Best things to do in Xiamen City in China: experience the city like a local
Xiamen city, also known as the “Egret Island”, lies on the southeast coast of Fujian province in China. Xiamen presents itself as a contemporary, international harbor city and has earned the nicknames “the city of gardens” and “the Orient’s Hawaii”. Xiamen isn’t too big and encourages slow, relaxed photography walks. Read this post to know about all the best things to do in Xiamen and other essential travel tips. Xiamen is one of the most beautiful cities in China and you will be happy that you planned a trip there. The local language and traditions have a very strong influence from Taiwan and the Chinese population in Southeast Asia, making it a unique place in China.
The twin buildings near Yanwu Bridge
MY FAVORITE THINGS TO DO IN XIAMEN CITY
Exploring Huandao Road
If you love the beach and the sea view, your sightseeing tour of Xiamen should start with a walk along the most popular of Xiamen’s attractions: the island’s promenade called “Huandao Road”. Start walking from the Yanwu Bridge Scenic Boardwalk (演武大桥观景台). From here, admire two examples of Xiamen’s contemporary architecture: the sky-way above the sea water and the Twin Buildings. The peddlers selling cold drinks, fresh fruit, noodles, and bbq will invite you to spend more time sitting along the beach. The segment going from the Yanwu Bridge (演武桥) to the Huancuo Beach (黄厝沙滩) is the most interesting: 7 km in total. If you don’t like to walk, you can rent a bike near the Baicheng Gate of Xiamen University. Along Huandao Road you’ll meet fish restaurants, lovely temples (Zengshan bus stop), the tourist village “Zengcuo An”, contemporary sculptures, and sea sports centers.
Walking along the beach in Huandao Road near Huancuo.
Xiamen’s Railroad Cultural Park
The Railroad Cultural Park stretches East-West from Jinbang Park station (金榜公园 bus and BRT) to Heping Matou (和平码头) station, in total 4.5 km. The park consists of a restyled abandoned railroad, and the entrance is free. It is perfect for a slow, self-guided walk. The best way to visit the park is to start walking in the proximity of Da Shengli (大生里) bus station: the old railroad goes through a tunnel decorated with lamps, statues, and photographs that depict the old Xiamen, recounting the history of the railroad. The air inside the tunnel is surprisingly cool: a true blessing for the travelers visiting during the extremely hot Xiamen summer. Both sides of the railroad are full of lush vegetation and flowers.
Graffiti inside the Xiamen University’s Furong Tunnel
Xiamen botanical garden
About 10 or 15 minutes walking from the exit of the Railroad cultural park you’ll find the majestic Botanical garden of Xiamen. The ticket is RMB 40 (half the price for students with a valid student ID). You could walk for hours and hours inside the park, as it’s a huge hill! Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes. The most popular areas of Xiamen’s botanical garden are the Desert district, showcasing greenhouses full of different species of cactus, and the rain forest, where you experience the misty environment and the sounds of a tropical jungle, without the dangers you would expect in a real one (this is kid’s favorite!).
Zhongshan Road shopping street
Zhongshan Road walking street confers to Xiamen the charm of a typical Southeast Asian city. This is the main commercial street of Xiamen, and the hub of its activities is the Zhonghua City building. At the side of the Zhonghua City lies the Xinjie Church which, founded back in 1848, was the first Christian church in China. On and around Zhongshan Road you can grab all kinds of fine local street food and refreshment. Try the Bisheng Restaurant on the 24th floor of the Haibin Palace and the restaurant at the 6th floor of the Lujiang Hotel.
The Nanputuo Buddhist Temple has something like 600 years of history. It is a complex of beautiful lodges with statues, ornamental incense burners, tall and beautiful natural rocks with prayers sculpted upon them. There are a pagoda and two ponds: one for releasing turtles and fishes, and one with lotus flowers. The pathway on the Nanputuo hill leads you to the Wulao Peak, from where you can gaze at the entirety of Xiamen University. The vegan restaurant inside the Nanputuo temple is very popular among locals and travelers.
Inside the Nanputuo Temple
Xiamen University was founded by Tan Kah Kee in 1921 and it is considered the most beautiful campus of China. Walking through the streets of Xiamen University you’ll also see two lakes (the biggest has ducks and swans), the Furong street-art tunnel (decorated with the students’ murales), stylish coffee-shops, and an institute where courses are provided in both Chinese and English. Xiamen University also provides one of the top-rated intensive Chinese language courses in China. If you’re moving to China to improve your Chinese, read my guide on how to learn Chinese quickly in China.
The flow of visitors of Xiamen University grew so much over the last three years that now you have to book your free visit at least 3 days in advance through the Wechat APP (search for the account “U厦大” to book your free ticket).
Visiting hours of Xiamen University
Monday thru Friday: 12 PM – 2 PM
Weekends and holidays: 8AM-6PM.
One of the lakes inside Xiamen University campus
Graffiti inside Xiamen University’s Furong tunnel
You can clearly see the tiny and lush Gulangyu Islet from the point where the Zhongshan Road meets the seaside. The island is definitely worth a half-day trip. Gulangyu itself has plenty of points of interest: the Sunlight Rock, the Bird Sanctuary, the Shuzhuang Park with the piano museum, the Bright Moon Garden, and the Male Phoenix Palace just to name a few. You’ll even enjoy just strolling around Gulangyu harbor and little alleys: look for the colonial villas built by foreign embassies (Xiamen is one of the 5 Chinese ports that was allowed to Western trade and influence starting in 1842 after the First Opium War). Other attractions on the island are the street-food, tea-houses, fish restaurants, and souvenirs shops.
The rock with the statue of Koxinga on Gulangyu Islet
How to get around in Xiamen
Public transportation in Xiamen is convenient and cheap. Choose what fits you best: bus, subway, BRT (buses with a privileged skyway), or use the Didi Dache, the application to call a taxi, similar to Uber, but way cheaper. There is also a service of free bike sharing throughout the whole city if you prefer riding a bike instead.
Xiamen University Furong Tunnel
FURTHER XIAMEN ATTRACTIONS
Get to know the places where you can unwind and take care of yourself in Xiamen, adjusting to the local vibe which is laid back and cheerful.
Spend a day at Xiamen’s Hero Club
Hero Club in Xiamen is a SPA and swimming center all in one. You can spend the day swimming in the covered or open-air swimming pool, enjoy the Olympic jacuzzi with all kinds of hydro-massage, the hot pools (up to 40°), the sauna and hammam, and the color-therapy room. I was never tired of this place! Entrance ticket is around RMB 90.
Address: 湖滨西路109～111 Hubin West Road 109-111
Xiamen massage and acupuncture: Deyi Tang clinic
Have you heard of the health benefits of traditional Chinese Tuina massage? It’s been used for thousands of years by the Chinese. Chinese massage follows the principles of traditional Chinese medicine and is an elixir for body and spirit. In the two “Deyi Tang” centers in Xiamen, for about RMB 100, you’ll have a one-hour massage. All the massage practitioners are real doctors! You can also receive acupuncture therapy (RMB 40), moxa, and other traditional Chinese therapies.
Address 1:筼筜路港龙花园54-4号 Yundang Road Ganglong Park 54-4
Address 2: 思明区故宫东里84号 Siming District Gugong East Road 84
Sunbathe at the Asia Gulf Hotel swimming pool
The sea in Xiamen isn’t clean enough to swim… better to enjoy a full day at a beautiful swimming pool on the beach, like the one of the Asia Gulf Hotel. The pool is just a few steps away from the Huandao scenic boardwalk, and it’s usually quiet. You don’t need to be a hotel guest to enter the pool, just go to the hotel reception and buy a day-ticket for the pool.
Address: 环岛路黄厝98号亚洲海湾大酒店南区海边 Huandao Road – Huancuo 98 – Yazhou Haiwan Da Jiudian – Nanqu Haibian
Shapowei Harbor and Art and Coffee district
WHERE TO EAT IN XIAMEN
Xiamen‘s typical breakfast
四北花生汤店 Sibei Peanut Soup Shop –
Historic eatery located at the junction between Siming Bei Road and Datong Road. Besides the characteristic peanut soup, they make “baozha”, “nuomi zha” (fried glutinous rice balls), Chinese leeks dumplings, and other local delicacies.
Working hours: every day 6:30-14:30
Address 厦门市思明区思明北路64号(近大同路) Siming North Road 64
Where to have lunch in Xiamen:
小眼镜海鲜大排档 Xiao Yanjing Fish Restaurant (RMB 80-100 per person) –
Here you can have the catch of the day in a great variety and at a convenient price, perfect if you eat with friends so you can order together a big plate of fish (that’s the local way!).
Working hours: Mon thru Thu: 11:00-14:00 / 16:30-22:00 Sun: 11:00-14:30 / 16:30-22:00
Address 思明区湖滨中路7号 Hubin Middle Road 7
Where to have dinner in Xiamen
Try the 沙茶面 Shacha-style noodles (about RMB 20-60). These are Xiamen’s original and distinctive noodles! They are served in a spicy peanut soup to which you can add more ingredients like eggs, tofu, fish, meatballs, and chitlings. There are three historic shops in Xiamen:
- 月华沙茶面 Yuehua Shacha Noodles. The shop is hidden in an alley in the Zhongshan shopping street area. Look at the map to find it, or ask the locals. Address: 镇邦路78号
- 乌糖沙茶面 Wutang Shacha Noodles. They have the highest price for a shacha noodle, but they also have the top quality. Address: 厦门思明区民族路76号
- 四里沙茶面 Sili Shacha Noodles. They own many noodle shops in Xiamen. The main one is at the address: 思明区湖滨三里7号之1,之175,之176 – Hubin Sili 7
More of Xiamen’s delicacies
林氏鱼丸汤 Linshi fish-ball soup. Try the shop on Gulangyu Islet’s Longtou Road.
莲欢海蛎煎 Oyster Omelette – You can find it in many places in Xiamen, but I recommend to get it in the shop in the Zhongshan Street area (address: 中山路局口街横巷10号 see the map) because they use fresh oysters cooked with the finest ingredients.
View from the Yanwu Bridge
WHAT TO DO IN XIAMEN AT NIGHT
Xiamen is the perfect city for you if you like to stay up late at night! Xiamen’s evenings and even more Xiamen’s nights are the most enjoyable times of the day in the hot subtropical weather. If you crave some street-food, you can have bbq at every corner. Sit like the locals on low stools and eat simply. If you want to sit somewhere trendy and have a drink, head to these areas:
Shapowei Art district and Coffee street
Due to the high concentration of foreigners and expats around Xiamen University, Xiamen’s tiny ancient harbor called “Shapowei” 沙坡尾 has been largely restyled and rebuilt. Now it features beer and coffee shops, the locals’ privately opened art galleries, restaurants with late night food, and it’s constantly changing, with new shops popping out every day. There are more than 30 coffee places in the Shapowei area and along neighboring Daxue Road 大学路 and Minzu Road 民族路 : this is a must see. There are also cafes where you can listen to live music or that host DJs, like the Real Live Club.
Marco Polo Cafes and Bars area
This area developed much earlier than the Shapowei art district. Explore the streets surrounding the fine Marco Polo Hotel like Yundang Road (篔筜路), Jianye road (建业路), and Guanren Road (官任路): you’ll find western-style cafes and restaurants (many Italian restaurants), cocktail bars where you can drink, dance, and watch soccer games, and supermarkets that sell foreign products.
Nanputuo Temple Pagoda
BEST TIME TO VISIT XIAMEN
The weather in time is very unpredictable but warm all year round. My favorite months to visit Xiamen are October, November, and December. Especially in October, you can enjoy the popular Xiamenese sunsets which paint the sky in pink and orange and invite you to chill outside with the locals.
Xiamen’s subtropical weather provides its dwellers with 9 months of warm and pleasant weather. The summer is very hot: July and August are months during which it’s hard to live without air conditioning. To survive Xiamen’s hot weather, avoid being in the sun during the middle hours of the day, always bring a sun umbrella and a fan, use sunscreen, and never forget the mosquito repellent. There are a couple of months with almost constant rain, usually happening between March and May. Streets are sometimes flooded and everybody wears high slippers. Xiamen city’s weather is in general very unpredictable: sometimes you’ll feel like you’re experiencing four seasons into one day only. Xiamen is also subjected to typhoons, but they rarely are very bad. However, it can happen that trees are uprooted by the heavy winds and windows destroyed too. Usually, typhoons in the region are headed to Taiwan, while Xiamen island remains safe.
Now you know what to do to have the best time in Xiamen City! If you think this guide was helpful, or if you liked my pick of the best things to do in Xiamen, let me know in the comments. If you’re mulling over moving to Xiamen for a while, as I did, read my post six good reasons to live in Xiamen. Head here to see more pictures of Xiamen.
About the author:
This article was written by Xu Huilong. She was born and raised in Xiamen, and now she’s studying Master Degree of Theology in Indonesia. Huilong is fluent in Mandarin, Minnan dialect, and English. She is a passionate Christian and in her free time, she loves to travel and to study.