Shamian Island is 900m/1000yd long and 300m/900ft wide and lies in the southwest of the city, linked with the north bank of the Zhujiang by several bridges. Under Ming rule (1368-1644) the island was used for mooring and its name means "sandy surface" in Chinese as it is a sandbank island.
During the Opium Wars it was vigorously defended by the city leaders because of its strategic position, but in 1861 it was conceded to Britain, who had the western side of the island, and France, who had the eastern side. The foreign powers erected their consulates here, as well as villas, banks, churches and even a tennis court and sailing club. The Chinese needed special permission to be able to set foot on the island and it was only in 1949 that it once again came under Chinese administration.
The whole island is very green with many trees and peaceful with quiet virtually traffic free streets. It's not unusual to see married Chinese couples having their pictures taken in various places on the island as it's that picturesque. The island is the location of several hotels, a youth hostel (where I stayed), restaurants and tourist shops selling curios and souvenirs.
Shamian Island, the only place where foreign merchants were allowed to live in Guangzhou from the middle 18th to the middle 19th century, covers an area of 24,000 sq meters at the side of the Pearl River and is connected to the rest of the city by many bridges.
The large villas and shady tree lined avenues that were constructed then have a faded charm and create a contrasting atmosphere to much of the city.
Shamian Island is probably the best attraction of all in Guangzhou. Back in early 1900s, this part of Guangzhou was under European rule and thus there are many Euro-style buildings in this area. Here, coffee shops, restaurants, bars and roadside cafes are all around to give you an enjoyment time-out.