Dali, a city in the central part of western Yunnan Province, is also a Bai Autonomous Prefecture. Its altitude is 2,090 meters (6,850 ft). It is famous for its beautiful natural scenery, well-retained Bai minority customs, and culture.
Below are some recommended free (and inexpensive) things to do in Dali. If you want to find out more interesting things to do in Dali (that may cost you a bit more), see our Best 7 Things to Do in Dali.
1. Visit Dali Old Town
Dali Old Town is located at the foot of the Cangshan Mountains.
It was built in 1382 in the Ming Dynasty. Compared with Lijiang Old Town, it is not as big, but it is quieter and less touristy.
See the architecture and décor. Dali residents, no matter whether they are rich or poor, all raise flowers and plants in their courtyards. It is said that every family in Dali is close to water and every courtyard has flowers.
Window-shop. There is a main street which stretches from the south to the north. On both sides of the street, there are different stores selling embroidered handbags, jade jewelry, tea wheels, rose petal pastries, yak bone combs, and cheap silverware. There are also a great variety of local snacks for you to sample.
If you want to spend a night there, there are lots of traditional Bai minority hotels for you to experience, with reasonable prices.
Most holidays and festivals of the Bai minority people are in March and April. If you visit there during this period of time, you will have the chance to experience more of their unique customs and cultures.
- Recommended tour: 4-Day Essence Dali Tour
2. Explore Xizhou Town
Xizhou is a small ancient town straddling the narrow plain between the Cangshan Mountains and Erhai Lake. It is about 30 minutes' drive north from the hustle and bustle of Dali Ancient Town. The 20-km (12-mile) journey there could be very pleasantly biked in about an hour and a half or so.
Soak up the scenery. Compared to Dali Ancient Town, Xizhou is tiny and without the usual tourist crowds. The Bai-architectured houses are still intact. Life is simple and slow there. You will love the beautiful Bai ethnic homes, the endless rice fields, and the tours of the idyllic countryside in a horse drawn carriage (at a cost).
Xizhou baba is a must-try snack there. It is a popular local pancake which is available in sweet and savory flavors.
Xizhou is small. Most of the town and countryside can be visited by bike. It would be a nice and memorable experience if you cycle around the town and the farms. The local people are very friendly and hospitable.
3. Discover Bai Culture in Zhoucheng Village
Zhoucheng is located 23 kilometers (14 miles) north of Dali Old Town (another 20 minutes up the road from Xizhou by bike).
There are over 1,500 Bai minority families, making it the biggest Bai minority village in Dali. They have retained their traditional Bai minority customs and culture, and so it is regarded as a "living fossil" of Bai minority culture.
The place is nice. There are many small, family-owned tie-dyeing factories. If you are interested in making a tie-dye article yourself, you can pay for that experience, but watching is free.
Aside from the dyeing factories, there is a market in the main square full of life. You could observe the daily life of the villagers.
- 7-Day Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-La Tour — A Feast of Landscapes and Ethnic Minority Culture
- 4-Day Dali and Tea Horse Road Experience Tour — The Past Prosperity of Dali
4. Visit Erhai Park
Erhai Park is at the southern end of Erhai Lake. It has a big area of 57 ha (140 acres) with a wide field of vision. It’s about 12 km or an hour by bike south from Dali Ancient Town.
There is a small hill, a zoo, a lakeside tourist area, a children’s playground, etc.
With beautiful lake scenery, green trees, and some pavilions, it is a popular place for local people to take morning exercise and a walk.
The small hill can be topped by climbing about 200 steps. Standing on the top of the hill, you can overlook Erhai Lake.
The park used to be where the King of Nanzhao kept his deer. Now it has become an important flower-breeding base in west Yunnan.
5. Go to Shaping Market
Shaping (/shaa-ping/ ‘Sand Plain’) Village has a market that is very rich in colors and local flavors. Almost all of the older folks are dressed in their traditional Bai clothes and they mainly sell food. Some of them can even speak a little English. It is very interesting to watch the locals at the fair selling and buying things.
This is a weekly market which takes place on Mondays, so make sure to plan your trip so that you won't miss it.
Location: It is located in Shangguan Township. It is just west of the Erhai Lake delta, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of Xizhou, or 45 minutes further on by bike.
6. See the Nanzhao Kingdom's Taihe City Ruins
In 737, with the support of the Tang Dynasty (618–907), the Nanzhao Kingdom (738–902) was established. Taihe Village became its capital, then called Taihe City, in 739. From then, it was the political, economic, and cultural center of the Nanzhao Kingdom for 40 years.
The Taihe Town Ruins are located at the foot of Crane Peak, just west of Taihe Village, Qiliqiao Township, about 5 km (3 miles) south of Dali Ancient Town.
Taihe was once a walled city on the mountainside. Only the south and north city walls are left. The city walls were built with earth rammers. The north wall is 3 meters (10 feet) high, with a thickness of 5 meters (17 feet).
Explore Dali with Us
Usually it requires four days for an essence of Dali tour, including the arrival and departure days. This duration enables covering the main attractions in Dali, such as a cycling around Erhai Lake, Xizhou, and Dali Ancient Town.
If you have 5–6 days, you could extend your tour to the nearby city of Lijiang.
If you have 7–10 days, you could explore the travelers' "essence of Yunnan Province": Kunming, Dali, Lijiang and Shangri-La. See our customizable Dali tours:
- 4-Day Essence Dali Tour — Feel a Dynamic Dali
- 8-Day Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-La Tour — Meet the Amazing Beauty of Yunnan
- 7-Day Kunming, Dali, Shaxi, and Lijiang Tour — A Memorable Winter Trip in Yunnan
Or contact us to create a Dali tour according to your requirements.