Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, is the largest city in Western China. It also holds the record for the remotest major city in the world, and most “landlocked” as it’s 2,500 km (1,400 mi) from the nearest sea. With a population of 3.5 million, it’s surrounded my mountains and desert with no city its size in 1,800 km (1,100 miles).
Forty-three ethnic groups, including the Uygur, Kazak, Hui, and Han, live in and around this city. Numerous ethnicities with different customs constitute a colorful Urumqi.
Urumqi offers fascinating music, joyful dances, sweet fruits, and a diverse mix of cultures for you to discover and enjoy.
See recommended Xinjiang tours including Urumqi
The Top 3 Things to Do in Urumqi
The Tianshan Mountains have beautiful, forested and snow-capped peaks, lakes, and glaciers like the Alps. There are also many ethnic attractions with a strong Xinjiang-folk-customs feel, like wholesale bazaars.
1. Visit Heavenly Lake in the Tianshan Mountains
The beautiful highland lake is flanked by rugged pines and cypresses and has clear water that reflects the surrounding Heavenly Mountains (Tianshan).
It is very pleasurable to take a boat trip on Heavenly Lake. See the magical colors reflected on the surface of the lake and listen to its many beautiful myths and legends.
You can hike and camp in the valley. For an extended hike, you can hike up Bogda Peak through forests and meadows. You can also hike further up and see glaciers.
Recommended tour: 7-Day Xinjiang Silk Road Highlights Tour
2. View Various Xinjiang Goods at the International Bazaar
If you want to experience an Islamic-style bazaar, you can go to the International Bazaar, also called the Big Bazaar or Erdaoqiao Market. It is especially lively on summer evenings, and you can see a lot of local and regional products for sale.
It is the largest retail and wholesale market for ethnic minority goods in Xinjiang.
One thing to note is that when you shop at a market, bargaining is taboo if you do not intend to make the purchase.
Next to the bazaar is Xinjiang Silk Road Museum. You can learn about the ancient Silk Road and about the region and its history.
3. Go to Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum is an excellent resource to learn about Xinjiang’s history and culture. The museum displays precious relics dating from four to five thousand years ago until modern times, plus diverse ethnic folk customs and costumes.
The most popular exhibit is its mummies: Beauty of Loulan, one of the world's most famous ancient corpses, is on display there.
See more on Urumqi Atrractions.
Best Times to Visit Urumqi
The May-to-October tourism high season is the best time to visit Urumqi for weather. Summer is the best season to go to the mountains. A lot of fresh fruit and vegetables are harvested and can be enjoyed in the autumn. And the Silk Road International Ski Resort near Urumqi is perfect for winter skiing.
For more detail and seasonal travel tips see Urumqi Weather.
Urumqi is the ideal place to start a tour of Xinjiang. It has one of China’s big international airports and is Xinjiang's transportation hub.
Urumqi Diwopu International Airport is about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the center of the city. Most major China cities have flights to Urumqi, such as Beijing (4 hours), Shanghai (5 hours), Xi’an (4 hours), Chengdu (4 hours), Hangzhou (5 hours), and Guangzhou (5 hours).
It is 1 hour’s journey by bullet train from Urumqi to Turpan and 2 hours’ journey by plane from Urumqi to Kashgar.
See more on Urumqi Transportation.
Accommodation in Urumqi
As the capital city, Urumqi's hotel conditions are best and options are most. Staying in the city center is the most tourists' choice, such as near Renmin Park and Hongshan Park.
When booking a hotel by yourself, please make sure the hotel is allowed to accept foreigners.
See recommended Xinjiang tours
Urumqi’s Specialty Foods
Uyghur food is generally like Lanzhou-style food (lots of wheat products, including hand-pulled noodles), but uses fresher ingredients. They also eat more dairy products.
Uyghurs like dried fruits and nuts, and a typical breakfast might be bread and tea with yoghurt, almonds, olives, honey, and raisins. All over China, Uyghurs are known for their big nutty fruitcakes that taste really good if they are well made.
See more on Urumqi Food.
Nearby Popular Tourist Cities
Turpan is a great travel destination near an extremely arid and hot desert. It is, by contrast, a very lush irrigated area, thanks to the ancient Karez Well System.
Around the city of Turpan are the ruins of Jiaohe, the Flaming Mountains, named in the ancient Chinese fairytale "Journey to the West" (featuring The Monkey King), the Astana Burial Grounds, and the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha caves, which are mostly in ruins.
Kashgar is another Silk Road city on China’s far western border just north of the Karakoram Range with the vast Taklamakan Desert to the east. Famous attractions include Kashgar Old City, Id Kah Mosque, Kashgar Grand Bazaar, and Karakuli Lake.
History of Xinjiang
Xinjiang has a tragic and interesting history, going through lots of changes of rule since the time of the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD). A Silk Road route went through the city.
The area around Urumqi has a history of interaction and conflicts of many peoples.
Relationship with Europe
Archeological evidence, like the mummies found in the Xiaohe Tombs near the far western border of Xinjiang and in other places, show that 3,000 or 4,000 years ago Caucasians lived in the area. Since no Mongoloid mummies or Mongoloid people’s artifacts have been found that date before 1,000 BC, this is evidence that the original inhabitants of the area were Caucasians. It was thought previously that Caucasians mainly lived in Europe.
DNA testing on certain mummies showed that they were related to Scandinavians, and their woolen clothing was found to be similar in make and style to clothing from the same period in Europe. The clothing and artifacts that have been studied in the last few years show that their technology was more advanced than thought possible for the region at that time.
So, in the last few years, historians have had to rewrite the history of Eurasia. It is obvious that Central Asia was linked culturally to Europe. Some mummies and their artifacts can be seen in the Xinjiang Uyghur Regional Museum.
Perhaps it was these people who supplied jade to the Shang Dynasty (1766–1122 BC), since the jade found in the Shang Dynasty tombs was known to be from an area of Xinjiang near Tibet.
When Silk Road trade started to flourish between the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) and the West, Urumqi was a trading town and garrisoned by Han troops.
It was an outpost far west of the Great Wall and the Gansu Corridor that the Han Empire controlled. Caucasian Tocharians built Buddhist temples and cities in Turpan and along the Silk Road, and they helped to convert China to Buddhism.
Tour Urumqi with Us
If you are interested in visiting Urumqi, please see our Urumqi tours below for inspiration. All our tours can be customized.
- Along the Great Silk Road — Our 11-day Xi'an, Zhangye, Dunhuang, Turpan, Urumqi, and Kashgar tour is the most selected Silk Road itinerary.
- 7-Day Xinjiang Silk Road Highlights Tour
- More Xinjiang tours
Or contact us to create a trip according to your group size, time, budget, interests, and other requirements.