A small prefecture-level city in northwest Yunnan province, Lijiang is popular with travelers because of its old town, also known as Dayan, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Although much of the town was destroyed by an earthquake in 1996, Lijiang Old Town was newly rebuilt in the old style and is still picturesque and atmospheric. As with many old towns in China, Lijiang is touristy and can be crowded on the main thoroughfares.
Within the town, the Lion Rock/Wangu Lou is a great spot to climb up for a majestic bird's eye view of Lijiang Old Town and a distance view of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. There are coffee shops near Wangu Lou where visitors can sit and appreciate the wonderful views and atmosphere.
Mufu Palace, once the mansion of Naxi's ruler, is a beautiful, reconstructed palace on a small hill overlooking the old city of Lijiang and offers a tranquil place to stroll.
Strolling the pedestrian area of this ancient town is a great way to appreciate the charming old town and soak up the local atmosphere. There are various kinds of shops, bars, cafes, and restaurants along the streets, making the walk a little noisy but a unique experience with a lot to see and experience. To avoid crowds, you should try visiting the old town in the early morning or at noon, or simply turn into the side alleys.
Most of the bars charge for a bucket of beers or drinks by the bottle, so the price to get in can be a bit high. Make sure when you go in that you understand what you are committing yourself to pay. We find it more entertaining to just walk the streets and peer in the open windows and doors of the clubs.
At night, the old town of Lijiang is illuminated with colorful lights and there's live music in many bars. Streets are packed with tourists shopping and trying local food. While Lijiang's nightlife is colorful and vivid, it is also a reason why many foreign tourists now opt to stay in more remote and quiet places, such as hotels on the outskirts of Lijiang, or in the nearby town of Shuhe.
In the old town, there is an excellent music show in the evenings which offers a taste of ancient Naxi music. Naxi music is a type of folk music unique to the Naxi people of the Lijiang area of Yunnan Province. The show is performed by an orchestra of 26 members aged from 40 upwards, including a few octogenarians, who play ancient instruments and songs dating back many centuries. Each song is introduced by a host who speaks in both Chinese and English.
Be aware that Lijiang Old Town is big and there are many twists and turns which make it easy to get lost. Use your phone or a printed map to help you find directions. Also, you should keep the business card of your hotel in case you get lost. Remember to wear comfortable shoes suitable for long walks and cobbled streets.
Opening hours: all day
Entrance fee: free
Average time for this activity: half day