Dali Old Town, located in China’s southwestern Yunnan Province, was first built during the Ming Dynasty over 1200 years ago as the ancient capital of both the Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms. As home to the Bai ethnic minority, it is a historic town rich in traditions and culture. Travelers here can stroll through numerous buildings featuring ethnic Bai architecture while stopping to shop or drink tea. There are also some nice temples, old courtyard homes-turned-boutique hotels, and cafes. The design of the ancient city forms a square, which is laid out like a chess board on north-south and east-west axes, and includes 6 main gate towers (including one for each of the cardinal directions), 5 north-south running streets, and 8 east-west running avenues.
Top sites to explore in Dali Old Town include:
- Old City Gate Towers – The city gate towers, which stand like soldiers on each side of the old city, are especially beautiful at night when all lit up. The six city gate towers include Wenxian Tower, South Gate, North Gate, Cangshan Gate, Erhai Gate and Wuhua Tower.
- Anyuan Gate – the North Gate, first built in 1382. It is the closest gate to the Three Pagodas of Dali.
- Cheng’en Tower – the South Gate, also known as the Double Crane Tower. It is the oldest structure in Dali Old Town, with a history dating back over 600 years.
- Tonghai Tower – the East Gate, also known as Erhai Gate.
- Yongzhen Tower – the West Gate, also called the Cangshan Gate.
- Wenxian Tower – known as “The First Gate of Dali Old Town”, it gets its name from an inscription (“A Historic Town with Rich Culture”) dating from 1701 by the chief commander of Yunnan Province.
- Wuhua Tower – first built in the year of 856, it offers a panoramic view of Dali Old Town, Cang Mountain, and Erhai Lake.
- Old Streets
- Fuxing Road – the main street and the busiest street in Dali Old Town, linking South Gate and North Gate. The architecture along Fuxing Road keeps Ming and Qing Dynasty style and river flows through the street. The north section of Fuxing Road is mainly for selling clothes and daily goods while the south section is mainly tourist commodities and souvenirs.
- Huguo Road – better known as Foreigner Street, it features both Chinese and Western-style restaurants and bars, galleries, and shops (jewelry, tie-dye, antiques, etc.)
- Renmin Road – basically the 2nd “Foreigner Street”, also featuring many bars, hostels, and restaurants.
- Old Temples & Churches
- Wu Temple – also known as Guan Di Temple, dedicated to the famous general of the Three Kingdoms
- Dali Confucian Temple – featuring a Dali Cultural Center which tells the history of Confucius through a series of marble reliefs
- Catholic Church
- Bai Autonomous Prefecture Museum – housing over 7,000 historical, religious, revolutionary, and cultural relics of the local Bai Minority
- Rural Film History Museum – free admission
Often compared to the Old Town in Lijiang, which is also in Yunnan, Dali Old Town is actually the less crowded and more quaint of the two.
- Visited: 1996