Located in the north-west of Yunnan Province in south-west China, Lijiang is the perfect blend of magnificent scenery, historical sites and cultural diversity. The Old Town of Lijiang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts visitors from around the globe.
The Old Town dates back to over 800 years and it's the main tourist attraction in Lijiang. It's made up of three separate areas: Dayan Old Town, the Baisha housing cluster and the Shuhe housing clusters. It's noted for its traditional-style buildings, narrow cobbled streets, beautiful bridges and canals and landmarks like Black Dragon Pond.
Snow-capped mountains, crystal clear lakes and dramatic gorges, Lijiang is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Climb or take a cable car to the top of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the Northern Hemisphere's most southerly snow-capped peak outside of the Andes. Or, visit Tiger Leaping Gorge east of the Tibetan Plateau, it's one of China's most famous hiking routes.
Lijiang was an important stop on the Ancient Tea Horse Road - a trade route between Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces and Tibet from the 6th to the early 20th century - and a cultural melting pot. Baisha district is the Naxi people's oldest settlement, and Bai, Han, Yi and Tibetan influences can also be seen all over the city today.
Enjoy a cocktail in one of the Old Town's many bars such as Sakura Bar, A Meter of Sunshine or Riding Alone for a Thousand Miles. Alternatively, visit one of the city's teahouses or coffee shops such as the Yuncha Gong Teahouse or Two Cats Coffee.
Rent a car and see some of south-western China's most amazing sights. Make the 124-mile drive to Lugu Lake on the border of Sichuan Province for clear, calm waters, scenic islands and peninsulas. It's home to the Mosuo people, a matriarchal settlement that's often called the "Kingdom of Women".
A gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lijiang's Old Town draws millions of visitors every year thanks to its stunning, hardly touched architecture that reaches back a thousand years. Cross-hatched by canals which served as the old city's water supply, it's focused around Market Square, and a series of pools where the water collected, allowing locals to wash food, clothes, and generally cool off. Expect regular Dongjing music performances featuring traditional Yunnanese instruments, and plenty of chances to pick up copperware souvenirs.
Soaring 5,500 meters above the city, Yùlóng Xuěshān doesn't look very accessible from the valley below and it's true that for some people it's just an awe-inspiring sight and photo opportunity. However, you can join tour buses in the center of Linjiang that ascend the mountain's slopes, while chairlifts take visitors even further into the clouds. At 4,500 meters, you'll come face to face with a sizable glacier, while further down the slopes, Blue Moon Lake and White Water River are notable beauty spots, but it's all extremely picturesque. Dress up warm if you're heading for the glacier, though.
The commercial center of Lijiang, Zhongye can be found in the Old Town, where it's been a livestock and copper mart for over 1,000 years. When you head there, you really get a sense that the kind of transactions you see have been ongoing for generations, although nothing's to stop you joining in with a spot of haggling. The complex is vast, but you won't be able to miss the forest of street food sellers, offering everything from tofu curries to pig's heads, freshly picked mandarin oranges and noodle bowls. And if you want high-quality wool, it's definitely the place to be.
In English "Jade Spring Park", Yu Quan Gong Yuan is most famous for one sight: the sublimely beautiful Black Dragon Pool. While the pool itself is elegantly shaped and complemented by the obligatory stone bridge and pagoda, it's the setting which makes the biggest impression. Behind the park, Yulong rises in all of its glory, creating one of the world's greatest photo opportunities. However, try to tear yourself away from the view and duck into the Dongba Culture Museum, which has some engaging ancient documents made by the distinctive local culture.
This mansion can be found in the southwestern part of the Old Town, and is a must-see during your tour of the city center. Mu wasn't just any old guy. In fact, the name refers to the Mu family, who ruled the local Naxi people on behalf of Beijing for centuries, from around 1270 to 1850. As with many Chinese palaces, the building has undergone extensive reconstruction, but it's been skillfully done based on period images, presenting an interesting window onto the distant Imperial past.
Lijiang enjoys mild winters and warm summers, so it's a great choice at almost any time. However, you can experience all four seasons in a day in terms of the weather. Dress in layers, particularly for early morning or late evening outings.
International travelers can get ongoing flights to Kunming Airport from Beijing, Guangzhou or Shanghai. There are regular flights to Lijiang Airport from Kunming. Take a shuttle bus to local hotels for ¥20 or a taxi for ¥80-¥100.
The city has two train stations: Lijiang Railway Station and Lijiang East Railway Station. Both are well served by trains from Kunming or Dali. Travelers can then take local buses to the city center.
Roads in Yunnan Province are good but only Chinese license holders are able to drive in the country.
Buses from Kunming stop at either Lijiang Passenger Transport Service Center Bus Station in the north-west of the ancient city or at Lijiang Express Bus Station in Shangri-La Avenue.
Splash out on a luxury stay at the Pullman Lijiang Resort And Spa or the Grand Hyatt Lijiang. The Lijiang Emerald Boutique Hotel is a good mid-range option, while Lijiang Baisha Holiday Resort is ideal if you're on a budget.
Dayan Old Town - established as a commercial center during the Ming dynasty, the neighborhood's highlights include the Black Pond, the Yizi Pavilion and Guabi Tower.
Baisha Housing Cluster - Located 4.9 miles north of the Old Town, the Baisha Housing Cluster area was created during the Song and Yuan dynasties. Be sure to visit the religious complex where over 40 paintings from the start of the 13th century can be seen.
Shuhe Housing Cluster - The district is 2.4 miles north-west of the Old Town and known for beautiful traditional-style buildings that incorporate elements of Naxi, Bai, Han and Tibetan culture.
Lijiang and the surrounding countryside is covered by 10 bus lines. However, the only way to explore Lijiang Old Town is on foot as motorized transport is forbidden.
Although Lijiang is a small city, taxis are abundant and readily available. They're also reasonably cheap with fares starting at ¥6-¥7 for the first 1.9 miles and ¥1.6 for each additional 0.62 miles. It's possible to negotiate prices for longer trips.
Most of Lijiang can be reached easily on foot. However, for outings to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain or Lugu Lake it's worth renting a car with a local driver. Prices range from ¥100-300 per day.
Visit Baisha Naxi Embroidery Institute for hand-made embroidered shawls and scarves or shop for traditional Dongba carvings made from Dujuan wood at the Dongba Shop next to the Naxi Ancient Museum.
Get food and basics from local shops like Likelong Supermarket or Lijiang Wanhe Orchid Supermarket. Expect to pay ¥19 for a quart of milk or ¥9 for 12 eggs.
Head to Rice Slurp on Qiyi Street for delicious Asian fusion food made from organic ingredients, or dine on Italian and European dishes at Stream Cafe on Huama Street. A simple meal with a drink costs ¥30.