How to Plan a Trip to Kunming

How to Plan a Trip to Kunming

By Sunny XieUpdated Sep. 10, 2021

As the capital of Yunnan Province, Kunming is normally a transit city to access its surrounding Yunnan destinations, due to its convenient flights/trains from major cities of China and some Asian countries. That said, Kunming itself is rich in natural beauty and ethnic culture, which is worthy of the typical stay of 2–3 days.

COVID prevention note: Kunming is open for tourism [December 2020], however you’ll need a green health code and a mask (for flights/trains). Most international travel mentioned here is currently severely restricted, but if you’re already in Mainland China, Kunming is almost as visitable as ever.

Follow our guidelines and find out what might interest you and how to plan a Kunming tour.

Yunnan Minority village

1. Best Times to Visit Kunming, Weather Tips

With a yearly temperature range that avoids extremes of hot or cold, Kunming is known as the “Spring City”. As you can imagine, the weather there is (relatively) pleasant for travel all the year round.

The best months to visit Kunming are from March to October to appreciate the flowers’ blossom and participant in various ethnic festivals.  

Seasonal Attractions and What to Wear:

  • Spring (March to May): Enjoy peach blossom.
    Prepare a light sweater and coat for spring.
  • Summer (June to September): Escape from summer heat.
    Wear any summer clothes, such as shirts, skirts, and shorts and a light coat in the evenings.
  • Autumn (October to November): Taste various fruits.
    Take T-shirts and a light jacket/coat.
  • Winter (December to February): Escape frozen/damp weather.
    Prepare thick sweaters and an overcoat or down jacket.

The altitude in Kunming is 1,500–2,800 meters (4,900–9,200 feet): hat, sunglasses, and sun block are advisable in all seasons for protection from strong UV rays.

More on Kunming Weather>>>

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2. Getting to Kunming and Traveling Around

Kunming is one of the biggest cities in south China, equipped with a far-reaching and well-developed transportation network. The plentiful choices of convenient transportation make it easy for you to get to and from Kunming. 

By Air:

Kunming Changshui International Airport, around 30–40 minutes’ drive from downtown Kunming, is the fourth largest Mainland China gateway airport following Beijing’s, Shanghai’s, and Guangzhou’s with direct flights to many countries in Asia as well as San Francisco and Sydney.

By Train:

Kunming has five train stations and serves as the province's railway hub. Kunming Railway Station is the most used, only 20 minutes’ drive from downtown Kunming.

Bullet train services include those to:

  • Yunnan cities like Dali and Lijiang in 2–3½ hours
  • Central southern cities like Guizhou, Chongqing, and Chengdu in 2–6 hours
  • Major tourist cities like Beijing, Guilin, and Guangzhou in 7–14 hours (for quick long-distance travel, we recommend you take a flight instead)

 Contact us for Kunming tours

Traveling around Kunming:

Public transportation, including city buses, subway, and taxis, is convenient for traveling around the city. In addition, you could take a public bicycle at CN¥2 per hour or CN¥10 per day to ride around Kunming.

More on Kunming Transportation>>>

How to Get to the Stone Forest from Kunming

The stone forest is around 80 km (50 miles) from Kunming city. There are three main ways to get there:

  • 1. By bus: Go to Kunming East Bus Station (30 minutes from downtown) to catch the bus to Shilin County (1½ hours), then take a public bus/taxi to the Stone Forest (30 minutes). There is no English-speaking service at either bus stations or on the buses, and it takes over 3 hours including minimum transfer times. 
  • 2. By train: Go to Kunming Train Station (20 minutes from downtown) to catch the bullet train to Shilin County (40 minutes) and then take a public bus/taxi to the Stone Forest (1 hour). This takes well over 2 hours with changes included.
  • 3. By private car: This takes only 1½ hours’ drive with pickup/drop off at your hotel and no transport changes.

It would be much easier to take a Stone Forest tour with private transport and an expert guide to show you the best sights in a well-planned day trip. See our 3-Day Kunming Highlights Tour for a smart way to visit the Stone Forest alongside Kunming City’s essence.

stone Forest

3. Consider Kunming 6-Day Visa-Free Transit

If you’re from the U.S., Canada, Australia, or another permitted nationality including most of Europe, you just need to bring your passport and an onward air ticket to a third country or region to visit Kunming. For more details, read How to Visit China Without a Visa.

Consider our 3-Day Kunming Highlights Tour

4. Things to Do in Kunming and Extension Tours

Kunming is more like an urban garden than a city, and it is worth staying 2–3 days there to see the best of the city. 

  • Explore the startling karst landscape of the Stone Forest.
  • Feed the elf-like black-headed gulls at Dianchi Lake.
  • Enjoy panoramic views from the Dragon Gate in West Hill Park.
  • Immerse yourself in ethnic culture at Yunnan Minority Village.
  • Appreciate the romantic cherry blossom on Yuantong Hill.
  • Mesmerize yourself in the colorful Flower and Bird Market.

More on Things to Do in Kunming>>>

Extending a Kunming Tour:

If you are a fan of photography, the following two places cannot be missed.

  • 1. Extend by a day to visit Dongchuan Red Land and admire “God's Palette”. It is especially beautiful in September and October with the yellow cole flowers blooming among the red fields.
  • 2. Extend by two days to see the Yuanyang Rice Terraces to enjoy the large fish-scale-like “land sculptures”. The stunning terraced rice fields at sunrise and sunset are the highlights. In addition, you will have a chance to get to know about the Hani people, the most traditional ethnic minority in China.

Check out our Kunming tours that explore its surrounding areas for more Yunnan tour inspiration or contact us for a customized tour.

Contact us for Kunming tours

5. Kunming Hotels and Where to Stay

Choosing where to stay in Kunming mainly depends on your schedule and activities there.

If this is your first time to Kunming, choose to stay downtown for convenient shopping, eating, and nightlife.

Recommended downtown Kunming hotels:

  • Silver Chest Boutique Hotel (3-star)
  • Kunming New Era Hotel (4-star)
  • Holiday Inn Kunming City Centre (4-star)
  • Crowne Plaza Kunming City Centre (5-star)

For morning exercise and a local life experience, choose to stay near to Green Lake Park.

Recommended hotels near Green Lake Park:

  • Grand Park Hotel (4-star)
  • Zhongwei Green Lake Hotel (5-star)

If you are a big fan of karst landscapes, you may choose to stay near the Stone Forest.

Recommended Stone Forest hotels:

  • Sloane Place Hotel Stone Forest (3-star)
  • Shilin Yinruilin International Hotel (4-star)

For your extension tour to Yuanyang Rice Terraces, there are plenty of choices of local boutique hotels.

Recommended Yuanyang hotels:

  • Duoyishu Jingguan Hotel (3-star standard, best for sunrise)
  • Oness Resort Yuanyang Terrace (4-star standard, best hotel locally)
Feed the black headed gulls

6. Kunming Food and Where to Eat

Food plays quite an important role in a tour. Thanks to its unique climate and diverse ethnic culture, the various foods in Kunming should not fail to interest you as well as please your stomach.

Must-try food in Kunming:

  • Crossing-the-bridge noodles (过桥米线)
  • Steam pot chicken (汽锅鸡)
  • Roast er kuai (烤饵块, rice cakes)
  • Grandma's mashed potatoes (老奶洋芋)
  • Wild mushrooms (野菌)
  • ‘Eight treasures of Yunnan’ (云南八宝饭)

Restaurants to try these tasty foods at:

  • Qiao Xiangyuan Restaurant (桥香园过桥米线): Known for its crossing-the-bridge noodles and you can find its outlets everywhere in the city
  • Kunming Old House Restaurant (一颗印昆明老房子餐厅): A typical example of a courtyard premises in the shape of a square seal with a history dating back to 1852, it serves traditional Yunnan Cuisine.
  • Yunnan Renjia Restaurant (云南人家): A local ethnic-style restaurant with a variety of typical Yunnan food, it provides an ethnic show during meal times.

Check out Kunming Food and Kunming Restaurants for more information.

Crossing the bridge noodles

7. Consider Touring Kunming with Us

China Highlights provides tours with 'No shops, no factories, no detours'. Travel with us to explore the less-crowded part of the Stone Forest and other smart travel arrangements. Our professional tour guides will show you the best locations for photographs and greatly enhance the smoothness and enjoyment of your tour.

Here are our most popular Kunming tours, which can all be customized.

Or contact us to let us know your preferences for a tailor-made Kunming tour.

 Contact us for Kunming tours

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