Welcome to Urumqi, China!
Pronounced “Y-Rym-chee,” the city of Urumqi receives a fair amount of tourists, however, it’s still a little off the radar for most people traveling around China, except for those with layovers at Urumqi Airport. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, Urumqi's biggest claim is that they are the biggest major city in the world to be the furthest away from any ocean. Urumqi is much more than that, and as any worldwide local knows sometimes you need to scratch the surface of a city to find the best of local culture. This insider’s guide will help you do just that!
Urumqi at a Glance
Urumqi was an important destination on the silk road and being so far inland, it provides a diverse population, not typically seen elsewhere. The population has a lot of Hui people (Muslim Chinese) and Uyghur (an ethnic Turkic group), as well as Han Chinese. Most people speak Mandarin, but other languages are often heard on the Urumqi city streets. So, don’t be afraid to dive right into one of China’s most unique cities.
Worldwide Local Tip: There are many hotels around Urumqi that do not allow foreign tourists to stay there. Even many popular chains such as Super 8, Jinjiang, and Hanting, might not take in a tourist, this also applies to a few hostels, as well. Always make sure the place you're staying at, is compliant with these rules.
Don’t Miss Red Hill
As a worldwide local, you know that there are always certain symbols around the city that are important cultural landmarks. The Red Hill is one of those spots and is probably your best place to start your adventure, in Urumqi. Red Hill is, basically, what it sounds like, but the red rock of the hill is quite interesting in itself. Taking a trek uphill and getting a view of the city, makes this trip that much more enjoyable. The surrounding park area is beautifully maintained, the perfect spot to enjoy the Urumqi weather, and is also oftentimes host to performances and shows. There are also temples and pagodas that are very emblematic of Chinese culture.
Worldwide Local Tip: If amazing views are what you’re after, then look no further than “Heavenly Lake.” Tours head out to this lake, just outside the city, pretty frequently, but once there you’ll have to make a little hike up the mountain. It’s not too strenuous of a walk, and once there you’ll be greeted with a view of the beautiful sparkling lake and mountains in the background, and you’ll learn why it is called “Heavenly Lake.”
Feel Like a Member of the Urumqi Population at the Grand Bazaar
Naturally, as a worldwide local you’ll want to immerse yourself as much as possible with the locals. There are a few places around town that are always filled and busy with local life. One of the best places to do this is the Grand Bazaar. Here, in the biggest marketplace Urumqi, time feels foreign, as the bazaar harkens back to when the silk road brought exotic spices and good from far away lands. Browse through jade jewelry and scarves, as well as dried fruit and herbal medicine.
Worldwide Local Tip: Although The Grand Bazaar is the most iconic market in the city, there are others that you might overlook. The Bei Yuan Chun market is a great spot that is a little less busy and offers a lot of the same goods sold by the Uyghur people.
Eat Like a Local
Finally, after exploring Urumqi for a while you’re probably going to work up an appetite. Urumqi has an interesting food scene, as it incorporates classic Chinese dishes with Uyghur and Central Asian influence. As a worldwide local, you’ll want to try some of the local delicacies like Uyghur noodles and tea. Traditional Uyghur noodles are different than their Chinese variant, as they feature ingredients like lamb and a different variety of spices. The tea that accompanies it afterwards refreshes the palate.
Worldwide Local Tip: If you’re on the go and need a quick bite, pick up tasty nang. Similar to naan bread, this version is usually filled with lamb and onions. It’s perfect for a bite on the go but be aware that this food is very important culturally. Don’t throw it away and don’t just bite into the loaf, instead break off little pieces at a time.
Enjoy Your Stay!
Urumqi is a place, that while in China geographically, still maintains a culture that is pretty distinctly its own, which makes visiting here a truly unique experience. A worldwide local is always willing to take a chance and explore new experiences.