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.
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
Website: Website here
Hualuxe Xiamen Haicang
(Image credit: 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
Website: Website here
Where to eat
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
(Image credit: Jo Travels)
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
Bashi Seafood Market
(Image credit: 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
Haoqingxiang Restaurant (Xiamen Culture & Art Center Branch)
(Image credit: Haoqingxiang Restaurant)
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
What to do
Railway Culture Park
(Image credit: Lynn Liu)
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
Directions: Take bus number 1, 20, 135 and alight at Dashengli bus stop
Address: Huyuan Road, Siming District, Xiamen
(Image credit: CGTN)
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
(Image credit: Wikipedia)
Situated two-and-a-half hours away from Xiamen city is the vastly different Fujian Tulou, a cluster of 46 buildings that have earned itself the UNESCO World Heritage Site accolade, thanks to its unique and rather peculiar architecture. Built between the 15th and 20th century by the Hakkas, the Tulou is a collection of large, enclosed, and fortified earthen houses which often accommodate up to 800 people each. This curious layout is actually designed for defense purposes, although the many common areas within also helped its communities thrive to become its own bustling small city.
Today, the Fujian Tulou continues to be celebrated for being an exceptional building tradition – one that’s been long forgotten and replaced with modern skyscrapers. The earthen houses also exist in harmony with the rice, tea, and tobacco fields that surround it, making it an outstanding example of human settlement.
Directions: Take a bullet train from Fuzhou Railway Station or Fuzhou South Railway Station to Nanjing Railway Station (Fujian Province), and then take the tourist bus to Shuyang Town. Upon arrival, you can walk to the Fujian Tulou.
Address: Shuyangzhen, Nanjing, Zhangzhou, Fujian
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