A prior ancient port for foreign trade in Guangzhou City, Shamian Island in the Pearl River retains the ambience of the European colonial period in which it thrived. Stone mansions line the waterfront of this elliptic sandbar, while historic buildings and tree-lined boulevards create a peaceful respite from hectic urban life on the mainland.
Visitors relax at Shamian Park or congregate on the strip of eateries and pubs on the island’s south-west edge. Locals hawk souvenirs and handmade gifts from small shops near the Old District, home to a mix of Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical buildings. The French-era Lady of Lourdes Chapel and the British Christ Church Shameen, both built in the mid-to-late 1800s, are well worth a visit.
At only 900 metres long and 300 metres wide, Shamian Island is very walkable. Shamian Avenue runs east-west across the island and Shamian Streets 1 through 5 cover north-south routes. Getting to the island requires crossing the canal, a 10-minute walk from the mainland. Buses and subways make stops at Huangsha Station near the bridge. A ferry runs every 10 minutes from Huangsha Pier to the island’s Fangcun Pier, transporting foot passengers and cyclists.
Shamian Island held a strategic defence position for China during the second Opium Wars of 1856 to 1860. When the area was conceded to France and the United Kingdom in 1859, it became a flourishing foreign enclave and a prosperous port for international trade.