Urumqi used to play a major role as one of the stops on the Silk Road. Today, it's home to a diverse population of Han, Hui, Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Mongols. Staying in Urumqi is the perfect occasion to discover these cultures, to explore the nearby Tian Shan mountains, the Heavenly Lake, or the Red Hill Park and its temples.
The Red Hill is one of the most popular attractions in the area with its pagoda, its Ebo stone cairn, the Temple of the Jade Emperor, and the Temple of the Great Buddha.
The Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Museum is the perfect place to learn about the history of Urumqi and the Silk Road.
The Heavenly Lake is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the Xinjiang province. You can take a boat ride on the lake or simply walk on the shore and admire the Bogda Mountains.
Spend an afternoon at Hongshan Park to visit the temple and see the city from the top of the Ferris wheel. The People's Park is worth visiting too. This Park is always busy and you can rent a row boat.
If you are interested in geology, visit the Xinjiang Geological and Mineral Museum.
Also known as the "Heavenly Lake of Tianshan", Tianchi fully deserves its title, and is located about 15 miles east of the city center, so it's perfectly accessible for most tourists. Miss it at your peril, because it's a stunner. You can take boat tours across the lake, enjoying a 360 degree view of its surroundings, although it might be more fun to explore away from the tour groups, around the extensive shoreline. Paths away from the main entrance lead to fairytale waterfalls, while yurts are available to rent for the night, which is comfortably the best way to appreciate the scenery, the quiet, and the spiritual nature of the setting.
As cavernous and comprehensive a regional museum as you will ever find, the Xīnjiāng Autonomous Region Museum does an amazing job at cataloging our knowledge of the Silk Road region, as well as its deeper antecedents like the culture of the Taklamakan. Situated in the central Bayi neighborhood near most of the major hotels, its star turn is definitely the 4,000 year-old mummy from a recently excavated Indo-European culture (dubbed the "Loulan Beauty", though opinions differ). But silks, paintings, ancient ceramics and the epic sweep of the Silk Road story make up a cornucopia of historical treasures.
Located in south-central Urumqi, and occupying a huge chunk of the city, Hóngshān Park is a great place to relax and get to know the locals. At the top of the red-colored hill which dominates the park, there's an attractive 250 year-old pagoda, which has exceptional views across town. Meanwhile, the area below frequently hosts temple fairs, folk performances and - when the snows arrive - Urumqi's customary Ice and Snow Festival of the Silk Road, where the ice sculptures are an awesome sight.
Urumqi's central bazaar is the place souvenir buyers need to head to stock up before heading home, and it's not a bad place to hunt for traditional Uyghur food, either. However, the streets around the bazaaar are slightly more vibrant in terms of street traders than the market itself, which has become a little sanitized in recent years. Still, it has plenty of stalls to peruse, and the attraction of the impressive Kalon Minaret, which can be ascended via a handy elevator to see some delightful vistas over the city.
Also known as the Southern Pasture, Baiyanggou is the finest place in Urumqi to become acquainted with native Uyghur culture. Situated around 40 miles southwest of the city center, and a 45 minute bus ride away, it's a sprawling park filled with picturesque pastures in the shadow of the Tianshan Mountains. West White Poplar Gully is the most famous area, with its narrow, forested valley, and horseback riding opportunities, while yurts in the area sell roasted lamb and traditional textiles. It's all very different to downtown Urumqi.
Summer nights can be hot and humid and the temperature can drop to -30 degrees during winter nights. The weather will be more pleasant if you plan your visit in the fall or spring.
The Urumqi Diwopu International Airport (URC) is 12 miles northwest of the downtown area. You can get from the airport to the city center by taking the airport bus for ¥15 or by taking a taxi for ¥50.
The Urumqi Railway Station is connected to several large Chinese cities, such as Beijing and Lanzhou.
There are a few expressways that connect Urumqi with other cities in the Xinjiang province and with Kazakhstan. You can drive from the Kazakhstan border to Urumqi by following expressway G312. Expressway G30 connects Urumqi with Kumul to the east and expressway G314 connects Bayingol and other southern cities to Urumqi.
The Northern Long Distance bus station is where buses from Yining and Kazakhstan come in. The Southern Long Distance bus station is connected to other destinations, such as Turpan or Kashgar.
Stay at the Hung Fu Hotel Urumqi if you want to be in the downtown area. The Sheraton Urumqi Hotel is another excellent option.
Downtown - head to Erdaoqiao Street to find Da Bazar, a building easily recognizable by its Islamic style. Inside, you will find several shops, restaurants, a mosque, and a sight-seeing tower.
Tianshan - this is where you will find the People's Park, the Confucian Temple, and the Tianshan department store.
Xinjiang Folk Street - head to the folk street to shop for souvenirs, stroll through the rock market, see some crafts and costumes at the Folk Custom Museum, and try some street food.
The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system can be crowded but it is a convenient way to get around town, and fare is only ¥1.
Taxi fare starts at ¥10 and you should be able to get anywhere in town for under ¥20.
Renting a vehicle will cost you at least ¥250 a day for a small car. There are no major rental chains in the area but several small businesses rent vehicles, such as Yicheng Auto Rental or Shenzhoufeng Car Rental.
Head to the downtown area to shop at Da Bazar or to visit the Friendly Emporium mall. You will also find the Hualin Market in the south of the city.
Da Bazar and the Hualin Market are great places to shop for fresh foods and local or imported delicacies. You will also find a Carrefour location downtown. Expect to pay ¥41 for a gallon of milk and ¥12 for a dozen eggs.
Try the chicken at Qosh Amet and eat at Bodun or Avral if you want to try traditional fare. Korgan is a great choice if you want an upscale experience. A meal at a simple restaurant will cost you ¥10, while an upscale place can cost ¥90 or more.