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Urumqi
Avg.Score:
 
4.0
Dining:
 
4.3
Entertainment:
 
3.5
Hotels:
 
3.8
Scenery:
 
4.2
Shopping:
 
4.2
Transportation:
 
3.8

Situated in a pocket of green on the north face of the Tian Shan mountain range and surrounded by expansive grasslands, desert basins and rugged, snow-capped peaks, Urumqi (Wūlǔmùqí, 乌鲁木齐), the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, is full of surprises for newcomers. The resident Muslim Uyghur people often look more Central Asian or European than Chinese, and their culture is just as distinct. Urumqi is a landlocked city—in fact, the world's most landlocked, over 2,500 km (1,400 mi) from the nearest seacoast—surrounded by vast areas of harsh wilderness. Yet it is also a very modern city, sporting its share of new skyscrapers, highways, gourmet restaurants and luxury malls.

Its unique combination of urban sophistication and proximity to natural beauty, along with its mix of Central Asian and Chinese cultures, makes Urumqi a wonderful place to visit, whether for its own sake or as a base for explorations of Xinjiang's outlying destinations. Get a taste of old Silk Road commerce by shopping at the Erdaoqiao Grand Bazaar, explore the history of Xinjiang and see the famous 3,800-some-year old "Loulan Beauty" mummy at the Xinjiang Museum, head into the Tian Shan mountain range for a hike or horseback ride before spending the night in a Kazakh yurt on the shores of Tian Chi (Heavenly Lake), then return to the city to spend the next night comfortably at a five-star hotel in Urumqi.

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History

Long an important stop on the northern Silk Road, Urumqi (the name means "beautiful pastures") has outlived a number of other ancient cities whose ruins presently dot the Xinjiang landscape — two of them, Gaochang and Jiaohe, are within visiting distance of Urumqi. In 628 AD, Tang Dynasty Emperor Zhenguan first established firm Chinese control of the area with the garrison town of Luntai, situated some 10 km (6 mi) south of present-day Urumqi, monitoring Silk Road caravan traffic and collecting taxes.

The city was renamed Dihua in 1763 during the Qing Dynasty, becoming the capital of the newly formed Xinjiang Province in 1884. In 1954, after Xinjiang was firmly incorporated into the People's Republic of China, Dihua became Urumqi, and with the completion of the Lanzhou-Urumqi railroad line in 1963, the city's connection to China was strengthened—an important point for the government in Beijing, as elements of the region's Muslim population have long sought independence from China. The huge influx of settlers from the east—mostly ethnic Han Chinese — has changed the cultural complexion of Urumqi and large parts of Xinjiang, but the local minorities, including the Turkic Uyghur, Kazakhs and Hui Chinese (ethnic Han Muslims), proudly maintain their identities in the face of widespread change.

Climate

Urumqi experiences hot and dry summers with average temperatures in July at 26 °C (78 °F) and damp and cold winters with average temperatures in January of -15 °C (5 °F). It's a good idea to pack for extremes if you plan to travel much outside of Urumqi, as temperatures can vary greatly with elevation and time of day, even in summer.

Xinjiang guide | Urumqi attractions | Urumqi flights
Urumqi hotels | Urumqi tours & activities
Urumqi on the China Travel Blog