When visiting the ancient Silk Road, it’s often necessary to pass through Urumqi, itself once a major hub along the ancient trade route. The city is known as the gateway to both China’s western Xinjiang province and the Silk Road, with its international airport acting as a transit point to other important Silk Road oases, including Turpan, Kashgar and Dunhuang. I recently spent some time in the city during two separate trips and discovered that though the city itself, home to over 3 million people, is somewhat plain, there are some truly beautiful sights just a short distance away (one to three hours’ drive). Here are my suggested points of interest for those planning to spend a short amount of time exploring the city’s outskirts.

Firstly, I should explain that my timing for visiting Urumqi wasn’t great – I visited during the frigid winter season, also considered “off-season,” and it was quite cold (around 5 degrees Fahrenheit or -15 degrees Celcius). I would highly recommend for visitors to the area to plan their trip around the much warmer Summer months, when the average temperature is a pleasant 73.5 degrees Fahrenheit, or 23 degrees Celcius.

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