Visiting China soon? Start here

Visiting China soon? Start here

Guilin Travel Guide

Region

Guangxi

Location

South China

Population

1 million

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Language

Zhuang

Welcome to Guilin!

Guilin is a relatively small city in the south of China. It’s a thriving tourist destination because of its natural beauty and the name actually means “forest of sweet osmanthus”. The city was given this name because of the sweet smell given off by the local osmanthus trees.

Guilin is best known for its dramatic natural scenery and its surrounding landscape could almost come from a movie about magical creatures. It has lush vegetation covering strangely shaped karst cliffs, glistening lakes and rivers, and mysterious caves heading into the depths of the earth.

The natural landscape is what makes Guilin one of the best places to visit in China. In fact, it’s widely considered to be one of the most beautiful areas in the entire country. It’s also one of the top destinations in China for international travelers.

So, make sure you have your camera ready when you’re exploring this incredible part of the world.

Guilin street food vendors

Mobile street food vendors. Image by GuangWu Yang from Pixabay.

Guilin caves

The Guilin area is famous for its caves. Photo by Huaihang Tang on Unsplash.

Guilin’s ancient past

People have lived in the Guilin region for around 10,000 years, making it an important historical and cultural center.

But the city itself was established around 111 BC by Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty.

Guilin was an important Buddhist center in the seventh century and its landscape has been immortalized by countless artists and poets over the years.

The city has always been an important trade and administrative center because of its location on the Li River in an agriculturally rich valley floor. It’s also on the easiest route south from Hunan.

Things to do in Guilin

Guilin has been known for its natural and cultural attractions for years. So be prepared to put a few miles on your walking shoes in this city.

The locals are used to seeing lots of tourists, and they’re very friendly and welcoming. In fact, Guilin feels more like a small town than a large city, despite the fact that just under two million people live there.

1. Cruise the Li River

Li River cruise

Cruise along the Li your way. Image by Conny Schneider on Unsplash.

The Li River winds its way from Guilin to the town of Yangshuo through rice paddies, jade waters, and bamboo forests.

Along the way you’ll see picturesque and slightly strange looking jagged mountain peaks, fishermen throwing in their lines, and grazing water buffalo.

You can take a motorized boat up the river, but it’s noisy and tends to disturb the peace of the area. If you have the time, take a cruise boat instead and explore the river the slower way.

2. Eat Guilin rice noodles

Guilin rice noodles

The local favorite. Image by Jetsadaphoto on Shutterstock.

Guilin is known for its rice noodles and the locals eat them at any time of day. Made by vendors all over the city, you’ll get plenty of chances to find restaurants that create their own version of this dish.

Just make sure that you try to find some local places, off the tourist route, for the best and most authentic versions.

3. Explore Reed Flute Cave

Reed Flute Caves

The illuminated Reed Flute Caves. Image by Maciej Bledowski on Shutterstock.

Some of the landscape around Guilin truly is otherworldly and this cave is an example of that.

Located just three miles out of the downtown area, it’s a huge cave lit by multicolored lights that give the unique shapes and twists of stone in a fairy-tale atmosphere.

There are several limestone karst caves in Guilin, but Reed Flute Cave is the best. It’s like a gallery of natural sculptures and makes for some truly stunning photographs.

4. Watch the River Show

Every night along the Li River, up to 600 performers put on a huge show that tells a love story from Chinese folklore. The show is located just a short journey from the center of town, and it’s worth taking a tuk-tuk to see.

The show uses singing, music, and colorful lights and was made by the same man who designed the show for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Against the beautiful backdrop of the river, it’s a spectacular night out and a great way to learn more about the local culture.

5. See Elephant Trunk Hill

Elephant Trunk Hill

Pose for a photo with cormorants in front of Elephant Trunk Hill. Image by Pistolseven on Shutterstock.

Elephant Trunk Hill is in the very center of Guilin and it’s one of the city’s most famous landmarks.

It’s shaped like an elephant drinking from the Li River and you can get great views of it from Love Island and the Puxian Pagoda.

6. Wander along Pedestrian Street

Zhengyang Walking Street Guilin

Zhengyang Walking Street in Guilin. Image by JG ARIF WIBOWO on Shutterstock.

There’s nothing quite like visiting a pedestrian street in any city in China. They’re crowded, noisy, filled with lights and strange sounds, and often smell like an intoxicating mix of foods.

Zhengyang Walking Street (正阳步行街) in Guilin is no different. It’s a short walk from the lake and has stalls selling everything from food to toys and clothes.

And of course, all around the main street you’ll find lots of bars, restaurants and shops. In fact, the street is like a tiny snapshot of almost everything you can find in the rest of the city!

7. See the Sun and Moon Towers

Sun and Moon Pavilion

The pavilions are photo-worthy. Image by Mark Brandon on Shutterstock.

The Sun and Moon Towers are in the center of the city and they’re best seen at night when they glow silver and gold. The towers are said to represent the bright future of the city and are built in the style of Buddhist pagodas.

If you have the time, make sure you take the underwater tunnel that connects the two towers for a unique view of the lake.

Where to eat in Guilin

Guilin has a thriving food culture and a delicious cuisine all of its own.

So, make sure that you indulge your taste buds and try as much of the local dishes as possible!

beer fish

Beer fish is a regional delicacy. Image by HiTecherZ on Shutterstock.

Lijiang Waterfall Hotel Restaurant 桂林漓江大瀑布饭店

If you have a little extra money to spend, why not have a meal inside the five-star Lijiang Waterfall Hotel? Close to everything in the city, the restaurant boats multilingual staff and flavorful dishes that focus on Chinese cuisine.

Address: No.1 Shanhubei Road, Xiufeng Distinct

Rice Noodles Pub 乱了粉库

You have to eat rice noodles while you’re in Guilin, and this is a great place to do it. Cheap and cheerful, this restaurant offers authentic noodles near the center of the city.

You can choose from a variety of toppings and ingredients, and there are English menus, so you don’t have to worry too much about what you’re ordering.

Address: No.142 walking street, Zhengyang Pedestrian Street

Kali Mirch 黑胡椒印度餐厅

It might sound a little strange, but Indian food in China is usually absolutely delicious and this restaurant is one of the best places in Guilin to test that theory.

It offers vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and Halal options too, so no matter what diet you follow, you’ll find something tasty here.

Address: No.5 ren min street, Zhengyang Pedestrian Street

Fo Long Xuan Restaurant

You’ll enjoy dinner with a show at this restaurant, located in Guilin Mulong Park. The restaurant is three stories high, and it’s built in the style of a Chinese palace.

In these beautiful surroundings, you can eat delicious traditional Chinese food with Guilin Sanhua (rice wine that dates back to the Song Dynasty) and take in the views.

Address: Mulonghu Lake Scenic Area, Dongzhen Road, Diecai District

The best food markets in Guilin

Like a lot of Chinese cities, Guilin has its share of amazing markets where you can grab tasty snacks, souvenirs, and even antiques.

Just make sure that you’re ready to barter if you’re looking to take some of your finds home with you.

edible insects Guilin market

You can find edible insects at the Guilin markets. Image by Maciej Bledowski on Shutterstock.

Xicheng Road Pedestrian Street

You can reach Guilin’s Pedestrian Street on the public bus and it’s just a short distance from the Sun and Moon Towers. The market offers a huge range of goods from calligraphy to clothes as well as tasty snacks and meals.

There are numerous stalls around the market as well as bars and restaurants in the surrounding streets. This street offers some of the best traditional local food in the city, so make sure that you fast before you go, or you won’t be able to try everything that looks and smells delicious.

Shangshui Food Street

Located in the very center of Guilin, this street is close to Zhengyang Pedestrian Street and contains lots of older style buildings. It also offers a good mix of Chinese and Western style snacks and foods as well as coffee bars and shops selling local products.

Yangshuo West Street

If you head out to visit Yangshuo, then you should spend some time on West Street. This street is more than 1,400 years old and still boasts architecture from the Ming and Qing dynasties.

This is a street that feels more like a small-town market than other options in the area because everyone is so welcome and friendly.

This is a popular street among locals and foreigners, so you’ll find both local and more Western snacks and meals on offer. This street is particularly good after dark if you enjoy a bit of nightlife as there are plenty of bars.

Where to stay in Guilin

There are some really great Guilin accommodation options available.

Just make sure that you’re close to public transport, restaurants, and attractions for the most convenient stay in the city.

Budget

If you’re on a tight budget but still want to be in the center of everything, then stay at This Old Place International Youth Hostel. It’s within walking distance of the city center and surrounded by shops and restaurants.

The hostel’s atmosphere is welcoming and cozy, and it has private and family rooms with private bathrooms to suit almost any travel group size.

Mid range

The Zen Tea House Elephant Trunk Hill Park is close to the center of town and a great choice when you’re looking for a mid-range hotel in Guilin.

Every room has a private bathroom and all the usual amenities and there are several shared spaces in the hotel so you can meet your fellow travelers.

High end

The Lijiang Waterfall Hotel Guilin is a good choice if you like a little luxury during your travels. It’s walking distance from the city’s Pedestrian Street and has several restaurants serving a variety of cuisines.

There’s also a full fitness center in the hotel with a pool and gym. And don’t miss out on the famous Guinness record-making artificial waterfall performances, which go on every night at the hotel.

Guilin is so touristy it even has its own Club Med! It’s about an hour out of town and has everything you need onsite.

Transport in Guilin

Guilin’s transport system is modern, organized, and easy to work out.

Just be aware that there might not be as much English as you need, so always have your hotel name and destination in Chinese characters on your phone just in case.

Air travel

Guilin Airport

The airport is small but modern. Image by Fedor Selivanov on Shutterstock.

It’s easy to reach Guilin by air if you’re coming from a major city in China.

Guilin Liangjiang International Airport sees flights from Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Chengdu and Hong Kong on a regular basis. You may also be able to get a direct flight to or out of Guilin from Japan, Thailand, Korea, Malaysia or Singapore.

Guilin’s airport is about 40 minutes out of the city center and the easiest way to travel to your hotel and back to the airport is by shuttle bus. The fare is about CNY20 and the bus leaves for the city center after every flight arrival.

High speed rail

karaoke booths Guilin Train Station

You can sing in private karaoke booths at Guilin Train Station. Image by StreetVJ on Shutterstock.

Guilin’s high-speed rail is fast, convenient, and relatively well priced. There are two main stations in the city, and they see hundreds of trains every day heading towards most of China’s major cities.

If you’ve never been on one of China’s high-speed trains before, this is the perfect way to travel to Guilin or to explore the rest of the country.

It takes about 3.5 hours to reach Hong Kong on the bullet train.

Long distance bus

There are three long distance bus stations in Guilin and the bus system can take you to several cities in Guangxi province. Buses are usually a cheaper way to travel than trains, but they’re much slower, so be prepared for a longer journey.

You can also take a bus from Guilin to nearby Yangshuo at one of the city’s stations.

Local bus

bus timetable Guilin

Local buses are frequent but make sure you know where you’re going. Image by Maciej Bledowski on Shutterstock.

Guilin’s metro system is still under development, so if you want to use public transport to explore the city, you will have to take the bus.

The bus system in Guilin is extensive and goes everywhere. However, like elsewhere in China, road-side timetables are in Mandarin so make sure you know where you’re going!

It usually costs around 1 RMB for a ride and you will need to remember to take exact change, as the drivers can’t give you any.

Taxi and rideshare

If you don’t like the bus, then take a taxi or rideshare car around Guilin.

Taxi drivers in Guilin must use the meter and the prices are fairly reasonable, making this a budget-friendly way to explore Guilin.

Taxi drivers in Guilin are usually friendly and may speak a bit of English, so ask them for advice about what you should see while you’re in the city. Remember to get a business card from your hotel with the hotel’s address on it, which you can show to your driver even if they don’t speak a word of English.

You can also download Didi onto your phone and use rideshare to get around Guilin. There’s a translation function in the app if you need to communicate with the driver.

You can find out more about the best apps for traveling around China.

Bicycle

Most of the locals in Guilin get around by bicycle and this is a great way to explore the city and work off all that food at the same time. You can rent a bicycle at stations around the city, and they cost between 10 and 30 RMB plus a deposit.

Traveling outside Guilin

You’ll want to spend time exploring the natural beauty surrounding Guilin.

There are lots of places that should be on your travel list, and Yangshuo is the standout. It’s about 90 km (55 mi) from Guilin by road, but you can also get there by cruising down the Li River.

See traditional life in Yangshuo

Xing Ping Village near Yangshuo

Xing Ping Village near Yangshuo. Image by StreetVJ on Shutterstock.

Yangshuo is a smaller town surrounded by even smaller villages, where people spend their time working on their farms and keeping water buffalo.

This is the type of destination that encourages you to slow down. You’ll want plenty of time to cycle among the rice paddies, explore the old villages, and marvel at the traditional buildings.

If you’re into touristy things, make sure you see the famous Impression Light Show, for amazing performers and a beautiful love story.

Read more about the things you can do in Yangshuo.

Visit the rice terraces

Rice terraces near Guilin

The famous rice terraces. Image by Agoston Fung on Pexels.

Guilin is surrounded by rice terraces snaking their way across the green landscape. This is known as the Longji area and it’s about 70 km (40 mi) out of town.

It will take you about three hours to get there and if you’re unsure about the directions, then you can take a tour, which may stop off at a local’s house along the way.

There are lots of little villages spread throughout the rice terraces, each of them with their own culture to explore and locals to meet. Make sure that you take at least a day to explore the area as it’s something you won’t find in other parts of China.

Fuli

Old woman in Fuli

A local in Fuli. Image by TLF Images on Shutterstock.

Fuli is about an hour and a quarter outside of Guilin and you can get there by car or taxi. This small city is known for its creative, artistic spirit and it’s inhabited by lots of artists who display and sell their wares.

You’ll find scrolls, wall hangings, painted fans and other pieces of artwork everywhere in Fuli. So, if you like to support local artists, then make sure you head to this city and see what they have to offer.

If you’re going to be spending time in Yangshuo, it makes sense to visit Fuli as part of that trip. It’s only 8 km (5 mi) from Yangshuo on the Li River’s north bank.

Videos about Guilin

Get a visual taste of Guilin before you visit!

Here’s a cool video about Guilin from the team at Monkey Abroad.

And watch this Kiwi couple return to China and stay in a remote Guilin village nestled among spectacular mountains.

Don’t forget…

 

It’s easy to forget a thing or two before you head to China.

So, here are some reminders for you:

  • The right visa – if you’re only staying for a quick trip, you may be eligible for visa-free travel.
  • Cash or Alipay – your credit card may not be accepted, so bring yuan or use Alipay.
  • VPN app – if you want access to all your favorite websites and apps in China, you’ll need to download a VPN before you leave your country. Get a VPN that works in China.

Have a wonderful time in Guilin!

Questions and comments

Let’s chat about Guilin!

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Page last updated 22 April 2022. Main image credit: Judith Scharnowski on Pixabay. Commercial relationship disclosure: The Helpful Panda has commercial arrangements with organizations that may appear on this page, such as affiliate links. See our terms for more info.

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