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Dunhuang Travel Guide

Dunhuang Travel Guide 2020/2021

As a little county-level city in northwest of Gansu Province, Dunhuang is a hot tourist destination with a glorious history of more than 2,000 years. It is best known for the magnificent Mogao Caves. Because its vast lands of Gobi and desert, Dunhuang was called Sha Zhou (Town of Sand), later in the period of Emperor Wu, Western Han Dynasty, the city was established as an vital border defensive city of Hexi Corridor to protect against invasion of Xiongnu. Since then, Dunhuang had played profound role in Chinese history, holding strategic gateway location to the western regions, stimulating trade, culture exchange for different cultures. Long ago, tourists and merchants gathered in Dunhuang for travel or business. What followed were customs, religions from different nationalities and regions. The stories about Indian, China, Greece and Islam are described in the Mogao Caves murals.

Ancient time passed by, most of the refulgent prosperity of Dunhuang was covered underground by sand. Only fascinating memory and relics left. Today, Dunhuang is an attractive place to dig out the past flourish and enjoy amazing desert views, marvellous Buddhist art and special ethnic customs

Why visit Dunhuang:

  • Ancient Silk Road journey - As an important stop along the ancient Silk Road, Dunhuang is the best place for you to explore the footprints of ancient trace of Silk Road. Ride a camel just like what the ancient travelers did, march forward on the boundless desert, visit ancient ruins to travel back. Isn’t it exciting?
  • UNESCO Word Cultural Heritage Mogao Caves - The Mogao Caves recorded the 1600 years’ Chinese arts in different periods, including the extreme prosperous Tang Dynasty. It is the treasure house of Buddhist arts, also a unique book keeping cross-culture talks.
  • Magnificent Gobi and Desert Scenery - Meet the most representative Gobi and desert scenery that stretching into far distance, have fun with those joyful desert activities. Break the long-lived silence and loneliness, and add joy to the old friends of nature.
  • Diverse Mixed Culture and Cuisine - The Northwestern China has long been a region of residence many ethnic minorities lived and fought for. The Dunhuang Buddhist caves, local food and people, touching “Silk Road” shows all tell the national fusion and culture exchange happened thousands of years ago.

Top Dunhuang Attractions

Notable on the ancient “Silk Road” in Northwestern Gansu, Northwestern China, Dunhuang is a famous historical city with many ancient sites, e.g. the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage - Mogao Caves, Yumen Pass, Han Dynasty Great Wall and so on. Meanwhile, spectacular geography of Gobi and deserts shape many wonderful natural landscape, like the widely-spread Mingsha Mountain, miraculous Crescent Lake, exotic Yardang Landform, etc. There are plenty more tourist attractions you can visit in Dunhuang, and below are the top must-sees.

Mogao Caves
Mogao Caves

It is a man-made wonder in Gobi desert, the brightest star on the ancient Silk Road, most brilliant treasure of Buddhist arts... Bet you'll be marveled at the fabulous Buddhist artifacts...

Mingsha Mountain and Crescent Lake
Mingsha Mountain & Crescent Lake

Mingsha Mountain is a miracle of great nature,different from other deserts, with singing sand dunes, clean and sweet spring in arms. It's beautiful oasis in the boundless deserts.

Yardang National Geopark
Yardang National Geopark

It’s the very famous “Devil City”. During the past thousands of years, wind erosion makes it a huge geological park full of weird Yardang landform. Use your imagination to recognize the fleets, towers, animals...

Shazhou Night Market
Shazhou Night Market

It is the largest night market in Dunhuang, gathering many distinctive“Silk Road”food and handicrafts. Spend leisure time here to seek delicious cuisine and feel warm local customs in the evening.

Yumen Pass Jade Gate
Yumen Pass

Listed as World Cultural Heritage with over 2,000 years’ history, Yumen Pass played crucial role in ancient border defensive and protected the development of the East-to-West contact.

Yangguan Pass
Yangguan Pass

Lying in southwest suburb of Dunhuang, Yangguan Pass is another important gateway to the west regions from inland China and the necessary pass on the southern “Silk Road” route to Xinjiang.

Han Dynasty Great Wall
Han Dynasty Great Wall

You won’t believe that, the soil hillocks are older Great Walls of China built over 1,300 years earlier than the Mutianyu Great Wall. Its surrounding landscape is impressively desolate and vast wild.

Dunhuang Museum
Dunhuang Museum

SThe museum is free for visiting and a good place to learn historical background of Dunhuang and “Silk Road”before you start the tour. You can take photos of Mogao Caves replicas inside.

Featured Activities in Dunhuang

Dunhuang Travel Guide

Appreciate Buddhist Heritages in Dunhuang Caves

Many Buddhist caves are left on the ancient “Silk Road”, which perfectly proves the culture exchange and brilliant Chinese history. Apart from Mogao Grottoes, cultural fans can also visit Yulin Caves, Western Thousand Buddha Caves, else caves in and around Dunhuang to witness the great art works and splendid Buddhist Pure Land.

Dunhuang Travel Guide

Watch Dunhuang Silk Road Shows

Three famous “Silk Road” shows are performed in Dunhuang. Hundreds of dancers in featured traditional costumes, nice visual effects, unique viewing angle, vivid stories are told, all that brings you back to a real “Silk Road”world.

Dunhuang Travel Guide

Ride A Camel in Desert

As the saying goes, “When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do”. Riding a camel in the boundless desert was the common transportation during ancient times, but now tourists can try the camel riding to truly understand the “Echoing Sand Mountain”.

Dunhuang Travel Guide

Camp in Mingshashan Desert

It’s quite and interesting and unforgettable memory to go camping in the vast desert. A camping package includes dining, night shows and campfire party and various activities. After having fun in daytime, staying overnight camping in Mingshashan Desert offers the best chance to watch the beautiful sunset and sunrise.

Dunhuang Travel Guide

Taste Dunhuang Cuisine at Night Market

Geographical environment creates a different regional food culture in Dunhuang. In Shazhou Night Market, you can eat different dishes and snacks, satisfy taste buds, buy distinctive speciality, and get a glimpse of the local diet style.

Dunhuang Travel Guide

Play Special Sand Sliding

Adults can play like children here! You may already ski in the winter, but bet you never try sand sliding in dry desert in summer,spring and autumn. Another benefit is that you don’t need to worry about falls and hurts.

Dunhuang Travel Guide

Ride A Motorcycle in Mingshashan

Motorcycling a thrilling and exciting activity in Mingsha Mountain scenic area. Wear a helmet, learn basic driving skills, next, it’s time to drive down the sand dunes, trigger adrenalin to enjoy your own “the Fast and the Furious”.

Dunhuang Travel Guide

Record Moments of Journey via Photography

Each trip is a special memory of your life journey. Let the camera record these beautiful scenery (oasis, desert, sky, mountain...) lovely people and your mood during the whole tour. Even after returning home, the photos can light up your smile.

Dunhuang Weather & Climate: Best Time to Go

Situated in the interior region of China and surrounded by mountains and deserts, Dunhuang features a temperate continental arid climate, with strongly sunshine, little rainfall, dry air, huge temperature difference between day and night all year round. In Dunhuang, July is the hottest month with an average temperature of 19℃ ~ 35℃, while January is the coldest period when temperature drops to -1℃~ -15℃. It may have sandstorms in Spring and snows in frozen winter. Therefore, late Spring, Summer and Autumn (from May to October) are the best seasons to visit Dunhuang, because at that time, the temperature is acceptable, sky is clear blue and natural scenery is the best and weather is the most suitable in a year.

Except enjoying desert landscape, visiting the cultural sites indoor, there are seasonal activities you can experience, like camel riding, desert camping, sand sliding, etc. Always prepare hat, scarf, sunglasses, lip balm always. What to pack in different season? Read detailed introduction in our Dunhuang weather >>

Dunhuang Transportation

By Air

Dunhuang International Airport (敦煌国际机场, IATA:DNH) is located about northeast of Dunhuang City. So far, Dunhuang Airport only runs non-stop flights between Dunhuang and Lanzhou, Xian, Xining, Haixi (Qinghai Province). Flying from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Urumqi, Zhengzhou, you need to stop or transit in Lanzhou or Xian. Some of the connecting flights may cut down in winter season. Better check the flight schedule ahead when planning your air travel to Dunhuang. Dunhuang Airport & Flights to Dunhuang >>

By Train

There are three train stations used in Dunhuang - Dunhuang Railway Station, Liuyuan Railway Station and Liuyuan South Railway Station. Dunhuang Railway Station, located closer to downtown, mainly runs short-distance bullet trains to Dunhuang from Lanzhou, Xining, Zhangye, Jiayuguan, and normal trains from Beijing, Xian, etc. Liuyuan Railway Station is a small railway station in about 128 km northeast Dunhuang, operating trains from Beijing, Hangzhou, Changchun, Hami (Xinjiang). Liuyuan South Railway Station delivers bullet trains on the Lanzhou - Urumqi High Speed Railway. Dunhuang Railway Station / Liuyuan Railway Stations >>

By Bus

Dunhuang Bus Station has direct buses from Dunhuang to a few cities in neighboring provinces, such as to Jiayuguan, Guazhou in Gansu, Hami in Xinjiang, Subei ahd Huatugou Town in Qinghai. More guide of How to Get to & Around Dunhuang >>

Dunhuang Accommodation

Dunhuang is one of the most favorite destinations along the “Silk Road”. It welcomes every visitor with many different standards of comfortable accommodation. But, as a small inland city in Northwestern China, the overall accommodation condition is not as best as in well-developed cities like Beijing and Shanghai. There are only few 5 star hotels,while most are budget, economy and comfort hotels.

Most travelers like to stay in downtown area, especially close to the Shazhou Night Market, or accommodate near the Mingsha Mountain and Crescent Lake scenic area, or near Dunhuang Airport and Dunhuang Railway Station. You can book hotels from the three main areas based on your own itinerary and requirements.

Learn more about Dunhuang hotels >>

Useful Dunhuang Travel Maps

To help you better plan and make a trip in Dunhuang, we offered lots of maps about Dunhuang’s location, attractions, transportation, etc. All the maps we collected are updated, downable and printable. Click to get more Dunhuang Maps >>

Dunhuang China Location Map

Dunhuang China Location Map

Dunhuang Tourist Attractions Map

Dunhuang Tourist Attractions Map

Dunhuang Mogao Caves Tourist Map

Mogao Caves Tourist Map

Other Popular Destinations on Silk Road

Besides Dunhuang, there are many good places to visit along the ancient “Silk Road”, where you can appreciate different types of natural, cultural and historical fascination in Northern China. Below are the most popular destinations awaiting your discovery. Check all destinations in China.

Dunhuang Travel Guide

Chinese Name: Dunhuang

Chinese Pinyin: Dūn Huáng

English IPA: /dun'hwɑ:ŋ/

Population: 187,500(2012)

Language: Mandarin

Tel Code: 0937

Zip Code: 736200

Time Zone: (UTC+8)

Plan Your Dunhuang Tour

Usually, 2~4 days are needed to explore highlights of Dunhuang. The world heritage site Mogao Cave and the stunning landscape of Mingsha Mountain and Crescent Lake are two Must- Go attractions both of which take a half day to visit. You can then spend one more day to explore the western region of Dunhuang which also has a lot of attractions, such as the ruin of Great Wall, Yumenguan Pass, Yadang Landform, etc. As for the downtown sites, if time allows, don't miss the Shazhou Night Market and Dunhuang Museum.

Some travelers usually travel Dunhuang with other destinations in Gansu, such as Jiayuguan, Zhangye, Lanzhou, etc. One can even travel from Dunhuang to Turpan, Urumqi of Xinjiang.

Recommended Tours

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8 Days Gansu Highlights Tour

Lanzhou / Xiahe / Jiayuguan / Dunhuang

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[Important] Travel News for Expats: China travel is reopening now! Travel with China Discovery and learn about where to visit & requirements for each destination! Read Details >