Top 5 Attractions to Visit on China's Ancient Silk Road

Written by Ruru Zhou Updated Jun. 9, 2021

The Silk Road is referred to as the ancient commercial trade route, starting from China and linking Asia, Africa, and Europe. The Silk Road on the land arose out of Changan, the capital city of the West Han Dynasty. The Silk Road was an important road containing the interchange of economic, political, and cultural between the east and the west.

In the very first period, the function of the road is to transport the silk produced in ancient China. Along with the business trade, different politics and cultures also carried on the road to the other countries. Thanks to the Silk Road, Islam and Buddhism were introduced to China. Nowadays, some big relics of these religions are unfolded before visitors’ eyes. Meanwhile, Chinese ancient culture was known by some Islamic areas and some European countries.

No. 1 Terracotta Warriors and Horses in Xi’an

The Silk Road was started from Xi'an, the traditional starting city. As the old walled city in ancient China, Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi Province, is an alive example of the combining of the old and new China. In the modernized Xi’an city, noise and excitement always exist around the ancient, winding lanes of the Old Area. Visitors also can see old men smoking pipes while butchers pull their carts fully loaded with pork and beef and vendors sell their goods. 

The Terracotta Warriors and Horses is a must-see in Xi’an. The purpose of the foundation of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses is to bury the Qin Shihuang and is known as the largest scale military museum under the ground. The thousands of Terracotta Warriors and Houses were dug out when peasants were digging a well in 1974.

The six feet tall warrior stands straight and each one has its own individual features and characteristics. Some stand with a shield on one hand and crossbow and longbow, on the other hand, some hold spears, daggers, and axes in their hands at the ready attitude. They are equipped with dozens of horse-drawn carriages and enormous horses. Visitors can see most of the warriors standing in their muddy graves which are uncovered and some others still submerged in the ground.

Location: Qinling County, Lintong District, Xian
Admission Fee: Peak Season (from 1 March to late Nov.): 90 Yuan; off-season (the rest of the year): 65 Yuan. Students with a student identity card: 45 yuan
Opening Hours: 7:30am-17:30pm (from 16 March to 14 Nov.); 8:00am-17:00pm (from 15 Nov. to 15 March)
How to get there: Take NO. 306 bus (5.5Yuan per person, through expressway) and NO. 307 bus (5Yuan per person), the buses run from 7:00 to 18:00 at 10 mins interval.

No. 2 Mogao Caves in Dunhuang

Located near the west area of the Hexi Corridor, Gansu Province is neighboring Xinjiang. As one of the stops in Silk Road, Dunhuang has a military history included in the Silk Road trade history. In Dunhuang, there is another stopover point on the Silk Road. Margao Grottoes are the top attraction here. Mogao Grottos is one of the most magnificent Buddhist grottos in China. The grottos are located on the mountainous towering sand dunes.

The Mogao Caves, also known as the Thousand Buddhist Grottos, are famous for the Chinese saying, "a glittering pearl that adorns the Silk Road". Dating from 366AD, the Mogao Caves are 1,000 meters long and are filled with magnificent Buddhist art. Visitors can appreciate the elaborate 45,000 square meters of frescos in the caves. The life of the Buddha is recorded in the colorful picture in the nearly 500 caves.

Location: West of Hexi Corridor, Dunhuang 736200, China
Admission Fee: 240 Yuan/Person
Opening Hours: From 8:10 AM to 6:00 PM, daily.
How to get there: A shuttle bus service is available between the caves and the digital exhibition center.

No. 3 Dunhuang Yardang National Geopark

Dunhuang Yardang National Geopark is a museum showing the geology of the Yardang. It is located around 180 km northwest of Dunhuang, Gansu Province, covering 398 square km. It experienced a formation of 700,000 years’ development.

The area is also called Ghost City because some buildings in the area look like ancient castles. There is a building called Aisikexiaer Castel, which means “unique city” in the Uyghur language. The park shows the most special and magnificent sight on the Silk Road and as the largest natural landmark on the Silk Road, it is the largest Yardang formation in China.

Yardang landform is typically eroded by the wind. In the Uyghur language, Yardang implies steep hills. Yardang landform is formed in several big deserts in the world, including Que Tunisia Stan desert and Mojave, but Dunhuang Yardang National Geopark is the most famous and typical one. Visitors can see local renowned specialties in the area includes “Mongolian Bao”, “Camel”, “Stone Bird”, “Peacock”, “The Golden Lion Welcoming His Guests” etc.

Location: northwest of Yumen Pass, Dunhuang 736200, China
Admission Fee: 80Yuan/Person
Opening Hours: all day long
How to get there: Visitors can take a special bus or take a taxi to the place.
Best time to visit: March to October is the best time to visit the park

No. 4 Jiaohe Ancient City in Turpan

The Jiaohe Ancient City was the capital of the former Cheshi State. There is an Indian proverb, 'Intelligence is bound to exist where two rivers meet. In Chinese, Jiaohe means a place located at the meeting of two rivers. According to historical records, it used to be the home to 700 households, 6500 residents, and 865 soldiers.

Jiaohe Ancient City does not have the common characteristic to the other ancient cities. There are three reasons listed as follows: The Jiaohe Ancient City only has two city gates as the main gate of the city is destroyed for an unknown reasons. Another reason is that thanks to the location of the city, it is not necessary to build the extra city wall to protect the city from the enemy because the city faces cliffs on three sides. Visitors rarely see the other ancient city built by stones and wood but can see in Jiaohe Ancient City.

Location: Jianggelemaisi Village, Ya'er Country, Turpan 838000, China
Admission Fee: 40Yuan/Person
Opening Hours: 10:00 to 21:00
How to get there: Visitors can take the No.1 bus in Turpan city and get off at Ya’er country government, then take a minibus and get off again at the big slope just before Jiaohe, walk another ten minutes to the scenic spot.

No. 5 Sunday Markets in Kashgar

The best place to experience the authentic culture of the Uygur minority is by visiting a grand bazaar. Bazaar in Uygur language refers to market. Kashgar is a bustling market town on the Silk Road. Every Sunday, traders come from all over the city and get together to sell their livestock and thousands of different varieties of produce. Being in Kashgar, there will be a large number of majorities of Uygur people, which seems that you have been in another country.

Visitors spending their Sunday at the markets can watch the traders dressed in their best waistcoats and all to sell their sheep carried on their donkey cart from miles away. Visitors can buy varieties of souvenirs in different sections of the market, such as hats, spices, kitchenware, carpets, musical instruments richly decorated, clothing and tailors, and almost any other products and so on.

In Kashgar, the Fragrant Concubines tomb is also a highlight worth to be visited with the Idkah Mosque. The Fragrant Concubine is a woman in Chinese legend to make a consort by the Qianlong Emperor during the 18th century. Kashgar was the center of the Great Game staged between Britain and Russia in their attempts to secure the Central Asian states.

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