Urumqi is the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, located at the northern foot of Tianshan Mountains. Its Mongolian name “Urumqi” means “beautiful pastureland”. It is the world's most inland city, also the geographic center of Asia. Urumqi is surrounded by mountains on three sides. The north is flat open plains, the east has the Bogda Mountains and Dongshan Mountains, while the west and south respectively have the West Mountains and Tian Shan Mountains. The geographic center of the Asian continent is located 30km south of the city. Urumqi is home to ethnic groups including Han, Uyghur, Kazakh, Hui and 43 others. The diverse ethnicities and customs shape the unique scenery of present-day Urumqi and Changji.
Urumqi is a fiery city – the people here are very bold, especially when it comes to drinking. You have to be honest and direct, no fake manners allowed. So be prepared to hold your liquor when visiting Xinjiang, as you’ll experience this first-hand in Urumqi. The locals are very hospitable but will expect you to keep up with them drink for drink. It's all part of immersing yourself in the fascinating culture of this ancient Silk Road city at the center of Asia.
Noruz marks the first day of spring and the traditional New Year for Turkic peoples like the Uyghurs. During the equinox in late March, when daylight equals nighttime, nomads of old would celebrate the rebirth of nature and arrival of warmer weather. For modern Uyghurs, the holiday retains strong ties to the pastoral traditions of their ancestors. Communities gather to play games, dance and feast on Noruz Köchä, or "New Year's Eve" dumplings. Brightly decorated yurts fill city parks as musicians play the dutar lute and families exchange holiday greetings. Visitors can join in activities like tightrope walking competitions, eagle dancing shows and displays of horsemanship to immerse themselves in Noruz's enduring ethnic customs. The new spring blossoms and renewed spirit of community make Noruz a cherished reminder of the Uyghurs' nomadic roots and key place in Xinjiang's vibrant cultural mosaic.
Best Travel TimeUrumqi is the city farthest from the ocean in the world, with a temperate continental arid climate. The hottest month is July, with an average temperature of 25.7 ℃; The coldest month is January, with an average temperature of -15.2 ℃. The best time to travel to Xinjiang is August and September in autumn, when the weather has started to cool and the fruits and melons are already ripe. Especially in early September, this is the time when Urumqi's photography enthusiasts are pouring out. Regular travel from May to October is more suitable, and from December to February of the following year, there are also winter tourism projects in places such as Tianchi and Nanshan Xibaiyanggou. Autumn Scenery Appreciation August is the beginning of autumn, with a refreshing breeze blowing in Tianchi Lake, which is cool and pleasant. It is a treasure trove of feng shui for summer vacation. Enthusiastic and hospitable Kazakhs have built white yurts on the vast grasslands by the Tianchi Lake, providing visitors with milk tea, milk wine, cheese, and handcrafted lamb, as well as delightful folk songs and dances. Although winter skiing has always been the off-season for tourism in Urumqi, with the increasing popularity of skiing throughout the country, various ski resorts are constantly improving their facilities. The traction track and other facilities have long been complete, and new skiing projects such as snowboards, ski circles, snowmobiles, snowkarts, snowyos, powered parachutes, and triangular wings have made consumers overjoyed. Image: Best travel time.
Religion and Culture
Urumqi is home to several Muslim ethnic minorities, chiefly Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Hui. While all three groups follow Sunni Islam, differences exist between those adhering since the 8th century versus later converts.
Uyghurs and Kazakhs are more moderate in practicing Islam than devout Hui Muslims. Many Uyghurs drink alcohol, smoke and skip prayers. Uyghur women rarely veil heads compared to Hui women.
Clothing varies - Hui don traditional Arab garb while Uyghur women wear bright red dresses and men don embroidered tunics. Languages diverge too, with Uyghurs speaking Turkic tongues and Hui using Chinese.
Festivals highlight contrasts as well, with Uyghurs emphasizing Corban Festival while Hui celebrate Eid al-Fitr. Despite discrepancies, Islam profoundly shapes Urumqi’s architecture, customs and culture. Visitors can experience fascinating diversity by respectfully observing religious celebrations and sampling halal cuisine.
When visiting Urumqi's Muslim communities, being aware of local sensitivities is crucial. Pork, dog, cat and carrion are avoided, along with meat not slaughtered by Muslims. Utensils contacting forbidden foods cannot be used. Many Muslims carry their own supplies to prevent contact.
Saying "pig" or anything pork-related is taboo. Alcohol and revealing clothing should be avoided, with women covering hair.
Men undergo circumcision rituals around age ten. Girls become official Muslims after twelve.
Inside mosques, photography is usually prohibited without payment or permission. Never photograph individuals, especially women, without consent.
Additional taboos include handshaking after washing, mentioning weight in jin instead of kg, or passing gas. Mindful travel fosters positive exchange. Experiencing sublime Islamic architecture and culture in historic Urumqi leaves respectful visitors enriched.
Driving Routes from Urumqi, Xinjiang
1. Urumqi to Yining (G312 National Highway, aka Wuyi Highway) - Runs east-west along the northern Tianshan Mountains, passing Changji, Shihezi, Wusu, Jinghe, Huocheng, Yining over 696km/8-9 hours. Buses at 9am, 10am, 11am, 12pm. Older buses with bunks cost 145 RMB, newer scenic buses cost 175 RMB. For Sayram Lake, take the 11am bus and get off lakeside, arriving around 7pm to overnight in Kazakh yurts.
2. Urumqi to Kashgar (G314 National Highway, aka Wuka Highway) - Runs southeast over the Tianshan Mountains then southwest along the northern Tarim Basin, passing Kuqa, Kucha, Aksu, Artux over 1474km/3 days by bus.
3. Urumqi to Hami (G312 National Highway, aka Lanxin Highway West Section) - Runs west to east via Turpan and Shanshan over 596km/2 days by bus. Continues east via Xingxingxia Gorge into Gansu reaching Lanzhou.
From Urumqi, major overland routes fan out across Xinjiang. Buses cover vast distances over days, often with overnight bunks. Or self-drive along mountain highways and desert basin edges, timing stops to catch incredible scenery. Just be prepared for long distances and minimal services.