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China Silk Road Itineraries — How Long to Spend on the Silk Road

China Silk Road Itineraries — How Long to Spend on the Silk Road

Written by Ruru ZhouUpdated Nov. 17, 2023

The ancient Silk Road, a network of trade routes connecting China with the Western world, offers fascinating relics of history, breathtaking landscapes, and a vibrant fusion of cultures.

Whether you're seeking a quick tour to have a glimpse into the history and culture of the ancient trade route, or an in-depth exploration of historical towns, magnificent landmarks, and awe-inspiring natural wonders, our suggested itineraries ensure you enjoy the finest of one of the world's most iconic travel experiences. And they can all be custom-tailored to suit you by our team of travel advisors.

How Long to Spend on a Silk Road Journey

How long to spend on the silk Road

The length of a Silk Road tour depends on how many cities you visit. We recommend planning at least 6 days (for two or three destinations) to 3 weeks for a more immersive and enriching Silk Road experience.

A recommended itinerary for exploring the Silk Road inside China typically lasts about two weeks. If you want to cover the entire Silk Road and extend your trip to Central Asia, you would need at least 3 weeks.

If you only have one week available, it's still possible to see one area of the Silk Road. We can help you focus on the most highlight-filled regions, ensuring you experience the best that the Silk Road has to offer.

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Top Destinations to Visit along the Silk Road

  • Xi'an: the eastern starting point of the Silk Road
  • Lanzhou: large Yellow River city, home to the Binglingsi Grottoes
  • Zhangye: Rainbow Mountains and the biggest wood pagoda
  • Jiayuguan: western end of the Great Wall
  • Dunhuang: famous for the Mogao Caves
  • Turpan: an oasis city boasting a lot of ancient sites
  • Urumqi: The capital of Xinjiang is near the beautiful Heavenly Lake area.
  • Kashgar: vibrant trading post, with Id Kah Mosque and the bustling Sunday Bazaar

Silk Road travel map

11 Days on the Silk Road — the Classic Silk Road Tour

With a 11-day tour itinerary, you can cover most of the highlights along the Silk Road within China. See the iconic destinations, including Xi'an, Zhangye, Dunhuang, Turpan, Urumqi, and Kashgar. See the well-planned sample itinerary outlined below:

Kashgar old town

Days 1–2: Xi'an

Discover the Terracotta Army, and visit the Muslim Quarter, where Muslim businessmen from different countries once did their Silk Road trade. For a special experience, we would arrange a visit to a local craftsman in his home, where you can make a mini terracotta warrior with some expert insights and guidance.

Days 3–4: Zhangye

Explore the awe-inspiring geological landscape of Zhangye Danxia Landform Park, famous for its vibrant, multi-colored hills. See the largest reclining Buddha in China at Giant Buddha Temple.

Days 5–6: Dunhuang

Dunhuang was a prosperous trade port on the Silk Road. In Dunhuang, you would visit the Mogao Caves, where many marvels at the exquisite murals and lifelike sculptures that tell of cultural exchange in the Silk-Road era.

Ride a camel in the desert to experience how caravans crossed the desert over 1,000 years ago. Explore the Great Wall ruins of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD).

Days 7–8: Turpan

Visit Emin Minaret and Jiaohe Ancient City in Turpan. Also visit an old local village — Tuyugou Village — and explore the local culture.

Day 9: Urumqi

Explore the Erdaoqiao Market — the biggest bazaar in Urumqi — and see its dazzling array of goods.

Days 10–11: Kashgar

Enjoy the exotic flavors of Kashgar. Pay a visit to the Id Kah Mosque, the biggest mosque in China. Then walk along Handicrafts Street, and see an amazing range of handicrafts, including copper, metal, porcelain, and woodwork. Enjoy a cup of afternoon tea with locals in an ancient Uyghur teahouse to immerse yourself in the remote Central Asian atmosphere.

Drive along the China-Pakistan Highway, and enjoy the seldom-seen scenery of the westernmost point of China. Stop to marvel at Karakul, a sparkling glacial lake.

9 Days on the Silk Road

9 days are enough to cover the core section of China's legendary Silk Road and delve deep into its heart. The following 10-day itinerary suggestion is designed for you to experience key attractions at a comfortable pace.

Labrang Monastery

Days 1–2: Lanzhou

Visit the Bingling Temple Grottoes and sample Lanzhou beef noodles, a local culinary delight

Day 3: Xiahe

Visit Labrang Monastery — a well-persevered Tibetan monastery, and chat with Tibetan monks there. Explore the Sangke Grasslands, witness the picturesque scenery of yaks roaming the upland plains, and enjoy the sight of nomadic people singing their traditional songs while herding their yaks.

Days 4–5: Zhangye

 Visit Giant Buddha Temple — a temple built by the mysterious Western Xia Dynasty (1038–1227). Marvel at the 'Color Palette Overturned by God' — Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park.

Day 6: Dunhuang

Visit the stunning Mogao Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage site featuring beautiful Buddhist murals and sculptures. Experience the beauty of the desert as you explore Crescent Lake and Echoing-Sand Mountain, which is followed by a relaxing camel ride at sunset.

Days 7–8: Turpan

Visit the ruins of the Great Wall of the Han Dynasty near Dunhuang. Then, in the afternoon, take a bullet train to Turpan. In Turpan, visit the ancient Karez Irrigation System, Emin Minaret, and the ancient Jiaohe City ruins.

Days 9: Urumqi

Explore Erdaoqiao Market to soak up the unique atmosphere of the world's most inland city, and shop for souvenirs.

A One-Week Silk Road Itinerary

Jiaohe Ancient town ruins

If you only have one week for a Silk Road journey, we recommend you focus on the key regions of Xinjiang or Gansu. A well-planned itinerary of one week could include Urumqi, Turpan, and Kashgar — the major trade ports along the Silk Road in Xinjiang.

During such a tour, you could explore the heart of the Silk Road in a short time. A brief itinerary of the itinerary as follows:

Day 1: Urumqi

Day 2: Urumqi to Turpan (Tuyugou Village, Ancient City of Jiaohe, Karez Well System)

Day 3: Turpan to Urumqi (Karez Well System, bullet train to Urumqi)

Day 4: Urumqi to Kashgar (Heavenly Mountains and Heavenly Lake, flight to Kashgar)

Days 5–6: Kashgar (Kashgar Old City, Kashgar Grand Bazaar, livestock market)

If you have less than one week, you could focus on Dunhuang and have a deep exploration of the area: see the Mogao Grottoes, Crescent Spring, the ancient Great Wall of the Han Dynasty, and Yadan National Geological Park.

Recommended tour: Xinjiang's Best for First-Timers — 7-Day Xinjiang Highlights Tour 

2–3-Week Itineraries: Extended Silk Road Tours

With a Silk Road tour of more than 2 weeks, you could extend your trip to Central Asia or spend additional days in each of the destinations to immerse yourself in their local culture, sampling regional cuisine and participating in traditional activities.

With us, you could customize your itinerary to include extra off-the-beaten-path destinations like Tashkurgan, Yarkand, and Zhangye to get a deeper understanding of the ancient trade routes and the communities that thrived along them.

Best Times to Visit the Silk Road

Xinjiang in summer

The Silk Road becomes drier as it heads west into China. Given its extreme inland location, and since the road cuts through the desert and mountainous areas, be prepared for extremes in temperature. The temperature in Turpan reaches above 40°C (104°F) in the summer and -20°C (-4°F) in January! Winter is long and bleak in the remote west.

The best times to travel to the Silk Road are from May to October. Weather conditions are pleasant from late spring to early autumn, with an average temperature of 15°C (59°F). Although summer weather can be scorching, the heat is dry and more comfortable than in the humid tropics. 

Travel with Us for Your Silk Road Adventure Tour

The Silk Road is in remote western China. It covers a vast area and a journey of adventure there is generally long. Experienced travel advisors and guides are crucial to having an enjoyable trip and maximizing your Silk Road experience.

See our top Silk Road tours. All our tours can be tailormade to your preference.

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