The small island of Gulangyu is big with Xiamen’s tourists. From early morning until late afternoon, its winding narrow streets are chock-a-block with visitors taking in the sights, marveling at the old colonial architecture, snapping pictures of the great city views from Sunlight Rock and the large statue of the ancient Chinese military leader Koxinga, or just chilling on the sandy beaches. China’s only piano museum is also found here as are many seafood restaurants, as well as shops famous for beef or pork jerky and snacks made from dried seafood, such as Huang Sheng Ji (89 Longtou Road). Getting to the island is an easy 5-minute ferry ride from the pier opposite the island, but foreigners must catch a ferry from the International Cruise Terminal on the west coast – a 45-minute boat ride costing RMB35 ($5) each way.
2 Zhongshan Lu
There’s more than enough on Gulangyu Island to keep you busy for the entire day, but the rest of Xiamen is worth exploring too. Near the local Gulangyu ferry is Zhongshan Lu, a pedestrianized street lined with old shophouses that have been turned into both souvenir and local retail shops plus an abundance of restaurants, great for sampling local food. Just look for the longest queues to find the most popular eateries. At Number 20 you will find Huang Zehe, famous for its sweet peanut soup (RMB3/$0.50). It’s also great for things like tea or chocolate. But if it’s pearls you want, this is your go-to place. Alleyways leading off the road are worth exploring too.
3 Nanputuo Temple
A short drive east from Zhongzhan Lu brings you to Nanputuo Temple, one of Xiamen’s most ancient Buddhist sites with a history that dates back over a thousand years. Located at the foot of Wulao Mountain, the original temple was built during the Tang dynasty; in the centuries since it has been rebuilt many times. Today’s latest iteration was rebuilt in
the 1980s, after the previous temple was
destroyed during the Cultural Revolution
in the 1960s and 70s. Led by Chairman Mao Zedong, it rebelled against China’s ancient heritage. Today, the temple grounds are a peaceful natural retreat and home to beautiful artwork. The Wanshi Botanical Garden and the Qing-era Hulishan
Fortress are located nearby.
4 Zeng Cuo
An VillageOnce a quiet fishing village for the Zeng clan, this enclave on the southeast corner of Xiamen Island has gone bohemian. Beginning in the 1990s, the place has been discovered, first by artists, then by students from nearby Xiamen University and now by tourists from all over. Today, the village’s narrow lanes are packed with art galleries, beachfront music venues and quirky shops selling home decorations and collectibles. The district is dotted with places to eat, from the very traditional Xiamen cuisine of JiaLi Seafood Restaurant to the unmistakably Western favorite Uno Pizza and Beer Bar. But if it’s seafood you crave, this is a great, off-the-beaten track destination for seafood lovers.
5 Haiwan Gongyuan
As your day in Xiamen winds down, jump in a cab and head to the west coast of the island to Haiwan Gongyuan. Built in 2006, this green space is the largest urban park in Xiamen. It’s divided into seven gardens, and the entire park is split into two main parts – the North Park and the South Park – by the thousand-foot-long Avenue of the Stars. In the middle of the avenue is a computer-controlled fountain with 240 water jets and over 2,000 lights choreographed to music. Visitors staying close to Yundang Lake should join the locals for a stroll around the lake or over the pedestrian bridges into Bailuzhou Park in its midst. Xianyue Park is also worth visiting, its many paths leading to pagodas, temples, gardens and viewing points.