With its warm climate, good air quality, beautiful beaches and laid-back lifestyle, Xiamen is one of the most pleasant places to visit and live in China, and was called an “Oriental Hawaii” by the Former US President Richard Nixon. But a lot of the credit goes to its tourism magnet – the Gulangyu Island, which is unique in China as a “traffic-free island”, and is renowned for its beaches, winding lanes and its varied architecture.
Gulangyu got its present name due to ocean waves hitting the huge reef; and the sound generated resembled the beating of a drum. Therefore, the island was named “Gulangyu”. In Chinese, “Gu” means “drum” and “lang” means “waves” while “yu” means “islet”.
In 1902, Gulangyu became an international settlement with consulates of 14 countries. Many buildings of Chinese and foreign architectural styles have been left and well preserved on the island. Thus the island is called the “Museum of International Architecture”, with a mixture of architectural styles – Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Rococo, neo-Classical. Most of the buildings stand on the hillside with pleasant surroundings.
Gulangyu is also famous for hosting China’s only piano museum, giving it the nickname of “Piano Island” or “The Town of Pianos” or “The Island of Music”. The Piano Museum includes more than 100 world famous ancient pianos from Austria, Germany, France, the U.K., and the U.S.. Along the ring road are more than 200 sculptures, including the 247-meter Musical Notes outside Xiamen University. Recognized as the world’s longest music sculpture, it depicts the “Song of Gulangyu”. At sunset, the locals come out to the 5.9-km boardwalk where they speak softly, ambling to the music of the waves and a wafting saxophone melody. On the last Saturday of every month, a music salon is held at Gulangyu, where professional musicians occasionally perform for free.
The hills on Gulangyu Island are covered with lush trees and flowers all year round, hence the island is also called “Garden on the Sea”. It has many sights worth seeing including the Sunlight Rock, Shuzhuang Garden, the Piano Museum, Xiamen Museum (formerly the Eight Diagrams Tower), Bright Moon Garden, Yu Park, and Xiamen Undersea World, among which the Sunlight Rock and the Shuzhuang Garden are the most attractive, and certainly the Piano Museum is a must-see.
The Sunlight Rock in the central-southern part of Gulang Island dominates Gulangyu’s scenery. It is 92.68 meters high, the highest peak on the island, with one cliff inclines against the other. On top of the vertical cliff is the “Heavenly Wind Terrace”, where you can have a clear view of the urban area of Xiamen and Gulangyu Island. The small yet exquisite Lianhua Nunnery stands under a huge rock. Other places of interests include the Longtou Mountain Fortress, the Navy Drilling Terrace and the Memorial Hall of Koxinga (Zheng Chenggong), a national hero living toward the end of the Ming Dynasty.
Shuzhuang Garden in the southern part of Gulangyu Island was built in 1913 as a private villa, and it was converted into a park in 1955. In front of the park is the sea and on its back is Sunlight Rock. The park is divided into the “Garden Supplemented by the Hill” which features an artificial hill, and the “Garden That Hides the Sea” which has a teahouse named Meishou Hall overlooking the immense sea. Shuzhuang Garden, known as “a pearl on the sea”, is one of the most picturesque places on Gulangyu Island. The zigzag bridge enables you to believe that you “walk on water” at high tide. The famous Piano Museum is located in the Garden. Beyond the garden, the pleasant sandy beach extends along much of the island’s southern coast.
Gulangyu Island is a short ferry ride across the harbor from downtown Xiamen and its 4-km ring road can be walked in a leisurely two hours.