Guilin has been on my bucket list for years. After all, according to the Chinese it has “the finest landscape under heaven” and the surrounding scenery has inspired Chinese landscape paintings for centuries. It even features on the Chinese 20 Yuan banknote.
However, Guilin is not exactly bursting with child-friendly activities (it’s all about the scenery here) and so once the kids came along, it got moved down the list for a few years. Now my children are two and four, we finally decided that for once we would like a holiday that wasn’t all about sandcastles, zoos and ice-creams (although there was still plenty of those) and we set off for a long weekend in Guilin with the kids.
There is a lot of traveling involved to reach most places around Guilin. With this in mind, we came prepared with plenty of new colouring books, stickers, books – and of course fully loaded iPads. And we had a blast! It was fabulous to have a small glimpse back into what our holidays were like before the kids came along – and hopefully what they can be like again as the kids continue to grow up. We’ll make Everest trekkers out of them one day!
I will be the first to admit that we were in no way roughing it on this trip – we stayed at the Shangri-La hotel in Guilin (which had a swimming pool and playground), and we hired a private driver and tour guide (through China Odyssey) to help make all that traveling with the kids a bit easier – and given that one day we were in the car for over five hours I was very pleased that we did.
Here is a round up of some of the best things to do in Guilin with Kids.
Li River Cruise
The Li River Cruise is the most famous sightseeing trip in the region. The cruise takes around 4 – 5 hours as it meanders down the river for 83 kilometres from Guilin to Yangshuo, but the scenery is so spectacular that you will hardly notice those four hours go by. I would recommend taking plenty of entertainment for the kids though.
Each boat has viewing decks on the roof and at the back. Do not forget your camera, as you will want to take photos at every turn in the river. The food on the cruise was pretty terrible though. I would advise raiding your hotel buffet at breakfast for the kids’ lunch and bringing plenty of snacks!
Bamboo rafting along the Yulong River was definitely one of the highlights of our trip to Guilin with kids. The Yulong River is a small tributary of the great Li River and bamboo rafting along here is one of the most popular activities in Yangshuo. With older kids, you could join a longer trip that takes 4-6 hours, but given that we had just got off a four-hour boat trip from Guilin, we opted for a leisurely 45-minute trip down one section of the Yulong.
Each bamboo raft holds just two passengers, and your ‘gondolier’ will do all the hard work so you can sit back and enjoy. It is a very relaxing experience, as the rafts float gently down the river, giving you plenty of time to take in the surrounding scenery. There are a few mini waterfalls to negotiate, but this just adds to the fun, and we never felt unsafe in our rafts. Be sure to buy some water guns for the kids from the hawker women at the launch site.
You can cycle through the countryside to reach the bamboo rafting launch site, but be aware that you first need to navigate the city traffic and so you will need to decide if you are comfortable doing this with your kids on board.
Longsheng and the Longji Rice Terraces
The Longji Rice Terraces are about 100km from Guilin and make a fascinating (if rather long) day trip. To get to the viewpoints for the rice terraces, you also need to endure a one-hour climb up a series of steps up the mountainside. My 4-year old did manage this though (albeit with a lot of moaning about how tired she was) and the views at the top are completely worth it – 900 years worth of rice terraces spread out before you, cascading down the mountain for as far as you can see. Even my grumpy four-year old was impressed!
There is plenty to divert the kids attention within Ping’an village itself – souvenir shops selling local crafts and clothing, men polishing water buffalo horns to make shiny hair combs and women making homemade chilli paste and ginger and peanut candy. Ping’an village is also home to the Yao women, who are famous for their incredibly long hair, which they only cut once in their lifetime. One of the local women even holds the Guinness World Record for the longest hair, and for a small tip, you should be able to find someone to let down her hair to show the kids how long it really is.
Reed Flute Cave
Tourists have been flocking to the Reed Flute Cave since the Tang Dynasty. This spectacular show cave is just a short drive from the centre of Guilin, and is definitely worth a visit. You can wander through the cave at your leisure admiring the stalactites and stalagmites formations, which are beautifully illuminated in a multitude of colours and awarded romantic names such as Dragon Pagoda and Pines in the Snow. The kids will love picking out the shapes in the rock formations and listening to the stories and legends that accompany them.
Seven Stars Park and Guilin Zoo
The Seven Stars Park (Qixing Gongyuan) is the biggest park in Guilin and is the best place to let your kids run off some energy if you have some spare time in your itinerary. The park features several hills, rocks, caves, bridges and playgrounds, a collection of ancient-looking carnival rides and, rather bizarrely a family of lifesize dinosaur statues.
The Seven Stars Park is also home to the Guilin Zoo. If you have any beliefs in animal rights, then this zoo is probably best avoided. The animal enclosures are pitiful at best, and once we realized the pandas were sleeping we quickly steered our children towards the exit. There is a small farm section where the kids enjoyed feeding the goats, pigs and rabbits but I can safely say that this is not a highlight of Guilin.
We stayed in Guilin for four nights. However, all the activities that we did could easily have been done with only three nights. In, hindsight I would have preferred to stay in Yangshuo after the Li River cruise, and spent an evening soaking up the vibe of Yangshuo and some more time exploring the Yangshuo area the next day. There are plenty of hotels to choose from in Yangshuo – my picks would probably be the Banyan Tree, the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat or the small and friendly Giggling Tree for a more budget option. Given that our flight back to Hong Kong was in the afternoon, we could easily have fitted in a visit to the Reed Flute Cave en route to the airport (and skipped the park and zoo altogether).
Note: This article contains affiliate links. If you make a booking through our affiliate links we will receive a small commission – at absolutely no extra cost to you.