Things to Do in Guilin
Along the banks of the Li River (Li Jiang) as it winds south from Guilin, dramatic karst peaks, dense vegetation, and the winding river itself create magical vistas that loom large in the Chinese imagination, having inspired art and verse for centuries. From Guilin to Yangshuo, there’s never a dull stretch along China’s most beautiful river.
A landmark in Guilin since the Tang Dynasty, and considered by many to be a symbol of the city, Elephant Trunk (Xiangbishan) Hill got its name because it’s said to resemble a giant elephant drinking water from the Li River. Towering more than 180 feet (55 meters) above the water, it’s one of the top attractions in Guilin.
For the farmers who reside in Southern China’s Longji region, rice terraces are simply a way of life. Yet for the thousands of annual visitors who make the 2-hour journey from the city of Guilin, the Longji Rice Terraces—nicknamed the Dragon’s Backbone—are an iconic symbol of Chinese agriculture and one of the most photographed sites in the country.
Take a step back in time at Daxu Old Town, one of the four ancient towns of Guangxi Province. Located on the eastern banks of the Li River, southeast of Guilin, the town is known for its cultural sights, historic architecture, and traditional artisan shops.
Rising 217 feet (66 meters), Solitary Beauty Peak (Duxiu Feng) has been a famous scenic spot in Guilin since ancient times. Also known as the “Pillar of the Southern Sky,” it’s one of the area’s highest peaks. Climb to the pavilion at the peak to take in sweeping views over the city.
Guilin is mainly known for the magical karst landscape surrounding it, but next to the nature there is also plenty of culture. In fact, the town has been an imperial city since the Qin Dynasty and its main estate bears witness to this glorious past and the city’s long history. The Jingjiang Wangcheng City , also called the Jingjiang Princes’ City, was the seat of the Jingjiang Family, who reigned in this part of China between 1368 and 1644. The mansion was built after the first Ming Emperor, Zhu Yuanzhan, made his nephew, today known as King or Prince Jingjiang, ruler of the Guilin region.
Designed to function as the inner city of Guilin, the mansion and grounds are very extensive and include four halls, several pavilions and over 40 secondary buildings surrounding the main mansion. The property was built in the typical imperial style and according to the strict rules of the Ming Dynasty, which can be seen in the yellow walls that are topped by tiered roofs and encircled by tall, red pillars. The property is also enclosed by a 1.5-kilometer-long wall with the buildings, gates, the palace, the gardens and the quarters being arranged on a symmetrical axis.
The center of this axis is a karst hill called the Solitary Beauty Peak, a towering 216 meter high mass of sharp limestone cliffs interspersed by green vegetation. Exactly 306 steps lead to the top of the peak, where visitors can find the Solitary Beauty Pavilion with its red pillars, as well as panoramic views over the now modern city. It took over 20 years to build the imperial city and 630 years of history took place within those walls, but today, Jingjiang Mansion is the site of the Guangxi Normal University.
The extensive Seven Star Park (Qixing Gongyuan)—arranged around the seven peaks from which it derives its name—ranks among Guilin’s oldest attractions. A pavilion sits atop Putuo Mountain in the center of the park, while Seven Star Cliff contains several illuminated caves. A fish pond and the Guilin City Zoo are popular with kids.
Guilin is known as the city of rice farmers, spreading out in the midst of an impressive landscape full of steep mountain peaks on both sides of the Li River. The highest of these bizarre rock formations is Yao Mountain (Yao Shan or Yaoshan) at over 900 meters. Here, only 12 kilometers outside of the city center, you can find a quiet mountain landscape and panoramic views over the hundreds of hills, rice fields and the charming rural villages outside of Guilin. Although there is a cable car ferrying people up and down Yao Mountain, there are also numerous hiking trails leading up and around the tall peak. A long cart slide offers a fun alternative for the way down, which leads through many twists and turns down much of the densely forested side of the mountain.
Most visitors come here to see the diverse flora of Southern China, which is beautiful throughout the year and changes constantly. Each season offers completely different views, with spring being especially popular due to the rosy, blooming azaleas. During the summer months, the pine trees and bamboo take over and cover the landscape in a vibrant blue-green, while during fall, the maple leaves turn a deep red and wild chrysanthemum flowers add vibrant dots of color to the landscape. But don’t miss out on a trip up the mountain in winter either, when mists swirl around the peaks and everything is dusted in a layer of snow and frost.
Yao Mountain is also a popular burial ground, something that is attributed to its good Feng Shui. The peak was named after the Yaoshan Emperor Temple, which can be found about halfway up the mountain, but there are also the Tombs of the Jingjiang Princes, one of the most famous attractions in the area, with over 300 tombs spread out over 100 square kilometers.
Formerly a sleepy fishing village along the Li River, Xingping town (or Xingping village) is now a popular visitor destination for its rural landscape and well-preserved ancient architecture. Hiking and biking are popular ways to soak in the scenery, and Xingping is also the starting point of many river cruises as it’s on an especially beautiful stretch of the Li River.
Located 3 miles (5 kilometers) from downtown Guilin, this famous limestone cave is one of the top attractions in Guilin. It’s named for the reeds that grow outside the cave, which are used to make flutes. The cave stretches for 787 feet (240 meters), and is colorfully lit inside to highlight the interesting collection of stone pillars, stalactites, and stalagmites found within.
More Things to Do in Guilin
Situated in northeast Guilin, beautiful Fubo Hill (Fubo Shan) sits half in and half out of the Li River, causing the passing water to swirl and lending it its other name: “Wave-Subduing Hill.” With a height of 695 feet (213 meters), Fubo Hill offers spectacular views of the city and river views from its summit.
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