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Guilin

Guilin Travel Guide

Guilin is reputed as being one of the world's most beautiful places with its karst landscapes, clean rivers, idyllic countryside, majestic rice terraces, and ethnic minorities. It is in South China's Guangxi Region, close to Hong Kong and Guangzhou to the southeast, and now 4 hours’ ride from Chengdu by train.

The City of Guilin

Guilin is a small southern Chinese city with approaching a million people. The city is particularly scenic, set amongst karst hills such as Folded Brocade Hill, Fubo Hill, and Solitary Beauty Peak. The views from these hills are marvelous, with lush hills dotting and surrounding the city, and two green rivers — the Li and ‘Peach Blossom’ — running through.

Guilin city viewThe scenery of “the Two Rivers and Four Lakes” in the center of Guilin

The four lakes in the city center are joined together and with the Li and Peach Blossom rivers. On banks of these rivers and lakes are verdant bamboo and trees. Boats cruise “the Two Rivers and Four Lakes” day and night. The scenery is especially charming at night when the lakes’ features are glowing with colorful lights. Guilin means ‘Sweet Osmanthus Forest’, named after its many fragrant sweet osmanthus trees. Each year in October, when the osmanthus blooms, the city is filled with their sweet scent.

Unlike other fast-developing Chinese cities filled with high buildings, most developments in Guilin are limited to about 20 floors so that they don’t dwarf the hills and spoil the view. The city has a relatively relaxed atmosphere and slow pace, where you can see locals enjoying chatting, playing cards, or just walking slowly in parks or along the rivers and lakes.

Highlights of Guilin

Guilin boasts the most beautiful karst landscapes in the world. The top things to see in Guilin are all related to the landscape and rural scenery.

Karst Landscapes

Li RiverKarst Hills along the the Li River

The karst scenery of Guilin is characterized by its green hills, clear water, pretty rocks, and mysterious caves.

Karst mountains continue in the Li River valley for a hundred miles. Rising sharply at odd angles, the limestone peaks look like giant bamboo shoots growing out of the green plain. 

The best karst hills you can visit or climb include Xianggong Hill, Elephant Trunk Hill, Fubo Hill, and Folded Brocade Hill, all of which are along the Li River.

Xianggong Hill, which is one of Guilin’s most popular photography spots, offers bird's-eye views of the Li River meandering among hundreds of hills like a green ribbon.

Elephant Trunk Hill, Fubo Hill, and Folded Brocade Hill are all in downtown Guilin, and in most classic Guilin city itineraries. They offer fantastic outlooks over Guilin and its rivers, weaving among its many hills, but involve climbs on 100+ steep stone steps.

If you are not good at walking, Elephant Trunk Hill may be the best for you. It’s the lowest with a riverside park around it where you can appreciate the views.

There are opportunities to interact with locals, such as visiting a local family. They’ll share with you their stories of countryside life. A true benefit of a China Highlights Guilin trip is meeting locals in context, like at our friend Grandpa Qin's house during a Yangshuo countryside tour.

The karst caves  in Guilin are huge in size and offer a majestic display of underground features, such as stalactites, stalagmites, stone pillars, stone curtains, and more. The most famous caves are Reed Flute Cave and Crown Cave. 

One of the best ways to enjoy the karst landscape is taking a cruise on the Li River from Guilin to Yangshuo. The river is like a green ribbon winding among the green peaks, along which pinnacles, bamboo forests, caves, and fishing villages are scattered.

Idyllic Countryside in Yangshuo

The rural life in YangshuoThe rural life in Yangshuo

Yangshuo is regarded as having the most beautiful countryside in China due to its idyllic landscape and leisurely rural lifestyle.

As you venture out into the countryside, you can see water buffalos grazing in the rice fields, fishermen fishing with cormorants, women washing clothes by the river with karst peaks in the background, and old men chatting in a village square under the shade of a big tree…. This should be the China you imagined.

Popular activities to explore the countryside are hiking, biking, and bamboo rafting on the Yulong River.

Remember to Get interact with locals such as visiting a local family, and let them share you their stories of countryside life. This is a true benefit of your Guilin trip.  

The Longji Rice Terraces

The Longji Rice TerracesThe Longji Rice Terraces

The rice terraces in Longji look just like the scales of a huge dragon’s back (”Longji” means ‘dragon’s back’) as they proceed in tiers down the mountain ridges.

The best times to see the rice terraces are around mid-May when they are irrigated and September to October when the crops are turning golden. A large number of hikers and photographers visit the area during these months.

Read our tips for visiting the Longji Rice Terraces.

Ethnic Villages and Culture

The Yao Minority in LongjiThe Yao women in Longji

Longji is home to the Zhuang and Yao ethnic groups. There are many minority villages, such as Ping'an, Dazhai, Longji Ancient Zhuang Village, and Huangluo Yao Village.

They offer you access to see the locals, who still wear their traditional clothes, and their traditional houses on stilts (diaojiaolou ‘hanging feet buildings’), while experiencing authentic ethnic minority customs.

3 Travel Styles to Visit Guilin

Guilin’s diverse topography offers rich travel experiences from a relaxing family vacation to active outdoor adventures. No matter what kind of travel style you prefer, you can find something catering to you.

Visiting Guilin in a Relaxing Way

Guilin is a city where you can slow down your travel pace. You can take a relaxing Li River cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo, ride a bike through rice paddies at your own speed, spend your evening in a bar on West Street, or have a cup of coffee in an exquisite hotel by the Yulong River.

With our private tour, you will get to travel with your own group, decide how your time should be spent, and enjoy a lot of freedom and personal space during your trip.

More In-Depth Exploration

Learn to make bamboo rice in Longji Our customers are learning to make bamboo tube rice in Longji. 

Beyond the must-see attractions, some authentic experiences will enrich your stay in Guilin. In Longji, you can try some local activities, such as making oil tea, cooking rice in bamboo tubes, and learning embroidery from the Yao women.

In a village near Yangshuo, you can try some farming activities like planting vegetables and plowing a field in Gaotian or learning how to make hand-painted fans in Fuli.

Outdoor Adventures

Yangshuo is a paradise for lovers of the outdoors. You can experience various outdoor adventure activities in such a small region, from hiking or cycling to exploring the countryside, and from bamboo rafting on the Yulong River or the Li River to rock climbing. Read more on top outdoor activities in Yangshuo

Guilin vs Yangshuo

biking in yangshuoExplore Yangshuo countryside by bike.

Yangshuo is one hour away from Guilin. Guilin, with an airport and three train stations, is used more as a transport hub while Yangshuo is a place you can ‘settle down’ to enjoy your vacation.

If your time permits, Guilin is worthy of a half-day tour to visit the famed karst hills and caves, such as Elephant Hill and Reed Flute Cave. Yangshuo is much like a huge national park in which you can see karst scenery, do outdoor activities, explore local villages, or just relax in a scenic hotel.

The most popular way to travel between Guilin and Yangshuo is cruising along the Li River. Stay for one night in Guilin on your arrival day, embark on a cruise to Yangshuo the next morning, and then enjoy your time there.

Compared to Guilin, Yangshuo is friendlier for Western travelers. It offers a wide range of accommodation options from luxury hotels to boutiques to local guesthouses, and has a lot of Western restaurants and bars.

Read more about how to plan a tour including Guilin and Yangshuo.

Where to Stay

Reviews and rankings on TripAdvisor sometimes won’t help you choose the best hotel for you, as people with high expectations give hotels very low scores when they don’t meet their preconceptions.

If you travel with us, our traveler experts will give you suggestions on where is the best hotel according to your requirements. For example, we don’t recommend the Li River Waterfall Hotel for customers who are particularly averse to noisy Chinese groups, despite its great location by the Li River and the Twin Tower Lake.

Hotels in Guilin

In Guilin, you are recommended to select star-rated hotels to ensure the level of comfort and service. Star-rated hotel options are limited, and the following hotels are recommended based on our field inspections and feedback:

  • 5-star: Sheraton Guilin Hotel; Shangri-La Hotel, Guilin
  • 4-star: Lijiang Waterfall Hotel
  • 3-star: Guilin Park Hotel
  • Boutique: Guilinyi Royal Palace

Tell us your preferences relating to accommodation, facilities, location, or beautiful views. Our specialists will give you recommendations accordingly.

Hotels in Yangshuo

yangshuoIn Yangshuo, you can find a boutique hotel to enjoy some leisurely time. 

Yangshuo doesn’t lack star-rated hotels, but the boutique hotels are well-developed and highly recommended. Many boutique hotels are located near the Yulong River or hidden in the countryside, providing beautiful scenery and a tranquil atmosphere.

Here are some boutique hotels that have been praised by our customers: Tea Cozy Resort Yangshuo, Yangshuo Outside Inn, and Yangshuo Mountain Retreat.

Hotels in Longsheng Rice Terraces

The accommodation is mainly around the Ping'an and Jinkeng rice terraces. It is quite basic. Most of the hotels are local stilted buildings with a limited hot water supply. The hotels generally don't provide a Western breakfast or have very limited choices, and spoken English is limited.

Here are some recommended hotels for your reference: Longsheng Li An Lodge, Pingan Inn, and Longji Panorama House Hotel.

Weather and the Best Times to Visit

GuilinGuilin in spring

Guilin is in China’s subtropical (bordering temperate) monsoon zone with four distinct seasons and high humidity.

Although Guilin is suitable for traveling all year round, the best time to travel there is from April to October when the weather is comfortable and the scenery is charming. See more on Guilin Weather.

How to Get to and Travel Around Guilin

Guilin is easily accessible by high-speed train and flights from the main cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Chengdu, and Hong Kong.

Guilin city is a transport hub for your excursion tours to Yangshuo and Longji, taking about 1 hour and 2½ hours by car respectively. Read more on Guilin transportation.

Dining

The rice noodles in GuilinThe rice noodles in Guilin

Guilin’s local cuisine is known for being spicy and sour. If you are interested, you can try rice noodles in Guilin and beer fish in Yangshuo. The delicious dishes and authentic restaurants are often hidden in the backstreets. Your guide can lead you to the ones which are normally only found by locals.

According to your requirements, the dishes can be cooked without chilies or sour pickles, and your guide will assist you with ordering the dishes.

There are vegetarian, Muslim, Western, and Indian restaurants in Guilin and Yangshuo. Just let your guide know your dietary preferences and requirements, and he/she will give you recommendations accordingly.

Guilin Tourism — Friendly for Foreigners

Bamboo rafting on Yulong River in YangshuoBamboo rafting on Yulong River in Yangshuo

Guilin was one of China's first cities to develop tourism and open to overseas visitors. It has now become a must-visit destination when traveling in China.

The primary industry of Guilin is tourism. The city is well managed and clean, and it doesn’t suffer from big traffic or pollution issues.

With a large number of Western-style hotels and restaurants as well as a high percentage of English-speaking locals, Guilin is very convenient for foreigners. Its 72-hour visa-free transit policy makes it even more convenient to visit.

As well as numerous English-speaking locals, Guilin has a large number of well-trained and experienced guides offering different language services including English, French, Spanish, Italian, and German.

00 Guilin karst scenery

Explore Guilin with a Local Expert

We are based in here in Guilin and know this area very well. Our specialists have explored all the area’s facets and can help tailor a trip to match your interests.

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