Gansu — the Silk Road’s corridor to China — is a must-visit region for a China Silk Road tour. There, deserts, grasslands, snowy mountains, and rainbow mountains complement each other’s beauty. Ancient Silk Road culture and Tibetan culture converge.
Use this page for inspiration and to get prepared for a Gansu tour.
Where to Go in Gansu
Gansu is the seventh largest province in China and covers an area of 454,000 square kilometers (175,000 square miles). Here are its must-see cities and their key features.
- Dunhuang features Buddhist culture and desert scenery. Suitable for people who are interested in Silk Road culture, the top attraction is the Mogao Caves — a Buddhist and medieval art treasure trove. The pristine dunes and oasis are also very popular. A trip to Dunhuang needs 3–4 days.
- Zhangye features stunning landscapes. Suitable for people who like natural scenery and taking photos, the top attraction is Zhangye Danxia National Geopark (The Rainbow Mountains). A trip to Zhangye needs 1–2 days.
- Gannan features Tibetan culture and plateau scenery. Suitable for people who like Tibetan environments, the top attractions include Zhagana (a charming Tibetan village) and Labrang Monastery. A trip to Gannan needs 6 days.
If you want to explore more of Gansu, we recommend Jiayuguan and Tianshui. In Jiayuguan, you can explore where the Great Wall began in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). Tianshui has old Silk Road sites, like the Maiji Mountain Grottoes — one of China’s ‘Four Major Grottoes’.
How Long to Stay in Gansu
Typically, a trip to Gansu needs 6 to 12 days according to your interests. Here we suggest itineraries for different durations (contact us to tailor them to suit you).
A Suggested 6-Day Gansu Tour of Dunhuang and Zhangye
- Day 1: Zhangye arrival
- Day 2: Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park
- Day 3: Zhangye Binggou Danxia Landforms and transit to Dunhuang
- Day 4: Dunhuang’s Mogao Caves and the Mingsha Mountains (Singing Sand Dunes)
- Day 5: Dunhuang Museum and Yadang National Geological Park
- Day 6: Dunhuang departure
The itinerary is a two-stop must-see combo creating a Gansu tour suitable for first-time travelers and photographers. In this tour, you will experience all the highlights of Dunhuang and Zhangye.
Recommended tour: 6-Day Silk Road Photography Tour in Zhangye and Dunhuang
A Suggested 6-Day Gannan Tour
- Day 1: Lanzhou arrival
- Day 2: Liujiaxia Reservoir speedboat ride and Bingling Temple in Xiahe
- Day 3: Labrang Monastery, Ganjia Prairie, and Bajiao City Ruins
- Day 4: Langmusi Monastery (Setri Gompa), The First Bend of the Yellow River at sunset
- Day 5: Huahu Lake in Ruo’ergai Grand Prairie, Zhagana Scenic Area
- Day 6: Langmusi to Lanzhou for departure
This tour is suitable for people who like Tibetan culture and plateau scenery. Gannan has a pure, colorful feel, similar to Tibet’s: the red/white Tibetan architecture, the purple bodhi tree flowers, the golden roofs of the temples, the black yaks, white flocks of sheep, and clear blue sky.
Recommended tour: 6-Day Gannan Tour: A True Taste of Tibetan Culture outside Tibet
An 11-Day Extended Silk Road Tour
- Days 1–3: Xi’an exploration
- Day 4: Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park
- Day 5: Dunhuang’s Mogao Caves and the Singing Sand Dunes
- Day 6: Travel to Turpan
- Day 7: The ruins of the Ancient City of Jiaohe and Turpan city highlights
- Day 8: Urumqi city highlights
- Days 9–10: Discover Kashgar
- Day 11: Kashgar departure
This trip is suitable for people who want a rich adventure and to explore China’s Silk Road fully. An comprehensive tour from Xi’an through Gansu to Xinjiang will let you fully appreciate marvelous landscapes, extraordinary cultures, and authentic interactions with the locals along the Silk Road.
Recommended tour: 11 Days Along the Great Silk Road
There are not as many hotels in Gansu as there are in some big cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai. Star-rated hotels are not widely available in Gansu, most of which are gathered in Dunhuang, Zhangye, and Lanzhou.
If you want a special accommodation experience, you can try camping on the Dunhuang dunes or staying in a yurt next to the rainbow mountains in Zhangye.
We have selected some hotels in Gansu that have a good reputation among Western visitors. If you have difficulty in booking hotels, you can contact us. Our travel experts will help you select a hotel to satisfy your requirements.
- Grand Soluxe Hotel Dunhuang (five-star): best location (downtown, near the Mingsha Mountains), fine decoration, high-quality service, and plentiful facilities
- Dunhuang Hotel (four-star): a garden-style hotel located near the city center offering Chinese, Western, and Japanese food
- Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel (four-star): rooms ranging from ancient courtyard villas to modern-style Western, situated against the backdrop of the Mingsha Mountains
- Zhangye Hotel (five-star): situated in the heart of the city with lake-view rooms
- Jinyang International Hotel (four-star): Silk-Road-culture-themed hotel close to Zhangye West Railway Station
- Zhangye Culture Hotel (four-star): near Zhangye Danxia Park, offering electric cars to transport guests to the geopark
- Lanzhou Legend Hotel (four-star): located in the city center adjacent to Yellow River Scenic Area and Baisheng Shopping Center
- Parkside Hotel (four-star): convenient for exploring the night markets, cost-effective
Hotels in Gannan are quite basic. Breakfasts are typically Chinese-style (Tibetan) only, with limited or no Western food. Hotel staff might speak very simple English or only Chinese.
- Langmu Temple International Hotel (three-star)
- Labrang Civil Aviation Hotel (three-star)
- Labrang Baoma Hotel (two-star)
Best Times to Go
May to October includes all the best times to visit Gansu.
The weather in late spring and early autumn is most comfortable.
Summer is the best season to travel in Gannan. The grasslands there are at their best with thick green grass.
For more weather-related travel information, see Gansu Weather.
Lanzhou is the transportation hub of Gansu. Most visitors choose to fly to Lanzhou first and take a bullet train to other cities such as Zhangye, Dunhuang, and Jiayuguan.
A few cities have direct flights to Dunhuang and Zhangye, like Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai.
Bullet trains are the recommended way to travel around most parts of Gansu.
If you want to visit the Tibetan autonomous prefecture of Gannan, hiring a private car is the best choice, because there is no railway in Gannan.
For more transportation-related travel information, see Gansu Transportation.
Gansu people like eating noodles. You will find all kinds of noodles. The most famous is Lanzhou beef noodles. Beef and mutton are their main meats. Hand-grabbed mutton is the specialty.
Dunhuang has the most sunlight, so the melons and fruits produced there are particularly sweet, especially the apricots and dates.
In the Tibetan area — Gannan, traditional Tibetan foods such as zanba (or tsampa: roasted barley flour) and butter tea are the main foods.
Don’t worry if you can’t get used to Chinese food or have special dietary requirements. Your guide will help arrange meals for you according to your preferences.
Tour Gansu with Us
If you’re ready to tell us your ideas for a Gansu tour or make an inquiry, contact us.
With rich experience in designing and arranging Gansu tours, our travel experts can help you with professional suggestions in selecting hotels, arranging transportation, and making an itinerary to meet your needs.
- 7-Day Dunhuang, Zhangye, and Ejina Qi Photography Tour
- 6-Day Gannan Tour to Discover Colorful Tibetan Culture
- Along the Great Silk Road — This 11-day trip from Xi'an to Kashgar stops at Zhangye, Dunhuang, Turpan, and Urumqi.