Tourists and expats looking to escape the oppressive congestion of Guangzhou (China’s third largest city) should turn their attention to Shamian Island. Once part of a Chinese concession to the French and English during the Opium Wars, the island is now a state-protected, well-preserved example of colonial architecture and urban planning.
Prior to concession, the island had long been an import port for vessels trading goods from the outside world with representatives of the Song and the Qing Dynasties based in Guangzhou. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the island has been a popular spot with westerners seeking to adopt Chinese children (due to its proximity to the United States consulate and its overall pleasantness).
Along with the many lovely stone mansions and well-ordered streets, some of the most pleasant features on the island include the profusion of extraordinary trees (some of which are 200-300 years old), the manmade waterfall inside the White Swan Hotel, Shamian Park, and the French-conceived Roman Catholic Church on the main street of the island. As you make your way amid these sites, keep your eyes peeled for any of the various bronze sculptures that are scattered throughout the island.
Shamian Island is easily accessible by metro (Huangsha Station is the stop), and there is also a ferry for pedestrians and cyclists running from Huangsha Pier to Fangcun Pier that runs every 10 minutes. For visitors interested in high quality embroidery, there is some excellent shopping at the night markets (running from dusk to midnight) on Jiaoyue Road and Xinhu Lu.