48 Hours: Strolling ‘garden on the sea’ highlights Xiamen’s traditional, modern

Posted October 14, 2017


Xiamen is a livable and lovable coastal city in southeast China’s Fujian Province. It has been an important port for centuries and became one of China’s earliest special economic zones in the 1980s. But unlike Shanghai or Hong Kong, Xiamen is simultaneously ancient and modern, relaxing and vibrant. Sea views are backed by impressive cityscapes, offering a unique mix of urban energy and laid-back vibes. From historical to cultural and from landscape to nightscape, Xiamen is populated with a number of attractions that surprise you at every turn.


4 p.m. – Shapowei Art Zone

Want to experience a typical afternoon in Xiamen? Shapowei Art Zone, the heart of the local youth culture, would be your best choice. Each weekend, local artists come there to sell their wares. You can sit beside the harbor view with a cup of cold brew coffee or boba milk tea while admiring the local street art and watching the skaters performing tricks at the skate park.

5 p.m. — Ding’aozai Cat Street

Cat lover? Check out Ding’aozai Cat Street right away! The area is a winding stone-paved lane near the beautiful Xiamen University campus, hiding in its narrow alleyways. Cats used to be part of the local fishermen’s lifestyles and traditions. Now, the whole neighborhood has been turned into a cat community of omnipresent cat art, greeting guests with its colorful cat graffiti and murals every corner.

6 p.m. – Sunset at Baicheng Beach

Enjoy the sunset at Baicheng Beach (Photo by Lorina Liu).

Don’t miss the seaside when you are immersed in the art zone. Palm trees swaying in the breeze and vendors hawking mangoes, coconuts and seafood. Baicheng is the closest beach area to downtown. You can enjoy a beautiful sunset here around 6 p.m. in summer. At night, the area will be illuminated by thousands of subtle orange LED lights, creating a lovely spectacle and a romantic spot for a nighttime stroll.

8 p.m. — Cheap Eats at Zengcuoan Village

Cheap Eats at Zengcuoan Village (Photo by Lorina Liu).

Several years ago, this area was a dusty little fishing village. Now, it is a major tourist attraction. Zengcuoan Village is an arrangement of little alleys full of cafes, sit down restaurants, souvenir and craft shops and street food stalls. Vendors are hospitable even though some shops may be a bit commercial. Go for the experience and just soak in the noisy and lively atmosphere. Grab some local sweets if you like.


9 a.m. — Breakfast at Huangzehe Peanut Soup Shop

The counter-service restaurant might be a humble place, but the sweet peanut soup, a traditionally Fujian-style food, has been the favorite for locals more than 60 years. Other must-try snacks include fried red date and oyster omelet. Local people always have this soup with deep-fried dough sticks as breakfast. Try to eat like a local!

10 a.m. — Zhongshan Pedestrian Street

The street is teeming with more than 200 shops and street vendors, from trinket shops to luxury stores. Most of the buildings along the Zhongshan Street are from the colonial era, though they are generally very worn. You will experience a combination of Victoria-era and Chinese traditional architectures walking alone the street.

12 p.m. — Lunch at Wutang Satay Noodle Shop

Satay noodles are quite popular in Xiamen and sold in almost every noodle shop. The soup has a clay color due to the addition of pulverized peanuts, which make the dish velvety, aromatic and warming to your stomach. It is spicy but not too strong. One can add any food materials and condiments you like in the noodle, including pork innards, squid rings, dried tofu and so on.

2 p.m. — Gulangyu Island

Tourism in Xiamen is really all about one thing – Gulangyu, a car-free island just off the coast of Xiamen. The ferry terminal is at the west starting point of Zhongshan Street, which takes you to the Island within 10 minutes. The buildings’ style on Gulangyu is a mix of neo-classical and art deco, some of which date back to the declining years of the last emperor prior to World War II.

3 p.m. — Sunlight Rock

Have a panoramic view of Xiamen from Sunlight Rock, the highest point of Gulang Island (Photo by Lorina Liu).

There is a saying that it will be a trip to Xiamen in vain without ascending Sunlight Rock. Sunlight Rock is the island’s highest point at 93 meters. Climbing up the hill, which dominates Gulangyu, one can have a panoramic view of Xiamen of scenic and historic interest. When Zheng Chenggong, a national hero, recovered Taiwan, his troops were stationed there, leaving behind a lot of moving stories.

4 p.m. — Gulangyu Fish Ball

While mountain climbing can be exhausting, the delicious street foods will let you put everything behind. Fish balls are a specialty of Gulangyu. They are made from finely ground fish and served with soup and pepper. Add some sweet chili sauce and coriander if you want.

5 p.m. — Pre-Dinner Drinks on Gulangyu

The choices for a drink are wide and varied. Bars and coffee shops can be found everywhere on the island. Personally, KOI boba milk is my favorite. KOI is a popular milk tea chain shop that serves the best Taiwanese boba in Xiamen. They don’t have many seats in the store, so just grab a tea on-the-go.

6 p.m. — Taste of Sandworm Jelly

Sandworm jelly may sound crazy at first, but it is really good to taste and very rich in protein. Main material of sandworm jelly is a kind of worm found in muddy seabed. The worm jelly is served with garlic sauce, vinegar, radishes, mustard and other pungent spices.

9 p.m. – A Little Night Music at Binlang Bar Street

After sightseeing during daytime, are you looking for a place to rest and get refreshed? Let’s enjoy a lovely night scenery and experience the gorgeous nightlife in Xiamen. Binlang Bar Street is a nightlife venue of great popularity especially among young people. Pubs and bars typically prevail in the street with distinct styles and features, which provide you with a wide range of choices.


9 a.m. — Breakfast at Xiao Long Bao

Xiao Long Bao, much like mini steamed buns, are widely popular across China but they vary in different cuisines. The most popular one is soup-filled dumplings from Shanghai. You’ll recognize them by the stacks of bamboo baskets on steamers. However, Xiao Long Bao in Xiamen are nothing like that – they have rather thick skin, similar to the texture of bread, and are filled with chunks of delicious marinated meat (usually pork) without soup. This savory snack is perfect for a quick but filling breakfast.

10 a.m. – Tracing Local Xiamen in Bashi Market

An ordinary morning at Bashi Market (Photo by Lorina Liu).

The way people go out for grocery shopping is quite different between western countries and China. Bashi Market, also called the Eighth Market, is the biggest and oldest traditional food market in Xiamen. This tiny but lively market sells whatever you need for daily life, from vegetables, seafood to alternative medicines. In the market, you can find the most common and real Xiamen with people speaking Minnan dialect, bargaining with vendors.

11 a.m. — Jizhi Department Store

Experience the old-fashioned Chinese style at Jizhi Department Store (Photo by Lorina Liu).

Jizhi department store is a five-story building selling Xiamen pies, teas, books and handicrafts. The store is decorated by retro style tiles and old-fashioned articles. Stepping from ground floor, you will experience a slow life in this miniature wonderland among its bookstores, teahouses and museum. On the top of the building, one can have an view of the Eighth Market, nestling among a complex of the most ancient houses.

12 a.m. – A Fine Lunch at Yanyu

Yanyu is a western and Chinese fusion restaurant with innovative dishes and fascinating dining environment. The theme of the restaurant “Yanyu” means “encounter of romance.” The cuisine is a creative combination of classic Chinese dishes with some wow factors like a fruit tree, buns shaped like animals and egg-shaped mango pudding.

2 p.m. — Xiamen University

A stone’s throw from the Nanputuo Temple is Xiamen University, which is largely considered to be the most beautiful campus in China. You are welcome to walk around the leafy and picturesque campus. Lotus Tunnel is a popular tourist attraction in Xiamen University, famous for the artistic graffiti by the university’s creative students, depicting cultural icons, historical events, political messages and personal dedications to friendships and classmates.

Xiamen is located near Taiwan to the east and Hong Kong-Macau to the southwest, on China’s seacoast (Map courtesy of Google Maps).

If You Go

  • Shapowei Art Zone – No.60 University Road, Shapowei, Siming District, Xiamen
  • Ding’aozai Cat Street – 18-18 Ding’aozai Road, Siming District, Xiamen
  • Baicheng Beach – South of Xiamen University, between Yanwu Bridge and Hulishan Fort
  • Huang Zehe Peanut Soup Restaurant – No.22, Zhongshan St., Siming District, Xiamen
  • Wutang Satay Noodle Shop – No.60 Minzu Road, Siming District, Xiamen
  • Longtou Fish Ball – No.183 Longtou Road, Gulangyu Island, Xiamen
  • Binlang Bar Street – No.5-19 Lianyi Square, Binlang Road, Siming District
  • Bashi Food Market – Kaihe Road, Siming District, Xiamen
  • Jizhi Department Store – Kaiyuan Road No.116, Siming District, Xiamen
  • Yanyu Restaurant – No.5001, Fifth floor, Zhonghua Town, area C, Siming District, Xiamen
  • Xiamen University – No.422 Siming Road, Siming District, Xiamen