Both cities are also very walkable and public transportation is a breeze. I also feel safe doing things on my own.
Culture and Food in Beijing vs. Guangzhou
Culture and food is where you’ll notice one of the biggest differences between Beijing and Guangzhou!
As the capital city of China, Beijing represents the very traditional side of Chinese life. People speak Putonghua, the most proper form of the Chinese language. People here are very proud to be from the capital city of China. The food is more filling, featuring dishes like Peking Duck, traditional dumplings, chuan’r (lamb roasted on a skewer), and lots of noodles. Donkey burgers are also quite famous here.
Guangzhou is in the Guangdong Province, where Cantonese culture and influence are found. People speak Cantonese in addition to Mandarin. Cantonese food is quite different than other regions in China – it tends to be lighter and sweeter, featuring dim sum and lots of soups.
There is the famous phrase in Chinese about Guangzhou food: “You live in Hangzhou because of its beautiful lakes, you wear clothes from Suzhou because it produces the finest silk, and you eat in Guangzhou because it has the best food.”
The great thing about Guangzhou and Beijing is that you can also find food from all regions of Chinese in Beijing and Guangzhou – Sichuan hotpot, Hunan spice, Shanghai sweetness.
You’ll also find every kind of international cuisine – Vietnamese, Mexican, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Thai, and on and on. Beijing and Guangzhou might both have their own unique cultures and traditions, but they are still two of the biggest cities in the world with people of all nationalities, and that is strongly reflected in the food!
Things To Do In Beijing vs. Guangzhou
Beijing and Guangzhou both have a number of attractions to visit, whether it be temples and historical sites or modern museums and famous landmarks.
Beijing is definitely the bigger tourist draw, boasting world famous sites like the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace, and famous streets like Wangfujing and Qianmen. There also many local Chinese experiences to try, like hutong tours and markets.
Some of my favorite places/things to do in Beijing:
- Gubei Water Town & Simatai Great Wall
- The Beijing Panjiayuan Flea Market
- The Best Instagram Spots in Beijing
- Hiking The Badaling Section of The Great Wall of China
It’s hard to compete with the Great Wall, but Guangzhou still has a lot to see and do! The Canton Tower (my favorite), Pearl River Cruises, Baiyun Mountain, Temple of the Six Baiyun Trees, and Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street are all popular to do, and Guangzhou also has the Chimelong Circus.
Some of my favorite places/things to do in Guangzhou:
- 20 Things You Must Do In Guangzhou
- Rooftopping in Guangzhou
- The Guangzhou Lotus Hill
- 5 Awesome Temples To Visit in Guangzhou
As a bonus, Guangzhou is super close to Hong Kong, so you have the added benefit of easily taking a weekend trip there when you feel like it!
Expat Life in Beijing vs. Guangzhou
This is the biggest topic people moving to China are curious about. Where do you hang out? How do you meet people? Are there organizations to join? Both big cities have plenty of ways to enjoy life in China and meet other expats.
Beijing has it all, from dance clubs, live music scenes, local breweries, trivia nights, book clubs, sport teams, food festivals, and more. You can find every kind of food imaginable. Sanlitun is one of the most popular area for expats to hang out in: you can shop, eat, drink, and go clubbing all in this area. Wudaokou is the university area and is also a popular area for expats.
- Popular Expat Bars and Restaurants: Paddy O’Shea’s, Cafe de la Poste, The Local, Jing A Brew Pub, Slow Boat Brewery, Sidestreet, Q Mex, Tiki Bar, Great Leap Brewing
- Popular Clubs and Music Venues: Mixx, One Third, Salsa Caribe, Temple, Modernista, School Live Bar, Dada, Destination
There are always lots of Wechat groups and official pages to follow to learn more about city events and parties. If you’re looking for more ways to get involved in Beijing, check out these pages:
Guangzhou also has a lively expat scene with many similar events to Beijing and two big areas for going out: Party Pier and Zhujiang New Town.
- Popular Expat Bars and Hangouts: The Brew, Hooley’s, Fei Bar, Zapata’s, Morgan’s, The Tavern
- Popular Clubs: Suns, Woo Bar, Revolucion, True Colors,
If you’re looking for more ways to get involved in Guangzhou, check out these pages:
Skyline/Architecture in Beijing vs. Guangzhou
While I love living in Beijing and rave about it all the time, I do think the Guangzhou skyline is prettier and I miss the Canton Tower!
At the same time, I love the Beijing hutongs and the street style.
Living in Beijing vs. Guangzhou
Ultimately, your experience in Beijing and Guangzhou will vary depending on where you live and work, what you enjoy doing, the people you meet , and what kind of lifestyle you want.
Whether you’re moving to Beijing or Guangzhou, I recommend joining Facebook groups, Wechat groups, and other sites with expats to get more information about living in China and to connect with others. These are two of the biggest cities in China, and you’ll find it much easier to find other expats and foreign shops and restaurants in these cities than other ones.
Have you lived in Beijing or Guangzhou? How was your experience? What did you like/dislike about that city?
Or maybe you’re considering moving to a small Chinese city! If so, check out my post comparing big and small cities in China: Living in China: Big City VS. Small City