A Visitor's Guide to What You Can See and Do in Gansu Province

••• The exterior of Cave 96, Mogao Grottoes, Dunhuang. Photo courtesy of Louisa Lim. Used with permission.

Introduction to Gansu Province

Gansu (甘肃) Province is in China's northwest. It borders Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Qinghai, Sichuan, Shaanxi, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia and Mongolia. The capital city is Lanzhou (兰州) through which the Yellow River passes.

While home to some of China's most notable Silk Road history and incredible ancient sites as well as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Gansu is one of China's more underdeveloped and poorest provinces.

Here is a map of Gansu Province.

The Weather in Gansu

Gansu's weather is one of extremes. While more temperate in the southern part of the province, in the northwestern region around Dunhuang, the climate is extreme. This area begins the reaches of the Gobi Desert so you'll experience extreme cold in the winters and heat in the summers in this arid landscape.

When to Go to Gansu

The most pleasant times of year are spring and fall when the temperatures don't reach extreme points. We were there in late May and enjoyed cool evenings but very hot and dry days.

Getting To Gansu

Many visitors make Dunhuang their entry and exit point for Gansu but if you don't get to the southern part of the province, notably Lanzhou, you'll miss one of China's greatest provincial museums. There are also a large number of Tibetan Buddhist areas and attractions in the southern part of the province.

Dunhuang is best connected by air to Xi'an and many Silk Road itineraries start in Xi'an with Dunhuang as its second stop.

Dunhuang and Lanzhou are connected by rail and air with rail being convenient with overnight routes. Flight connections are less regular and can be seasonal. There are direct flights from many major Chinese cities to Lanzhou.

Getting Around Gansu

Depending on your itinerary in Gansu, you'll probably want to look into hiring a car & driver if not also a guide.

While in cities, you can easily use taxis but many major sights are located outside city centers. In Dunhuang, to see the Mogao Caves, Yadan Geological Park and the Yumenguan, you will certainly need some transportation.

What to Pack for a Trip to Gansu

Travel in Gansu can require a more specific packing list than if you're remaining in China's major cities: Gansu Packing Guide.

What to See & Do in Gansu Province

Before going to Gansu myself, I thought the main (and only) attraction was the world-famous UNESCO-listed Mogao Grottoes. While these caves full of ancient Buddhist art are an incredible attraction, there is much more to see in Gansu Province. Here is a breakdown of many of the famous sites as well as some sample itineraries through the region.

Lanzhou:

  • Lanzhou City Guide
  • Gansu Provincial Museum
  • Eating Lanzhou Beef Noodle Soup

Hexi Corridor (Silk Road from Lanzhou to Dunhuang):

Around Dunhuang:

Southern Gansu:

Itineraries

I have had the pleasure of visiting the Gansu region three times. I've made a trip to Northern Gansu to see the Mogao caves, to southern Gansu to visit Labrang Monastery and the surrounding Buddhist area and finally a road trip through the Hexi Corridor of the Silk Road. Below are articles detailing each itinerary and what to see and do.