Fujian (福建, Fújiàn) is an attractive coastal province with a long seafaring history. As a significant stop on the maritime Silk Road, its cities developed an easy cosmopolitan outlook and visitors are surprised by the traces of elsewhere in its architecture, food, language and people.
Xiamen is the star attraction for visitors, with its long seaside promenade and easy access to little Gulang Yu, a hip island enclave just offshore. Many travelers also pass through the area en route to the Taiwanese island of Kinmen.
Away from the coast, the Unesco World Heritage–listed tǔlóu (roundhouses) rise out of the countryside and for generations have housed traditional Hakka and Fujianese communities. Further north, the hill station of Wuyi Shan offers year-round hiking opportunities and a memorable river cruise on bamboo rafts.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Fujian.
In the village of Gaobei (高北), this 300-year-old tǔlóu has 400 rooms and once housed 1000 inhabitants. It’s built with elaborate concentric rings, with circular passageways between them and a central shrine. It’s one of the most iconic and photographed tǔlóu, and it’s no surprise that it has been dubbed the king tǔlóu.
This ‘downtown’ series of ancient residential buildings is known as ‘Three Lanes and Seven Alleys'. Thousands of visitors wander the white-walled streets daily, passing the traditional architecture and the hectic shopping strip on Nanhou Jie, then resting at a cafe on the canal. Constructed in the late Jin dynasty around the 12th century, the residences prospered 400 years later during Ming and then Qing rule. For some peace, duck down quieter side streets, especially by night when red lanterns are illuminated.
This magnificently carved temple is immediately identifiable by its showy dragon-decorated roofs and a shroud of smoke emanating from furnaces burning prayer books stuffed in by devotees. It’s dedicated to Guan Yu, a Three Kingdoms general who was deified as the god of war. Inside the temple are statues of the god and wall panels that detail his life. Busy merchants gather outside. By night the temple is lit up in wonderfully gawdy fairy lights.
This most visited tǔlóu is a grandiose structure built in 1912, with two concentric circles and 222 rooms. The four storeys of the outer circle are impressive against a mountainous backdrop. The ancestral hall in the centre of the tǔlóu is complete with Western-style pillars. The locals dub this tǔlóu wángzǐ (土楼王子), the prince tǔlóu.
This Buddhist temple complex on the southern side of Xiamen is one of the most famous temples among the Fujianese, and is also considered a pilgrimage site by dedicated followers from Southeast Asia. The temple has been repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt. Its latest incarnation dates from the early 20th century, and today it’s an active and busy temple with chanting monks and worshippers lighting incense.
This quirky temple is dedicated to Manichaeism, a religion originating in Persia in the 3rd century, combining elements of Zoroastrian, Christian and Gnostic thought, which reached China in the 7th century. The well-restored stone complex you see today is a rebuild dating to the Yuan dynasty (14th century). The most remarkable relic in the temple is the ‘Buddha of Light', a sitting stone statue in the main hall, which is actually the prophet Mani, founder of Manichaeism, in a Buddhist disguise.
Trails within the scenic area connect all the major sites. Good walks include the 530m Great King Peak (大王峰, Dàwáng Fēng), accessed through the main entrance by shuttle bus, and the 410m Heavenly Tour Peak (天游峰, Tiānyóu Fēng), where an entrance is reached by road up the Nine Twists River. The main entrance to the Wuyi Shan Scenic Area is the south entrance, 3km south of the resort area. Take bus 6 or 7 (¥1, 22 minutes, frequent) to the Jǐngqū Nán Rùkǒu (景区南入口) stop.
In the northwest of the city, one of the oldest temples in Quanzhou dates back to AD 686 and is the largest in Fujian. Surrounded by trees, Kaiyuan Temple is famed for its pair of rust-coloured, five-storey stone pagodas, stained with age and carved with figures that date from the 13th century. Behind the eastern pagoda is a museum containing the enormous hull of a Song dynasty seagoing junk, which was excavated near Quanzhou in 1974.
Sunlight Rock (Rìguāng Yán), in Sunlight Rock Park, is the island’s highest point at 93m and its biggest draw are the views across the island. At the foot of Sunlight Rock is a large colonial-era building known as the Koxinga Memorial Hall. Also in the park is Yīngxióng Hill (Yīngxióng Shān), near the memorial hall and connected via a cable-car ride. It has an open-air aviary (admission free) with chattering egrets and parrots.