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Dali Old Town

Dali Old Town

Written by Chris QuanUpdated Nov. 13, 2023

Dali Old Town is one of Yunnan's most popular tourist destinations. It has a history of 1,200 years and was the capital of the Nanzhao Kingdom.

It faces Erhai Lake to the east and the Cangshan Mountains to the west. Dali Old Town has historic sites, ancient buildings, temples, and streets lined with shops, restaurants, bars, and hotels. It is a nice place to hang out.

The ancient city of Dali is now preserved by the government. It has a population of about 40,000 people. A large percentage of them are of ethnic minorities — mainly Bai and Yi.

  • Open: all day
  • Entry: free
  • Typical touring time: half a day

The government does not allow modern construction in the old town, so the structures are traditional. The modern district of Dali is about 10 km (6 miles) away. The Dali government's urban planning keeps the old and new districts separate, so it is quieter than a modern town.

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3 Things to Do in Dali Old Town

To explore Dali Old Town, you could slow down your pace. Wander around to see temples and architecture that's 1,000 years old, buy beautiful souvenirs and objects of art, learn about the history of the area and of the native peoples, or just find a coffee shop to enjoy the moment.

1. Visit Ancient Buildings and Take Photos

Dali Old Town is laid out in a grid. Four main city gate towers stand on the axes. No vehicles are allowed in the ancient city of Dali. This is good for pedestrians.

Ancient and historic buildings are one of the highlights in Dali Old Town. Here are some iconic buildings recommended for you, which are also good places for photos:

Wuhua Tower, Dali Old TownWuhua Tower
  • South Gate: It is the oldest and grandest architecture in Dali Old Town. You can overlook the whole of Erhai Lake from the wall.
  • Wuhua Tower: It was burned down in a war, but the building you see now was rebuilt. From the top of the tower you will get a full view of the whole ancient city. It is especially beautiful when lit at night.
  • The Catholic Church: It is the only Bai ethnic-style church in China, a unique embodiment of the combination of Chinese and Western culture.
  • Grand Marshal's Mansion: It used to be a government office in ancient times. Now it is also called Dali Museum. It is the best place to learn about Dali Old Town's culture.
  • Dali Rural Film History Museum: It is the first theme museum focused on the history of rural films in China.
  • Dalli Art Factory: This art factory was transformed from a disused sheet factory. There are bookstores, galleries, cafés, theaters, original clothing stores, photography studios, and so on.

If you are interested in Dali Old Town, contact us to plan a Dali trip. We will give you suggestions based on your requirements.

2. Explore the Streets

Foreigner's Street, Dali Old TownForeigners' Street

A stroll through the ancient city with its stone-paved streets, traditional-style houses, and numerous gardens is an interesting excursion. Many shops will open after 10am. Evening is the busiest time.

You will find all kinds of snack bars, souvenir shops, cafes, bookstores, and more on both sides of the streets. Popular streets in Dali Old Town include:

  • Foreigners' Street: In the early 1980s, when Dali tourism was just emerging, the street was the most visited place by foreign visitors, hence its name. It is Dali's oldest commercial street.
  • Renmin Road: It is the longest street in Dali Old Town and also the most bustling street at night. You will find many nice restaurants and bars there.
  • Fuxing Road: It is the main street in Dali Old Town. The architecture along the road keeps its Ming and Qing Dynasty (1368–1912) styles and rivers flow at both ends of the street outside the town walls.

Our 7-Day Kunming, Dali, Shaxi, and Lijiang Tour will take you to explore Dali Old Town.

3. Enjoy Food

roast rushanRushan

Various snack bars or restaurants lining the streets are also a highlight in Dali Old Town. Western-style restaurants, local foods, dessert shops, and cafés are all available there.

Local foods include rushan (cow's milk cheese) and cold chicken rice noodles, which you should try.

Here are some popular restaurants and cafés in Dali Old Town:

  • Wo Zai Dali Deng Ni (我在大理等你 'I'm in Dali Waiting for You') on Renmin Road is best for wild mushroom hot pot and other Dali cuisines.
  • Fly Me To The Moon (向月球飞去) on Guangwu Road is best for a Western brunch.
  • Zaihuishou (再回首 'Again Look Back') on Renmin Road is best for its chicken rice noodles.
  • The Bakery No.88 on Renmin Road is best for various Western pastries.
  • The Sweet Tooth on Boai Road is a good place for dessert and coffee.

Hotels in Dali Old Town

Dali Old Town is one of the busiest and most active areas in Dali city. If you prefer a colorful night life and shopping, staying in Dali Old Town is a great choice.

There are hotels ranging from luxury 5-star to comfortable 4-star to budget hostels.

Living in the old town is convenient, but it may be a little bit noisy. If you like the old town's convenient location and also want a quiet environment, you can consider Suhuaying Inn — in the quiet Fu'an Alley and only one minute's walk from Renmin Road.

If you have any questions about picking a hotel in Dali, feel free to contact us. We will arrange the ideal hotel for you and we can design your ideal itinerary.

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How to Get to Dali Old Town

Dali Old Town is about 17 km (10 miles) from Dali Railway Station and 30 km (20 miles) from Dali Airport. Taking a taxi or having private transport is the best and fastest way to get to Dali Old Town.

  • From Dali Railway Station: 40 minutes' drive by taxi or take the No. 8 bus
  • From Dali Airport: 1 hour's drive by taxi or take the airport express bus

Nearby Attractions

The Cangshan Mountains

  • About 2 km (1 mile) from Dali Old Town

19 high peaks and 18 streams, ponds, waterfalls, great hiking areas, and old temples can be visited in the Cangshan Mountains. The highest peak is always snow covered.

Erhai Lake

Erhai Lake near Dali Old TownErhai Lake
  • About 5 km (3 miles) from Dali Old Town

Its reflection is a striking sight in the sunlight. Biking or motorcycling around Erhai Lake is a wonderful thing. You will see Russian gulls in winter.

The Three Pagodas of Dali

  • About 2½ kilometers (1½ miles) from Dali Old Town

The Three Pagodas are three of the most famous Buddhist pagodas in China. The tallest one in the central was built during the reign of a king of the Nanzhao Kingdom about 1,150 years ago.

Plan a Dali Tour with Us


If you are planning a tour of Dali, you could get some inspiration from our most popular customizable Dali tours below. We will take care of your transportation, itinerary arrangements, accommodation, tickets, and all the other things needed to make a trip hassle-free and enjoyable.

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