There are two major ethnic groups, a quarter million of the original Uyghur inhabitants of the area and 1.5 million Han (ethnic Chinese); the city has a higher proportion of Han than elsewhere in the region. Other ethnic groups in Urumqi include Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Mongols and Hui Muslims.
Regardless of ethnicity, most people in Urumqi can speak some level of Mandarin Chinese, 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.
Despite what some of the guidebooks say, Urumqi has a lot to offer and can provide a great introduction to Xinjiang.
Ürümqi Diwopu International AirportInternational flights from Almaty, Astana, Baku, Bishkek, Dushanbe, Islamabad, Istanbul, Kabul, Moscow Sheremetyevo, Novosibirsk, Osh, Seoul Incheon, Sharjah, Tashkent, and Tehran Imam Khomeini.
Regular domestic flights from Beijing, Changsha, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian, Dunhuang, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Jilin, Kunming, Lanzhou, Nanjing, Qingdao, Sanya, Shanghai-Hongqiao, Shenzhen, Shijiazhuang, Xiamen, Xi'an, Xining, Yinchuan, and Zhengzhou. Regional flights from Aksu, Aletai, Hotan, Kashgar, Kuche, Tacheng and Yining.
A taxi costs about ¥50 by meter to the city, although most drivers will try for more. Travel time is about 20 minutes without traffic. Airport shuttles are available for ¥15. The airport closes after the arrival of the last flights, and you are not permitted to stay inside the building overnight.
All long-distance trains use the Main Railway Station, 20 km northwest of the city. This includes the fast trains to Lanzhou (12 hours), Xian (plus 3 hours), Beijing (plus 9 hours) and Wuhan (plus 8 hours), and international trains to Kazakhstan via Khorgos (24 hrs) or Dostyk (30 hrs).
Wulumuqi Main Railway StationHuge modern concourse with shops, toilets and plenty of seating. Foreigners are searched and scanned on arrival. The ticket hall is upstairs. A taxi to or from downtown will cost ¥25-30 and take 20 min; the queue for taxis may exceed an hour.
Wulumuqi South Railway StationServed only by regional & local trains, some of which run on to the Main Station. Fast trains bypass this station. It's on the southwest edge of downtown so a taxi will be ¥10.
The Northern Long-Distance Bus Station is at Heilongjiang Road. Almaty in Kazakhstan (via Khorgos) takes about 24 hours and costs ¥440. Tickets can be bought at Bianjiang Hotel, room 2121 (边疆宾馆2121号房间) or at the international bus station at Nianzigou (碾子沟国际客运站). The business of clearing immigration & customs at Khorgos makes the travel time variable. To Khorgos itself is 14 hours; other destinations are Burqin (13 hr), Tacheng (12 hr), Yining (or "Yili") (13 hr). Lanzhou is a weary 40 hours, take the train.
The Southern Long-Distance Bus Station (南郊客运站) is in the southern part of city, across from Shuishang Amusement Park (水上乐园). Destinations include Turpan (3 hours), Korla (10 hours), Kuche (17 hours), Hotan (24 hours), and Kashgar (24 hours).
By carChina Highway 312 is a motorway crossing Xinjiang from Gansu to the border with Kazakhstan. Most destinations within Xinjiang can be accessed via private car. Drivers tend to congregate near the bus stations and will often approach passengers shouting their destination. Drivers usually try to fill the car with four passengers, but you can also rent the whole car (包车; bāochē). In almost every case, a car will save hours of travel time over a bus.
On footThe city center is big, and separated into different 'centers'. You can walk, but distances are large, roads are wide, and ongoing building work will block your path. Furthermore, in summer it gets very hot and in winter it can drop to -35°C (-31°F) at night.
By metroThe northern section (from the international airport to Balou) of the first line of the Urumqi Metro has just been opened. You must show ID to ride.
By taxiMetered taxi fares start at ¥10 for the first 3 km. There are also black taxis (illegal), driven nowadays by anyone, male or female. Fares for these are negotiable and they are very handy during rush hour when metered taxis are tough to come by. A ride within the city should not exceed ¥20, but the airport and main railway station will be more.
By busBus number 52 goes from the round about near the airport to the museum. Other useful routes running generally north-south are 101, 61 and 63.
The very visible BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) Buses are a quick, efficient and very crowded way from getting from one end of the city center to another. BRT1 and 2 are very useful. BRT1 runs straight down Youhau Lu to the train station. BRT 3 connects the grand bazar, People's Theater and Square and ultimately terminates with a connection to BRT1 at its northern end. Just put ¥1 in the box on the way onto the platforms and then squeeze onto a bus. These are run along a segregated busway - something of a cross between a bus and a tram.
Grand Bazaaraddress: 8 Jiefang Road, Tianshan District (天山区解放南路8号)The Xinjiang International Grand Bazaar, a traditional Islamic market area and the main Uyghur enclave in downtown – definitely worth a visit in the evenings for some food and people watching. In the summer time, the Da Bazar at night is a rather lively place, if you come just as it is getting dark you can see tight rope walkers walking from one side of two the next with the tall minaret in the background.
phone: +86 991 8855671address: 40 Bei Yi Lane, Hongshan Road, Shuimogou District (水磨沟区红山路北一巷40号)This pleasant park has, among other things, a Ferris wheel, a Buddhist temple and great views over the city. The park has a free entrance but you have to pay for some of the attractions.
People's Parkphone: +86 991-5849434address: 3 Youhao Road South, Shayibake District (沙依巴克区友好南路3号)A wonderful place for people watching. Busy at all times of day but particularly in the early mornings and evenings, with people making music, singing, dancing, playing games, exercising, doing tai chi, practicing calligraphy, in fact pretty much any recreational activity. Not to be confused with People's Park in Midong District.
People's Squareaddress: Zhongshan Road, Tianshan District (天山区中山路)A big square in the middle of town with an army monument in the middle.
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museumphone: +86 991 4552826address: 581 Xibei Road, Shayibake District (沙依巴克区西北路581号)Highlights include a few mummies on display and other artifacts. If you start your trip around Xinjiang, the museum gives you a very good introduction about the history and minorities.
phone: +86 991 4684055address: 472 Shuimogou Road, Shuimogou District (磨沟区水磨沟路472号)
Confucian Templeaddress: Qianjin Lu.A beautiful, quiet and peaceful temple. To find it follow the red wall alongside the Autonomous Regional Party Committee building north from People's Square. Take the first turn to the right and follow the road east to the end where you will find the temple. It closes at 13:00 for lunch.
Liyushan Parkaddress: No.158 Kunming RoadThe park is showing old trees from the desert, large stone trees, stones with carvings from BC and some Przewalski horses (which are rare) plus other animals. The north entrance is hard to find and just behind the Yema International Business Hotel (4th floor of the building in the back yard).
Nan Shan (南山)Picturesque mountains south of Urumqi. In summer the valleys are populated with Kazakh yurts, which accept travellers for ¥50-100 per night including food. Excellent for hiking and horseback riding. Cheap buses (¥8-25) leave for the area throughout the day from the bus station south of People's Park (Renmin Gongyuan). Particularly recommended is Juhua Tai (菊花台, chrysanthemum terrace), with plenty of food and sleeping options along with mountain pastures filled with alpine flowers. In the far south of this village is a fast disappearing glacier, the first in China to be thoroughly researched. The area is in the higher peaks in the Nan Shan range (over 4200 m/14,000 ft)and boasts spectacular views along with few tourists. The glacier can be reached after first taking the Nan Shan bus to Hou Xia (后峡, ¥12.6), and then finding a driver in the town to take you to the glacier (¥150-200 one way, about an hour). Several kilometers from the glacier are Kazakh families that rent their yurts to tourists for ¥20. Polo (fried rice), bread, kebabs and tea are also available for about ¥15 or so. Coming back, you should be able to hitch a ride for free with trucks returning to town from a nearby mine.
- South of Urumqi is the Heart of Asia Monument - a monument supposedly marking the center of the Eurasian landmass, underscoring just how far from the ocean you really are.
- Imported delicacies can be found at the Youhao supermarket in the basement of the Tianshan Shopping Center (天山百货), across from the People's Square.
- A number of stores selling outdoor gear, camping supplies (户外用品) etc. can be found on Renmin Lu, east of Nanmen.
- Hualin (华凌市场) is a huge trade complex selling almost anything you can think of. Shangmao Cheng (商贸城) is a similar huge bazaar in the south of the city.
Beware of pickpockets and watch your possessions carefully.
Confucian Templeaddress: Qianjin LuA beautiful, quiet and peaceful temple. To find it follow the red wall alongside the Autonomous Regional Party Committee building north from People's Square. Take the first turn to the right and follow the road east to the end where you will find the temple.
Qosh Ametaddress: Lingguan AlleyFor perhaps the best Dapan ji in town a famous Hui dish ( 大盘鸡, literally "Big Plate of Chicken"), head to Konsulhana Kochisi (near the large mosque across from the north end of Yan'an Lu) where you'll find Qosh Amet. For those who don't know Uyghur, simply look for the large English sign that reads "Chicken Food" and head on in. It's a three-story restaurant with a singular focus. The only choice you have to make is if you want a Zhongpan ji or dapan ji (Zhong being smaller, suitable for 2-3 people). A larger plate will run you ¥60, and is served with a side of noodles.
Local restaurants are available throughout the city, although most Uyghur restaurants are concentrated in Erdaoqiao, around the Grand Bazaar - there are plenty of restaurants on the street behind the mosque offering a nice alternative to standard Chinese cuisine. A standard price for a plate of hand-stretched noodles with vegetable meat topping (laghman/bànmiàn) is about ¥9--if you are still hungry, you can request more noodles (jiāmiàn). Melon slices also make an excellent snack, at about ¥1 a slice from a street vendor.
Among other common Uyghur foods are dumplings of mutton and onions (samsa), Uyghur fried rice (polo), dumpling soup (chuchura), meat pies (Gush Nan) and Opke Hessip (lungs and stuffed intestines) for the brave. Local specialty drinks include Kawas (carbonated drink flavored with honey) and Dogh (a mixture of crushed ice, yoghurt and honey available in summer). The best known Hui dish is big plate chicken (dàpánjī), a spicy mixture of chicken and potatoes. Personal experience leads me to recommend the following:
Bodun （博盾）address: 42 Heping Rd NDelicious and cheap Uyghur staples. Good location in the city center.
Avraladdress: 60 Shengli RdDelicious and finely decorated, Avral is also well known for its Uyghur ice cream (marozhni). This location is undergoing renovation, but their delicious ice cream shows up in other restaurants.
Dumpling Housephone: +86 13899968044For an authentic local experience, just around the corner from the Rendezvous cafe, try here. They serve a form of fried, then steamed dumplings that are very popular with the local crowd, accompanied by a hot bowl of butter milk tea.
Hui and Uyghur food can be very spicy, and it is a good idea unless you like very spicy food to tell them "búyào là de", or for Uyghurs "kizil mooch salmang!".
One warning before you go out and get local food though. Not everyone can stay healthy eating Uyghur and Hui food. Often it is cooked with a large amount of oil. Sanitary conditions are also perhaps not what you would have expected. If you have a weak stomach, or gall bladder problems it might be a good idea to try some of the other options. Or just stick to naan and kebab.
Take care if you are considering going to one of the restaurants next to the Grand Market. They will quite happily give you a 'tourist menu' where every dish is priced at over ¥1,000. You can get similar and just as nice food at other restaurants in the nearby streets for a fraction of that price.
Mid-rangeIn town there are several mid-range options available for western food.
Rendezvousphone: +86 991 255-5003address: 960 Yan'an RdAmerican-run. Also offers an excellent breakfast menu on the weekends, and their wraps are quite delicious. Try the Enchilada if you are hungry or the Burgers. They also have a great range of cakes, some say the best chocolate cake in Urumqi. For the money, the best and cheapest Western food in Urumqi.
Eversun Coffee Minzhu Rdaddress: Hongqi Rd and Mingzhu RdA trendy local coffee chain with a comprehensive western menu including several steak options. Eat and drink in a classy Urumqi establishment. Smoking is permitted, and there is live piano music some nights.
phone: +86 991 281-0025address: Nanmen MashixiaoquA Tex-Mex and classic American café. For comfort food try their fajita plates or tacos. They've got refried beans and homemade taco shells. The place is decorated with a lot of Texas memorabilia and it's somewhat of an Tex-Mex oasis there in Xinjiang. Also, they have a good selection of English books.
Vine Coffeehousephone: +86 991 230-4831address: 65 Minzhu RdA Caribbean cafe serving a wide array of western and Caribbean specialty dishes. Somewhat overpriced with small portions, but the little steaks are nice.
Edo No Sakuraaddress: 65 Guangming RdFor those intrigued by the prospect of eating sushi in the city furthest from an ocean. It is a bit pricey as can be expected. Next door is also a Brazilian barbecue restaurant, Sabbath.
Tashkentaddress: 47 Xinhua Rd S, near the Huaqiao Hotel(华侨宾馆)Pleasantly decorated Central Asian cafe (with a smattering of European dishes, as well), in the Dawan Bei Lu area. From the Number 10 bus stop, turn right at the first semblance of a road, pass a few run-down shops and suddenly you will enter a nearly new strip-mall area surrounded by fancy apartments. Keep walking about two (short) blocks, and Tashkent will be on your left. Madina, a tasty Pakistani restaurant that used to be next to Tashkent's former location, has now taken up shop on the 15th floor of the Huaqiao Hotel(华侨宾馆). Take the elevator to the 14th floor and wander until you find a staircase to the 15F. Same golden arches sign as before, albeit much smaller. The place has downsized significantly, but still features amazing Pakistani food and tea.
Ice Mountain Creameryaddress: 乌市人民路车市 H9 (Wushi renmin lu che shi H9), near the center of townAmerican-owned ice cream shop selling delicious ice cream. They have a very small window in the center of town but you can also buy it at the Texas Cafe.
There are also a number of Russian restaurants near the Bianjiang Trade Complex (边疆商贸城)on Yan'an Rd.
Han Chinese dishes places, available all around town also fall into the mid-range category.
A good local Chinese chain is Shunming (顺明), serving Uyghur and Chinese food for a reasonable price. They are open 24 hours a day and have several locations around town including at the People's Square (人民广场) and the People's Theater (人民电影院)
Vegan Yuanqi Vegetarian Restaurantphone: +86 991-8735001-8487563address: 2 Altay RdA Buddhist restaurant near the junction of Altay Road and Xinyi Road. Walk about 200 m north from the junction. On the left side of the road stands a big apartment block with two buildings. Restaurant is 50 m inside a little alley between A and B wings. The staff are charming but speak no English, the menu is entirely in Chinese.
Another option is fast food, which has become increasingly popular in the last few years. KFC restaurants(肯德基）have sprung up all around town and are at the Grand Bazaar, People's Square, Hongshan, and the Children's Park among other locations. There are also two Pizza Huts (必胜客, at Zhongshan Rd. (中山路) and Youhao Shopping Mall (友好商场)), and several smaller Chinese fast food chains--specifically Dicos (德克士) & Fast Food Burgers (百富烤霸, also known as Roast King).
SplurgeThe buffet at the China Southern Airlines Hotel is an ideal place to splurge. The head Chef is Austrian, and the food is very authentic Western fare, with some local dishes as well. Dinner costs ¥88 plus 15%, and includes tea, coffee, and a glass of red wine.
The buffet at the Urumqi Sheraton ought to be rather good. ¥130.
KorganLuxuriously decorated Uyghur restaurant. Very good Uyghur food if somewhat inflated prices.
Victoriaphone: +86 991-8555556address: 94 Shengli RdA popular hangout with hip Uyghurs, Central Asians and Russians. The dancing and atmosphere are good but the prices are high. Small beers start at ¥25 (local beer by comparison is ¥2), and most dishes begin around ¥60.
Almaly Clubphone: +86 991-2334189address: 38 Renmin Rd (F5, Xinhongxin Mansion, 新宏信大厦5楼)This Kazakh themed restaurant and club serves a wide variety of Kazakh and Russian dishes. After 22:00 Beijing time there is live music and dancing(but also a minimum expense of ¥200 per party).
Due to the city special regulations, most of the hotels, especially the cheap ones, don't accept foreigners. Walk-in can be considerably difficult and disappointing. It is strongly advised to research a foreigner-accepting hotel before arriving in the city. According to the police, foreigners are only allowed to stay in the city center; some districts on the outskirts of the city are off limits to foreigners or ethnic minorities.
Maitian International Youth Hostelphone: +86 991 4591488, +86 13999883785address: Youhao South Road 726, alongside Parkson Shopping Mall (Complete address in CN: 乌鲁木齐友好南路726号,友好百盛商场旁)In an alley to the right of Parkson shopping center (Bǎishèng). Clean toilets, hot water, Wi-Fi. Near the red light district Lanxiuyuan West Street (揽秀园西街)
phone: +86 991 4881428, +86 13809943984address: 186 Nanhu South Road 186, beside Government Plaza (Complete address in CN: 乌鲁木齐市南湖南路186号,市政府绿色广场边)A nice hostel with a good atmosphere, a nice common area and a good lawn. Laundry, travel information, free Wi-Fi and free water are available. Both the large and small dorms can be feel a bit cramped when they are full. Not clean - hallways are dingy, smoking is allowed in the building, all toilets are squatters which smell quite bad.
phone: +86 991 4509766, +86 991 7730098address: Shaybake district, Yangzijiang Rd 14, West Back Lane, near New Century Building, beside Urumqi Shaybake People's Government Building (Complete address in CN: 新疆乌鲁木齐市扬子江路(扬子江路西后巷里新纪元大厦14号,沙区政府楼后,阿罗山茄面旁巷子里)A Chinese guesthouse which doubles as a youth hostel and a brothel, with very little guests being travellers (July 2011 - most people seems to be travellers, not a bad option to the other expensive YHAs). Relatively cheap, but the rooms are small. WiFi in some rooms and fans available. Laundry ¥10 per load. The owners/managers speak no English, but can understand sign language - if you call, you may want to have a Mandarin speaker to make a booking.
Baolu International Youth Hostelphone: +86 991 3737367address: Kashi West Road 652, crossroad with Shenzhen Street (Complete address in CN: 乌鲁木齐市区新市区喀什西路652号,与深圳街交汇处)
phone: +86 991 4212000address: Youhao South Road, Jiejing Lane 11, Urumqi (Complete address in CN: 乌鲁木齐友好南路捷径巷11号)
Jimian Capsule Hostalphone: +86 991 7652495address: Changjiang Road, Dongfang Huayuan, Bldg.1 Room 1210 (Complete address in CN: 长江路东方花园1号楼1210室)
There are numerous hotels in the mid-range bracket, but they are not always easy to find as they often do not have signage at street level. Look high on the buildings where there may be a hotel sign, then find the entrance at street level. You should easily be able to find a comfortable room with en-suite bathroom and air conditioning for under ¥300.
Quanjude Tianshan Hotelphone: +86 991 853 8556address: 199 Longquan Street, Tianshan DistrictA hotel of the famous Beijing Duck chain (the restaurant is on level 2, do get the duck while you're here!), well located in the Uyghur part of town, close to the Grand Bazaar. Free wired internet in all rooms. Try the samosa and naan on the opposite street for a delicious and cheap snack during your stay.
Southern Pearl International Hoteladdress: 576 Youhao Rd S5-star foreign hotel. Affordable nearby parking & public transport.
Hoi Tak Hotelphone: +86 991 232 2828address: 219 Jiankang RdModern 5-star hotel. Broadband internet access, and satellite TV.
phone: +86 991 281 8788address: 168 Xinhua Rd NIt no longer appears to be part of Holiday Inn Group.
phone: +86 991 588 1518address: 160 WuYi RdDowntown 5-star hotel, good value in comparison to the upmarket chains. Opened in 1998 it is starting to show its age just a little (weak a/c, temperamental showers). Service is excellent however. Rooms are modern and have some character, and occupy floors 12-28 hence offer nice views of the city.
Sheraton Hotelphone: +86 991 699 9999address: 669 Youhao Rd NFive star high-rise hotel north of the city center. 2 restaurants & pool. Broadband internet access and satellite tv. Luxurious shopping next door too. This hotel appears to be no longer under the Sheraton, Marriott or Starwood brands.
phone: +86 991 453 6688address: 179 West Xihong Rd (西虹西路179号)Broadband internet access, and satellite TV. In the business district, 312 rooms, six restaurants, exercise equipment, spa, sauna, massage, swimming pool, night club, KTV rooms.
Kazakhstan has the only visa office in Urumqi. However, most holders of western passports don't need a visa for short tourist stays to Kazakhstan, or to Kyrgyzstan (their office has closed). To enter the other "stans" you may be able to get a visa in Beijing, Almaty or Bishkek, but processing times are long and they'll probably require you to apply from your country of residence.
Kazakhstanaddress: 216 Kunming RdVisas issued after two working days. Day 1: fill out application (1 Photo and passport copy needed), and get a form for paying the bill at any China Construction Bank - there's one 200 m away through the park on the right. Make payment & present receipt to embassy. Day 5: 16:00 pick up the visa.
- Tianshan Tianchi National Park (天池) - scenic with prismatic splendor. Tickets are approximately ¥140. Buses leave from the north end of People's Park every morning at 09:00. It will give you a wonderful experience of Chinese tourism with your time micro-managed by the tour guides. The bus costs ¥130 with another ¥140 for entrance to the park. This gives you lunch of a sort and a visit to a yurt village as well as to Heavenly Lake.
- Shihezi - desert city which rarely sees tourists
- Urumqi is the eastern terminus of the itinerary Moscow to Urumqi, a more southern alternative to the Trans-Siberian Railway. The trip to Moscow can take as little as 5 days.