Shamian Island: A trip down memory lane

Guangzhou, nestled in China’s steamy south east, is an extremely large and busy city, with many modern buildings and attractions just like any other city in Asia. However, one of the things that makes Guangzhou so special is its heritage, and nowhere better than on Shamian Island can you experience the memories of days gone by.

Shamian Island has great historic significance. In 1859, the territory was divided into two concessions, 80% of which went to the British and the remainder to the French. It was then embanked and provided with streets, drainage, and imposing buildings and became home to a prosperous foreign enclave. After 1949, the mansions there became government offices or apartment houses and the churches were turned into factories. But later they were restored, in many cases to their former splendour. Each building has a label telling its former purpose and the mansions there form the best preserved Gothic, Baroque, and Neoclassical buildings in all of China.

Shamian Island is a good place for a stroll. As it is just 900m long from east to west and 300m from south to north, one will not feel tired even after walking around the island twice. Due to traffic control on the island, it showcases a different atmosphere and pace of living. Problems such as traffic jams and exhaust gas pollution don’t exist here. Now partly reserved for pedestrians, its broad boulevards are like long gardens topiaries. A line of bars and cafes on the southwest side with views over the Pearl River serves modern expats.

Any trip to Guangzhou must take in the heritage sights of Shamian Island. To get here, take Subway Line 1 to Huangsha station and get out from Exit F, then walk through an overpass to the bridge that reaches the island. If you’re interested in history and/or architecture, then Shamian Island may very well be the highlight of your trip to the city!

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