Guilin, with its mesmerizingly beautiful karst scenery, has long drawn Chinese artists and travelers alike. Located in the overwhelmingly picturesque province of Guangxi, the city is the perfect starting point for a foray into some of China’s most beautiful areas. However, Guilin is not just a picture-perfect location. It is also home to more than 28 ethnic minorities, including the Zhuang, Hui, Miao, and Dong. As a result of this cultural melting pot, Guilin is the perfect destination for those looking for both beautiful topography and cultural exploration.
Guilin is located in the northern part of the southern Chinese province of Guangxi, making it a great gateway to the rest of this breathtaking region.
Flights: Guilin Liangjiang International Airport is situated 30 km west of the city. The airport has flights to/from several international destinations (such as Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Seoul), as well as direct flights to Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.
Trains: The city’s two main stations are Guilin and Guilin North (located 9 km outside the city). You can catch sleeper trains to Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Xi’an, amongst many other destinations.
Buses: Guilin’s Main Bus Station offers frequent services to popular destinations in Guangxi province such as Longsheng and Yangshuo, as well as long distance buses to Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
Guilin is famed for its beautiful mountainous scenery that has long served as a source of inspiration for Chinese artists. Major natural attractions include Solitary Beauty Peak, Elephant Trunk Hill, Reed Flute Cave, and Seven Stars Park. The beauty of the surrounding area is matched by the city’s fascinating historical sites, like the twin Sun and Moon Pagodas, the Buddhist etchings in the Returned Pearl Cave, and the remains of the original Song Dynasty City Wall. With the Li River running through the center of the city and the jaw-dropping karst peaks surrounding it, Guilin is the ideal starting point for a trip to Guangxi province.
Cycling is a great way to travel around Guilin. Bicycles can be rented all over the city for a reasonable price. The city’s bus system also offers several free buses that are useful for traveling between the main tourist destinations.
Li River Cruise: A 5-hour cruise along the Li River should be top of the list for anyone visiting Guilin. Offering an interesting perspective on the stunning karst topography of the surrounding area, the boat trip travels south to Yangshuo and the tour includes a return bus journey to Guilin. There are many tours operating on the river, most including lunch on board the boat.
Solitary Beauty Peak: Offering fantastic views of the city and its mesmerizing natural beauty, this peak is worth the steep climb. It is also home to the Prince Jingjiang Mansion, a 14th-century mansion that is now the site of a local University.
Seven Star Park: An area of picturesque scenery, Seven Star Park has many hills and caves to explore. As one of China’s original tourist attractions, the park is worth a visit if you are spending more than a day in the city. One of the free tourist buses runs from the park to the hills and Reed Flute Caves.
Sun and Moon Pagodas: Situated in an area of Guilin in which two rivers and four lakes join together.The pagodas are joined by an underwater tunnel and the Sun Pagoda is the tallest copper pagoda in the world. The pagodas are best viewed at night when the nearby Shan Lake is illuminated. Entrance to the Pagodas costs roughly 30 CNY.
Reed Flute Cave: The most popular of Guilin’s several caves, this particular cave takes its name from the reeds, traditionally used to fashion musical instruments, that once lined the cave entrance. Housing an impressive collection of stalagmites and stalactites illuminated by multicolored lights, the cave is worth a visit if you are spending a day or two in the area. Admission costs around 90 CNY.
Hills: There are several other hills in addition to Solitary Beauty Peak that afford great vistas of the city. Elephant Trunk Hill is an icon of Guilin, taking its name from the fact that it resembles an elephant dipping its tongue into the water to drink. You can get a great perspective of this giant stone mammal from one of the floating bamboo rafts on the Li river. Wave Subduing Hill is a stunning spot for some more scenery gazing (you can never do too much in Guangxi!)
Caves: In addition to Reed Flute Cave, other notable caves in Guilin include the Returned Pearl Cave - where you will find Buddhist carvings dating back to the Tang and Song dynasties (part of the Wave Subduing Hill area) - and Wind Cave, which houses ancient Buddhist sculptures (found at Folded Brocade Hill).
Cycling: Cycling is a fantastic way to explore the city and lose yourself in its lush green surroundings. Some good routes include a cycle along the Li River, following the banks, or an exploration of the Old City Wall. Cycle north along the river bank and head east when you reach the entrance of Folded Brocade Hill.
At night, Zhengyang Pedestrian Street offers the hungry a number of good options. There are numerous restaurants and bars in addition to the shops and markets in the area. English menus are the norm, so it’s easy to find dinner, beer, and wine. Alternatively, at the center of Zhongshan Road, Chinese merchants set up for the Guilin night market. This is a great place to try Guilin delicacies. Guilin cuisine is noted for its delicate sweetness and moderate use of spice; a combination of the Cantonese and Hunanese cooking styles. Look out for these Guilin dishes:
Guilin Rice Noodle: The city’s signature noodle dish is famous throughout China, but where better to try it than its birthplace! The dish features thick rice noodles in a fragrant broth, topped with braised meat and pickled vegetables.
Yangshuo Beer Fish: The two key ingredients of this dish are in its name. With the tantalizing aroma of beer coupled with delicious fresh fish from the Li River, it’s no wonder this dish has made a name for itself all over the country. Packed full of flavor from chili, spring onion, and peppers, this is an unmissable meal when in Guilin.
Steamed Pork wrapped in Lotus Leaf: Tender pork, fermented bean curd, and several tasty condiments are wrapped in a single lotus leaf and steamed, creating a delicious dish where the meat absorbs the fragrance of the lotus.
Stuffed River Snails: A traditional Guilin dish and favorite among the local people. The thick snail meat is removed from the shell and mixed with pork and spring onion, before returning the mixture to the shell to cook, allowing all the flavors to infuse. A unique delicacy for the more adventurous foodie!
Night Market: Open from 7pm, the night market on Zhongshan Zhonglu is a great way to spend an evening. Hundreds of small shops in red tents sell all types of clothing, local goods, leather products, jewelry, and much more. Don’t forget to bargain hard!
Bars: You will find many watering holes dotted along Guilin's pretty streets. Zhenghong Lu, with its strip of al fresco bars, is one of the best places to go for an evening drink. If live music is your thing, head to the popular Le Feitz, a lively Irish Bar with nightly live performances.
Springtime (around April/May) is when the karst topography is at its most green and picturesque. With the Summer comes the rains, so be prepared with waterproof clothing and shoes if you're visiting between June and September.
Spring Festival: Known in the West as Chinese New Year, this 2,000-year-old celebration involves many different local customs. Since Guangxi is such a diverse region, this is a great time to visit and experience some of the unique traditions of the different minority cultures. Many Guilin locals welcome in the new year with ‘lion’ dances.
Yangshuo Autumn Festival: If Yangshuo is one of the destinations on your Guangxi itinerary and you are visiting in Autumn, be sure to check whether you will be there for the region’s Autumn Festival. With local music, fireworks, and bonfires by night, and many cultural activities by day, it is well worth fitting it into your schedule.
Guilin’s location makes it a great base for visiting some of the other well-known travel destinations in the surrounding area, such as the Longsheng Rice Terraces and Yangshuo.
The Li River cruise takes you to Yangshuo, while Longsheng is a two-hour drive north. This area is truly spectacular. Many of the minority towns around Longsheng are too small and steep for cars, so locals use donkeys to move their heavy loads. Hikes take visitors over the rice terraces and through the mountains. The food here is also a product of the natural surroundings. The local cuisine contains lots of steamed bamboo and glutinous rice, a pleasant break from the oil-heavy food found in some other parts of China!
Another great destination is Sanjiang. Situated about an hour and a half drive from the Longsheng Rice Terraces, Sanjiang is the center of the Dong minority culture and home of the famous Chengyang Wind and Rain Bridge.