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Kunming Travel Guide: top things to see and do

In this travel guide, you can discover the top things to see and do in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province.

aerial view kunming

It’s no mystery that Yunnan is my favorite province in China. Kunming, its capital, is located at an elevation of about 1900 meters above sea level, and thanks to its proximity to the Tropics, it enjoys nice weather for most of the year: it never gets too hot and, when it’s cold, it’s usually only for a short time. This is why Kunming is often called Spring City.

Kunming is also the ideal starting point for exploring Yunnan, so it is often overlooked. Despite not enjoying the same reputation as cities like Shanghai and Beijing, it has a lot of charm.

In this article, you’ll find ideas for what to see and do in this lovely city.

How long should you stay in Kunming?

golden temple kunming

Two days should be enough to explore the main attractions within the city. If you have more time, you can add another few days to visit Jiaozi Snow Mountain and Stone Forrest.

Kunming can also be used as a starting point to explore the nearby towns of Mile (very underrated in my opinion) or Yiliang, famous for the tasty roast duck, beautiful cherry blossom in spring, and colorful rice fields.

Here are some ideas for a 4-day trip to Kunming.

Day 1 in Kunming

Green Lake (翠湖公园)

You can start your day by walking around and inside Green Lake Park (翠湖), also known as the “Jade of Kunming City”, originally part of Lake Dianchi. During winter, it becomes a temporary home for red-headed seagulls migrating from Siberia, making it a tradition for locals and tourists to feed them.

The park offers a pleasant environment in the summer with lotus flowers, willow trees, and a gentle breeze. While walking in the area, you will see square dances, people in ethnic costumes, and locals simply relaxing while sipping local tea. The park also features running routes, outdoor fitness equipment, charming cafes, tea shops, and unique shops.

Don’t miss the nearby Yuantong Temple, first built in the late 8th and early 9th century, the time of the Nanzhao Kingdom.

Yunnan Military Academy (云南陆军讲武堂)

Established in 1909, under the leadership of prominent figures like Chiang Kai-shek, Zhu De, and Long Yun, the Yunnan Military Academy produced many influential military and political leaders who played crucial roles in shaping China’s destiny. Many famous military leaders graduated from Yunnan Military Academy, including Zhu De, who taught at the Academy after graduating in July 1911. The museum is quite interesting, and it also has English signs. You can explore it in about an hour, and it’s conveniently located next to Green Lake Park.

Wenlin Street (昆明文林街)

Wenlin Street is a historic street near Yunnan University, not far from Green Lake. The street is lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes, and it is a popular spot for local expats.

This is also where one of the best Chinese restaurants in town is located. It’s called Heavenly Manna 吗哪, and I recommend it (don’t miss the local goat cheese and cumin beef).

Western Hills Forest Park (西山森林公园)

On the western side of Kunming, Western Hills (Xishan) is a majestic mountain overlooking Dianchi Lake. This iconic mountain is dotted with historical sites, including Dragon Gate, which offers a panoramic view of the capital. Other notable attractions include Huating Temple, known for its impressive Bell Tower, Mahavira Hall, and the ethereal Sanqing Pavilion.

To reach Dragon Gate, you can take a cable car or subway Line 3 that will take you to the mountain’s base. Alternatively, you can hike one of the many routes available. Don’t forget to visit the Art Gallery next to the cable car entrance.

Day 2 in Kunming

Naigu Stone Forest (乃古石林)

You might have heard of the Stone Forest, one of the most popular attractions near Kunming, but few people visit the nearby Naigu Stone Forest.

The rock formations are slightly darker in color, but the views are equally stunning. The advantage of this place is that it is way less crowded.

A nice path will take you around and inside the peaks. Remember that summer can get quite hot, so if possible, head there in the morning before the UV rays become unbearable.

Getting to the Stone Forest is relatively easy since there is a High-Speed train from Kunming. It takes about 30 minutes to arrive there. Then you can take a local bus or taxi to the entrance. It’s the same area where the Jiuxan Caves are located (here is my guide).

Zhuanxin Farmers Market (篆新农贸市场)

After visiting the Stone Forest, head back to Kunming and visit one of the biggest markets in town: Zhuanxin Farmers Market (篆新农贸市场). The easiest way to get there is by subway: get off at the Panjiawan station (Line 3 exit A) and walk south. After about 15 minutes, you’ll see the Zhuanxin Market.

Even after spending years in China, I’m still happy to explore local markets. I can always find something new or weird to eat that I have never seen before. Markets in Kunming are a great place to explore since Yunnan has a lot of unique vegetables and fruits that are rare in other parts of Asia or China. You will not be disappointed.

Dounan Flower Market (斗南花卉市场)

If you are not too tired, in the evening, you can head South of Kunming and explore one of the biggest flower markets in Asia: Dounan. Getting there is easy since a new subway line connects the market entrance. Take the subway (Line 4) and exit at Jingui Jie (金桂街). The Dounan Subway stop is farther from the market, so I don’t recommend it.

The market is open for retailers from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm and from 8:00 pm to 2:00 am for wholesales.

Day 3 in Kunming

Guandu Old Town (官渡古镇)

Despite the name, the Guandu Old Town is not that old: only a few original buildings are still standing, and the rest have been completely rebuilt. It’s a nice place to spend a few hours watching residents hanging out, playing majiang, singing, and dancing.

Yunnan Provincial Museum (云南省博物馆)

Provincial Museums are, in my experience, some of the best in China, and the one in Yunnan is no exception. This one hosts over 200.000 artifacts that will help you discover the history of Yunnan and its diverse minorities.

You can easily spend a few hours wandering around the many exhibitions.

Kunming Waterfall Park (昆明瀑布公园)

Officially opened in 2016, this artificial waterfall park is exciting to visit if you have some spare time. The water is pumped in from the Niulan River as a subsidiary part of the massive Dian Zhong Water Diversion Project (滇中引水工程). The water ends up in Dianchi Lake and is expected to help add fresh, clean water to the polluted Dianchi Lake.

According to the local news, the waterfall is 400 meters wide. It certainly is impressive, considering that it’s completely artificial.

Day 4 in Kunming

Jiaozi Snow Mountain (轿子雪山)

You can spend the last day in Kunming visiting the tallest mountain in the municipality. With an elevation of 4247 meters, Jiaozi Snow Mountain gets its name from the shape of the peaks that supposedly look like a sedan chair.

Jiaozi Snow Mountain is a magical place. It’s covered in pure white snow with stunning icefalls in winter and spring. But come summer and autumn, you’ll find fragrant azalea flowers blooming, with bees buzzing and butterflies dancing around.

Keep in mind that during winter, it can be pretty overcrowded with people eager to see the snow. The mountain’s glacial period is from the end of November to the following March, and the snow can get up to 2.0 meters deep. Like many similar places in China, there is a wooden platform where you can walk to the top, so there is no need to bring hiking equipment.

At the moment it’s impossible to get to the mountain by train. Your best option is to take a bus from North Bus Station to Zhuanlong Town and then hire a private car to Jiaozi Snow Mountain.

When is the best time to visit Kunming?

jacaranda yunnan kunming 2

The best time to visit Kunming is generally during the spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November), although thanks to its pleasant weather, it never gets too hot or cold. If you decide to visit around the end of April, you will see the beautiful Jacaranda flowers in full bloom.

Where to stay in Kunming?

There is no lack of accommodations in Kunming, but if you want to experience the city’s rich cultural heritage and captivating fusion of East and West, consider staying at the Moon & Chalice Boutique Hotel.

Nestled in the heart of the city’s old street area, this newly opened hotel occupies two iconic buildings that pay homage to Kunming’s history. From the beautifully restored chalice-shaped structures to the hand-picked European antiques that grace the interior, every detail reflects a deep commitment to preserving the city’s historical legacy.

This structure is also conveniently located in the city center, only 5 minutes from the Wuyilu subway station: recommended.

If your next destination after a few days in Kunming is Dali, don’t forget to check my travel guide.

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