Spread over two islands and a swathe of the Chinese mainland, Xiamen’s position on the country’s southeast coast has made it one of China’s hottest tourist destinations. Its colonial past, coupled with its pretty backstreets, makes it far less brash than many of its larger counterparts further north.
Xiamen’s excellent Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) speeds tourists and locals around on specially designed elevated roads and bus lanes, unimpeded by other traffic. There are three lines in total. The city is also due to get its own Metro system, with services due to start in 2017.
Although Xiamen, like all major Chinese cities, has plenty of glass skyscrapers and a modern business district, history and tradition are very easy to find. The beautiful Nanputuo Temple, on the south east of Xiamen Island, is the city’s most famous Buddhist site. Founded over 1,000 years ago during the Tang Dynasty, the temple is home to hidden grottoes, carefully maintained gardens and sweeping views of the sea.
Nearby Gulangyu Island is perhaps Xiamen’s most famous destination. Car–free, accessible only by ferry and with a small population of just 20,000, it was here that foreign traders from Japan and Europe were allowed to trade during the 19th century. The result is a quaint, colonial–style island with spectacular architecture that mixes western and Asian styles.
As well as strolling the quiet alleyways, no visit to Gulangyu is complete without walking up to the imposing statue of Koxinga, a key military ruler from the seventeenth century. The comprehensive Xiamen Museum and the island’s ace Piano Museum are not to be missed either. The latter is particularly fascinating. The instrument has a long history here, with examples on show dating back to the island’s colonial period.
Built in the late 19th century to protect Xiamen from invasion, Hulishan Fortress is home to a fascinating museum and plenty of interesting artefacts. Its barracks, cannons and granite fort are impressive, and visitors are rewarded with amazing views of Xiamen Island and far-flung vistas out into the East China Sea.
The peaceful Xiamen Botanic Garden is the ideal way to escape the bustle of the city centre. Set on rolling hills and with an array of delightful rock gardens, it’s home to over 6,300 different kinds of tropical plants and flowers.
Xiamen’s food scene is dominated by Fujian cuisine. Local dishes such as seafood satay noodle soup and Tu Sun Dong, a jellied sea worm, are easy to come by. Street food stalls dot Gulangyu Island, most of them selling delicious Gold Wraps Silver, rice buns filled with shredded mushrooms and bamboo shoots. Haozi Jin, an oyster omelette, is also readily available at this tourist hotspot. Hao Qingxiang does sensational spring rolls, which are made in Xiamen using a wheat pancake. Stuffed with fresh seafood and vegetables, this is the one dish you shouldn’t miss.