Just off the coast of Xiamen is Gulangyu, a pedestrian-only island that is also a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. At only 2 km2 area and home to about 20,000 people, Gulangyu is a major domestic tourist destination and is one of China’s most visited tourist attractions. However, all cars and bicycles are banned on the island, which helps to preserve an air of antiquity and tranquility.
Gulangyu used to be home to thirteen foreign consulates, and the architecture there is evidence of the presence of these different cultures. Today the island is a major tourist area; many of the old colonial-era buildings have become restaurants or guesthouses, and there are many shops geared towards tourists.
We spent an afternoon walking around the island, and hiked to the highest point of the island, Sunlight Rock. From here, you can not only see the entire island below, but also get a great view of the Xiamen skyline. And honestly, it takes about ten minutes to reach the top, so I would definitely recommend making a trip up there. On the southside of the island is Shuzhuang Garden, and highlights include the 44 bridge, the Piano Museum, and the rockery with hidden sculptures of all 12 zodiac animals.
Regarding the Piano Museum, Gulangyu is sometimes called the “Piano Island,” as the first foreign residents arrived in the 1840s brought these pianos to Gulangyu with them. It is quite common to hear piano music (usually recorded and usually classical) in the streets as you walk about, and it’s said that all native residents know how to play the piano. The piano museum houses various types of pianos, including rare specimens from the 1700s.
And finally, stay tuned for the next two posts, where I’ll be sharing with you (not literally, unfortunately) the food of southeast China! 🙂