Dating from the late 12th century, Xiamen is a new city by Chinese standards. It was a stronghold for Ming loyalist Zheng Chenggong (better known as Koxinga), who later fled to Taiwan after China was overrun by the Qing. Xiamen's place as a dynasty-straddling city continues to this day due to its proximity to Taiwan. Some see Xiamen as a natural meeting point between the two sides in the decades-long separation. Only a few miles out to sea are islands that still technically belong to the Republic of China, as Taiwan is officially known in Mainland China.
Today, Xiamen is one of the most prosperous cities in China, with beautiful parks, impressive temples, and waterfront promenades that neatly complement historic architecture. Since around 2014, it has also cultivated a reputation as an increasingly "cool" city, with young fashion designers and artists choosing to live here, away from the bustle of bigger cities.
Just off Xiamen's west coast, the small island of Gulangyu makes a fun day trip. Its pleasant parks, gardens, statues, museums, and colonial-style buildings draw huge numbers of visitors, though, so it's best to come early on a weekday. The attractions are well signposted; the main ones, such as the Piano Museum inside the charming Shuzhuang Garden, can be accessed with a Y100 combo ticket available from booths outside site entrances. To reach the island take a 25-minute ferry ride from the second floor of the Xiamen Ferry port (Y50 round-trip, passport required).