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Lijiang (丽江) travel guide: discover the top things to do

Lijiang (丽江) is one of the most popular destinations in Yunnan. In this guide, you’ll find all the info you need to organize a trip to this ancient Chinese city and the nearby attractions.

lijiang top things to do and to see

If you read my blog it’s quite clear that Yunnan is my favorite province in China: it’s an incredibly diverse place (here is my travel guide to Yunnan).

In this article, I talk about one of the most famous places in Yunnan: Lijiang. A city with a millenary history, historically busy with traders and tourists. Maybe you have never heard of it but Lijiang is one of the most visited cities throughout China.

As you can imagine, it is a place that is incredibly crowded at certain times of the year. Despite what many say, Lijiang has not become touristic in recent times: it has always been very busy! Due to its position on the Tea Horse Road Lijiang was very popular over the last few centuries.

How to get to Lijiang

lijiang black dragon pool

Since Lijiang is a very popular destination, getting there is not difficult.

The best way to get to Lijiang from Kunming is by fast train. Once you get to Lijiang don’t take the taxis waiting for the tourists right outside the train station. They are overpriced. Take instead one of the buses outside the train station: you’ll get to Old Town for only 3 RMB.

Top things to do and to see in Lijiang and the surroundings

One thing to remember is that Lijian is divided into two parts: the modern part, and the Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Fortunately, to visit the Old Town you no longer need to pay 80RMB per person. But you still do if you also want to visit the Black Dragon Pool (黑龙潭).

mosuo woman in lijiang

Lijiang is famous for the architecture of the buildings designed following the Naxi (one of the Chinese ethnic minorities) traditions, as you can see in the picture above.

In this picture, you can see a Mosuo woman. This minority is famous because it’s a matriarchal society, meaning that women are often the head of the house, inheritance is through the female line, and women make business decisions. Read more info here.

The best time to photograph Lijiang is before sunrise. The city is empty and it will be all for you.

The old town is not very big and a couple of days are enough to visit it. Ideally, use Lijiang to make some excursions nearby, including the other three old towns in the area: Baisha, Shuhe, and Yuhu.


If you are planning to stay a bit longer in Lijiang these are some of the places you can visit that are not too far away.

Yulong or Jade Dragon Snow Mountain 玉龙雪山

yulon mountain yunnan

This national park is one of the highlights of the whole area and, if it’s a sunny day, you’ll probably notice the iconic peak of the mountain while visiting Lijiang.

I wrote a detailed guide with all the info you need to visit the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Don’t miss it.

Blue Moon Valley 蓝月谷

The Blue Moon Valley is one area you can visit inside the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain National Park. It’s famous for the pristine crystal-clear water that comes directly from the glacier.

The area is very popular so if possible head there early in the morning, before the tourists coming from Lijiang arrive.

Here you can find my complete guide on how to visit the Blue Moon Valley.

Tiger Leaping Gorge 虎跳峡

Another nice trip you can take from Lijiang is to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. At a maximum depth of approximately 3,790 meters (12,434 feet) from the river to the mountain peak, Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest and most spectacular river canyons in the world. The people living in the area are mainly Naxi.

Shigu 石鼓

A short interesting day trip from Lijiang is to Shigu, just a couple of hours away, and a good place for hiking with a majestic view of the Yangtze River.

Check my article for a detailed guide on how to visit Shigu.

The old town of Shuhe 束河

shuhe old town

When you hear people talking about Lijiang and its Old Town, they generally refer to Gǔchéng (古城) but that’s not the only Old Town in Lijiang.

There is another Old Town called Shuhe (束河). This is also UNESCO World Heritage Site but has fewer tourists and is smaller than Lijiang Old Town. Most people say that Shuhe is better, it’s more authentic and it has not yet become an “amusement park”. That’s probably true, but I liked both.

Shuhe is very beautiful, as you can see in the picture above, and, though similar to Lijiang, it has more canals and the water is really crystal clear.

Baisha Old Town 白沙

Probably the last hidden gem in the area, Baisha is becoming increasingly popular among people that visit Lijiang but try to avoid the crowds.

Baisha is a lovely small ancient town, just a 20 mins ride from Lijiang, filled with cute coffee shops. Definitely worth a trip, before it becomes too crowded. Check out my travel guide to Baisha.

Yuhu Village 玉湖村

Yuhu is a beautiful village located right inside the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain park. Unlike Lijiang, people are actually living there and you won’t find many tourists. This was the home of the Austrian explorer Joseph Rock, who was the first western to write extensive literature about the Naxi people. In Yuhu you can explore a small museum built inside his former residence.

A visit to Shangri-La 香格里拉

shangri la yunnan

Lijiang is the ideal starting point to visit Shangri-La a Tibetan town easily reached by bus or (when it will be finished) the high-speed train. The original old town was unfortunately destroyed in a fire in 2014 but it has since then been rebuilt. If you don’t have the chance to visit Tibet, this is a cheaper option. Here you can find my travel guide to Shangri-La.

Lugu Lake

Lugu Lake is now conveniently connected to Lijiang via a new road and it takes about 3 hours to get there. The lake is truly beautiful, but what makes this place so unique is the local Mosuo minority, one of the last matriarchal societies in the world. I definitely recommend it.

After your trip to Lijiang, you might want to continue exploring this part of Yunnan by visiting also Dali Old Town and Shaxi Old Town.

Where to stay in Lijiang

lijiang where to stay

Although Lijiang is so popular it is possible to spend very little money on accommodation. Hostels start from 5€ per night but there are hotels and guest houses for all tastes and budgets. When organizing your trip to China I always recommend using because it has more options than

lijiang accomodation

If you don’t want to book a room in a fancy hotel remember that the beds in regular hotels and guest houses are all very hard and the rooms don’t have any heating system, even if Lijiang can be relatively cold during the night. All rooms have electric blankets though.

The funny thing is that for some reason in China, those who design the rooms think that the separation between the bathroom and the bedroom is not that important and so quite often you’ll find simply a glass.

One last tip: you can ask for a discount on the room price if you are in a guest house. If they ask you for 150RMB try to get the price down to 120/130RMB.

Final tips

lijiang by night

In addition to the information I have written, remember also this:

  • Lijiang is on a plateau at an altitude of 2400 meters so the sun is very strong. Remember to bring sunscreen lotion.
  • Don’t forget to visit the Black Dragon Pool just outside the Old Town.
  • Don’t forget to visit the other Old Town: Shuhe.
  • Before visiting China get a VPN. If you don’t have one, you won’t be able to use Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, etc…
  • The weather is nice all year round and is never too cold or too hot. However, it is better to avoid the months from May to October because it’s the rainy season and all holidays such as Chinese New Year.
  • On Momondo you can find some discounted flights to China.
  • Here’s the complete travel guide to China.

If you have other questions, please feel free to ask. Here you can find some more pictures I took in China. Here is an article about a place not very popular among tourists: the beautiful Jiuxiang caves.

6 thoughts on “Lijiang (丽江) travel guide: discover the top things to do”

  1. Thendo

    Great post! I’m excited to explore Lijiang now. This post has helped me plan my itineraries. Thanks!

  2. Henry

    Great post! I don’t see a date for the posting though. Is Shangri-la still basically just a construction site? I was hoping to travel there this summer, flying into Lijiang and then also visit and fly out of Shangri-la.Thx!

    1. Hi. It should be completed now. I visited the city about 2 years ago. Next year there is also a new fast train connecting Lijiang to Shangri-La.

  3. Oh, I love your photos. They look authentic but still charming, completely different from other travel bloggers. Thanks so much for your sharing!

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