Lijiang is a picture-perfect Chinese city, where traditional wooden buildings line labyrinthine cobbled streets, twisting alongside peaceful canals that are integral to the local water supply. Backed by snow-capped mountains and awe-inspiring lakes, its setting is perfect for getting out into nature. Hundreds of years of history converge in this ethnically diverse place, which was recognised by UNESCO for its historic Old Town centre. From bustling days to lively nights, Lijiang's rustic exterior hides a thriving modern culture.
You can get away from it all in a Lijiang hostel perched on a hill, or stay right in the hubbub of the Old Town moments from historic sites and bars. Lots of Lijiang hostels have gardens for guests to sit, sip a drink and share stories with fellow travellers, and some have on-site bars. Hikers will like the free breakfasts some hostels in Lijiang provide, setting you up for the day. Look for free Wi-Fi to help you stay connected in this mountain region.
Lijiang's Old Town is renowned for its authentic architecture. Reflecting the culture of the local Naxi people, it's full of exquisitely preserved arched gateways, craved beams and open courtyards. Early risers will see this part of the city before the crowds, and staying here puts you in the heart of the bar scene. For a quieter day trip, head to Baisha village to explore the 15th-century murals, or to Shuhe Ancient Town to see an early settlement of the ancestors of Naxi people and the ancient Qinglong Bridge.
A stroll around Lijiang Old Town will immerse you in both the history and the contemporary culture of the city. Head to Mu's Palace to explore the former seat of power of the Naxi kingdom. Though it's a reconstruction (the original residence was destroyed), it's an accurate representation of the 13th-century structure. The vast Black Dragon Pool is a peaceful spot where you can relax for an afternoon and explore the Longshen Temple. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain towers over the city and is of great significance to the Naxi people. You can hike to its 5,596-metre peak, and ski down its snowy slopes.
Lijiang Airport is the nearest airport to the city and receives domestic flights every day. Lots of people fly into Kunming first, then catch a connecting flight, a train to Lijiang Railway Station (then a 70-minute bus trip into the city centre) or a long-distance bus, which takes about 8 hours. Bike is the easiest way to navigate the city, though there are local buses too.