Urumqi, formerly known as Dihua, is the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and is situated in the central part of Xinjiang and at the northern foot of the middle section of the Tianshan Mountains. Urumqi is famous for being the most inland city in the world and the farthest large city from the sea and coastline (2500 km).

As a major hub on the Silk Road during China’s Tang dynasty, it developed its reputation as a leading cultural and commercial center during the Qing dynasty in the 19th century.

Urumqi comes from Mongolian, meaning “great”, a short form of the full Mongolian name meaning “great pasture”, as the Mongols were the last main power to control the area before the Qing conquest. Following the Qing conquest, the city was named “Dihua” (lit. “to enlighten and civilize”) by Emperor Qianlong, a name which stuck even though the Republic of China era. Following the communist revolution, the new People’s Republic of China government changed the name back to Urumqi in 1954, as “Dihua” was deemed too condescending to the ethnic minorities in the region.

The city has a population of around 2.5 million, and minorities account for 25% of the total. There are two major ethnic groups, 0.38 million the Uyghur and 2.3 million Han (ethnic Chinese). Other ethnic groups include Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Mongols, and Huis. Regardless of ethnicity, most people in Urumqi can speak some level of Mandarin. However, in some parts of the city Uyghur, a Turkic language, is dominant. Few people speak English, even in some of the large hotels. When taking a taxi, it is a good idea to have a piece of paper with the name of your destination written in Chinese. Most government signs are bilingual in Uyghur and Chinese, as are signs and menus in Uyghur-owned shops and restaurants.

Since the 1990s, Urumqi has gradually developed economically and has now served as an economic platform and transport center between China and Central Asia. Urumqi Diwopu International Airport is the largest airport in Xinjiang, with flights connecting many cities in Russia, Central Asia, and the Middle East, for example, Islamabad, Istanbul, Kabul, Moscow, and Tehran, as well as almost all major cities in China. If you choose to enter Xinjiang by plane, this airport is the first choice. If you choose to take the train, there are two major railway stations, Urumqi Station and Urumqi South Station, which stop all high-speed trains and ordinary trains from eastern China and other cities in Xinjiang. But it must be said that taking the train to Urumqi is a long journey. It takes 12 hours by high-speed train from Lanzhou, 31 hours by direct train from Beijing, and 39 hours by direct train from Shanghai.

Urumqi is a magical place to soak up the rich culture of Central Asia, and the Uyghur district, large mosque, Silk Road museum, and the lively market will leave a lasting impression. Most travelers pass through the provincial capital at some point in their circuit, and many are surprised by Urumqi.

When you travel to Urumqi, the following sites are must-sees:

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum
Chinese Name: 新疆维吾尔自治区博物馆
Location: In the city of Urumqi
Opening hours: 10h30 – 18h00 (closed on Mondays)
Admission: Free
Recommended length of visit: 2 hours

Opened to the public on October 1, 1963, the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Museum is both a space for exhibiting collections and for scientific research on the cultural relics of Xinjiang. 32,000 collectibles are exhibited here, 28 of which are considered to be of national importance.

The Urumqi Museum exhibits in its various rooms:
-Fabrics are made of silk, cotton, wool, and hemp threads, some of which date from the Song and Tang dynasties.
-A calligraphy-themed collection with examples of scrolls in different characters such as Chinese, Uighur, Tubo, Arabic, and many more.
-Wooden and clay statues as well as paper and silk figures.
-Pictures painted with flowers and birds, bronze objects characteristic of the Scythian culture.
-Xinjiang Minority Costumes and Works of Art
-A part relating to fossils from the region. The Gobi Desert is renowned for the number and quality of its fossils.
-Ancient mummies. These mummies are found in the many Caucasian-type tombs in this region, whose origin remains mysterious. These mummies were richly decorated and dressed in very colorful and comfortable costumes.

Xingjiang International Grand Bazaar
Chinese Name: 新疆国际大巴扎
Location: In the center of Urumqi city
Opening hours: All-day
Admission: Free
Recommended length of visit: 2-3 hours

Opened to the public in 2003, Xingjiang International Grand Bazaar is the largest bazaar in the world by its size by combining Islamic culture and architectural style, ethnic trade, tourism, and entertainment. It is also one of the most famous landmarks in Urumqi and Xinjiang.

Covering 40,000 square meters, the International Grand Bazaar is not only a must-visit tourist destination but also a folklore shopping center, a food center as well as a huge retail store.

The Grand Bazaar is also the perfect place to snack and discover Chinese Muslim cuisine. Here you can stock up on dried fruits, such as grapes, plums, and figs. You can also try a plate of Uyghur beef or lamb noodles, possibly with a bit of hot sauce.

Hongshan Park or Red Hill Park
Chinese Name: 红山公园
Location: In the center of Urumqi city
Opening time:
In summer: 06h00 – 21h30
In winter: 07h30 – 22h00
Admission: Free
Recommended length of visit: 2 hours

If you want to enjoy a panoramic view of the city of Urumqi, we suggest you go to Hongshan Park. It extends to the center of Urumqi and has a pretty pagoda, Zhenglong Pagoda, at its top, which is a nine-story brick pagoda.

When you go up the hill, you can see the downtown buildings below. This view, the pagoda, and the green spaces conducive to a little exercise are not the only assets of the site. There are also many bodies of water, shaded areas, a Buddhist temple, and a small amusement park including a Ferris wheel.

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