Lijiang – The Most Beautiful Town in China

This post was last updated on April 17th, 2020 at 01:02 pm

Lijiang is a maze of streets, rickety old wooden buildings, bridges, and flowing canals. It makes it one of the most visited cities in the north of Yunnan. Lijiang is similar to Suzhou because of the many canals. Both cities are also called the Venice of Asia. Since 1997, this beautiful village has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


Most Beautiful Town in China

One of the first things you should do in Lijiang is buying a map because the countless streets are a true maze. You will not be the first and certainly not the last to get lost here. The town is all atmosphere and in our opinion comparable to Hoi An in Vietnam.


The old red Chinese houses are lit up in the evening by hundreds of lanterns that hang from it. Via the characteristic bridges, you move further and further into the city where locals play in the street and walk around in traditional clothing.


Lanterns hanging from traditional houses in Lijiang Old Town
It is very cozy to walk here in the evening with the lanterns around you


The High Season

The city is a popular destination among travelers and that is especially noticeable in the high season. This influences the culture of the city and its state of mind because sometimes you can be stuck for 30 minutes in a traffic jam to cover 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) as you have to squeeze past hordes of tourists in the narrow streets.


9 Fun Things to Do in Lijiang

Lijiang is a beautiful town that, despite the many tourists, is still worth a visit. Not only the city itself is impressive, but the surrounding nature in the Yunnan province is beautiful as well. We have made an overview of the best things to do in Lijiang.


1. Learn About the City With an Impression Show

The Lijiang Impression Show is a cultural show about the traditions and lifestyles of the Naxi, Yi and Bai people in the area. It is set in the highest open-air theater in the world. At about 3,100 meters (10,000 feet) altitude with the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the background.


Hundreds of actors, singers and dancers take part in the show and they are all locals. The mix of folk songs, dances and traditional rituals causes many people to burst into tears when they watch the show (especially the Chinese visitors).


TIP – Entrance is 190 yuan (US$26.90) per person and the show is at 9 a.m. (high season only), 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.


Red lanterns hanging from a building in Lijiang
Some of many red lanterns you will find here


2. Walk Through Lijiang Ancient Town

The part of the city that you want to see is actually called Lijiang Ancient Town. Here, you will find old houses. It is known for its traditional architecture and customs, special buildings and breathtaking natural views. The old town, the old buildings, the cobblestone narrow streets and small canals make Lijiang a beautiful place.


With many restaurants, souvenir shops, bars, and small eateries you will not be short of anything here. Keep in mind that it can get busy on weekends!


Street with temples and red lanterns
The temples and red lanterns are very beautiful


3. Walk the Tiger Leaping Gorge

The Tiger Leaping Gorge is perhaps the best-known hike in all of China. This spectacular two or three-day walk is one of the most beautiful in all of China. All trails are well maintained, but it is also home to some of the most naturally breathtaking and varied landscapes in the region.


The path takes you high through the mountains past villages, forests, rice terraces, waterfalls, and rocky cliffs. Above are the snow-covered Jade Dragon and Haba Mountains, and far below the Yangtze River.


TIP – Entrance to the hike is 50 yuan (US$7.10) per person. It is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.


River flowing next to a walkway in the Tiger Leaping Gorge
Walking through the Tiger Leaping Gorge, beautiful!


4. Visit the Village of Shuhe

Shuhe is four kilometers (about 2.5 miles) northwest of the old center of Lijiang. This is an ancient city and one of the earliest settlements in the Lijiang valley for the Naxi ancestors. It was an important city that has been well preserved. In 1997, Shuhe was adopted by UNESCO as one of the important “World Cultural Heritage” sites, along with Lijiang Ancient Town.


The biggest advantage of Shuhe is that it is much less known than Lijiang and, therefore, a lot quieter. On the street, it is much less crowded and accommodation is a lot cheaper.


TIP – Entrance is 70 yuan (US$9.90) per person. From Lijiang, it is best to take a taxi or rent a bike.


Ancient town of Shuhe in Lijiang by night
A peaceful evening in Shuhe


5. View the Baisha Murals

Baisha murals are preserved and exhibited in a number of old buildings around the village of Baisha, about 10 kilometers (about 6.2 miles) north of Lijiang. The village borders on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the north which is already a good reason to come here.


TIP – Entrance is 30 yuan (US$4.25). It is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Bus number 6 runs from Lijiang to Baisha.


Traditional Chinese architecture in Baisha Village
Traditional Chinese architecture in Baisha Village


6. Visit Lugu Lake

Lugu Lake is home to the Mosu minority and, according to many, one of the most spectacular sights in China. The lake is a natural lake in the Hengduan Mountains and has the shape of a horseshoe. They are also called “Mother More”.


Lugu Lake is 48.5 square kilometers (about 18.7 square miles) in size and approximately 93 meters (305 feet) deep at the deepest point. Most people go to Lugu Lake from Lijiang. It is a 5-hour drive from the town.


TIP – Entrance is 80 yuan (US$11.30). A shuttle bus runs from Lijiang to the lake for 100 yuan (US$14.15).


7. Go to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the southern part of the Hengduan Mountains, lies 15 kilometers (about 9.3 miles) north of Lijiang and is generally regarded as one of the most beautiful nature reserves in China. The highest peak is called Shanzidou.


The view of the mountains from the gardens at the Black Dragon Pool (see photo below) in Lijiang is seen as one of the most beautiful views of China. The other side of the mountain is the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is a retreat for nature lovers.


Beautiful View of the Black Dragon Pool & Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
Beautiful View of the Black Dragon Pool & Jade Dragon Snow Mountain


How Do I Get to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain?

Buy a bus ticket at the Tourist Service Center at the end of Lanhua Street, opposite the Tianyu Hotel. Ask here where and what time the bus goes because it sometimes differs. If all goes well, buses run between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Ticket costs 40 yuan (US$5.65) per person.


You can also take a taxi which takes around 40 minutes. Count on 200 yuan (US$28.30).


If you want to take the cable car to go to the top you have to pay the following:

  • Glacier Park: CNY120 (US$17) for the large cable car (round trip);
  • Jak Level Ground: CNY45 (US$6.35) for the middle cable car (round trip);
  • Spruce Level Ground: CNY40 (US$5.65) for the small cable car (round trip).


Valley with a clear blue river and goats next to it in Yunnan
The Blue Moon Valley with the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the distance


8. Visit Yuhu Village

The Naxi village of Yuhu (玉水) is located 15 km north of Lijiang, at the foot of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The houses here are made of “monkey head-stones”, a mixture of natural stone and clay. Partly because of this, the village still looks very traditional. A visit to Yuhu is highly recommended.


It is also possible to make horseback trips from Yuhu on the slopes of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. On foot, you can walk from Yuhu to a lake with a beautiful view of the mountain.


In Yuhu you can find the House of Dr. Rock, the botanist who lived here for 27 years, from 1922. He examined the flora of the region and also described and visualized the Naxi and their culture in the “National Geography” magazine. His house can be viewed here.


9. Yangtze Bend

About 70 km from Lijiang lies the town of Shigu (石鼓). A large Tibetan invasion force was defeated here in 1548. In 1936, Mao and his companions crossed the Yangtze River here on the Long March. At the Tiehong Bridge, the Red Army Monument can be seen.


Shigu is located at the “first bend” of the Yangtze (长江 第一 湾), in the headwaters of China’s longest river, which eventually flows into the ocean near Shanghai.


Yangtze River near Lijiang in China
The Yangtze River on its own is already a wonderful sight to see


10. Visit Temples Around Lijiang

There are a number of temples around Lijiang that are worth a visit. The Jade Peak Monastery (玉峰 寺, Yufengsi) is beautifully situated on a ridge, 11 km north of Lijiang. The Temple of Universal Salvation (福 国寺, Fuguosi) is located 5 km northwest of Lijiang, but can only be reached by steep paths and stairs. The ruins of Culture Peak Temple (文峰 寺, Wenfengsi) are located 9 km south of Lijiang.


Tourism in Lijiang

The real old Lijiang is, unfortunately, somewhat blurred and the traditional Naxi stands have been replaced by stands of Han entrepreneurs who take a bite out of the tourism here. This sounds like chasing away the original inhabitants, which is largely true. You don’t have to feel sorry for the locals here though; many earn good money by renting out their land or properties.


Don’t let the crowds and grumpy travelers discourage you. If you get up early you have the whole city to yourself along with some locals. You will see that the city still has an unprecedented charm with its characteristic houses and canals. Rent a bike and make your way through the narrow streets past houses decorated with lanterns.


Accommodations in Lijiang

This city is one of the best-known attractions in China. There is certainly no shortage of accommodations. You can actually divide Lijiang Ancient City into 3 parts; Lijiang Old Town (Dayan Old Town), Shuhe Ancient Town and Baisha Old Town, although the latter two are actually different towns.


Lijiang Old Town

Lijiang Old Town, also known as Dayan, is where almost all travelers sleep and where you can find the old buildings, small canals, and wooden bridges. You will also find locals who still wear traditional clothing. Staying here is the most expensive of the three cities, but you will also find the most options.


TIP – Take a look here for the best accommodations in Lijiang.


Chef in Lijiang preparing Iron Squid
Don’t forget trying the delicious food you can find here


How Do I Get to Lijiang?

Lijiang has an airport so you could fly here. There is even a train station and bus station. The most popular option to come here is the bus or train. Of course, it also depends on where you come from.


By Plane

The airport is about 28 kilometers (17.4 miles) southwest of the city center. There are currently connections with Kunming, Xishuangbanna, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shenzhen, and Guiyang. Most visitors, however, fly first to Kunming and then take the train or the long-distance bus to Lijiang.


TIP – Check the prices for flights from Beijing. Count on around US$110 for a single ticket.


By Train

You can also take the train. 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) outside the city center is Lijiang Railway Station, the second largest train station in Yunnan after that of Kunming. You can come to Lijiang by train from all over the country.


By Bus

The bus is still a popular way of traveling in China, despite the distances. Most travelers come from Kunming by bus (takes 8 hours | 180 to 250 yuan, US$25.50 to $35.40).


What is the Best Time to Visit Lijiang?

The average annual temperature in the Lijiang region is around 18°C (around 64°F), making this area accessible all year round. This region has a rainy season from May to October, but this period is also the hottest time of the year. The best time to visit Lijiang is, therefore, from October to April. During these months there is a pleasant to warm temperature and there is less chance of precipitation.


Keep in mind that in this region it can cool down in the evening and at night so pack a warm sweater in your suitcase and don’t forget your rain suit.


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