City Guide: Xiamen
Xiamen is one of the lesser known cities in China, but one of the most impressive ones at the same time. While many cities in the country lack charm, Xiamen has lots of it. In this city guide, I’ll explain what you should see when visiting Xiamen and why it is such a nice place!
If you are going to Xiamen, you should definitely better prepared than we were. Due to Chinese New Year we ended up not being able to visit two main attractions – and still enjoyed the city very much. Thus, prepare a bit, but definitely visit Xiamen as it might actually be the highlight of China when it comes to cities, maybe alongside visiting Beijing.
Historic Gulangyu & Xiamen University
Let’s start with the two most disappointing points of our journey: Gulangyu and the Xiamen University. By no means you should think that these two are not visiting now, instead these are the two places we missed due to not planning ahead. Gulangyu is actually one of the highlights, it’s a tiny island you can reach by ferry in a few minutes, but you need to make a reservation ahead or at least travel on a less busy day.
On Gulangyu, you can expect a historic city with lots of European influences, which is supposed to be really special. A good reason to come back. Speaking of European influences, the university of Xiamen is another place worth noting in that regard.
To enter, you also need to book a special tour, which we ended up not being able, too. You can have a look at some of the grounds from outside, but visiting the whole campus is definitely worth it as it is just really, really nice – maybe even more so than for example in Dublin.
It says a lot about Xiamen that even without visiting these two places, the city was fun and enjoyable. Anyways, definitely make sure you don’t miss out with planning ahead!
Zhongshan Road & Zhonghsan Park Xiamen
Across the street from the ferry terminal to Gulangyu, you can get to Zhongshan Road, which is a pedestrian street and the most important shopping spot in Xiamen.
There are also a couple of really special buildings, but you’ll see those by just walking the whole kilometer or so along the street, so there’s no need to especially explain the location.
When you walk from the ferry terminal to the city center, you may walk on after the end of the main shopping area for about five minutes to get to Zhongshan Park.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it’s actually a really beautiful park with lots of monuments and just a lovely atmosphere.
You can easily spend an hour here walking around and just relaxing a bit as it’s just a really nice spot!
Qimingsi & Nanputuo Temple Xiamen
Zhongshan Park is not far away from the mountainous area close to the city center, where you can find various attractions, including the Botanical Garden and the Five-Old-Man-Peak. At the foot of the mountain, there’s also Xiamen’s most popular historic monument: Nanputuo Temple.
It’s a beautiful spot consisting of various different temple buildings, all different in style and yet similiar.
You can walk about the mountain a bit to get into a more nature-heavy area of the temple with smaller buildings and nice views of town.
There are also a couple of cute little waterfalls and lakes, making it a really enjoyable place.
Another option of visiting a temple is going to Qimingsi, a few kilometers further east.
Qimingsi is one of the more modern temples, but consists of a couple of nice buildings as well.
If you are in the area, I’d also visit Qimingsi Temple, but if you are short on time, I’d rather skip it.
Generally, there are a couple more interesting temples in Xiamen, but I’d say that visiting Nanputuo should be enough if you are not totally into religious monuments.
Hulishan Cannon Fort & the beaches of Xiamen
There are many things that make Xiamen special, but what I like the most about the city are the incredible city beaches, which make you feel like visiting the holiday island of Hainan.
In the South of Xiamen, there are various different beaches, some with palms, others just a long stretch of sand. Plus, there are a few different rocky beaches as well.
Furthermore, you can walk along a beautiful promenade with no end, where you can find smaller and more secluded beaches as well as very beautiful cliffs.
I honestly didn’t expect anything like that in city in China, but the promenade along (great if you like to go for a run) makes Xiamen worth visiting if you love the sea and beaches.
Speaking of the later, right next to some of the largest beaches in town, you can find Hulishan Cannon Fort Xiamen.
It’s one of the cities historic monuments and was once used to protect the city from invaders.
There are a couple historic remainings and it’s all well taken care of, but you shouldn’t expect anything like a real museum here.
Something really nice though are the great views of the city, which make visiting Hulishan Cannon Fort Xiamen worth it along.
As Hulishan is very accessible, I can definitely recommend visiting!
Shapowei Art Zone & Twin Towers of Xiamen
To other attractions close to the beaches and the university as well as Nanputo Temple are the Twin Towers and the Shapowei Art Zone. The two towers are the modern landmark of Xiamen and something you can see from basically everywhere.
The unique architecture makes the towers look fitting for a city by the sea and the views from the top (we stayed at the Conrad Hotel in one of the two towers) are just phenomenal. Just a few steps away from here, you can get to the artsy Shapowei Art Zone, which is something like a creative park with little shops selling goods.
It’s not the most authentic arts zone, but nice enough to stroll through. Plus, there’s a nice little harbour with a more historic atmosphere and some cute cafés around the corner.
As all of this is located very close to the other attractions in Xiamen, I’d highly recommend visiting!
Overall impressions of Xiamen
Visiting Xiamen was one of the highlights of my China travels. The city feels very relaxed compared to other busy Chinese metropolises and the beaches and promenade alone make it a real highlight. Plus, there’s a nice mix of historic and modern sights, which will keep you busy for a couple of days. Be sure to prepare your travel better than we did though to not miss out on anything. I’ll definitely be back in Xiamen and would highly recommend you to visit the city!
Do you have any questions about Xiamen? Feel free to ask or share your impressions in the comments!