Guilin has been on my things to do in China 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.
The area is particularly famous for the Guilin mountains – spectacular karst mountains that surround the city and are often shrouded in mist. The best way to immerse yourself in this scenery is to take the Guilin – Yangshuo river cruise down the Li River.
Other popular attractions surrounding Guilin city include the Longji rice terraces and the Reed Flute Cave.
If you are looking at what to do in Guilin, here is our round up of some of the best Guilin attractions. Guilin is not exactly bursting with child-friendly activities (it’s all about the scenery here) so all of these things to do in Guilin are equally suitable with or without kids.
Take a Li River Cruise
The Li River Cruise is the most famous of all Guilin things to do. This Guilin sightseeing cruise takes around 4 – 5 hours as it meanders down the river for 83 kilometres from Guilin to Yangshuo.
That sounds like a long time but the Guilin scenery is so spectacular that you will hardly notice those hours go by. I would recommend taking plenty of entertainment for the kids though.
Each boat on the Guilin river cruise 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 Guilin river 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 Yangshuo
Bamboo rafting along the Yulong River was definitely one of the highlights of our Guilin trip. This Yangshuo River is a small tributary of the great Li River and bamboo rafting along here is one of the most popular things to do in Yangshuo.
With older kids, you could join a longer rafting trip that takes 4-6 hours, but given that we had just got off a four-hour boat trip from Guilin with a 2-year old and 4-year old, 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 scenery of the surrounding Yangshuo mountains.
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) Guilin day tour. To get to the viewpoints for these Guilin 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! 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 Guilin
The Reed Flute Cave has been a highlight of Guilin tourism since the Tang Dynasty. This spectacular show cave is just a short drive from Guilin city centre, 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. For this reason I would definitely recommend getting a Guilin travel guide to take you through the cave.
You can visit the Reed Flute Cave as part of this private Full Day Tour of Guilin.
Seven Stars Park and Guilin Zoo
The Seven Stars Park (Qixing Gongyuan) is the biggest park in Guilin and is a good place to let your kids run off some energy if you have some spare time during your Guilin tour. However, it is not really one of the top things to do in Guilin, so can easily be skipped if you are short of time.
This Guilin park features several hills, rocks, caves, bridges and playgrounds, a collection of ancient-looking carnival rides and, rather bizarrely a family of life-sized 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 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 one of the best Guilin tourist attractions.
Our Guilin Itinerary
We stayed in Guilin for four nights. This was our Guilin travel itinerary:
Day 1 – Arrive
Day 2 – Longsheng & Longji Rice Terraces
Day 3 – Li River Cruise Guilin to Yangshuo. Bamboo rafting.
Day 4 – Reed Flute Cave & Seven Seas Park
Day 5 – Depart
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.
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).
Tips for visiting Guilin with Kids
- Bring activities for the kids! There is a lot of traveling involved for most of the places to visit in Guilin. With this in mind, I would recommend coming prepared with plenty of activities. We brought new colouring books and sticker books, as well as fully loaded iPads.
- Consider hiring a private driver/guide for your Guilin day tours. Public transport in China can be a challenge, especially if you don’t speak Chinese. As already mentioned, driving distances between a lot of the Guilin and Yangshuo attractions can be long. One day we were in the car for over five hours. For this reason, having your own private car can be a lifesaver.
- Bring snacks! If you are traveling to Guilin with fussy eaters, bring plenty of snacks with you. If your hotel has a breakfast buffet, stock up on snacks here in the morning that they can eat through the day. Also top up water bottles here at the beginning of the day.
Guilin Weather and the Best Time to Visit Guilin
From a weather point of view, the best time to go to Guilin is either March – May or September – November. At this time of year the weather is generally mild and pleasantly sunny. The Guilin temperature at this time of year usually varies between 20-30 degrees Celsius. Click here to check the Guilin weather forecast.
January and February are the least popular time of year to visit the region thanks to the unfavourable Guilin climate at this time of year. You will likely encounter rain, cloud and cold and gloomy days.
Remember that Guilin is one of China’s most popular tourist destinations, particularly with domestic Chinese tourists. For this reason try to avoid visiting Guilin during China public holidays. Particularly try to avoid Chinese New Year; National Day and Golden Week at the beginning of October; and Labour Day holidays at the beginning of May.
At these times of year, not only will prices for Guilin and Yangshuo accommodation be higher than usual, but you will also likely encounter huge crowds of people wherever you go.
Where to stay in Guilin
You can choose to stay in either Guilin or Yangshuo. We stayed in Guilin due to a) its proximity to Guilin Liangjiang International airport (40 minutes vs 1.5 hours) and b) its proximity to Longsheng and the rice terraces (2 hours vs 3 hours).
However, in hindsight I would probably have split my time between the both Guilin and Yangshuo, as Yangshuo is more charming than the big city of Guilin, and I would have liked to have had more time to hang out here.
The Best Guilin Hotels
Shangri-La Hotel Guilin
We stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel, which is known as one of the best hotels in Guilin. This hotel has the benefit of both indoor and outdoor swimming pools, an outdoor playground and plenty of lawn space for the kids to run around on.
There is also a good choice of restaurants, including a buffet restaurant with an excellent breakfast buffet, a Chinese restaurant and a western bar serving bar food.
The only downside is the hotel is a bit of a drive from the city centre, so not very handy for going out in the evening, particularly with young kids in tow.
Club Med Guilin
The Club Med in Guilin is another popular Guilin hotel for families. This Guilin hotel is filled with facilities, including kids clubs, swimming pool, sculpture park, tennis courts, not to mention several restaurants and bars and a comprehensive nightly entertainment programme.
There are a huge amount of family friendly activities here, including rock climbing, caving, flying trapeze workshops, cookery lessons, tai chi, archery and tennis and golf schools.
The Best Yangshuo Hotels
There are plenty of hotels to choose from in Yangshuo also. Yangshou offers a more charming and laidback area to stay in, and benefits from beautiful scenery too. Here are our picks of the best hotels in Yangshuo.
Yangshuo Mountain Retreat
This Yangshuo hotel is ideally located on the banks of the river and is our number one pick for hotels in Yangshuo. Combining the ethos of a simple eco lodge with some added touches of luxury and comfort, this Yangshuo hotel is popular with both families and couples.
Rooms are kitted out in locally made traditional furniture and have no TV or telephone. But never fear, there is Wi-Fi throughout and the riverside restaurant dishes up both local and western cuisine and even has a pizza oven. There are family rooms available.
Banyan Tree Yangshuo
This beautiful Yangshuo resort is where to stay in Yangshuo if you are looking for a luxurious hotel but want to enjoy traditional surroundings. Facilities include a gorgeous swimming pool, gym and spa, two restaurants and two bars.
The suites and villas are beautifully decorated, many with stunning views of the river and mountains. The two-bedroom villa would be best suited to families.
Giggling Tree Yangshuo
If you are looking at where to stay in Yangshuo on a budget, we would recommend looking at the Giggling Tree. This family-friendly guesthouse is located 5km from Yangshuo and offers a cozy and friendly home-away-from-home to guests.
Authentic farmhouses have been transformed into 24 comfortable guest rooms, including large family rooms. Facilities include an outdoor pool, bike rental and a restaurant.
Getting to Guilin
There are direct flights to Guilin from all major Chinese cities, as well as Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur and Seoul.
Guilin airport is situated 28km from the city and will take around 40 minutes in a taxi, depending on traffic. There is also a shuttle bus, which will take a bit longer. The drive from Guilin airport to Yangshuo is around 90 minutes.
It is also possible to get from Hong Kong to Guilin by train. You can either go via Shenzhen or Guangzhou, although it will take you most of the day to get there.
The high speed train from Shenzhen to Guilin (4 per day) takes around three hours. The high speed train from Guangzhou to Guilin (around 30 trains per day) takes between 2.5 and 3 hours.
The Guilin train station is located close to the city centre.
Traveling around China? You might also like our article about Things to do in Chengdu!
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