Xiamen Travel Guide and Itinerary

Xiamen stock

This island city in southern China brings together history, culture, nature, culinary delights and excitement in a relatively compact package. 

About Xiamen  

With a population of not quite four million people, the port city of Xiamen is practically a small town compared to Chinese megalopolises such as Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing. Still, Fujian province’s largest city contains all the things domestic and international visitors look for in a destination. And we don’t just mean its markedly low air pollution levels and its regular appearance on lists of most liveable Chinese cities. Albeit in miniature, Xiamen has intriguing history, cultural charms, cosmopolitan diversity, exciting food and convenient out-of-town getaways in spades. 

An important tea port during the 19th century and a site of battle during the Opium Wars, Xiamen was one of only a handful of places in China where international trade was permitted after the Treaty of Nanjing in the late 1800sa move that imported European influence, but also exported Hokkien culture and people widely around the region. To this day, a large percentage of the Chinese communities in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines are of Hokkien descent.  

After the relatively straitlaced finance and manufacture boom following its designation as a Special Economic Zone in the 1980s, Xiamen has in more recent years become a colorful city again, attracting unconventional young people and artists from around China, who are drawn to its relatively slower pace of life and mild subtropical weather watch out for typhoon season in the late summer, though.  

Nestled along the water, less than a three-hour ferry ride from Taiwan, Xiamen has laid-back beaches and culture-packed off-shore islands, as well as a vibrant contemporary arts scene, chic boutique hotels and dynamic pedestrian markets all within easy reach on the metro and bus lines. And when the city gets to be too much, Xiamen’s bullet train lines take you to the Fujianese countryside in no time. 

Xiamen stock
Photos on this page via Shutterstock.com

 

Highlights for the Traveler  

Culture vultures might find it hard to believe that a finance and manufacturing center is also home to a dynamic arts scene. But Aotou Arts Village, a fishing village transformed into a cultural center through a collaboration between the government and artists, is a Xiamen highlight, home to institutions such as the Chaokuang Art Museum and the Nordic Contemporary Art Centre. Other big deals are the Red Dot Xiamen, one of only three in the world, located at the airport’s Terminal 2 building, and the artsy neighbourhood of Shapowei. 

For simpler pleasures, wander Xiamen’s many green spaces, especially the Wanshi Botanical Gardens and the serene grounds of the Nanputuo Temple, Wulao Peak and beautiful Xiamen University, all nearby. Less serene but equally rewarding are the pedestrian streets, such as Zhongshan Lu, where shopping and eating go hand-in-hand, as well as the cat-themed boutiques of Ding’aozai. Load up on local seafood dishes and satay noodles (sha cha mian) at food markets like Taiwan Snack Street and Eighth Seafood Market. 

If you’re more about expending calories than ingesting them, Xiamen rewards exploration by bicycle. It’s home to the longest elevated bike path in the world, and rental bikes can be picked up and dropped off at any point along the way. Or hang on to your bike and ride it out to one of the city’s many beaches, such as Pearl Bay and Huangcuo.  

And you don’t have to be a music aficionado to be swept away by the beauty and charm of Gulangyu, Xiamen’s Unesco-listed piano island, packed with aging colonial-era mansions, stunning views at Sunlight Rock, the Xiamen Music School, the unspoiled Dadeji beach and meditative, car-free, winding roads. 

Xiamen is also the jump-off point for some exciting Fujianese day trips or overnight getaways via bullet train. Spare some time for the unique architecture and way of life at the Unesco World Heritage-listed Tianluokeng Tulou cluster. For a nature-themed trip a bit further afield, don’t miss the otherworldly mudflats, seaweed farms and floating villages of Xiapu. 

 

Text by Mrigaa Sethi, as of May 2020.
Photos on this page via Shutterstock.com 


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