Things To Do in Xi’an (More Than Just the Terracotta Army!)
Xian is probably my favourite city in all of China. It’s got great character, a wild nightlife and it’s pretty close to Beijing relatively speaking and there are endless things to do in Xian. It’s on the map internationally thanks to the Terracotta Warriors but in truth, Xian offers much, much more places to visit.
When you make it here, make sure you hit up these 5 best things to see in Xi’an:
The Terracotta Army
Yet another place to claim to be the 8th Wonder of the World (the 7 wonders of the world are here). The Terracotta Army is one of China’s most famous sights, and the icon of Xian. The site is actually located about 30km from the city centre, you can easily jump on a bus or book a tour that will pick you up and drop you offer at your hotel, and of course off ther Terracotta army plus an English speaking tour guide.
The warriors themselves are life-sized and individually made, with distinct facial expressions and distinct appearances for each and every one. Amazing. What’s more amazing was that they were only found just 40 years ago, by 3 local farmers digging a well!
Tickets are 150RMB($24), half price for students
Xi’an City Walls
I know this doesn’t sound very exciting, but Xi’an’s city walls really are quite special. They are the oldest city walls in the whole world. They stand over 12m tall and, at points, over 18m wide. Then run almost 15km long too! You can cycle or walk around the entire thing, and once a year they run marathons on the thing.
Tickets are 40RMB ($6), half price for students.
Day Trip to Huashan Mountain
Not strictly one of the things to do IN Xian but rather outside Xian. My advice? Don’t make the same mistake I did the first time I came to Xian. I hadn’t done my research and missed my chance to visit Huashan Mountain (or Mount Hua). Gutted!
Anyway, 2 hours outside of Xi’an, is one of China’s most sacred mountains. Think misty, ancient, awesome Chinese mountain and you’ll be on the right track. You can climb the insanely steep stairs while clinging on to the chain railings to make sure you don’t plummet to your death!
If you take the cable car up, you can climb around the four peaks in about 3-4 hours. The Cable car is 80RMB/150RMB($23) round trip and is located at the east gate and goes directly to the north peak. If you want to walk up you have to go to the Yu Quan Yuan entrance but be prepared for a long hike!
TOP-TIP: Book a day tour to Huashan mountain from Xian. Much easier than working ou the Chinese public transport system!
Big Wild Goose Pagoda
Sounds like a name from Kung Fu Panda. But I assure you it’s really called this! So yeah, the name alone should get you to visit this place. But if that’s not enough then visiting what is recognised as Xi’an’s 1400-year-old icon should provide you with enough photo ops to last a lifetime. They run daily light, water and music shows in the fountain in front of the pagoda.
Tickets are 50RMB($8) to get into the grounds and another 40RMB to enter the pagoda.
Xian Grand Mosque
The first, and therefore, the oldest Mosque in all of China. It’s slap bang in the middle of the Muslim district, and blends Chinese and Islamic architecture beautifully. Non-Muslims can’t get into the centre of the actual mosque but you can walk the majority of the complex. Woman need to dress conservatively.
Tickers are 25RMB($4)
Get lost in Huimin Street, the Muslim Quarter
Huimin street (or Muslim street) as it’s known is a wonderful daily market where you can witness the blend of Chinese and Muslim culture at work. Local Chinese Muslims of the Hui minority sell a variety of street food, handicrafts and artefacts. Bring your best negotiating skills.
Tang Dynasty Dancing Show
Xian’s history is inexorably linked to the Tang Dynasty. Thanks to that legacy, you can watch the story of Emporer Ming and his mistress. Expect traditional Chinese music and a storyline by dance. Very cool.
Tang Paradise Xian
Next door to the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda lies the HUGE complex of ‘Tang Paradise’. It’s a theme park dedicated to the memory of the Tang Dynasty. It’s home to the largest movie on water screen, the only theme park for five senses, and the biggest Royal gardens in the country. 120RMB to enter (90 in off-season).
The Drum Tower and Bell Tower
Along with the Wild Goose Pagoda, the drum and bell tower is the emblem of Xian. Although you don’t need to worry too much about going out of your way to see it, you can’t miss it! Try to time the Drum towers for the performances at 9am, 10am 11am, 3pm, 4pm and 5pm
50RMB to enter both as a package.
Day trip Pingyao Ancient Town
It’s THE BEST walled city in the country, hence it’s popularity. You’ve probably seen the images on Instagram or Google for years. Cobbled streets, nooks and crannies. It’s the China you grew up dreaming about. Just about possible as a long day trip from Xian, with an early start.
Hu Kou Waterfall Day Trip
Just 150km north of Xian, about a 2-hour
drive, is one of Shannxi’s best waterfalls, the Hu Kou Waterfall. Partner up a trip here with a trip to the Huang Di Mausoleum and you’ve got a great day out.
How To Get to Xian from Beijing
You can arrive in Xian by flight, bus or train. In the two times I’ve been, once I flew in from Kunming, and once I took the train from Beijing. Personally, for the adventure feel, i think the train journey is the best option.
How to get to Xian by plane:
Xianyang International Airport has 3 terminals, 2 domestic terminals and 1 international terminal. If you’re traveling in China, you can easily fly here from any other Chinese city. Or internationally from Bangkok, Hong Kong, KL, London, San Fran and Helsinki amongst others. From the airport to Xian city centre is about 45 minutes to an hour on the Metro Rail connection. Super easy.
How to get to Xian by train:
Xian to Beijing by train is 1200km. It sounds far but they have a ‘fast train’ that does it in about 5 hours ($80). Or you can take the normal Chinese trains, and take a sleep from pretty much anywhere in China. From Lhasa, to Beijing and beyond ($25+ depending on class of seat you choose).
How to get to Xian by bus:
Don’t bother. If you loved to travel overland, then the train is more comfortable, and similarly priced. Or if you’re in a rush, flights are cheap.
What is the best time to visit Xian
The best time to visit Xian is the Spring time (so from March) until autumn (so until November). The best time is June, July, August and September. Although I visited the first time in Winter, in December and although it was freezing, it was still super fun. So don’t overthink it!
Suggested Xian Itinerary (3 days)
Most people come to Xian, see the Terracotta Army and disappear. But it has so many cooler things to do in Xian that you should stick around AT LEAST for 3 days. Here’s the perfect Xian 3 day Itinerary:
DAY 1: Terracotta Army (and Xi’an City Walls)
Organise your tour to the Terracotta Army. Be warned, if you’re planning to travel independently, this can take the whole day. If you book a tour, you can be back just after lunch.
If you’re back in time, check out the Xi’an city walls for sunset.
DAY 2: Xi’an City Tour
Spend the whole day in the city. If you didn’t have time to see the city walls after the Terracotta army, start your morning off with that.
Next up, check out the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, followed by the Bell Towers and the Drum Towers.
After some lunch, go to China’s oldest Mosque in the Muslim Quarter, and then start to get lost on Muslim Street.
By late afternoon, keep an eye on the clock. You’ll have booked tickets to the Tang Dynasty Show tonight (normally around 7pm). Then a dumpling dinner to finish.
DAY 3: Huashan Mountain and Party in Xi’an!
Day-trip to Huashan mountain. It’s 120km or so away, so booking a tour is easiest, but you can do it independently too (about an hour away in the train). If timed correctly, you can be back to Xian’ in time for a late dinner and a night out on the town. Head to De Fu Xiang street, from there the night will take off!
Day 4, 5 or 6?
Pingyao is something special, so if you have any extra days, go there!
Final thoughts on things to do in Xi’an
Like I said, Xi’an is my favourite city in all of China. Sure, it’s best in the summer but all year round it’s beautiful. I’d say if you find yourself in Beijing, jump on the fast train and you’ll be in Xian in just a few hours, and you’ll have an even more fun time here, than Beijing. Spend 3 or 4 nights and soak up the culture, the energy, the mix of cultures, and some of China’s most famous sites. Enjoy it, I miss it so much!
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