After the British victory in the First Opium War (1839–42), Xiamen (then known as Amoy) became one of five "treaty ports" established by the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842. Gulangyu island was designated an international foreign settlement in 1903 and became a secure haven for Europeans, Japanese and wealthy overseas Chinese who built lavish mansions, consulates and churches there.
This island is extremely popular with Chinese tourists causing it to be a high impact tourism destination. Visitors arrive in droves, usually in large tour groups. Although the island is quite scenic, the noisy crowds can at times diminish its attractiveness. Nonetheless, the island makes for a pleasant short stay and offers an experience quite unique in China.
Take the five-minute ferry ride across the harbor from Xiamen. It is free on the outward journey and you pay on the way back. +1 Yuan if you want to sit on the upper deck, which one could opt for to avoid crowds since the ferry tends to get extremely cramped.
Another option for the more adventurous traveler would be to walk down to the dock and search for a blue fishing boat with tires around it. These boats will take a larger group of people for cheaper than the ferry and will normally drive you around and give you a personal tour.
As you board the return ferry there are many people who offer a return trip in a speedboat, for 10 yuan a person (ferry is 8 yuan a person). If less than 4 people, you may have to wait for them to get 4 people together.
Cars and motorcycles are banned, but the island is small enough to walk around as long as one is physically able. There are golfcart-type battery-powered taxis that are now becoming more popular, It should be noted though that this newer form of transportation is said to take away from the island's charm. Since one can easily take a wrong turn walking it is important to be careful where you walk not to get lost, especially if one wanders into the local housing area since it can tend to get very confusing. If one does not speak the local language, which is a Amoy dialect of Hokkien, they should be particularly careful as to not get lost, since it will cause quite the chaos in trying to return to the tourist area.
A discount card can be bought on the island which gives entry to The Statue of Koxinga, the Piano Museum, Sunlight Rock (including cable car ride), the Aviary, the Organ Museum and the International Calligraphic Carving Art Gallery for ¥80.
Statue Of Koxinga (Haoyue Garden), (5 minutes walk south east of the ferry terimal). Zheng Chenggong, or Koxinga as he is generally known in the West, is a Chinese hero revered both in Taiwan and on the mainland,because he drove the Dutch out of Taiwan in the 1660s. He was the son of a Japanese mother and a merchant and pirate from the Quanzhou area. There's an enormous statue of him on horseback on a hilltop in Quanzhou. As the Manchu conquerers of the Qing dynasty moved South, the father surrendered and became a Qing official, but the son fought on. At one point, his armies got as far as menacing Nanjing. His headquarters were at the South end of Gulang Yu; a watchtower and some other fortifications remain. Eventually, he found himself defeated on the mainland, so he went off and took over Taiwan. This was the first major Chinese incursion into Taiwan and was followed by a surge of immigration, mainly from the Xiamen and Quanzhou areas. Modern Taiwanese is essentially the Minnan dialect of those cities. ¥15.
Shuzhuang Garden. Named after the original owner Lin Erjia (aka ShuZhuang), a wealthy Taiwanese businessman. Highlights include the 44 bridge, the Piano Museum (see below) and the rockery with hidden sculptures of all 12 zodiac animals. There is also a small private art museum to the right of the main entrance.
The Piano Museum (Shuzhuang Garden). A museum of piano through the ages, including rare specimens from the 1800s. The entry fee to Shuzhuang Garden (normally ¥30) includes entrance to the museum. Guided tours several times a day include performances on a few of the instruments.
Sunlight Rock. This is the highest point on the island with great views as far as Xiamen. Entry included into Buddhist temple, the Aviary and a cable car ride to the aviary on Yingxiong Hill. Warning: climbing to the top involves a lot of stairs, so probably not good for young children or the elderly.¥60.
The Aviary. Over 1000 birds from over 100 countries. Many peacocks, including a rare Albino, several types of cranes, lots of ducks/geese, and other large birds (e.g. emus). Watch for falling excrement. Aviary performances take place several times per day.
International Calligraphic Carving Art Gallery. A small gallery of carved calligraphy from Chinese, Japanese, and Korean artists. Admission normally ¥10. Entrance near the main gate of Shuzhuang Garden.
Underwater World, (from the ferry terminal, walk to the right and look for the big blue building). Admission is a steep ¥90 for adults, ¥50 for children/seniors, but you can just stand outside and take photos of the Jules Verne-esque octopus statue.
Gulangyu Organ Museum, . Organ Museum is in the Trigram House (Bagualou) northwestern Gulangyu, which is currently the only and the largest organ museum in the world. Matched with the piano museum in southeastern Shuzhuang Garden, it attracts a lot of music lovers around the world who cherish the feelings of pilgrims to this unmatchable beautiful music island. There are uncountable styles of organ collected in this museum.
Bright Moon Garden, . Bright Moon Garden (Haoyueyuan) is on the Covering Rock (Fudingyan) in the eastern coastal Gulangyu, covers an area of 30,000 square meters, spreading along the shore of Lujiang. It is a garden of sandy beach, rocks, trees and pavilions. Founded in 1985, its name “Haoyue Yuan” is from two poet lines of “the volume of King II of Yanping”. In the park stands a giant bronze sculpture consisted of statues of Zheng Chenggong and his military which are totally 13.7 meters long and 4.7 meters high, made by 18 tons of copper.
The food on the island is not especially good, since it caters to tourists who rarely come back a second time. However, if you enjoy seafood, you may be pleasantly surprised, as Gulang Yu's local cuisine tends to emphasize seafood. The streets are lined with restaurants and food stalls that sell a variety of such dishes (look for red plastic tubs of fresh seafood). If you're more interested in a sweeter, snack there's a great ice cream place located right near the ferry's drop off point. Prices are more expensive than in Xiamen.
Yuanxiangkou Fish Balls (原巷口), four locations around Gulangyu; one is behind the ICBC near the ferry terminal, ☎ 0592-3997993, . An award-winning shop that is most famous for its fish balls, which are stuffed with pork and cooked in a savory soup. Try the fish balls alone (¥6) or with noodles (¥8). Unless you're an adventurous foodie and/or read Chinese well enough to understand exactly what you're getting, however, skip the other "snacks" (小 吃) even though they're supposed to be famous Gulangyu specialties.
Shirley Valentine, (on the far side of the island). Serves fresh fish and noodles. Recommended are the mussels with noodles and green tea. A seat under an umbrella on the sea shore is a must.
Tea & Times, No. 30 Quan Zhou Road (a few streets inland from the Ferry Terminal, in a busy shopping area), ☎ 0592-2092 537, . A tea/coffee shop run by a group of designers. Friendly owner and some of the best milk tea in all of China. Look for the charming black bird logo.
Black Cat Coffee (Black Cat Cafe), 14 Yong Chun Road. You can come just for the coffee (~¥30-35) and a look at the restored home and gardens, but definitely consider their food menu. They offer a la carte options for seafood and mixed grill items for ¥100-140, and 4 course set menus for ¥160-190. The "Italian consulate menu" is good. It consists of a crisp roast duck caesar salad, a sweet and creamy pumpkin soup, choice of prime rib or salmon, and dessert. The front porch tables enjoy sun after 1pm, and American oldies play on speakers throughout the cafe.¥30-200.
Be sure to check out the Old Dutch Manor!
Bay View Inn, 17 Longtou Road (From ferry terminal, walk straight. Immediately on your left, you will see a stone stairway leading to the top of a small hill. First right; look for a yellow/white building and a sign), ☎ (0592)2060466, 2060468 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: (0592)2060468), . checkout: 12 noon. Very nice, clean inn near the ferry terminal. Free internet and wi-fi.¥45-60 dorm, ¥188 twin, ¥322 twin ensuite.
Gulangyu International Youth Hostel, 18 Lujiao Road, ☎ 0592-2066066 (email@example.com, fax: 0592-2066022), . Just up the road from 'Naya'. Spacious grounds. Grubby dorms, iffy bathrooms. Peeling paint. No kitchen. Better go to Bayview Inn across the street for a few yuan more, or stay at Xiamen International Youth Hostel, 41 Nanhua Road, on the mainland, which is impeccable. (City bus 1 or 21 from the railway station.)
Naya Home Hotel, (From ferry terminal, walk straight. Immediately on your left, you will see a stone stairway leading to the top of a small hill. First right.), . Wonderful homestyle hotel, quaint decoration. Also doubles as an Italian Restaurant/Cafe with outdoor seating. No individual dorms.