An attractive seascape, a year-round subtropical climate, and jaw-dropping natural wonders are not the only reasons why Xiamen is one of China’s most sought-after tourist destinations today. Located on the southeast coast, the city boasts a history that dates back to ancient times when it was a major seaport. It’s an apt reflection of its romanised name ‘Mansion Gate’, which refers to the city’s centuries-old role as the nation’s coastal gateway.
Today, the seafront city is affluent, vibrant, and remarkably diverse. It’s also nicknamed the ‘Chinese Mediterranean’, with a seaside promenade that’s accompanied by quaint European city architecture.
But the main island isn’t all the city has to offer. Just slightly off the coast sits Gulangyu, a smaller island of Xiamen that’s been recognised by UNESCO for being so wonderfully preserved and respected — both physically and culturally.
There’s plenty to do here, but you’ll find that there’s never enough time to fully immerse in everything the city has to offer. Here’s a guide on the best sights to see, the comfiest beds to rest on, and the tastiest bites to eat in Xiamen.
WHERE TO STAY
Well-positioned within the heart of the Siming Central Business District is Conrad Xiamen and its unique sail-shaped architecture. There are plenty of hotels here that offer views of Xiamen’s stunning coastline, but none tower higher than this building, so expect prime views of Gulangyu.
The contemporary establishment offers direct access to a luxury shopping mall below, and is within the vicinity of attractions such as Baicheng Beach and the famous Zhongshan Pedestrian Street. The hotel also sees in-house ‘Curators’ who are always on hand to dish out insider knowledge about the city’s best attractions.
Address: 186, Yanwuxi Road, Siming District, Xiamen, China
Hualuxe Xiamen Haicang
Located on the picturesque coastal landscape belt of Haicang Bay, Hualuxe Xiamen Haicang offers unforgettable views of Xiamen Harbour and the scenic parks nearby. As one of the most recognisable and luxurious hotels in the vicinity, the unique establishment offers 351 well-appointed rooms across 28 floors. Shopping and good food isn’t too far off either; Haicang Avenue and the Aluohai Shopping Mall are only minutes’ drive away, while those who fancy a drink by the beach will only need to head right down to the sandy shores adjacent to the hotel.
Address: Haicang Avenue, Haicang District, Xiamen, China
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Dining in Xiamen is always a real treat for many, more so gourmands who recognise the history behind the city’s rich culinary legacy.
Zeng Cuo An Village
For a wide array of local favourites, Zeng Cuo An Village is a hip enclave that’s packed with cafes, pubs, and eateries. Street food is abundant here, and a casual stroll down its roads will bring you to some of the best spots for both familiar and exotic dishes. Here, your foodie adventure will include sampling sandworm jelly and getting a taste of shacha mian, Xiamen’s take on Satay noodles.
Address:, Siming District, Xiamen, China
Bashi Seafood Market
Xiamen’s location by the coast means that the sea is a major food source for its residents. Seafood meals here are a hearty affair, and often include decadent shellfish such as bamboo clams and scallops. This seafood market between Kaihe Road and Kaiyuan Road is always bustling with locals and visitors seeking the freshest produce. As the largest of its kind in the city, you’ll also find rows of restaurants specialising in Minnan or southern Fujian cuisine, although there are also roadside stalls with more affordable and casual bites.
Address: 46 Kaihe Road, Siming District, Xiamen, China
Haoqingxiang Restaurant (Xiamen Culture & Art Center Branch)
Haoqingxiang Restaurant is an establishment that’s become popular for its elevated take on Southern Fujian fare. The nearly 80-year-old restaurant boasts a menu that’s filled with delectable snacks, including zongzi (glutinous rice dumplings), and spring onion rolls with sugar. It is, however, the communal dishes here which truly exemplify the city’s aptitude for good food. For the quintessential Xiamen experience, order the Dragon and Phoenix Kungfu Tea, a delicate broth that’s made from chicken and snake that’s served in a teapot.
Address: 95 Tiyu Road, Siming District,Xiamen, China
WHAT TO DO
Railway Culture Park
With a walking trail that spans nearly five kilometres on an abandoned railway track, the Railway Culture Park is one of Xiamen’s best-kept secrets. A charming hour-long stroll down this trail will take you through Xiamen’s evolution from an industrial powerhouse to the cultural hub it’s come to be known as today. With the incredible landscaping efforts of the park, be sure to find plenty of photo opportunities here. Do stop by the retrofitted tunnel under Yintai Mountain, which also doubles up as a museum to showcase China’s fascinating railway history.
Directions: Take bus number 1, 20, 135 and alight at Dashengli bus stop
Address: Huyuan Road, Siming District, Xiameni, China
A trip to Xiamen wouldn’t be complete without a pit stop at Gulangyu . The tranquil island — located a mere five minutes away by ferry — is one of China’s most visited tourist destinations and is crowned by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site.
As a pedestrian-only island where even bicycles are banned, a slower pace of life is celebrated here. Still, Gulangyu covers an area of only 1.91 square-kilometres, so it’s easy to traverse its winding lanes and scenic esplanades by foot. An influx of western colonies since the First Opium War in the 1800s has meant that architecture here is heavily influenced by western aesthetics. You’ll still find churches, mansions, and schools from that era still standing strong alongside traditional Chinese buildings, earning it its title as the ‘World Architecture Expo’. What’s more, entrance is free!
Directions: Ferries leave from Xiamen Dongdu International Terminal to Nei Cuo Ao Ferry Termnal from 7.10am to 5.40pm (until 6.40pm from June to September) every 20 minutes, and a round-trip ticket costs from 35 yuan.
Address: Siming District, Xiamen, China
First built in 1913 as a private villa of wealthy b Lin Erjia. Shuzhuang Garden is now a stunning example of a classic Chinese garden that exists in harmony with its natural landform. The hidden sea is said to be one of the highlights of the attraction; although the Canghai Garden was built facing the sea, the tranquil waters can only be seen via an arch gate upon exiting the bamboo forest.
On the other side is Bushan Garden, which borrows from the environment to highlight the untouched beauty of the hills and rocks around and inside the property. This section faces the hills, and also offers photo opportunities of bridges, pavilions, and courtyards to trigger-happy tourists.
Opening hours: 5.30am — 8pm
Admission fees: 15 Yuan per person (from 5.30am — 7.30am and from 6pm — 8pm); 30 yuan per person (from 7.30am — 6pm)
Directions: Take a public bus (numbers 2, 3, 4, 10, 11, 12, 25) to get to Lujiang Road, followed by a ferry to Gulangyu Island. The garden is within walkable distance.
Address: 7 Gangzaihou Rd, Gulangyu, Siming District, Xiamen, China
Located to the south of Xiamen Island is a 19th-century fortress that was once used as a coastal defence for the city. The 17-acre historical site tells a tale once forgotten about the city’s past, and still showcases plenty of ancient barracks, tunnels and other fortified buildings within its granite wall. One of its cannons was even awarded the Guinness World Records in 2000 for being the largest coastal cannon in the world.
When you’re done roaming the grounds, visit the Rongguang Museum within the fortress, where ancient firecrackers, swords and guns are on display. Interestingly, the world’s smallest cannon is also housed here. The Wanggui and Panggui Platforms are also two vantage points where tourists can see the neighbouring Dadan Island and Erdan Island through a telescope.
Opening hours: 7.30am — 6pm (April to October); 7.30am — 5.30pm (November to March)
Admission fees: 25 yuan per person
Directions: Take a tourist bus or Wharf Sightseeing Bus to Hulishan Fortress, or take a public bus (20, 29, 47, 87, 92,, 135, 310, 751, or 857) and alight at
Xiamen University Art College bus stop.
Address: 2 Zengcuo’an Road, Siming District, Xiamen
South Putuo Temple
For a break away from the city’s madness, head to South Putuo Temple at the foot of Wulau Peak. The Buddhist resort is the true epitome of zen, especially since it’s sandwiched between the azure sea and tranquil mountain, with architectural gems dotted within. The Daxiong Hall, in particular, is a magnificent and intricately-built structure that combines wooden, stone, and tile mastery within its built. Visit early, and you’ll spot resident monks doing their morning prayers and even conducting lessons here.
Even if you’re not a devout Buddhist, the temple grounds’ vegetarian cuisine makes for a good enough reason to visit. Its dishes are known for being the most authentic vegetarian food in Fujian Province, especially with a history of over 100 years.
Opening hours: 3am — 8pm (Outer Gate); 3am — 6pm (Inner Gate)
Admission fees: Free
Directions: Take bus No.1, 21, 45, 841and get off at Xiamen University bus stop, then walk about 200m to the temple.
Address: 515 Siming South Road, Siming District, Xiamen, China
Five Old Men Peak (Wulao Peak)
Set amidst verdant trees and a cloud of mist is the Five Old Men Peak — Lushan Mountain’s most famous peak — and it’s named so as it resembles five old men sitting on the ground. With an elevation of 1,436m, the peaks are one of the Xiamen’s best venues to watch the sun rise and set, with memorial pavilions scattered throughout for weary trekkers to rest at. If you only have time for one, take on the fifth peak, which is relatively open and expansive as compared to the rest. The Three Step Waterfall at the foot of the mountain is also a pristine vision to behold after your adventure up the peak.
Opening hours: 8am — 5.30pm
Admission fees: Free
Directions: Take bus No.1, 15, 21, 45, 841 and 959 and get off at Xiamen University bus stop. Situated behind South Putuo Temple.
Address: Siming South Road, Siming District, Xiamen China
SilkAir flies daily to Xiamen.
This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Singapore.