Last Updated on March 7, 2023
Now that travel is slowly starting to pick up, make sure to put China on your list of places to visit. You may not have time to visit many cities, but make sure you don’t pass up the opportunity to see Xi’an. The city was once the capital of China and has over 5000 years of history. With grand city monuments, ancient treasures, and mountainous wilderness, Xi’an has attractions for any type of tourist.
Xi’an is easily accessible by train or plane from Beijing. Four days is enough time to spend in the city, depending on the depth of your itinerary.
Here are five places to see when visiting:
1. Terracotta Army
Imagine seeing the thousands of light gray, life-size terracotta sculptures portraying the armies of Qin Shihuang, the first Chinese emperor. These warriors were discovered by farmers in 1974. They are lined up one by one highlighting contemporary warrior stances.
There are three pits to visit which include the armies, horses and chariots, and the remains of bones. It is mind-blowing viewing these statues. There are always renovations underway and new discoveries being made. It tends to be very crowded here, so make sure to bring some patience while you wait for your turn.
The museum entry fee is 150 yuan (about $23) from March 1 through November 30; from December 1 to February 28 admission costs 120 yuan (about $18). The ticket includes entrance to the mausoleum of Qin Shihuang. After visiting twice, first without a guide and then with, I recommend a guided tour; a guide is worth the extra money because you get more insight about the warriors. If you go on your own each area does contain small plaques with information inside the pits.
Getting to the site takes an hour by car from Xi’an. It is also accessible by bus from the main square, but there will be two transfers along the way. More expensive options include hiring a driver or taking a taxi. If using a guide, your guide can recommend a driver to use. No matter when you go, it will be shoulder-to-shoulder crowded.
2. Huimin Street
Huimin Street, also known as the Muslim Quarter, is five blocks lined with street food vendors and restaurants. While walking around stop to watch local men make Biang Biang noodles. They first stretch out one long noodle and hit it hard on a table to make sure the noodle has the right texture. The hit sounds like a hammer hitting a concrete wall. The noodles are often flavored with hot chili sauce and a mix of cumin and other spices. They can be ordered with egg and vegetables, meat and vegetables, or plain.
Also try the large, circular bread; they either fry it or prepare it similar to a wood-fired oven, without the oven. Most will prepare the dough first on a cutting board and then place it in a black stove for a few minutes.
Besides bread, stop by one of the stalls and try freshly steamed buns stuffed with pork and vegetables; there are often pig and other animal faces decorated on the outside. The street has a mix of smells, including grilled meat, cumin, spicy peppers, and hot, fresh bread.
Do not forget to try the Chinese hamburger called Rou Jia Mo. The meat is mixed with cumin and other spices and then stuffed inside a small pocket of pita bread. The street is tucked behind the drum tower and often missed. It’s accessible by bus or taxi.
3. Xi’an City Wall
This wall was built to protect the city over 5000 years ago. Walking toward the wall, look up at the brick pagoda that resembles layered pyramids stacked on top of each other. There are many gates to enter from including South Gate, Small South Gate, East Gate, West, North, Hepin, and Wencheng. It is recommended to enter through the South Gate. This entrance has bicycle rentals on top of the wall. It also has free shows throughout the day; men dressed as warriors with gold shields, swords, and other weapons march inside and perform a fighting scene.
The city wall can take anywhere from one and a half hours to three hours depending on how much time you spend exploring. One side of the fortification has views of the drum tower. On the other side, notice the ancient-style roofs. They are slated gray and resemble a half-layered pyramid. Around the corner from the city wall, there is a small street full of souvenir shops and restaurants.
4. Drum Tower
The Drum Tower is easily accessible from the city wall. When approaching the red pagoda can not be missed. There are several dozen fire-engine-red drums with Chinese characters written on the sides. Drums would go off at sunset in ancient times to indicate the day was over.
There are also drum performances given by women dressed in ancient-style clothing, wearing purple, yellow, and blue silk dresses with traditional embroidery around the top. The men also wear these colors, but instead of dresses, they wear silk pants and tops depicting the clothing style of the Tang dynasty. Performances are held regularly throughout the day, so check out the times when you arrive. The performance is a great way to see traditional local dressing and music.
Admission to the tower is 30 yuan (about $4.50). This is another attraction that is always crowded no matter the time of day. At night the pagoda is colored in red, yellow, and green lights; waiting until then could be a better option to see it lit in these bright colors.
5. Mount Hua
Mount Hua is about 2.5 hours from Xi’an. Depending on the route, some areas have stairs. There is goods news for those that get tired half way: there is a cable car connecting the top bottom of the mountain. There are many temples, pavilions, and wishing trees around the mountain. For a small fee, a wish can be written on a red ribbon and tied around the tree.
This is a steep mountain and can be slippery so it is recommended to wear good hiking shoes and gloves with a good grip. From March to November, the fee is 180 yuan (about $50), and from December to February it is 100 yuan (about $15). Mount Hua creates a mystic scene with its brown and green peaks and hints of mist, especially in June.
It is easy to get to the mountain by bus or train. Depending on how long you want to hike, it is possible to make this a day trip. You can also stay the night at a hotel near the mountain or in town about 20 minutes away.
One of the oldest cities in China, Xi’an is definitely worth visiting. There are many sites to see, foods to taste, and history to learn.
If you arrive in China through Beijing, and first tour China’s capital city, a convenient way to get to Xi’an is by high-speed train. It takes between four to six hours to travel between the cities by rail on the fastest lines.