Dali is one of the most interesting cities in China and has a lot to offer. In this extensive city guide, we’ll explain what you need to know about visiting Dali!
Dali in the Yunnan Province in China is a really special place. There’s hardly anywhere else in China that you can find so much culture and history in one spot. At the same time, the city feels really tiny compared to the major metropolises of Beijing or Guangzhou. Nevertheless, the distances between the major sights are quite large, so you need a car or a driver to get around. While it’s worth it, that’s something you should at least consider before planning your trip!
It’s tough to name THE major attraction in Dali as there are a couple of different places, you should definitely see. One of those obviously is the Old Town of Dali.
While not everything here is actually old and some of the buildings were rebuilt in the last decades, it’s still a really charming place and so different to other cities in China.
The Old Town is walled in and has four major gates, which are all fascinating by themselves.
Without going too much into detail, I’d really recommend checking out all four as the building style is quite different (it’s even worth checking most of them out from both sides).
It’s not only the walled character of the old town of Dali, which makes it an interesting place. Instead, there are also charming roads, some even with little rivers flowing through them.
Once again, not everything here feels authentic (we are in China after all), but it’s still nice to stroll through the streets and see the various shops (which are not really authentic at all). What’s interesting about the Old Town of Dali as well is that there is a little church and some other interesting buildings further away from the crowds.
Last but not least, I really liked the little park in the middle of the whole maze as it was a really calming and relaxing place.
If you are looking up pictures of Dali, you surely will stumble about Chongsheng Three Pagodas Dali.
This is a really incredible monument and while not being authentic, it’s definitely one of the largest modern temple complexes I’ve seen in my life.
You can spend hours over hours here, going from one of the temples to the next.
Be aware that it’s mostly going uphill, which allows for great views, but can also get really exhausting.
However, you also enjoy really nice views of the pagodas and the temples with the mountains in the background.
I’d particularly recommend checking out the Santa Daoying Park nearby, which is relatively hidden and unknown, but really nice.
The best part about it is definitely the view of the pagodas as I’d say it’s actually nicer than the view from any point within the complex.
Personally, I’d recommend planning for at least three or four hours for these two spots.
A little further away from the Old Town of Dali (further North) is a really special place, which you should definitely see in my opinion.
I’m speaking of Xizhouzhen, which is basically what Dali Old Town would look like if it would be more authentic.
It’s a small and less touristic version of the actual old town and feels really down to earth with lots of little vendors and really tiny streets.
If you like to see more of the rather authentic parts of China, I’d highly recommend paying Xizhouzhen a visit – it’s much more authentic than for example Zhujiajiao near Shanghai.
Furthermore, not far away from Xizhouzhen, you can find another really hidden place (you won’t read about it anywhere and it’s not even on Google Maps). Instead you just have to walk through some small hidden roads with historic buildings and rice fields.
I’m speaking about the Haixin Peninsula, which is about a three kilometer walk from Xizhouzhen and is a real nature paradise.
There’s some touristic infrastructure here, what makes the place feel somewhat odd at first, but if you get closer to the tip of the peninsula, it’s just a really beautiful place.
This is how I would love China to be at every lake as the views, the calm and the natural feel of the area is just incredibly nice.
Even though it might be a little tough to get here, definitely don’t skip visiting this place as it’s a real must see in my opinion.
The ‘new’ city of Dali is actually more than ten kilometers away from the Old Town area of Dali, which sounds like it’s not really a place that has much to do with the history and charm of the place. To my surprise though, the modern Dali is quite charming, too.
That’s particularly true due to the really nice promenade, where you can even find an area built on the lake, which allows for really nice views.
Generally, this is a really nice area to go for a walk or the run and just enjoy the views of the lake with the mountains in the backdrop.
There are also some interesting artworks on the promenade, which are worth taking of a picture of.
Really interesting (but a bit tough to get to) is the Erhai Park, which is located right behind the promenade.
The park is located on a large hill and allows great views over the lake on the one side and the city on the other city.
That’s not all though as the park is really nice with lots of traditional Chinese buildings, beautiful flowers and more.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect of visiting Dali, but after I’ve been to this incredible place, I can’t recommend visiting enough. There is no other part of China that I’d recommend visiting as much as Yunnan Province and Dali is a must when visiting, in my opinion. If you plan a trip to more remote China, Dali should definitely be on your list!
Do you have any questions about Dali? Feel free to ask or share your impressions in the comments!