Visit Xi'an, China

Updated on May 25, 2018
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I moved to China in March 2016 to work as an ESL teacher in a private school. I love to travel to new and exciting places.

Xi'an, China: An Ancient Walled City

Xi'an is the capital city of Shaanxi Province, in north-central China. It is one of the oldest cities in China and was once the capital of this vast country. The ancient city plays an important role in Chinese history due to its connections to the Silk Road and the emperors that were based here.

The city is easy to get around on foot, but there are also convenient subways lines for simple access to attractions. The main city center is built in a traditional style, with four central roads forming a cross shape, intersecting at the Bell Tower in the middle. A few of the must-see attractions are not far from these main roads so Xi'an really is a great city for sight-seeing. Ancient city walls still surround the heart of this vibrant city, adding a traditional charm to the busy streets.

My favorite things to see and do in Xi'an:

  • Take in the impressive might of the Terracotta Army.
  • Visit the traditional Drum and Bell Towers in the city center.
  • Eat street food in the Muslim Quarter.
  • Visit The Great Mosque of Xi'an.
  • Cycle the ancient city walls.
  • Go to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and watch the fountain display.
  • Take a trip to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda and the Xi'an museum.

These are a few of the fun things I did during a three-day trip to Xi'an. Read on to find out more about each attraction.

Xi'an city walls.
Xi'an city walls. | Source

See the Terracotta Army

The Terracotta Army is a must-see for anyone who plans to visit Xi'an. This is an incredibly important archaeological find and one of the most popular tourist destinations in China.

The Terracotta Army guard the tomb of the First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang and show his immense might and power. The warriors, complete with armour, horses and chariots, were buried near the emperor's tomb and lay undiscovered for hundreds of years. They tell an important story of centuries of Chinese history.

Large numbers of them have been excavated, but some still remain covered in the ground until archaeologists decide on the best method to unearth them safely. There have been huge problems surrounding how to uncover and show this amazing sight to the public, as the warriors are extremely delicate and many are destroyed by a reaction with the air when they are brought to the surface.

How to Get to the Terracotta Army From Xi'an

The warriors are not situated in Xi'an itself, so are easiest to access by bus. The buses are very regular and leave from the bus station outside the main train station. The Terracotta Army is 'BingMaYong' in Chinese Mandarin, so listen out for this.

Buses drop customers off in a big, uninspiring car park. Follow the crowds across this towards the ticket offices and gated entrances to the Terracotta Warriors. It is about a ten-minute walk from the car park to the main entrance gate, though there are often golf carts available for anyone wishing to save a little time.

The site consists of three different pits, all containing different warriors and horses. Pit number 1 is often described as the most impressive pit, as it contains the most unearthed warriors for visitors to see. Many people suggest saving pit 1, as the most impressive sight, until the end of the visit. The other two pits may contain fewer figures, but they house detailed horses, chariots and higher ranking officials.

The site also houses a museum with extra information on the discovery of the site, as well as some well-preserved chariots on display.

On exiting the site, visitors walk through what is essentially a shopping plaza, with common fast food chains and even a Starbucks. Here is the perfect opportunity to buy souvenirs such as miniature warriors from one of the street hawkers.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Hundreds of soldiers stand in formation. A detailed chariot.
Hundreds of soldiers stand in formation.
Hundreds of soldiers stand in formation. | Source
A detailed chariot.
A detailed chariot. | Source

Visit the Drum and Bell Towers

The Bell and Drum Towers mark the center of Xi'an city. The Bell Tower is now the central point of a busy roundabout. Take the underground passages to enter the tower, where there is a balcony viewing point for visitors. Take a five-/ten-minute walk towards the Muslim Quarter of Xi'an to discover the Drum Tower. Originally, in ancient times, these two towers functioned as timekeepers and were an important part of historical Chinese settlements. The bell was rung every morning, and the drum tower signalled the end of the day. At night, as with many of China's important structures, the two towers are brightly lit and beautiful to see.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A view of the Bell Tower at night .The Drum Tower appears at the end of the street.
A view of the Bell Tower at night .
A view of the Bell Tower at night . | Source
The Drum Tower appears at the end of the street.
The Drum Tower appears at the end of the street. | Source

Eat Street Food in the Muslim Quarter

The Drum tower marks the entrance to the main street of the renowned Muslim Quarter. The main street here is an exciting, bustling place, especially in the evenings. Restaurants and food vendors line the street on each side, trying to outcompete each other and your senses are attacked with a barrage of lights, scents and noise. This is a fun place to come to try out the delicious local cuisine such as, Rou Jia Mo (a kind of Chinese burger), battered squid on a stick, barbecued meat (which is taken off a carcass while you wait) and many other delicious snacks and treats, often made in front of you as you wait.

Crowds gather in the Muslim Quarter to taste the street food.
Crowds gather in the Muslim Quarter to taste the street food. | Source

Walk to the Xi'an Mosque

Follow thin, winding alleyways to the west of the main Muslim Quarter street to discover the Great Mosque of Xi'an. This mosque is more than 1,000 years old but has been really well preserved. It is still an important place of worship in China today. Take the time to wander through the small courtyards full of flowers and trees and take in the peaceful atmosphere.

The Great Mosque of Xi'an
The Great Mosque of Xi'an | Source

Cycle the City Walls

Xi'an is one of the few Chinese cities to retain it's original city walls. These used to protect the entire settlement in ancient times, but now encircle just the center of Xi'an as the city has outgrown its old borders. They have been renovated a few times in keeping with their original style.

A fun activity, which takes about two hours to complete, is to hire a bike and cycle the (bumpy!) 13.7km around the city walls. This offers good views of the city from the ramparts. The easiest way to access the walls is from the South Gate, not too far from the Bell Tower in the city centre. There are also bike hire companies located at this gate, making them the most convenient for tourists to use.

Watch the Fountain Show at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda

The Big Wild Goose Pagoda is a Buddhist tower, located in the south of Xi'an city. It was used to store Buddhist texts and statues. The pagoda is situated in a beautiful garden and tourists can buy tickets to enter the tower and climb to the top. The narrow, rickety stairs are worth the climb as the pagoda has lovely views over the gardens and city.

Outside the pagoda grounds is a large square full of fountains. At certain times of the day, there are fun fountain shows complete with dramatic music, lights, dancing water and decent crowds.

The Big Wild Goose Pagoda against a blue sky.
The Big Wild Goose Pagoda against a blue sky. | Source

Visit the Small Goose Pagoda and Xi'an Museum

The Small Wild Goose Pagoda dates back to the Tang dynasty (618-907AD) and is part of the Jianfu Temple in the south of Xi'an. It is named after it's bigger relative, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda because of their similar building styles. The structure has survived multiple earthquakes but is missing the top few floors of the original design.

This is a really lovely place to visit on a warm day for a tranquil walk around the temple grounds and through the gardens. It is smaller and less famous than The Big Wild Goose Pagoda, so there aren't so many people.

Walking through the Jianfu temple grounds leads towards the Xi'an museum, a large museum which houses loads of collections and ancient relics of bygone ages.

Would you like to visit Xi'an?

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Xi'an, China

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    © 2018 Yasmin Crawford-Hunt

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