There are so many great things to do in Guilin and the surrounding area. With some of the most spectacular scenery in China (and I would argue in the world!), Guilin should be on every China travel itinerary. Whether you are moving to China as an expat, backpacking through the country or travelling in China with kids, there is something for everyone in Guilin.
In this article I will tell you all about this incredible city and the surrounding countryside areas, including Longji, Xingping and Yangshuo. China is a difficult country to travel in at times and information in English is limited, so here I will give you my tips on the best things to do and how to find them- much of which you will not find in the guidebooks or on most travel blogs!
- Why should you visit Guilin?
- Tourism in Guilin
- How many days should I spend in Guilin?
- When is the best time to travel to Guilin?
- The best places to stay in Guilin
- The best things to do in Guilin
- Go hiking in the Longji Rice Terraces
- Marvel at the view at Elephant Trunk Hill
- Cruise the Li River
- Go cycling in the rural streets of Yangshuo
- Take a ride on a bamboo raft
- Take in the views at Xianggong Mountain
- Take a visit to one of the many caves
- Hike up to Moon Hill
- Watch the Impression Sanjie Liu show
- Visit the ancient streets of Xingping
- Climb Laozhai Mountain
- Things to do in Guilin
Why should you visit Guilin?
Whilst most people outside of China have never heard of Guilin, the people who have visited the city and surrounding countryside areas always remark of its beauty and unique charm. Travelling to Guilin has definitely been one of my highlights of all my time in China (and I live here, so I have spent a lot of time in the country!).
Guilin and the surrounding areas are far less touristy than I expected. There were very few Western restaurants and shops and the areas of Xingping and Yangshuo had a unique backpacker vibe that I haven’t experienced in almost two decades. It’s almost as if it is the place that time forgot. Visiting here brought back fond memories of my backpacking days in Asia, when you found out about the best places to eat or sleep from late-night conversations in your dorm room or over banana pancakes at your hostel instead if Google. This made visiting a special and unique experience, and that’s without taking into account the beauty that the destination itself offers!
If you’re into Insta tourism, then you will love Guilin, it is literally a photographer’s paradise! The 360degrees endless mountain views are the perfect backdrop for exploring the area by foot, by bike or by motor vehicle. And there are lots of cool things to do in Guilin too (which I will get to shortly).
Tourism in Guilin
Guilin is one of the top 4 tourist destinations for international tourists to China and is one of the best places in the world for scenery seekers. Guilin was China’s first city to develop tourism after 1949, yet paradoxically has remained one of the lesser-developed tourist destinations in the country.
In 2019 more than 100 million people visited Guilin, a year-on-year increase of 32.58 percent. The total consumption in tourism exceeded 139 billion yuan (20 billion U.S. dollars) in 2018, up 43.22 percent year on year.
Guilin is easily accessible, with an airport and high speed rail station. However, much of what you will come to see is outside of the city itself. You can take tours to these places or if you have a Chinese drivers license you can hire a car (note- you can only drive in China with a Chinese license). You can also choose to hire a private driver. Here are some tours that I would recommend:
How many days should I spend in Guilin?
We spent a week in Guilin and the surrounding areas and this was the perfect amount of time. Many people suggest a shorter trip, but I think that if you spend less time you will be missing out on the best bits!
China is a vast country and if you want to make the most out of your trip to Guilin then I suggest you allow a week. This allows for travel time to and from the destination as well as travel around the area. What many people don’t realise is that most things to do in Guilin are not actually in Guilin at all! As a result, you need to allow time to get to these places (most are within a 60-90 minute drive from the city).
Also, it rains a lot in Guilin. As with most mountainous areas, the weather forecast can be very unreliable. Micro-climates can make it very difficult to predict the weather. If it is raining, foggy or there is low-lying cloud then you will not be able to see the views that you have come to Guilin to see. This is another reason that I recommend you spend at least a week in Guilin- to increase your chances of good weather days!
When is the best time to travel to Guilin?
Picking the right time to travel to Guilin is pretty important. As I mentioned, you are probably travelling here to get a glimpse of those magical vistas- so it’s important that you have clear weather to enable you to be able to enjoy the views.
Most websites recommend April-October for visiting Guilin. Taking this advice, we travelled during April, only to find out after we arrived that this was rainy season. There is an average of 20 rainy days in April with only 48 hours of sunshine the entire month! So my advice is if you want blue skies in your photos, April is NOT the month to travel to Guilin!
Likewise, I would suggest that you avoid the first week of October, which is a national Chinese holiday. We travelled to Chengdu with the kids during Golden Week and had to abandon several attempts to visit tourist attractions because the crowds were unmanageable. Trust me when I say that you have not experienced overtourism until you have travelled in China during a public holiday!
The best time to travel to Guilin is during the summer months, when the weather is warm and the rain is less. But, like I said before, the weather can be pretty unpredictable in the mountains- I recommend packing a lightweight pocket-sized rain coat like this one, just in case!
The best places to stay in Guilin
In order to get the most out of your trip I recommend that you stay a few nights in Guilin itself and a few nights in Yangshuo and/or Xingping. There are a few things to do in Guilin city, but most of the fun it in the surrounding areas. Many people visit the surrounding areas on a day trip and stay in the city for their entire visit and people almost always regret this, because the countryside is INCREDIBLE!
When choosing where to stay in Guilin and the surrounding areas, I recommend that you make the view from your room a priority. I am not normally one to spend extra money on rooms with a view, but it’s the view that you have come to Guilin to see! And with 360degrees vistas in areas such as Xingping and Yangshuo, finding accommodation with a view is pretty easy to do…
One thing to note is that finding decent accommodation in China is much more challenging than it is in other countries. Cleanliness standards are generally lower than in Western countries, most hotels do not offer any Western cuisine (if you are happy with rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner then you don’t need to worry about this) and many hotels do not accept foreigners. It is for this reason that I tend to stick to international hotels. International hostels are great too.
In Guilin city a popular choice is the Shangri La hotel. The standards are high and the reviews are great. There is a pool too, which is a great way to cool down after those hot and sweaty days of exploring.
If you are looking for a more budget option in Guilin then I recommend This Old Place International Youth Hostel. They also have a second branch in Xingping (an amazing town 90 minute drive from Guilin- I will talk about this place shortly), which I also highly recommend. We never actually stayed here ourselves, but we did eat here several times, allowing us to meet several travellers who were staying in the hostel. Everybody that we spoke to said that it was a great place to stay and I can personally vouch for the pizzas and banana pancakes! The staff here were super helpful too and they spoke English, which is always a plus point in China!
You will definitely want to stay outside of the city in order to get the most out of your trip to Guilin. Most people head to Yangshuo and for good reason. Almost every accommodation option here comes with spectacular views. We really wanted to stay at the highly recommended Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, but unfortunately they were fully booked. Several of our friends have stayed here and all have said that it is amazing! The views are incredible, the facilities are great AND they serve delicious Western and Chinese food (and any place that has something other than rice and noodles for breakfast is a winner in my books!).
Because the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat was fully booked we ended up staying at the Liangsu Hotel. Whilst it was 100% Chinese (food, language, other guests), it was an amazing hotel and the hospitality was fantastic (thank goodness for WeChat translate!). The view of our bedroom was just unbelievable and made our stay in Yangshuo that little bit more special!
As I mentioned before, Yangshuo has a fantastic backpacker vibe! There are a selection of places that you can choose to stay in for a relatively low cost. One place that was recommended to me was the Mountain Stream Hostel. It’s a really sociable place to stay and is a great place to meet new people.
The best things to do in Guilin
There are many wonderful things to do in and around Guilin. Because most tourists who visit Guilin are Chinese, there is a dearth of information in English online. I had to do some serious digging around on the Internet to find the best places to visit…. but fortunately for you, I have done the research (and tested it out!) for you, so you don’t have to. So, here are the best places to visit and things to do in Guilin….
Go hiking in the Longji Rice Terraces
Also known as the Longsheng Rice Terraces or “Dragon’s Backbone”, these terraced rice fields are built along a slope and make for the perfect hiking location. The rice terraces themselves resemble a dragon’s scales and the summit of the mountain here resembles the backbone of a dragon – hence the name! Built around 650 years ago, these fields are beautifully scenic. They change with the seasons – in the summer you’ll see green rice shoots, but by winter everything will be covered in a delicate layer of frost.
Choose a 2-hour hike from Ping’an to Longji Ancient Zhuang Village, or a more intensive 4-5 hour hike from Dazhai to Ping’an. Either way, you’ll be treated to breathtaking scenery, excellent photo opportunities and exciting views!
The Longji Rice Terraces are about 90 minutes outside of Guilin. You can hire a private driver or take a tour, such as this one.
Marvel at the view at Elephant Trunk Hill
Elephant Trunk Hill is the symbol of Guilin. A visit here is a definite must when you’re in the area! It got its name because it looks like an elephant drinking from the water below – the hill is situated at the confluence of the Lijiang and Taohua Rivers.
Legend says that the elephant was a god, and generally the hill is a very special place to the people of Guilin. The hill itself is covered in trees, and the surrounding views are leafy too: it is one of the best views of greenery in China, and looks beautiful at any time of day. You’ll be in awe! Sunset is particularly stunning here! If you do come at sunset, stay to see the moon as it floats on the surface of the water in the ‘gap’ between the elephant’s trunk and body.
Cruise the Li River
Choose from a 3, 4 or 5-star boat experience as you cruise down the Li River. This river, with its glassy water and mountain surroundings, is said to be one of the world’s top 10 watery wonders – according to the National Geographic. And they might be right, because there are few places more beautiful than the Li River….
The 86 km is scenic beyond words; a river cruise also gives you an insight into local life as you’ll pass farmer working in the fields and traditional villages that operate as they always have done. Look out for water buffalo and karst peaks as well as all of the other flora and fauna in the area.
Cruises generally include lunch, and are narrated. Book an upper deck seat for the best views, if possible!
Go cycling in the rural streets of Yangshuo
You can hire a bike from West Street in Yangshuo, and whizz off to cycle around the town and beyond. There are plenty of routes that head into the mountains, through the fields and along the river. Four of the most popular cycling routes in and around Yangshuo are:
- The Yong Village Countryside Route – 26 km
- The Yulong River Short Route – 15 km
- The Baisha and Yulong River Route – 16 km
- The Fuli and Xingping Route – 55 km
Which route you take is likely to be dependant on your skills and fitness levels. Rest assured that whichever cycle route you choose in Yangshuo, you will be treated to jaw-dropping scenery and a wealth of beauty around you.
Take a ride on a bamboo raft
There are a few places around that offer bamboo raft rides. It is one of the best and most exciting ways to experience Guilin – an authentic experience you will remember forever!
Head to Yangdi Pier on the Li River, and look out for someone offering raft rides. The rafts are made less from bamboo these days, and usually something like PVC. Most also have motors and seats, come equipped with life jackets and even have a canopy.
It is still an amazing way to experience the Li River and all its beauty, especially if you don’t want the crowds (and cost!) that come with a river cruise. See Nine Horses Hill and other beautiful photo spots as you float 10 km down the river – you’ll get about 2 hours on the raft, and there’s plenty to see. You can get off at Xingping and explore this lovely little town, too.
If you want a shorter raft ride head to Fuli Bridge. Here the rafts are a bit more authentic and you will gently drift along the river (there are no motors here). You will start from and return to the bridge, which is handy if you have bikes or scooters.
Note that children under 100cm are not allowed on the rafts. Despite the water being very shallow and us taking our own lifejacket this was non-negotiable.
Take in the views at Xianggong Mountain
Popular with hikers and photographers alike, Xinaggong Mountain is a stunning place to visit. The views are awe-inspiring, and the mountain is said to look like a man wearing an official hat and costume of ‘feudal China’.
From Hebao Village at the foot of the mountain, it takes around 15 minutes to walk to the viewing platform. This is beyond worth it for the incredible views you’ll be greeted with at the top! Look down at the gorgeous Li River, and see the other hills rising in the background.
Sunrise, of course, is particularly beautiful here. You’ll need to arrive before 5 am for this, and you can stay at the nearby Xianggong Mountain Villa to make things easier.
Take a visit to one of the many caves
There are a lot of caves in and around Guilin. They are brilliant for exploring, photographing, and generally just enjoying the view. Some famous cave locations include Reed Flute, Seven Stars Park and Silver Cave…
Reed Flute Cave
At 240 metres long, Reed Flute is the biggest cave in Guilin. It has 3 entrances and can be accessed by foot. It is often referred to the as the Palace of Natural Arts, and has been some sort of attraction in Guilin since the ancient times. There are ink markings throughout the cave, some of which date back as far as 792 AD – the Tang Dynasty.
Since its rediscovery in the 1940s, by a group of refugees who were escaping Japanese soldiers, the cave has been an incredible landmark to visit in Guilin. Inside, artificial lighting illuminates this beautiful cave.
This cave is best visited between April and October, tickets cost 90 Yuan.
Seven Star Cave
Located at Seven Star Park on the eastern side of the Li River, this cave is the second biggest in the area. It is more than 1.5 km long, and served as an ancient underground river channel.
The middle stratum is now a major tourist attraction, with stone columns and curtains inside as well as artificial lighting and inked poems on the walls. The cave has been popular with visitors for more than a thousand years, since the days of the Tang and Sui dynasties.
It continues to be popular tourist attraction, with an entrance fee of 30 Yuan and guided tours available throughout the day.
This is a karst cave, and can be easily reached when visiting Yangshuo from Guilin.
It is around 2,000 metres long with multiple levels, winding through twelve peaks and full of natural art. The stalactites inside make it resemble some sort of underground art gallery. They form curtains, columns, waterfalls and more! There is an underground river, and just so much to see down inside the cave. At 65 Yuan, it is well worth the entry fee for the wonders inside.
Hike up to Moon Hill
This isn’t too much of an intense hike, and the views are so worth it. It’s a half-day activity, and there are steps to climb up rather than just the hill itself. Wear good shoes and take some water with you, and you’ll be good to go!
The view of Moon Hill itself from Li Village is amazing – you can see ‘the moon’ perfectly here. It changes shape as you hike, turning from a full moon into a crescent as your perspective shifts. From the top, the lush greenery that stretches out beyond you is stunning – on a clear, sunny day you’ll be in for a treat.
Watch the Impression Sanjie Liu show
This is an amazing audiovisual display that you really have to see to believe. It is a top-rated activity in Guilin, with hundreds of 5-star reviews.
Representing the culture of the local area, the show feels ceremonious in a way. The costumes and lighting are incredible, the dancers’ skills are outstanding and the natural backdrop is wonderful.
This is a fantastic way to spend an evening in Guilin. Book your Impression Sanjie Liu tickets easily here.
Visit the ancient streets of Xingping
Whether you reach it by bamboo raft as mentioned above or prefer to travel by bus or car, a visit to Xingping is definitely something to factor into your trip to Guilin.
Initially settled 1750+ years ago, this ancient town is beautiful. You’ll recognise the landscape for the 20 Yuan note (this makes for a great photo opportunity…) and there is plenty to see and explore. Go fishing or kayaking, go shopping, meet the locals, or simply wander the streets taking in the ambience.
Climb Laozhai Mountain
You might be sensing that there’s a theme when it comes to this part of China – excellent views, and many ways to explore them.
This climb is not for the faint-hearted, with steep rusty vertical steps and wobbly railings. You definitely need to take your time and be careful, but when you reach the top of the Laozhai Mountain the panoramic view is immensely rewarding.
The rolling hills and sheer beauty of your surroundings will more than make up for the steep steps up to the top! Just make sure you wear decent walking shoes, cover up and stay hydrated.
Things to do in Guilin
I hope that this article has been helpful in planning your trip to Guilin and the surrounding areas! Here are some articles that I have written that you may find helpful: