I wasn’t sure what to expect when Xiamen Airlines invited me up to this coastal city in the Fujian province on China‘s eastern coastline, but Xiamen 厦门 really surprised me – I knew very little about it before, but I found it a pleasant coastal city with great weather (there are actual smog-free blue sky days!) and a great destination for a short relaxing weekend getaway. Here is my 3D2N itinerary and guide on things to do in Xiamen even if you only have a long weekend to explore.
Why visit Xiamen?
Xiamen is what China bills as a 2nd tier city – it’s not as cosmopolitan as Shanghai nor as historically grand as Beijing – the Great Wall of China is really something to see if you haven’t already. And bits of China still irk me, like the sheer number of people at popular places and all that spitting… yech! But the Fujian people are friendly and there is an interesting mix of Chinese and western-style influences not often seen in China, largely due to Xiamen’s history with international trade as a Treaty Port and currently a Special Economic Zone.
Visiting this region is also a bit more personal for me. Xiamen is part of the Fujian province in Southern China, and the people from this coastal region have historically been quite adventurous – many of them took to the sea and made that long journey down towards South East Asia or what they called Nanyang (South Sea) to seek their fortune, including my great-grandparents who eventually set down roots in Singapore. While I have no idea which part of Fujian my ancestors came from exactly, visiting this region and seeing hints of my family’s scant tradition has been an intriguing experience.
How to get to Xiamen from Singapore
The direct flight from Singapore’s Changi Airport to Xiamen’s Gaoqi Airport is around 4 – 4.5 hours, about the same as if you were flying to Hong Kong, and actually closer than other favourite Singaporean hotspots like Taiwan and Japan.
I flew from Singapore to Xiamen courtesy of Xiamen Airlines – a full-service airline that has 2 flights to Xiamen every day.
SIN >> XMN
- 0855 – 1255
- 1540 – 2005
XMN >> SIN
- 1015 – 1445
- 1740 – 2210
Based on the flight timings, the best way to maximise a long weekend in Xiamen would be taking the morning flight up and the evening flight back.
Silkair is the only other airline that currently flies non-stop from Singapore to Xiamen, but at a higher price.
Xiamen Airlines is great as they serve you a full meal and drinks (pretty good food) on the 4 hour flight and you can get a blanket from them as well, but they have an honestly weird rule where you aren’t allowed to switch your phone on at all when the plane is in the air (even in flight safe mode), though laptops are fine during cruising mode.
48 Hours in Xiamen – Things to do
Here is a suggested 3D2N itinerary of sights you can see in Xiamen, most of it is centred around the busy Siming District 思明 on Xiamen Island.
Xiamen currently sees more domestic than international tourists at this point, so while there will be crowds on weekends, the city is nowhere as packed as places like Beijing and Shanghai. Just make sure to avoid Chinese holidays like Golden Week where crowds will be pretty unbearable no matter where you go in China.
Click on the links to jump to that particular section:
Day 1 (Afternoon, Night)
- Hulishan Fortress 胡里山炮台
- Zengcuoan Village 曾厝垵村
- Clouds Above Xiamen Viewing Platform 云上厦门
- Dingaozai Cat Street 顶奥仔猫街
- Shapowei Art Zone 沙坡尾艺术西区
- Bifengwu 避风坞
- Coffee Street / Yundang Road 西堤咖啡一条街/篔筜路
Day 2 (Full Day)
- Wulao Peak 五老峰 + Botanic Gardens 园林植物园
- Railway Cultural Park 铁路文化公园
- Nanputuo Temple + Vegetarian Meal 南普陀寺
- Gulangyu / Kulangsu 鼓浪屿 (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
Day 3 (Morning)
- Finish up exploration of Gulangyu
- Lunch at Zhongshan Pedestrian Street 中山路步行街
- Head back to Gaoqi Airport
Where to stay in Xiamen
Getting Around Xiamen
Based on the early Xiamen Airlines flight, you will be ready to start exploring in the late afternoon.
Hulishan Fortress 胡里山炮台
Start your tour of Xiamen with a little bit of history – Hulishan is in the south of Xiamen Island and most famous for its many cannons on display, including 2 historic German 28cm Krupp cannons, the largest and some of the most well preserved coastal artillery in the world. The Germans themselves apparently don’t own any of these themselves and were trying to persuade the Chinese to sell these back to them.
This fortress was once an important post in China’s defence outpost, and you have a lovely view of the Dadan and Erdan islands from here. You might notice that it has a fair bit of western influence in terms of architecture and design.
Also curious are the many banyan trees all around the fortress with their great big roots perched atop the stone – it’s quite a sight.
Getting there: 2 Zengcuoan Road, Siming District 思明区曾厝垵路2号
Opening Hours: 0730hr – 1730hr (winter) or 1800hr (summer)
Entry Fee: 25 yuan
Zengcuoan Village 曾厝垵村
Head about 2km east along Huandao Road (cycle if you can) towards Zengcuoan for some refreshments – This old fishing village in the south reminds me a lot of Beijing’s Nanluoguxiang, a maze of preserved old houses and lots of little shops in them, largely thanks to the influx of young hip folk from the nearby Xiamen University and tourists.
Expect super narrow lanes and a ton of people squeezing by you – keep an eye on your stuff. It’s got a nice lively atmosphere and fun to hang out in for a few hours eating street food and doing a little shopping until the crowds become a tad claustrophobic.
Getting there: 2 Zengcuoan Road, Siming District 思明区曾厝垵路2号
Above the Clouds Xiamen 云上厦门
Head back towards the Xiagang 厦港 district for the evening. Those who like a 360º viewpoint can consider checking out this viewpoint 55 stories up during sunset where you can see all the way to Kinmen on a clear day. It’s a typical tower viewpoint with floor to ceiling glass panels and signs that show you the various sights from up high around downtown Xiamen.
It’s not the cheapest thing to do if you are on a budget, but if you love a good view, pick a good clear day.
Getting there: Level 55, Shimao Straits Tower B, Daxue Road, Siming District, Xiamen厦门世茂海峡大厦观光厅, 厦门市思明区大学路世茂海峡大厦B塔55F
Opening Hours: 0930hr – 2200hr
Entry Fee: 120 yuan (S$25) for a normal ticket, 140 yuan to go up to Level 58 Love Platform
Dingaozai Cat Street 顶奥仔猫街
This sloping lane just off Siming South Road is a mishmash of street food and hipster clothing shops – prepare to encounter lots of photo-taking visitors taking selfies with the many cat-themed graffiti and art along this stretch. It’s got a nice vibe at night especially and is a nice place to visit along with nearby Shapowei Art Zone.
Random: Look out for the ‘Singaporean’ food stall here though it didn’t seem very popular and the menu didn’t seem particularly Singaporean either!
Getting there: Dingaozai, Siming District 思明区顶奥仔
Shapowei Art Zone 沙坡尾艺术西区
Converted from disused shipbuilding warehouses, Shapowei comes alive at night as a proper hipster zone, with a collection of little booths and stalls in an outdoor market, a live music stage, skate park and all sorts of cute cafes and lovely design-centric shops which is good for cute little souvenirs. It’s a nice place to just wander around and see what new things you can discover.
Getting there: 60 Daxue Road, Shapowei, Xiamen 厦门沙坡尾艺术西区60号之13设备房
I wish I had time to check out the nearby Xiamen Art Museum of Chinese Elite 厦门中华儿女美术馆 which is located in what used to be the old fish market of Shapowei.
Shapowei used to be a thriving fishing village back in the day with a naturally sheltered bay or Bifengqu where fishing boats could take refuge from bad weather and rough seas. These days you’re more likely to find an eclectic mix of art galleries, hipster joints and traditional food stalls than traditional boats, though you can still spot a few out on the water.
The sheltered wharf area has a nice wooden boardwalk that makes for a lovely stroll whether it’s day or night. I love the blend of old and new all in one area, from the historic old Chaozong temple 朝宗宫dedicated to the Sea Goddess Mazu built in 1662, to the revamped little cafes nestled in the old buildings that line the boardwalk.
The sheltered wharf area has a nice wooden boardwalk that makes for a lovely stroll in the evening, and there are lots of food options along this stretch and the neighbouring Daxue Street.
Lots of photo opportunities against the backdrop of picturesque cafes and the little wharf area – if you like this sorta thing, come spend a lazy afternoon just chilling out at one of these cafes here,
Watch out for your shoes at high tide though because the water splashes right up on to the boardwalk and floods it for about half an hour at its highest point; and the muddy shores during low tide sometimes attracts the famous white egret bird, the symbol of Xiamen.
I also enjoyed grabbing dinner at Zao ka 灶脚, a little eatery that serves up some great local cuisine in a tiny diner. I had the traditional oyster noodles and the shacha meat skewers. Chinese readers can read a more in depth interview about this little eatery.
Getting there: 37-39 Daxue Road, Siming District, Xiamen 厦门市思明区大学路37-39号
Opening Hours: 0930hr – 2200hr
Another local favourite my guide pointed out was this little stall called Zhenzhen Xiagang Luwei 真真厦港卤味 – Luwei quite simply described is the salty braised soy sauce mixture in which a whole bunch of different street snack food is dipped into and served. This particular branch here near Shapowei is the original outlet, though they have several branches around Xiamen island. If you are up to it go for the chicken feet, or for something less crazy get a braised egg instead.
Getting there: 37-39 Fengchao Road, Siming District, Xiamen 厦门市思明区蜂巢山路20-104号
Opening Hours: 0930hr – 2300hr
Yundang Road / Coffee Street 西堤咖啡一条街/篔筜路
If you still have energy, take a cab up to Yundang Road, north of Yundang Lake in the evening. This lake has an island floating in the middle of it called Bailuzhou Park 白鷺洲公園 or Egret Park and has a little 10min light projection show in the evenings from 8-9pm that runs 3-4 times and sees a lot of tourists, if you are into that sorta thing.
Instead, I recommend just hitting Yundang Road which is also known as Coffee Street, and popping into any one of the many cafes here to chill out in this super hipster stretch. Pick your favourite spot with a rooftop view and just have a relaxing evening up here. Stuff here is pricier of course – a drink will typically cost around 30-4o yuan (S$6-8) at least, but the ambience and view are good.
Have a very early start and be prepared to do a lot of walking
Wulao Peak Viewpoint 五老峰
Wulao Peak is located behind the famous Nanputuo Temple, and if you take an early morning hike up a long flight of stairs on the hill behind Nanputuo (cut through the temple towards the back), you can enjoy an excellent view of Xiamen from the peak. It took me about half an hour at a super quick pace (don’t hike with younger fitter folk omg) and is pretty steep, so I suggest giving yourself a bit more time.
Go early in the morning if you can when the air is cooler, but also because if you reach the peak before 7am, you can enter the neighbouring Botanic Gardens 园林植物园 for free (usually 30 RMB). The gardens are pleasant enough for a walk if you like some greenery and there are some greenhouses and a cool cactus garden, but personally, I didn’t think it was that exciting.
Getting here: Nanputuo Temple – 515 Siming South Road, Siming District, Xiamen
Xiamen Railway Cultural Park 夏门铁路文化公园
This park was built along a 4.5km stretch of abandoned Xiamen-Yingtan railway line between Wenping Road and Heping Dock – One of the park entrances is located right outside the entrance to the Botanic Gardens, so it’s a nice segue after your tiring climb up Nanputuo. Just follow the path that is built along the old railway tracks of Xiamen. Lots of joggers and cyclists around, it’s a nice patch of greenery in the middle of the city.
The entire stretch is actually split into 4 parts – I didn’t walk all of them, but I did enjoy the Hongshan Tunnel洪山隧道 that has become a cultural and historical gallery of sorts, with both its walls lined with the odd mural and information panel about the history of the railway construction and Xiamen.
Nanputuo Temple 南普陀寺
If you had to visit just one temple in Xiamen, Nanputuo Temple is probably your best bet. This large temple complex dedicated to Guanyin is named after a holy place in Zhejiang of the same name and is definitely worth a wander through even if you are not particularly religious like me just to take a peek at its beautiful architecture and grand Buddhist sculptures inside the halls. There is a nice garden area outside the main entrance which is also nice for a stroll.
It gets pretty crowded, so if you don’t want to be around too many people, walk around before you make the climb up to Wulao Peak.
One popular thing to do here at Nanputuo is to eat their vegetarian set meal, reputedly the best vegetarian cuisine in the Fujian province and has an over 100-year history of being provided to visitors to the temple. Those who know me know that I’m totally anti-veggies (sorry mum) but even I enjoyed this meal which you can enjoy in the restaurant next to the main shrines and halls.
Kulangsu / Gulangyu 鼓浪屿
Kulangsu or Gulangyu is a tiny island off the southwestern end of Xiamen Island and one of the most popular things to do for people visiting Xiamen, and it gets extremely crowded on the weekend. This UNESCO World Heritage site is going to be crowded every day, so consider staying overnight on the island because most of the crowd are daytrippers who leave when it gets dark, so you can enjoy the peace and quiet once everyone starts heading back in the evening, and early in the morning before the crowds stream in.
Because it was a treaty port, Gulangyu was a rare place in China open to foreigners who made their homes on this island, along with a lot of rich overseas Chinese. Wandering around the streets of Gulangyu feels a little like you’re in a weirdly European district, as many of these houses were strongly influenced by the foreigners living there to create a hybrid Colonial-Western-Fujian architectural style known as Amoy Deco Style.
Gulangyu is also known as the Piano Island with the world’s largest piano museum 钢琴博物馆 and a reputation for having the highest concentration of piano ownership. It’s also produced some world-renowned musicians (I’m not much of a classical music sort so I don’t recognize the names, unfortunately)
Sometimes Gulangyu felt a bit like a theme park of sorts, especially because the beautiful architecture is hugely popular with wedding photographers. Throughout the day that we were there, we saw wedding shoots set up side by side, and as many as 10 couples lined up in an alleyway getting that picture-perfect shot against the backdrop of a grand old house.
But that said, Gulangyu is a beautiful spot and feels quite unlike anything you will see in Xiamen so I think it’s worth just popping over to check out, even if for a few hours. It’s not a very large island, there are no cars allowed so I recommend wandering around and getting a little lost, but some things to check out:
One of my favourite views can actually be found on the 4th level of the Lee House 李家庄 right next to the Xiamen Music School. The first 3 levels are filled with tourist snacks and goodies for sale, but climb all the way to the top and you are rewarded with a beautiful view. It’s a hotel as well if you are interested in staying.
Climb up the Sunlight Rock 日光岩 for the best view of the island – we didn’t have time to visit but it looks like a nice spot for a little hike and view, and you even get to take a cable car. The Zhengchenggong or Koxinga memorial hall 郑成功纪念馆 is also nearby.
Shuzhuang Gardens 菽庄花园 is a nice manicured garden with over 40 bridges built by a very wealthy man. The Piano Museum is located in here as well.
Gulangyu used to be quite famous for the snacks and souvenirs that you could buy from here, but these days it’s easy to find these same brands in downtown Xiamen.
Useful info here. Tourists and non-locals can only take a ferry from Xiamen International Cruise Centre in Dongdu 东渡厦门邮轮中心 to Sanqiutian Pier 三丘田码头 which runs every 20 minutes, and the trip also takes about 20 mins. A round trip ticket costs 35 yuan, and there are limited tickets available every day to help control crowds on the island, so make sure you buy or book your tickets early. (see if the site works for you? It doesn’t seem to load for me unfortunately, you should probably ask a local person to help you book tickets then). You’ll need your passport on hand to get your ticket and get past security checks to get on the boat.
If you are day tripping and making the trip back to the mainland in the evening, or if you are a local, you can take the boat from Sanqiutian to Xiamen Lundu Ferry Terminal 厦门轮渡码头2号厅 which is just across the water and only takes 5 minutes. The boats fill up quick so you might not have a seat, but it’s a short ride in either direction so you’ll be fine, just prepare yourself for the crowds and perpetual queuing to get on and off the boat.
Consider getting the tourist pass for 100 yuan, especially if you plan to visit Sunlight Rock which already costs 60 yuan just to enter. Check out this site for more info.
It’s been a hectic 2 days – before you go, why not do something a little bit more chill and hit one more last sight before you head to the airport.
Zhongshan Pedestrian Street 中山路步行街
Right near the Lundu harbour where you disembark from on over to the bustling Zhongshan Road which essentially is more shopping and food, but here’s where the architecture has a western flavour in a style called Qilou. It’s nice enough for a stroll and to grab some last minute souvenirs and food before you head to the airport, but I visited at night and I was pretty damn knackered so I didn’t walk around that much.
Where to stay in Xiamen
Xiamen Airlines put us up at the Xiamen Airlines Lakeside Hotel 厦门航空金雁酒店 along Hubin South Road, right next to Bailuzhou Park and Yundang Lake. It’s a slightly quieter area that’s about 20 minutes walk to Coffee Street and Zhongshan Road – convenient enough but not quite in the thick of action which is good if you want a break from the madding crowds. Comfortable rooms that have just been renovated and a nice breakfast buffet spread that includes local favourites like oyster mianxian and for some reason, durian ice cream.
I extended the trip on my own and stayed in the Xiamen International Youth Hostel which is right next to Nanputuo temple and opposite Dingaozai Cat Street. Location wise, this is pretty perfect as you are within walking distance of most of Siming District. It’s very budget friendly as well, costing me just 75 yuan/day (S$15) for a bed in a 4-bed dorm.
The rooms are pretty snug though – two bunk beds and not much floor space but there are large lockers (I could put my whole Cabinzero in) and the room came with an ensuite bathroom, though the sink is located outside. It’s surprisingly quiet despite being in a fairly high traffic area so bring your earplugs.
I did the Nanputuo walk to the Botanic Gardens with the hostel folk, which was a nice social activity, and there are pretty nice lounge areas both indoor and outdoor as well.
Affiliate links above – there is no extra cost to you, but I may get a small % if you make your booking through this link.
Getting around Xiamen
If you have a Wechat account with a linked wallet – congratulations, and I highly recommend using it for cycling around using one of Xiamen’s many bike rental systems. Xiamen has built the Huandao Road and a dedicated raised cycling path, so it’s a nice way to see the city and get around quickly.
Xiamen is currently building their underground metro system or the Amoy Mass Transit Railway (AMTR) – when that does come up, it will surely be the easiest way to get around the city especially for anyone familiar with navigating cities, but you have to put up with the construction for a little while longer.
Right now the best way for travellers to get around Xiamen is to hop on a taxi. Taxis are not expensive, especially if you have a group of 3-4 to split the costs. Take an official taxi with a meter and not a black taxi. Generally, I’ve found the cab drivers to be honest enough, the only thing you might encounter is that they might take a slightly longer/winding route, but it’s still relatively cheap. It cost about 40 yuan (S$8) to get from Gaoqi Airport in the north to my hostel near Nanputuo in the south.
An alternative method is to take the public bus, which is actually quite comprehensive considering the size of Xiamen Island. It costs just 2 yuan per trip which makes it super budget friendly – it’s even cheaper if you get yourself an electronic yi-tong Card. There are automated signs on the bus to tell you where to stop, but it’s completely in Chinese so if you can’t read or understand Chinese, it might be a bit challenging.
I visited Xiamen on a media trip sponsored by Xiamen Airlines. All views and opinions listed here are my own. Thanks also to Optimax for sponsoring the Roampass pocket wifi device that helped keep me online during this trip (You still need a VPN for certain blocked sites in China though).