Guilin, China is a fantastic tourist destination, drawing tons of people from all over China and foreign lands each year. From the bustling market, towering Sun and Moon pagodas, to the gumdrop mountains, it has something to satisfy everyone. My Guilin Walking Tour will take you around to some of my favorite sights around the downtown area. If you just walk the loop, it will probably take around an hour and a half, but there are plenty of places to stop and take in the local scenery and culture. Allow me to introduce you to one of my favorite places in all of China, Guilin!
Guilin Walking Tour Overview
Duration: 1.5 Hours
Distance: 3.0 Miles
Suggested Start: Xi Cheng Lu Kou Bus Stop MAP
Suggested Time: After Sunset
This free, self-guided Guilin Walking Tour is focused on the top sights for an evening stroll, but if you have the time, it’s worth it to do the loop during the daytime as well, especially since some of the optional, paid attractions are only open during the day. The tour is laid out in a loop, so you can start wherever is most convenient for you. For the purposes of this blog, I will be starting on the corner of Zhong Shan Road and South Ring Road near the Bank of China Self Service Center MAP.
Guilin Walking Tour Stops
Elephant Trunk Hill
Distance from Zhong Shan Road to Elephant Trunk Hill Free Viewing Area: 0.3 miles
From Zhong Shan Road, head East on South Ring Road along the Tao Hua River. To your left, you’ll find shops aimed to catch the attention of passing tourists as well as travel agencies to help you plan your cruise along the Li River. Fish is very popular at restaurants in Guilin, so you will find that many of them have tanks and cages lining the front of the shop. You may even see what looks like a large, caged rat. These are bamboo rats, a dish enjoyed by many people from the southern regions of China.
To the right, the river weaves through the city. Once over the bridge, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of Elephant Trunk Hill, all lit up in the customary Chinese style.
Just before the road starts to veer North, there is a small area where you can get a free view of the Elephant Trunk Hill through the trees. The location is marked on most maps with GPS, but can also be spotted by the number of other tourists also looking to get that free view.
Elephant Legend Show Option
The best part about unguided walking tours is that you can take them at your own pace and find your own stops. One such stop could be the Elephant Trunk Legend Show. It is a nightly show with music, live elephants, and a great view of Elephant Trunk Hill. The ticket office is only steps away from the free viewing area and has signs in English. [Note: This is not the ticket office for exploring the mountain itself. That ticket office is located across the river.]
Show Times: (Nov to Mar) 7:35PM – 8:00PM & (Apr to Oct) 8:05PM – 8:30PM
Duration: 30 minutes plus time to explore
Sun and Moon Pagodas
Distance from Elephant Trunk Hill Viewing Area to Sun and Moon Pagodas: 0.3 miles
Continue your Guilin walking tour along the sidewalk as it heads North. On your right stretches the Li River, overlooked by trees and homes lit up in fun colors. You have the option of either (A) walking on the main sidewalk or (B) heading down to the riverside walkway.
A: The main sidewalk is a bit more exciting. There is often loud music, performers, groups of exercisers, and food carts. The food in these carts looks quite tempting and usually tastes even better than it looks. The cart attendants do have a tendency to rip off foreigners though, so remember to barter. No snack should be worth more than ¥10, with the possible exception of slices of walnut cake, which are purchased by weight.
B: There are multiple sets of stairs that branch off from the main sidewalk towards the river. These lead down to the riverside walkway. This is a more relaxing and romantic walk. You will have an uninterrupted view of the river and the buildings that line the other side of it. These river walks can be found along most of the rivers in Guilin and are definitely worth exploring during the day (if you have the time).
Less than a five minute walk will bring you from the Elephant Trunk Free Viewing Area to the Sun and Moon Pagodas. Hop across the street when the way is nearly safe and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Riyue Shuangta Cultural Park.
Walking through this park is completely free, both day and night. The walkways are well kept and clean, but they are a bit narrow and fill quickly with other walkers.
Twin Pagoda Option
It is possible to climb the stairs of the pagodas as late as 10:30PM. Although the evening view is listed as the best, the underwater tunnel that runs between the two pagodas is better appreciated during the day. The ticket office is located to the South of the lake on the bank closest to the pagodas.
Operating Times: 8:00AM – 10:30PM
Duration: 30 Minutes
Two Rivers and Four Lakes Cruise Option
Getting tired already? Or maybe you would just rather do this walking tour without all of the walking? Easy! The Two Rivers and Four Lakes Cruise is an excellent option to enjoy all the night lights of this Guilin walking tour without the hassle of walking. The ticket counter is located on the North side of the lake and will have signs in English.
Operating Times: 7:30PM – 9:30PM
Duration: 2 Hours
Pedestrian Walking Street
Distance from Sun and Moon Pagodas to Pedestrian Street: 0.3 miles
Near the northern-most corner of the lake is a small road that quickly turns into a pedestrian-only sidewalk. Following this road will take you past a bunch of small craft stalls and then into a busy pedestrian-only street filled with shops and people.
This is an enjoyable walk both day and night, but the street seems to truly come alive in the evenings. The music gets a little louder, the food stalls get a little brighter, and many of the shops put their best entertainers at the doors. I have never found myself judging anyone’s ability to clap before experiencing the shop entertainers on the Chinese pedestrian streets.
Enjoy the sights, sounds, and amazing shopping of pedestrian street. If the prices are marked, that usually means the shop keeper either won’t barter or won’t barter far. Anything else is fair game. Prices can be negotiated down to as low as 25% of the asking price, but that is with a fluent Chinese speaker who has a lot of practice. Unless you are really struggling for cash, a good starting point is 50% of the asking price, with an ending price at 75%. The locals will appreciate it.
Shangshui Delicacy Street Option
Near the center of the pedestrian street is a four-way intersection. On the right are some stick-food vendors in a small alley, where people are often crowded up, eating their purchases. Head down this packed alley. Keep an eye on the other guests enjoying their tasty and bizarre treats. At the end of the alley and to the right is the street food market. I hope you have an adventurous stomach!
It can get a bit tight inside of the market, so stay calm and remember “Bu yao le” (boo yow la), meaning “I don’t want”. Armed with your new phrase, you are ready to explore the adventurous world of Chinese street food.
If you’re interested in trying some snacks, but don’t have the stomach for anything crazy, I have a couple of suggestions. One of my favorite weird but deliciously normal foods is Omurice (a fried rice omelet topped with ketchup) from Japan. I’m also a big fan of just about any of the meats on sticks. Don’t worry, you can usually watch the worker cook the meat. It will be grilled all of the way through and topped with delicious seasonings that aren’t usually spicy. If you have a sensitive stomach, I do not suggest eating any of the raw fruit sticks nor drinking any of the raw fruit smoothies. Pretty much anything raw should be marked off the list.
For those of you ready to show off to your #instafriends during this Guilin walking tour, the collections of bugs are cooked just like the stick meats. You order a stick and the stall clerk will grill it right there in front of you. It will be well cooked and seasoned. This is great because it usually gives just about everything a crunchy, rather than squishy, texture. The scorpions and small bugs often come out crispy and salty, similar to a potato chip.
Distance from the Pedestrian Street to People’s Square: 0.2 miles
It wouldn’t be a proper Chinese city without a People’s Square. From the pedestrian street, turn left at the major intersection of Yiren Rd. To the left, you will see a large concrete park.
These squares are popular throughout China, often being some of the major transportation hubs of the city or hosting some of the more important buildings. Guilin’s square is not one of particular note. It is a large and interesting part of Chinese culture, though, and therefore worth a visit. Walk to the end of the square to the free-standing pavilion at the far left corner. It is a stairway down to Little Hong Kong Commercial Market and also the safest way to cross the street.
Little Hong Kong Commercial Market Option
This market is much larger than it appears at first glance. It actually spans the entire area underneath People’s Square and beyond! This is a great place to buy discounted items, fun trinkets, and all the beauty services you can think of. Gel nails or detailed designs will cost around 60RMB and will include a short massage. Foot massages are around 100RMB per hour and will usually include a short shoulder and head massage as well.
Distance from People’s Square to the South Gate: 0.9 miles
If you have taken the safer option of using the underground crosswalk at Little Hong Kong, you should be at the bottom of the stairs, having just descended underground. Turn left and walk under the main road of Zhangshan Middle Road. There will be another set of stairs on your left to take you back up to the street. Once up the stairs, continue heading southwest until you reach the bridge. Before crossing the bridge, take a right and join the other walkers along the lovely riverside path.
The South Gate is my favorite part of this Guilin walking tour. It would be easy to spend hours strolling along the well-lit river and lake. There are plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops lining the opposite side of the street, but along the water, it is fairly peaceful… by Chinese standards, that is.
At the intersection of the first major bridge is Gunanmen or The South Gate. It is a remaining piece of the city wall that stood guarding the city of Guilin long ago. Now it is a tourist attraction and open square for dancers and exercisers. These groups of exercisers may sneer if you try to take their picture, but are often very welcoming if you choose to join them in a dance.
(A) Long Loop: Continue along Northwest past The South Gate. Take a left over the next bridge to stay on Ronghu Rd North, then over the next (keeping the river on your left side), to Ronghu Rd South. Take a left on the other side of the bridge and you’ll be heading back towards the main road to do a full loop of the river.
(B) Short Loop: Head over the bridge directly across from The South Gate. Then take a left onto Ronghu Rd South. This will take you back to the main road where we left off near People’s Square.
Xicheng Night Market
Distance from the South Gate to the Xicheng Night Market: 0.5 miles
At this point, you will have done plenty of walking, so let’s treat ourselves with a little snack at the Xicheng Night Market. Once you have returned to Zhongshan Rd, take a right (heading southwest). Three blocks down, Xicheng Pedestrian Street will be on the right. This is a much smaller and less corporate market. All of the prices are negotiable and the food is local and cheap.
One of my favorite snacks over here are the grilled scallops with rice noodles and garlic. They take a minute to cook, but are packed with flavor. There are also plenty of restaurants, bars, and KTV (karaoke) halls.
So, continue the evening by partying the night away, having dinner at one of the restaurants at the end of the market street (there are a couple that serve some delicious sweet and sour fish), or wrap up the loop by turning left on S. Ring Road and following it back to Zhongshan. Look familiar? Good, since you’re supposed to end up where you started! You should now be back at the same bus stop you left from, only on the opposite side of the road to catch a ride back to wherever you’re staying. Wasn’t that thoughtful? 😉
And so ends my evening walking tour of Guilin, China. Although the full loop is quite long, the actual distance between the various locations is quite short, so feel free to break the walk up into two separate trips. If you do one during the day and one at night, I suggest saving The South Gate and the Night Market for the evening. The rest of the tour is equally as lovely during the day, if not as colorful.
Thank you so much for joining me on this little walking adventure. I hope you enjoy it and I can’t wait to read your comments and suggestions!
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