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Xinjiang Travel Guide and Tips

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Xinjiang province has been important in Chinese history as a Silk Road gateway to the West. It was the westernmost territory of several big empires.

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is known for its Uyghur culture, beautiful natural scenery, juicy fruit and melons, and tasty Xinjiang cuisine.

Why Visit Xinjiang:

A Wid Variety of Beautiful Natural Sceneries. “Three Mountains Encases Two Basins” summarizes Xinjiang’s topographic feature. The Altai Mountains lie in the north of Xinjiang, Kunlun Mountains stands in the south while Tianshan Mountains spans central Xinjiang and divides Xinjiang into two parts - Northern Xinjiang and Southern Xinjiang. Between them are Junggar Basin and Tarim Basin. Lots of unique and magic natural beauties have been formed in and around these terrains, including mountain lakes - Kanas Lake, Heavenly Lake of Tianshan Mountains, Sayram Lake, Bosten Lake (China’s biggest inland freshwater lake), Karakul Lake, vast grasslands - Karajun, Narati, Tangbula, unique Danxia and Yardang landform, like Rainbow Beach, Urho Ghost City, wild deserts - Taklamakan Desert, Kumtag Desert, grand canyons - Dushanzi, Tianshan Grand Mysterious Canyons... Xinjiang’s diversity of natural landscape shocks all visitors.

Massive Silk Road Cultural Heritages. In history, there are many minority regimes formed and disappeared in Xinjiang. And, through the three routes of Silk Road, people from different areas brought different products, arts and cultures, met and blended in Xinjiang. Now, Xinjiang preserves numerous historical and cultural relics along the over 5000-km-long Silk Road, including 6 UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites. Main cultural attractions consist of ancient ruins - Jiaohe, Gaochang Ancient Cities, Niya Ruins, ancient tombs - Astana Tomb, Tombs of the Yarkand Khans, ancient Buddhist grottoes - Kizil Caves, Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves, etc.

Diverse Ethnic & Religious Culture and Customs. Xinjiang has been a multi-ethnic region since ancient times. Now Xinjiang owns 56 ethnic groups and mainly has Uygur, Kazak, Mongolian, Hui, Kyrgyz and other minority people. They all live in a harmonious coexistence and keep their own special lifestyle, arts, customs, food, singing and dance and culture. So, it’s fantastic to experience various authentic ethnic cultures in Xinjiang that are hardly seen somewhere else. Meanwhile, Xinjiang is a multi-religious land where different kinds of elegant religious architectures and devout pilgrims get along with each other.

A Land of Melons and Fruits. Thanks to the special geographic location and huge temperature difference between day and night, Xinjiang outputs an extensive range of tasty fruits and melons, including Turpan’s grape, Korla’s pearl, Hami’s melon, Aksu’ apple, Yecheng’s pomegranate and Southern Xinjiang’s apricot, fig, and nuts like Badam, red date, etc. You can taste at major attractions and purchase some in a local bazaar.

Abundant Tasty Xinjiang Foods and Snacks. Like diet style in Northwest China’s Gansu and Qinghai, Xinjiang Cuisine features wild and big portions. Starchy foods and Mutton are the main courses. Try some local dishes and snacks to understand the food culture in Xinjiang. Dapanji, roasted and boiled mutton are popular local meals. Meat lovers will love Xinjiang if you’re ok with the flavors. Various hand-made snacks in a bazzar and night market are also interesting things to taste. Besides, the high-quality pasture makes Xinjiang’s dairy products much richer and more tasty than others you’ve drunk. Just give yourself a bite of Xinjiang!

Most Popular Tourist Destinations

Xinjiang, with a land area of over 1.66 million square meters, governs 4 prefecture level cities (Urumqi, Turpan, Karamay, Hami), 5 minority autonomous prefectures (Ili Kazakh/Bayinggolin, Bortala Mongol/Kizilsu Kyrgyz/Changji Hui Autonomous Prefectures) and 11 county-level cities (Tumxuk, Beitun...).

Usually, people call the areas in the north of Tianshan Mountains Northern Xinjiang and Southern Xinjiang for another side. And, Northern Xinjiang, most famous for beautiful natural scenery, has destinations, like Urumqi, Altay (Kanas), Bortala (Sayram Lake), Ili with stunning grasslands, Karamay, etc. Southern Xinjiang features cultural charm in Kashgar, Hotan, Kucha (Kuqa), Shache and so on. Among them, Urumqi serves as the gateway to Xinjiang and an important transportation hub in Xinjiang. Urumqi, Turpan and Kashgar are “golden triangles” and top must-visit destinations.


Urumqi: Absolute Beautiful Natural Scenery - Around Urumqi, the Tianchi Lake of Tianshan Mountains and Nanshan Pasture shows extraordinary landscape.

The glittering snowy mountains stand under sunshine, spruce sea waves in gentle breeze, herds of cattle and sheep scattered in the vast green grasslands, aquamarine peaceful lakes surrounded by dense forests win the hearts of all travelers.



Kashgar: Long History & Rich Culture - With plentiful historical sites, like the Kashgar Old Town, Ancient Tea House, Gaotai Ancient Homes, Kashagr City itself is an excellent history teller.

Each visitor in Kashgar can feel the splendid ethnic culture and profound history in every corner and every sight, and imagine trade prosperity during the ancient Silk Road period.



Turpan: Long History & Profound Culture - Human activities can be found in Turpan as early as 6000 or 7000 years ago. It is also an important city on the ancient Silk Road. In the process of thousands of years, Turpan has gone through many ups and downs and left us many historical and cultural sites such as Jiaohe Ancient City, Bezeklik Caves and Gaochang Ancient City.

Amazing Natural Landscape - Due to its location and climate, Turpan has formed spectacle landscape such as the Flaming Mountain Grand Canyon - deep canyons with fiery-red mountain surface, and the endless Kumtag Desert.

Altay (Kanas)


Altay (Kanas): Altay has many unique natural landscapes worthy of visits as well, such as the incredible Yardang landform in Wucaitan (Rainbow Beach) and Wucaicheng (Colorful City), the exceptional geological landscape and mineral value of Koktokay, awesome snow fields on Altai Mountains and so forth.

Fairyland Kanas & Tuva Villages - Kanas is a national nature reserve and a national geopark, a real fairyland in Xinjiang famous for the beautiful Kanas Lake and mysterious Tuva villages. Kanas Lake is bestowed with sapphire lake water, lush primitive forests, grandiose snowy mountains, pretty grasslands on shores. A hiking trip through the three bays, Taiga Forest Corridor and a boat trip on Kanas Lake are wonderful experiences as the sightseeing.



Hotan: Hotan area is a multi-ethnic area with Uygur as the main group, mainly including 22 ethnic groups such as Uygur, Han, Hui, Kazak, and Kirgiz. You can experience the diverse culture of different ethnic groups here. People in Hotan are hospitable, and many of them are good at singing and dancing with national characteristics.

In Hotan, there are many ancient ruins like Niya ruins, Akspiri ancient city, Malik Awati ancient city, Karadun ancient city, Andir ancient city, Asagu castle, Yotegan ruins, and other tourist attractions, and you can appreciate some of these relics at Hotan Museum.



Ili: Ili has a large geographical span and obvious natural geomorphic characteristics. Among them, the most famous is the grassland there including Gongnaisi grassland, Tangbula grassland, Nalati grassland, and Zhaosu grassland. You can roam around on the grassland or ride a horse to gallop in the daytime and look up to the starry sky at night.

Beautiful Lake - Sayram Lake, known as "the Atlantic's Last Tears", is one of the most beautiful lakes in Xinjiang. It is convenient to reach from Ili. From May to the end of June is the golden sightseeing time here. Flowers are in full bloom on the grassland. The lake is like a pearl inlaid on the Ili grassland. 

Flowering Fields - Every spring and summer, Ili becomes a sea of flowers. In March and April, you can go to see the apricot flowers dotted on the grassland in Turgen; in June, the Huocheng lavender garden turns purple and romantic; and in July and August, you can go to see the golden rape flowers in full bloom in Zhaosu.

Kucha (Kuqa)


Kucha: Splendid History - As early as 12000-4000 years ago, there were ancient human activities in Kucha. Kucha existed in Tarim Basin in the 3rd century BC. In the Han Dynasty, Kucha had become one of the great powers along the silk road in the western regions. Since then, and Kucha has always been one of the most influential kingdoms in the south of Tianshan Mountain.

Mysterious Ancient Kingdom - Kucha, called Qiuci in ancient times, is a big country among 36 countries in the western regions. At that time, Kucha was the center of this area. The ancient kingdom and its long history left a large number of cultural relics in Kucha, such as the ruins of the ancient city, Kucha palace, and Kucha temple. The local museum also collects many valuable cultural relics and treasures which have recorded the splendid culture of Kucha on the Silk Road with prosperous business at that time.

Magnificent Geological Landform - There are many canyons around Kucha. The magnificent and steep Kucha Grand Canyon is covered with reddish-brown rocks, with strange peaks and rocks in a variety of shapes, showing tranquility and mystery; The beautiful scenery at Kizilya and the peculiar mountain peaks show the power of nature under the sunshine...



Shache (Yarkand): Abundant Minority Historical Relics and Sites - The county’s long and brilliant history has left many ancient ruins in Shache. The Yel Qiang Royal Tombs (Ye’erqianghan Mausoleum) and Shache King Mausoleum, two most famous representatives help visitors catch a glimpse of the special ancient ethnic architecture, funeral culture, economy, politics and living habits in different historic periods.

Magnificent Desert Landscape - Karasu Desert Park in Shache presents most scenery of the Taklamakan Desert - the biggest desert in China, the 10th biggest desert in the world and the world’s second-largest shift sand desert. Boundless sand dunes waves up and down like terraced mountains, unspeakable spectacular and beautiful. Riding a camel to venture deep in the desert is a very interesting and memorable experience.

Melodious Twelve Muqam of Uygur - Muqam is a set of musical traditions of Xinjiang’s Uygur, which is honored as a cultural treasure prompted by the cultural exchange and fusion on the ancient Silk Road. It is a remarkable classic music encyclopedia and a narrative folk epic integrated the creation history, rich content and various art forms. It’s a unique folk art showing the flowery life and noble sentiment of the Uygur people. Amanisa, the princess of Yerqiang Kingdom, worked with many great figures and made a great contribution to the compilation of Muqam. A memorial tomb was built to praise her efforts and dedication.

Top Tourist Attractions to Visit in Xinjiang

No other province in China has over one thousand attractions like Xinjiang. Besides, Xinjiang has 83% of total types of China’s tourism resources. That means, Xinjiang is full of points of interest to explore. Here, you can enjoy dreamy and beautiful Kanas Lake, Heavenly Lake of Tianshan Mountain, Sayram Lake, view dense primitive forests, sensational canyons, Danxia and Yardang landform, ride a horse and hike on beautiful grassland, stay in a Tuva wooden house, enjoy winter skiing in Altay, explore historical sites of ancient cities, ruins, tombs, Buddhist caves and so on. Whether you’re a nature lover or a Chinese culture fan, you will always be treated with superb visual feast and once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience in Xinjiang. >> Xinjiang Tourist Attractions & Things to Do

Kanas Lake: It’s a fairyland on the earth and god’s private garden where mysterious and beautiful Kanas Lake flows through lush forests and grassland connected shores and autumn colors are amazing.

Hemu Village: Hemu Village is the biggest and most isolated village among the three last remaining Tuva Villages. It’s so serene and idyllic when traditional wooden houses and lifestyle are kept in the original way.

Kashgar Old Town: The old town is the soul of Kashgar and a living exhibition of Xinjiang’s history and ethnic culture. It has old yellow houses with artistic decorations, criss-crossed streets and lanes and many traditional shops to explore.

Heavenly Lake of Tianshan Mountain (Tianshan Tianchi): The crescent sapphire lake with luxuriant woods around and majestic snow mountains afar is like a gorgeous pearl inlaid in the Tianshan Mountains.

Jiaohe Ancient City: The leaf-shape ruins of Jiaohe is an UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, and the world’s largest, oldest and best-preserved earth constructed city with over 2,000 years of history.

Kashgar Sunday Livestock Market: It is the biggest livestock market in Xinjiang where sheep, cattles, camels are traded in traditional simple ways. You can visit there to see the trading scenes and taste delicious local foods.

Kashgar Century-old Teahouse : Many locals love to spend leisure time here with friends in the old teahouse. You can admire the beautiful buildings, enjoy relaxing time as they do and see their real daily life.

Karakul Lake & Muztagh Ata : When driving from Kashgar to Tashkurgan on Karakoram Highway, peaceful and pure Karakul Lake with fantastic reflection of grandiose Muztagh Ata and surrounding snowy mountains are phenomenal sights.

Tashkurgan Stone City : Built on a hill, the “Stone City” was an important ancient fortress and the capital of Puli Kingdom. Now ruins of broken city walls and snecks still tell the glorious past of Tashkurgan.

Sayram Lake: Sayram Lake is a miracle lake known as “the Last Tear of the Altantic”. The high-transparency and serene lake water, green grasslands and woods ashore and distant mountains, floating white clouds, blue sky make a pure and mind-blowing sight.

Naraty Grassland: Naraty Grassland in the hinterland of Tianshan Mountains is one of the most beautiful grasslands in Xinjiang, which is praised as “A Heavenly-like Grassland in the Sky” with unusual beauty.

Karajun Grassland: Best known for the artistic “Human Body Grassland”, Karajun is a hot spot for tridimensional grasslands scenery of imposing snowy mountains, lush woods, vast grasslands dotted with white ethnic yurts.

Taklamakan Desert: Taklamakan Desert is the biggest desert in China. Currently, the most popular way to witness its magnificent wild desert is driving through a desert highway, watching different-shaped sand dunes by the road.

Xinjiang Regional Museum: Located in central Urumqi, the museum is a good window to learn the history and culture of Xinjiang with exhibitions of many cultural relics, unique ancient mummies and ethnic daily scenes.

Flaming Mountain: This place became famous in a great Chinese classic novel. It’s interesting to see fire-like red mountain ranges and experience super heat here. Surrounding local lifestyle, cultural sites and sweet grapes shouldn’t be missed.

Bezeklik Caves: It is a Buddhist art treasury with dozens of extant caves and more than 1200-square-meter murals, which proves ancient Turpan (Gaochang Kingdom) once was the religious center.

Kumtag Desert: Kumtag Desert is a desert located nearest to a city in the world. It is also the location of the ancient Loulan Kingdom. Tourists can walk on small sands, enjoy desert Jeep Safari, sand sliding and different interesting desert activities.

Id Kah Mosque: Built in 1442, the mosque is a landmark of Kashgar and the biggest mosque with the largest number of worshippers in Xinjiang. Elegant designs, light colors, beautiful architecture and high religious status attract numerous visitors.

Ili Apricot Valley: During late March to early April, boundless virgin wild apricot bloom, decorating the valley a romantic land with green meadow and those pink and white apricot flowers.

Kizil Caves: Kizil Caves is the oldest Buddhist grottoes in China, nearly 300 years earlier than Dunhuang Mogao Caves. In the numbered 236 caves, many delicate murals are left for exploration of the Buddhist culture, art and ancient lifestyle of the Qiuci Kingdom.

Xinjiang Transportation

Get to Xinjiang:

By Air: Xinjiang has the largest number of airports in China among all provincial regions. Urumqi Diwopu International Airport (IATA: URC) serving Urumqi is the most important and commonly used airport in Xinjiang. It is the air gateway to Xianjiang and an air transportation hub to Kashgar and other destinations to Xinjiang. You can directly fly from Beijing, Chengdu, Harbin, Hohhot, Guilin, Guangzhou and other Chinese cities to Urumqi, and take fast air travel from Urumqi to Burqin Kanas, Kashgar, Hotan and many other places in Xinjiang by provincial flights.

By Train: For train travelers, the most popular way to get to Xinjiang is taking a bullet train on the Lanzhou-Urumqi High Speed Railway. Xinjiang has several stops and Turpan and Urumqi are the most popular two. You can take a bullet train to Turpan and Urumqi from Gansu’s Lanzhou, Zhangye, Jiayuguan, Dunhuang (Liuyuan), Tianshui, Xining of Qinghai, Xian and Xian. Dunhuang is most recommended for an acceptable train time. If you start from other long-distance cities, you’d better drop by Zhangye and destinations en route to shorten the long train ride.

Get Around Xinjiang

By Air: Urumqi Airport has many provincial flights to other major destinations. If you’re a tight-schedule travel and travel long-distance destinations like from Urumqi to Kashgar, Kanas, you can take a flight to transfer among destinations efficiently and view the magnificent Tianshan Mountains from the air.

By Drive: Making a road trip via a private car is the most popular way to finish the regional loop tours in Northern and Southern Xinjiang. You can not only enjoy convenient pick-up, safe travel, but also have great chances to visit attractions on the way and flexibility to arrange your itinerary. China Discovery is a professional, experienced and reliable travel companion who provides all-inclusive Xinjiang tour packages including the transfer service. You’re highly advised to make full use of our services to explore Xinjiang worry free. Please note that some road trips take lots of hours, but the landscape en route is really amazing.

By Train: Xinjiang has built a railway network among major cities. But normal trains take a lot of time, which is very time-consuming and inconvenient for travelers.

Xinjiang Accommodation: Where to Stay

Xinjiang has different accommodation places, choices and conditions, depending on your trip itinerary, budget and personal preference. Major tourist destination cities and counties, like Urumqi, Kashgar and Turpan, have fairly good accommodation. You can select from star-rated hotels with complete facilities and clean, comfortable rooms, to mid-ranged hostels and local budget guesthouses. Normally, the downtown area is the best place to stay overnight. Kashgar Old Town has many unique decorated hotels. In remote mountain scenic areas, such as Kanas Lake & Hemu Village, grasslands in Ili, Sayram Lake in Bortala, the accommodation is limited, and standard hostels and special ethnic yurts with simple facilities are the main options. If you visit Hemu Village, you can stay overnight in a Tuva wooden house to experience the traditional architecture and enjoy pastoral scenery outside.

Best Times to Visit Xinjiang

People usually divide Xinjiang into two parts. North Xinjiang features vast grasslands and high mountains. While South Xinjiang features deserts and barren rocky landforms. See more on Xinjiang Weather.

North Xinjiang areas such as Urumqi, Altay, Turpan, and Ili are suitable for visiting from June to October.

South Xinjiang areas such as Kashgar, Hetian, and Aksu are suitable for visiting from August to October.

Spring is best for appreciating apricot blossoms in Yili’s Xinghua Valley and peach and apricot blossoms in Hetian, especially in April.

Summer is best for natural scenery in North Xinjiang: lush and green grassland and pastures, crystal lakes, and beautiful lavender.

Autumn is the most beautiful time in Xinjiang, especially in Kanas. You could have the experience of picking cotton. 

Winter is a good time to ski at the Silk Road International Ski near Urumqi and see the wonderful snowy scenery in Kanas. A Xinjiang winter trip is also highly recommended.

Plan your Xinjiang Tour

Xinjiang has too many destinations and attractions, that one needs a very long holiday to visit most of them. So it’s best to plan your itinerary based on your holiday time and interest and pick the essence. For first-time travelers to Xinjiang, Urumqi, Kashgar and Turpan are the three top destinations with the biggest highlights of Xinjiang, including both natural beauties and cultural relics, and about one week is enough for visiting them. Want to discover the natural scenery? We highly recommend a landscape tour in Northern Xinjiang for 1 ~ 2 weeks, covering the most representative landscape of lake, grassland, ethnic village, Danxia landform. If you’re a Chinese culture fan, then it’s meaningful and significant to make a Silk Road adventure to Kashgar, Kucha, Hotan and other places in Southern Xinjiang. The schedule can be flexibly arranged according to your time.

TTC has served thousands of customers to discover the nature, culture and history of China. With our one-to-one trip planning help, considerate and professional services of tour guide, accommodation, tickets and transfer arrangement, your Xinjiang travel will go smooth and conveniently with better travel experiences. You can choose from our most popular Xinjiang tour packages below, or contact us to customize an ideal one by yourself.

Ultimate Xinjiang Travel Guide & Useful Articles

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