The 10 Best Things to See and Do in Guilin

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Surrounded by the majestic Karst Mountains, Guilin is one of the most enchanting cities to visit while on a China tour. The lush greenery and the river flowing through the landscape create a modern pristine oasis. Whether you ride on a picturesque river cruise or sample delicious local cuisine, a visit to Guilin is one of the most breath-taking things to do in China. Read on to discover why these fascinating things to do and see in Guilin will be towards the top of any China visit list!

What to do in Guilin

1. Cruise on the Li River

Tourists taking boat rides and cruising towards the hills on Li River
The Li River, also known as "Li Jiang" flows from Xing'an County to Pingle County. Photo by Grey World [CC by - 2.0]

A leisurely cruise along the iconic Li River is one of the top things to do in Guilin for any visitor. Admire the rugged karst peaks, lush rice fields and cozy villages along the banks of the river. Cast away to the lovely Xingping Ancient Town and dock at the historic Yangshuo Pier. If you wish to get closer to the emerald-colored river, jump on a bamboo raft and enjoy the scenery.

  • Good to know: Pick up for cruises normally begins at 08:00 am 08:30 am. 

2. Raft on the Yulong River

Bamboo rafts waiting for customers on the bank of the Yulong River
The Yulong River runs through Guilin to Yangshuo
Tourists wearing life jackets on a bamboo raft and cruising downstream
The Yulong is a shallow river of around 5 meters of maximum depth

Branching off the Li River, the idyllic Yulong River offers a calming environment to practice bamboo rafting. Fishermen float along the tranquil stream searching for the catch of the day and joyful kids splash in the water. Taking a raft onto this relaxing river is a more intimate way to explore the spectacular imagery of Guilin. Escape the raucous noise of the motors traveling along the mighty Li River and enjoy a more serene atmosphere. 

  • Good to know: April May are magnificent due to the bounty of water provided by the rainy season.

3. Cycle through the Yangshuo Countryside

Tourists cycling in the Yangshuo County
In the 1980s, the county became popular with foreign backpackers, and organized tours began by the late 1990s. Photo by David Woo [CC by - ND 2.0]   

Hop on your bike and ride into the mountainous terrain that surrounds Guilin. The route transports you to quaint villages along the scenic Li River, marvelous bridges and narrow roads that few people know about. A cycling tour is a thrilling way to reconnect with nature and this single day journey is the perfect opportunity to enjoy Guilin’s spectacular countryside on two wheels.

  • Good to know: Riders will have to test their endurance along the path as it begins with a 1.5-kilometer-climb up a steep hill. 

4. Make Oil Tea and Bamboo Rice

Bamboo stuffed with rice and other ingredients being cooked over coal
Due to its special flavor, rice cooked in bamboo tubes has become very popular
Rice and other ingredients in bamboo along with side dishes
The roasted rice in fragrant bamboo is tasty served hot or cold

Learn how to craft the distinct flavors of Guilin from locals who have mastered the culinary art. Oil tea is a comforting drink for those living in the mountains and is concocted by frying tea-leaves with garlic, salt and various other ingredients for an intense taste. Bamboo rice is one popular dish that is created by cooking rice and meat inside a bamboo tube. When cooked on a charcoal fire, it creates a delightful aroma.  

  • Good to know: Oil tea contains caffeine so if you are sensitive to it, beware! 

5. Learn Tai Chi 

A Chinese man practicing Tai Chi amidst the greenery in Yangshuo
Tai Chi is a popular stream of Chinese Kung Fu that is available to tourists during their trip to Guilin or Yangshuo

If you are craving a hands-on activity, then learning the ancient martial art is exactly what to do in Guilin for an invigorating experience. Yangshuo is an excellent place to learn from a Tai Chi master. Take home the basics as your instructor guides you in a calming environment off the banks of the Li River.  

  • Good to know: It takes about 20 minutes by bike to get to the Tai Chi school in Yima village from Yangshuo County.

6. Admire the Sun and Moon Towers

The famous Sun Tower and Moon Tower
The Sun Tower and the Moon Tower are also collectively known as the Twin Towers

Wondering what to see in Guilin at night? Look no further than the spell-binding Sun and Moon Towers that shine underneath the stars. The Buddhist pagoda towers soar above Shān Lake and the exquisite structures are connected by an underwater tunnel. The elegant contrast of the copper tinted sun tower and silver-colored moon tower is one of the most awe-inspiring sights to witness when taking a nightly stroll.  

  • Good to know: Visit the attraction at night when the towers are lit up and glowing elegantly for the entire town to see. 

What to see in Guilin

7. Reed Flute Cave

The Reed Flute Cave artificially enhanced by multi-colored lights
Despite its popularity in the ancient times, the Reed Flute Cave was almost forgotten until the 1940s
  • Opening hours: 07:30 am 6:00 pm (April November), 08:00 am 5:30 pm (December March)

Escape the heat by coasting inside this luminescent cave filled with marvelous limestone rock formations. The neon lights glowing against the stalactites and stalagmites have inspired visitors for centuries. The verdant reeds flourishing on the outside of the cave signal the entrance and waiting inside is a geologic masterpiece. 

  • Good to know: Be sure to wear slip-resistant shoes as the ground inside the cave can be slick.

8. Longji Rice Terraces

The Longji Rice Terrace located in Longshen County
The Longji Rice terraces are built along the slope winding from the riverside up to the mountain top, 600 – 800 meters above sea level

The cascading terraces of Longji are some of the most alluring landscapes near Guilin. Jump aboard a minivan and enjoy a breathtaking road trip for images of a rustic nirvana. Depart from the city center of Guilin and enjoy a stellar ride through the mountains. The dragon’s backbone-shaped rice terraces surround Dazhai village and hiking to the top is a riveting way to spend the day. 

  • Good to know: The view of the terraces before harvest is one of the prettiest attractions in Guilin to behold during your trip. 

9. Daxu Ancient Village

The market street in Daxu Ancient Village near Guilin
One of the most popular attractions in Daxu is its ancient street with bluestone pavement stretching about 2.5 kilometers in length

The charming town of Daxu is one of the most authentic tourist attractions in Guilin. Immerse yourself in traditional Chinese culture by waltzing through the docks of this prosperous market town. Take a journey back in time as you behold the cozy houses along the streets reminiscent of powerful dynasties centuries ago. An astonishing image within the historic town is Longevity Bridge. The stone arch passageway offers remarkable views of the Li River and captures the intimate lifestyle that has flourished for centuries. 

  • Good to know: Behold the marvelous plow-shaped tombs that were the first of their kind discovered in China. 

10. Elephant Trunk Hill

The Elephant Trunk Hill, the landmark and tourist attraction in Guilin
Elephant Trunk Hill is named so due to its likeness to an elephant dipping its trunk in water
  • Opening hours: 06:30 am 7:00 pm (April October), 07:00 am 6:30 pm (November March)

This bizarre geologic formation adjacent to the Li River should be towards the top of any must-see attractions in Guilin list. Covered in lush vegetation, the hill elegantly depicts an elephant with its trunk dipped in the river for a drink of water. Between the trunk and body of this limestone elephant, discover Water Moon Cave and its ancient writings. 

  • Best time to visit: You can visit this attraction either in the morning or at night for the best views of the splendid scenery along the Li River.

Guilin is a paradise for those seeking authentic Chinese culture and unique natural surroundings. The charming villages nestled along the waterways each have a unique story to share and the grandeur of the Karst Mountains create some of the most captivating natural surroundings in China. From exhilarating cycling paths to peaceful rides on the river, there are tons of amazing things to do in Guilin. 

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  • Ruby Zhao
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