In October 1999, Gulangyu became one of the first four districts of Xiamen City. However, in May 2003, Gulangyu District was absorbed into the larger Siming District .
The island became a foreign enclave following the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, hence the predominantly Victorian-era style architecture throughout the island, of which many were offices and residences of Consulate-Generals, as well as that of the thriving expatriate business community. The Fujian dialect Min Nan is spoken on the island.
As a place of residence for Westerners during Xiamen's colonial past, Gulangyu is famous for its architecture and for hosting China's only piano museum, giving it the nickname of "Piano Island" or "The Town of Pianos" or "The Island of Music" . There are over 200 pianos on this island.
The Chinese name also has musical roots, as ''gu lang'' means ''drum waves'' so-called because of the sound generated by the ocean waves hitting the reefs. ''Yu'' means "islet".
In addition, there is a museum dedicated to Koxinga, Haidi Shijie Marine World, a subtropical garden containing plants introduced by overseas Chinese, as well as Xiamen Museum, formerly the Eight Diagrams Tower .
The island of Gulangyu is a pedestrian only destination, where the only vehicles on the islands are several fire trucks and passenger transport vehicles. The narrow streets on the island, together with the architecture of various styles around the world, gives the island a unique appearance.
Gulangyu is connected to the main Xiamen island by ferry.