No natural landscape in China is more quintessential or picturesque than the karst mountains of Guilin. Thanks to its mesmerizingly beautiful scenery, Guilin and the surrounding countryside have long inspired Chinese artists and travelers alike. Apart from its picture-perfect scenery, Guilin 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 to combine amazing natural scenery with cultural exploration.
The Guilin area is most famous for the numerous limestone peaks, a topographical feature known as karst, that dot the countryside. While you can find some of these karst peaks scattered among the buildings in downtown Guilin, the best place to appreciate them is cruising down the Li River from Guilin to Yangshuo. This 60 km and roughly 5-hour cruise passes by some truly stunning scenery, including the iconic scene featured on the 20 RMB banknote, and is an unmissable activity during your stay in Guilin.
From Guilin, visitors can reach a number of karst hills that are famous for their views. For the best scenery, we recommend heading to the top of Yaoshan Mountain, a favorite among photographers due to its unbeatable panoramic views. The challenging walk up to the summit is a great opportunity for avid hikers, or you can simply take a relaxing and scenic chairlift ride to the top.
Another of Guilin’s most famous attractions is Elephant Trunk Hill, the symbol of the city. Despite the hill’s popularity, there isn't much special about it beyond its unique shape. Instead, we suggest heading to the nearby Two Rivers and Four Lakes Scenic Area, which is home to two peaceful pagodas that are beautifully illuminated at night. Within the scenic area, you can take a moderate hike to the top of Diecai Hill, where you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the city, the Li River, and the surrounding karst hills.
Located just outside downtown Guilin, the popular Reed Flute Cave features stalactites, stalagmites, and rock formations in diverse and unique shapes, all illuminated with colorful lighting.
Just a 2-hour drive north of Guilin are the Longji Rice Terraces, famous for their intricate layout, exquisite scenery, and traditional minority villages. Among the villages, Ping'an village and Dazhai village are considered to have the best scenery. You can visit Ping'an or Dazhai village from Guilin in a day. However, if you have more time, we suggest staying the night in a guesthouse, as this will allow you to make the most of the scenery by hiking among the rice terraces at your leisure and soak up the relaxed atmosphere of the minority villages.
Another popular excursion from Guilin is a visit to the impressive Chengyang Bridge and its surrounding Dong minority villages. A 2-hour drive from both Guilin and the Longji Rice Terraces, the Chengyang Bridge is a massive wind and rain bridge, a type of covered bridge meant to protect those crossing it from the elements, that features exquisite architecture, including three floors of covered corridors and pavilions. From the bridge, you can access a number of nearby Dong villages, where you can explore stunning drum towers and ancient wooden houses, and enjoy an unforgettable performance by local Dong artists.
The Chengyang Bridge and Longji Rice Terraces can easily be combined into a 2-3 day excursion from Guilin. To see these two sites, as well as all the top attractions Guilin has to offer, we recommend our popular 4-day Guilin to Yangshuo Rural Adventure tour. After Guilin, many visitors take the Li River cruise to the rural town of Yangshuo, which offers even more opportunities to enjoy the area’s unique culture and amazing karst scenery.
At night, Zhengyang Pedestrian Street offers the hungry a number of good dining options. There are numerous restaurants and bars, in addition to the various shops and markets in the area. Alternatively, at the center of Zhongshan Road, you will find merchants set up for the Guilin night market. This is a great place to try some specialties of Guilin cuisine, which is noted for its delicate sweetness and moderate use of spice—a delicious combination of the Cantonese and Hunan cooking styles. Keep an eye out for these must-try Guilin dishes:
Guilin rice noodles: The city's signature noodle dish is famous throughout China and there’s no better place to try it than its birthplace! The dish features thick rice noodles in a fragrant broth, topped with braised meat and pickled vegetables.
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 in which 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!
Rice or chicken cooked in bamboo tubes: If you are going to the Longji Rice Terraces, you will see local people roasting bamboo tubes with rice or chicken inside. You shouldn't miss this local delicacy.
Night Market: Open after 7pm, the night market on Zhongshan Zhonglu is a great way to spend an evening. Hundreds of small shops in red tents sell all kinds of clothing, local goods, leather products, jewelry, and much more. Don't forget to bargain!
Bars: You will find many different watering holes scattered 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 performances.
Springtime (around April/May) is when the karst topography is at its greenest and most picturesque. Summers in Guilin are hot and rainy, so make sure to bring waterproof appropriate rain gear if you're visiting between June and September.
If you plan to visit the Longji Rice Terraces, try to avoid the winter months (December to February), when there is usually a lot of fog that may block your view of the beautiful rice fields. From March onwards, the rice terraces are filled with water. Late September is the most beautiful time to visit, since the rice terraces turn yellow (although it will also be very crowded at this time of year).
Guilin is located in the northern part of Guangxi, one of China’s southernmost provinces. With the Li River running through the center of the city and the jaw-dropping karst peaks surrounding it, Guilin is a nice city in itself but also the ideal gateway to the rest of this breathtaking region.
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 regular direct flights to Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.
The city's main railway stations are Guilin, Guilin West, and Guilin North (located 9km outside the city). There are high-speed trains to/from Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an and Guangzhou. However, it still takes more than nine hours to travel to/from Shanghai and more than ten hours to/from Beijing or Xi’an by high-speed train.
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.