Top 10 Things to Do in Xinjiang

Covering about 1/6 of the country’s total land area, Xinjiang is the largest administrative division in China and is located in the Northwest. Given the vast territory it occupies, Xinjiang boasts many distinctive landscapes including snowy mountains, glaciers, forests, grasslands and gobi deserts, as well as relics on the ancient Silk Road. Xinjiang is also home to the Uygur people whose folk traditions can be widely observed. The famous local food is also highly recommended. While an in-depth travel of Xinjiang might require a dozen days, while hereunder are the top 10 things to do in Xinjiang in only a few days.


Heavenly Lake near Urumqi

Heavenly Lake, Xinjiang
One of the top things to do in Xinjiang is to sightsee around the Heavenly Lake of Tianshan Mountains, which is located in the east of Urumqi. According to Chinese legend, the Goddess often showered here and is a holy place. The lake has an altitude of around 1,910 meters (6,266 ft) so it is very cool in the summer. The snowy Bogda Peak and the cluster of spruces surrounding the lake can often be seen in the reflections on the water. A wander around this beautiful lake will also give you the chance to immerse yourself amongst the picturesque forests in this enchanting landscape. Alternatively you can take a boat trip to explore the scenery. If you plan to take the boat, it is advised to wear a coat as the water in the lake is pretty cold.  

 Recommended Tour:  4 Days Urumqi & Turpan Tour from $719

Kanas Nature Reserve

Kanas Nature Reserve, Xinjiang
Located in Burqin County of Altay, Kanas is called the ‘Pearl of Northern Xinjiang’. With a spectacular scenic area featuring various landscapes, lakes, rivers, glaciers, forests, and grasslands, Kanas Lake is the highlight you cannot miss: clear and tranquil water surrounded by the primeval forest of spruces, firs, and larches. The color of the water even changes according to different seasons and weathers. What’s more, this is one of the must-see places in Xinjiang especially for outdoor activity enthusiasts, for the classical hiking routes connecting Kanas Lake, Hemu Village, Bahaba Villlage, and Keketuohai National Park.

 Recommended Tour with Kanas & Sayram Lake:  Fairyland Kanas Lake Discovery from $1359

Sayram Lake

Sayram Lake, Ili
As the largest alpine lake in Xinjiang, Sayram Lake is 600 km (370 miles) west of Urumqi. Visiting Sayram Lake is one of the top things to do in Xinjiang in summer. The great snowy mountains west of the lake can also offer a cooling effect on the hottest days while near the lake, wild flowers bloom aplenty on the exuberant grasslands. Some historic relics and a casual horse ride are also worth trying out.

Bayanbulak Grassland

Bayanbulak Grassland
Bayanbulak Grassland is the second largest grassland in China, a typical meadow steppe dotted with cattle and sheep. Over the years, the abundant rainfall has brought the grassland lush plants and several rivers wind through the grassland surrounded by rolling hills. The Bayanbulak Grassland also features the Swan Lake, which resembles a pearl on the grassland. Every year, from June to September, many swans come here to breed and rest, giving you an opportunity to view these beautiful animals, which is one of the best things to do in Xinjiang. Another favorite place amongst photographers is an observation platform where you can see the Kaidu River winding through the grassland under the sunshine.

 Recommended Tour with Bayanbulak & Nalati Grasslands:
 11 Days Urumqi - Yining - Kuqa - Korla - Turpan

Nalati Grassland in Ili

Nalati Grassland, Xinjiang
As one of the four subalpine meadows in the world, Nalati Grassland is definitely one of the must-visit places in Xinjiang. It is located on the northern slope of the Nalati Mountain and it has been a famous pasture from ancient time. The best time to visit the grassland is from June to September, when the peaks, deep gorges and forests form a beautiful picture. What’s more, you will have the chance to experience the local customs of the Kazak ethic group while enjoying this charming landscape.

Xinjiang International Grand Bazaar

Xinjiang International Grand Bazaar
Visiting International Grand Bazaar must be added on your list of top 10 things to do in Xinjiang. As the largest bazaar in China, it is located in Urumqi and full of fine commodities like dried fruits, garments, essential oils, and exquisite handcrafts. Meanwhile, you cannot miss the tasty local snacks and dishes. Aside from the market, the buildings in the bazaar exhibit a magnificent Islamic style, especially the Sightseeing Tower in the center of the square. Many painted stories about the Silk Road are displayed inside and if you ascend to the top of the tower, you will find a stunning view over the city.

Takla Makan Desert

Takla Makan Desert, Xinjiang
The Takla Makan Desert is the world's second largest shifting-sand desert and the largest desert in China. This desert is also called 'the Sea of Death' because of the danger and mystery which surround it. One of the top things to do in Xinjiang should be traversing Takla Makan via the world's longest highway across the desert. The golden season to travel is from late October to mid-November since there are less sand storms and mosquitoes during this period. Meanwhile, the leaves of poplar trees along the way are becoming golden, and you will surely enjoy an unforgettable experience.

 Recommended Tour to the Desert:  22 Days China Tour of Silk Road from $5102

Kashgar Old Town

Abakh Khoja Tomb, Kashgar
One of the best things to do in Xinjiang is to stroll around the Kashgar Old Town and explore the Uygur culture and customs. With several hundred years’ history, the old town has become a representative of Kashgar culture and you can appreciate numerous buildings in Islamic and Uygur styles. Besides enjoying this colorful town, you can visit some popular attractions such as the Id Kah Mosque, one of the largest mosques in China, and the spectacular Abakh Khoja Tomb.

 Recommended Tour:  14 Days Beijing - Urumqi - Kashgar - Turpan - Dunhuang - Xi'an - Shanghai from $3779

Ancient City of Jiaohe

Ancient City of Jiaohe
The Ancient City of Jiaohe was a prosperous city founded 2,300 years ago, which is a must-see place near Turpan. It is the most complete ancient urban relic in China and has three sections containing grand monasteries, magnificent underground official residences and manual workshops spanning thousands of years. All the buildings in the ancient city are made of loess. As you walk around, you can learn about the city’s long history and witness the vicissitudes while taking photos – although the best time for photo opportunities is at sunset.

 Recommended Tour:  13 Days Turpan - Korla - Hotan - Kashgar - Urumqi from $2359

Tasting Xinjiang Food

Xinjiang Food
Tasting delicious local food must be one of the top things to do in Xinjiang. Pasta and rice are the staple food of the local people and beef and mutton are indispensable as seen in the variety of local dishes, some of which you can try. Baked Mutton Kebabs can be found in every street. Grilled Whole Lamb is another popular dish among local people. Nang is a kind of staple food like a roasted pancake with a crispy skin while Rice Taken by Hands, is a kind of rice cooked with carrots, onions, raisins and mutton.
- Last updated on Jan. 18, 2023 by Brenda Lian -
Questions & Answers on Top 10 Things to Do in Xinjiang
Asked by EARL1950 | Apr. 18, 2019 14:31Reply
Can I travel to Khunjerab town and pass by bus without a guide?
If I have a visa to enter Pakistan do I need a guide to cross into Pakistan? Thank You
Answers (1)
Answered by Emily from POLAND | Apr. 23, 2019 00:17

Well, as I know, you can go there without a guide.
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