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Located in central China in Shaanxi province, Xi’an is known for its well-preserved historical monuments and its long and proud history. In fact, its historical attractions always put this city near the top of the must-visit places in China.
With over 8 million people living in Xi’an’s urban area, it’s busy, chaotic, and modern. The city welcomes countless tourists from China and the rest of the world every year.
Xian was part of the famous Silk Road. This brought in a lot of trade and different cultures over the years. And it brought in a lot of amazing food too!
This city has the weight of thousands of years of history behind it.
Often called the birthplace of Chinese civilization, it’s the oldest of China’s Four Great Ancient Capitals.
From 221 BC onwards, Xi’an was the intermittent capital of 13 dynasties in China, and its inhabitants today are very proud of this ancient heritage.
When the First Emperor united China, he did so from his base in Xi’an. The city was also the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, which means it saw years of change, movement and development.
When you visit Xi’an, you’ll be able to explore some of the artifacts of this long history and gain a deeper understanding of the Chinese culture too!
As one of the most famous historical destinations in China, there’s a lot to do in Xi’an that will help you understand more about the history of this amazing country.
The Terracotta Warriors are the most famous attraction in Xi’an.
Discovered in 1974, the warriors are one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world. These life-size warriors were constructed more than 2,000 years ago to guard the tomb of China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang.
Today, you can visit the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang and walk by the pit where the warriors stand guard.
They’re almost alarmingly lifelike and you can learn more about how they’re made and even practice making a mini warrior yourself at a local site.
Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter is one of the most interesting parts of the city.
It’s like another world in there, one that’s filled with tiny stalls and markets and some of the best people-watching in the city. This area is basically a single street lined by trees and filled with ethnic Hui people.
And, once you’ve shopped your way through the street, make sure you stay long enough to try some of the local food.
Some of the most popular snacks are the barbecued meats on skewers, cold noodles, and of course the local specialty – roujiamo (肉夹馍), which is marinated lamb or beef in a bun.
Read more about delicious Chinese street food.
While you’re in the Muslim Quarter, you may as well visit the nearby Drum and Bell Towers. These towers are located across from each other and look their best at night, when they’re lit up with lights.
The Bell Tower marks the center of the ancient capital and was created by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang to dominate the countryside.
The Drum Tower contains a display of traditional drums that were once used to herald the sunset as well as a drum museum.
It’s the largest tower of its kind in China and was built in 1380.
You might think that a wall doesn’t sound that interesting, but in this case you’d be wrong.
The Xi’an Ancient City Wall is the best-preserved city wall in China. Created under the reign of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang in the 14th century, it’s a striking statement about the might of the ancient culture.
The wall divides the city into inner and outer parts and it’s surprisingly strong. From the top, you can get great views of different parts of the city, so make sure you get a few Insta-worthy photos!
You can’t visit Xi’an without seeing this pagoda, at least that’s what the locals say.
Featuring traditional Chinese architecture, the pagoda is the symbol of the city. It houses Buddhist materials and scriptures brought back from India by Xuanzang, a Buddhist monk, scholar, and traveler.
The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is only 4 km (2.5 mi) from downtown and easy to get to. You can take Metro Line 3 or Line 4 to Dayanta (大雁塔) Station.
If you want to learn more about the ancient Chinese civilization, then this museum is the place to do it.
It’s the first large-scale modern national museum in the country and is often called the ‘Bright Pearl in Ancient Capital and Precious Treasure of China’ because of its amazing art palace.
The collections in this museum range from the Stone Age to the times of the Opium War, as well as displays from different dynasties.
Xi’an is the place where amazing Chinese cuisines meet and mingle, so you can find everything from Cantonese to Sichuan styles in this city.
It’s become known for so many dishes that you might not have the time nor the stomach space to eat them all. But don’t let that stop you from trying!
When you arrive in Xi’an, look out for restaurants that contain a lot of locals. And if you’re struggling to find the good spots, then go on a local food tour such as this one.
You must eat dumplings when you’re in Xi’an, and this is one of the most famous places in the city to do it.
Established in 1936, this restaurant is in the center of the capital and offers a wide range of dumplings so you can try them all and discover some new favorites. Make sure you try the dumpling banquet here!
Address: 2nd Floor, Defachang Dumpling House, No. 3 West Street, Zhonggulou Square, Lianhu District
Located close to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, this restaurant offers tasty vegetarian food to suit every palate.
With vegetarian dishes as well as dishes with delicious meat substitutes, it’s a good way to stick to your meat-free diet while you’re traveling in Xi’an.
Address: No. 1, West Ci’en Road, Yanta District
This is another famous dumpling restaurant, one with sumptuous décor. If you’ve ever wanted to eat dumplings in a palace, then this restaurant will fulfil your dream.
Decorated in the style of the Tang dynasty, this restaurant also has a show that recreates traditional entertainment from the time.
Address: No.75, North Chang’an Road, Beilin District
This restaurant has been serving Shaanxi cuisine since 1929 and is still amazingly popular today. It hosts celebrities and state leaders as well as travelers who want to try the Muslim-influenced Shaanxi dishes and snacks.
At this restaurant, you can try the buffet on the first floor for unique versions of local street food or head upstairs for a more elegant experience.
Address: 298号 Dong Da Jie, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Beilin Qu Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
For the freshest, cheapest foods in China, you need to spend some time in the food markets.
And there are some in Xi’an that are too good to miss out on!
This is one of the largest night markets in Xi’an and it has amazing food. It’s also famously crowded though, so expect crowds at all of the stalls.
Just take the wait as a sign that the food’s really good and wait patiently for the local specials like grilled fish or spicy lobster. You’ll also find stuff from all over the country here.
The market opens after 6 pm and you can get there on the metro, which will take you straight to Nanshaomen Station.
This market has a good variety of foods from traditional foods to modern snacks. Some of the best dishes to try are the fried dumplings and the shaguo rice noodles.
This market is in the Yanta District of Xi’an and is open after 6 pm.
The Dongxin Street Night Market is popular among locals and tourists for its amazing and budget-friendly street food.
It’s also one of the largest markets in Xi’an and offers tasty treats like dumplings, steamed buns, casseroles, and grilled meats of all kinds.
Open after 6 pm, the market is located in the Xincheng District and you can get there by bus.
Accommodation in Xi’an is plentiful and budget friendly, but it can be a little unusual for Western tastes, so make sure you examine the offerings carefully.
The best thing about hostels is the camaraderie and the chance to get to know your fellow travelers. And that’s exactly what the Shuyuan International Party Hostel offers.
Five minutes’ walk from the metro, it’s in the center of a shopping district and offers lots of common spaces as well as private or dorm rooms to suit your travel style.
Just 15 minutes’ walk from Muslim Street and 10 from the local metro station, the Xi’an See Tang Guesthouse offers convenient, comfortable accommodations for all kinds of travelers.
You can choose from a room with a private or shared bathroom and the hotel also offers massage services on request.
With beautiful, traditional décor, this is the kind of hotel that lets you know that you’re far from home in the best way possible.
The W Xian Hotel offers world-class service and facilities right in the heart of the city. It has a seasonal swimming pool, a fitness center, a garden, and a restaurant on-site, just to make your stay extra convenient.
With all the luxuries you could want for a short or long stay, this is the ideal hotel if you have a little extra money to spend.
Like most cities in China, Xi’an has a top rate, modern transport system, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting in, out, or around the city.
Xian’s major airport, Xian Xianyang Airport, is around 40 km (25 mi) northwest of the city center.
It connects Xi’an to all the major cities in China including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.
The airport also connects Xi’an to some international destinations like Seoul, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Japan.
However, it might be best to travel to Shanghai or Beijing first if you’re heading somewhere unusual.
Xi’an benefits from China’s high speed rail system as well.
Xi’an has three passenger stations in the city and the Xi’an Railway Station is the largest rail hub in Western China. It’s also on the Eurasian Continental Bridge, which connects China to Central Asia.
The trains are fast, sleek, and modern, and connect Xi’an to major domestic cities. If you’re traveling to Xi’an and prefer to do so by train, this is a good option.
Xi’an has an extensive long-distance bus system with seven large bus stations and some smaller ones.
You can catch a bus to lots of major cities in China and it’s an economical if relatively slow way to see and experience China.
Inside of Xi’an, the metro is the best way to get around.
There are four main metro lines that connect east-west and north-south. The metro is fast and economical and can get you to most of the major attractions in the city.
The best way to pay for the metro and other public transport is with the Transportation Smart Card, known as Chang An Tong in Chinese.
This card offers a discount on city buses, the subway and taxis. You can get it from the customer service center at subway stations, branches of the Xi’an City Commercial Bank or China Construction Bank, or at one of the city’s bus companies.
City buses run all over the city and you can use the Transportation Smart Card to make them even more economical.
You can also take the bus out to see the Terracotta Warriors. Just go to the Xi’an Railway Station and take public bus No. 5, 306, 915 and 914 to the Museum of Terracotta Warriors.
Within the city center, most buses use the Automated Fare Collection System. This is a very easy and convenient way to travel.
You just drop RMB 1 into the box near the bus gate or RMB 2 if you’re on an air-conditioned bus. Make sure you have exact change, because the driver won’t have any.
There are also tourist and sightseeing buses operating in Xi’an in case you want to visit specific sites.
Taxis in Xi’an are plentiful and cheap. Just don’t forget that you can use your transport card to make them even more economical!
Taxis are usually green and can be flagged down on the street. Just avoid going anywhere at peak hour, as you’ll struggle to get a taxi.
Don’t expect the locals in Xi’an to speak English. So, always have your hotel and destination names on your phone so you can show your driver.
The public bicycle rental service is very popular in Xi’an. It’s also economical, good for your heart, and great for the environment.
You can rent bicycles all over the city until 9 pm for a reasonable price. Just be aware that traffic in China can be a little crazy, so be cautious and ride slowly!
If you like to cycle, look out for one of the City Wall cycling experiences. It’s an amazing way to take in the views from a little higher up.
Once you’ve explored the city of Xi’an, it’s time to get outside it and see what the surrounding area has to offer.
Did you know there are hot springs in China?
These hot springs are at the foot of Mount Lishan and about 45 minutes outside of the city.
They’re located on the grounds of the Huaqing Palace and the setting for a love story between Emperor Xuangzong and his concubine Yang Guifei, considered to be one of the four beauties of ancient China.
The gardens and architecture surrounding the hot springs are gorgeous, but like most tourist attractions in China, the hot springs can get incredibly busy with big tour groups.
You’ll need to be a bit of a daredevil to take on this attraction outside of Xi’an, but it’s worth the risk.
Mount Huashan is about two hours’ drive away from the city and it’s one of the sacred Taoist ‘Five Mountains’ in China.
The hike up the mountain is pretty rough; you’ll be on a narrow pathway surrounded by killer cliffs and ravines. But if you’re a strong hiker then it’s worth it as there are stunning views and religious structures all over the mountain.
If your stomach can’t handle the hike, then take the cable car up the mountain and enjoy the views from a safe vantage point.
This preserved Ming Dynasty town is three hours from Xi’an on the bullet train. It’s filled with ancient buildings and flagstone streets and the locals live simpler, more traditional lives to suit their surroundings.
Pingyao is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So, if you’re interested in China’s past and want to see what a working town looks like, Pingyao is a great example.
Get a visual taste of Xi’an before you visit!
Follow British expat Nico’s adventures in Xi’an. She visits the Terracotta Warriors, the city wall, Wild Goose Pagoda and more.
Nico is also mentioned in our article on the best China YouTube channels.
And for solo travelers, check out this video about one woman’s unplanned trip to Xi’an.
It’s easy to forget a thing or two before you head to China.
So, here are a few reminders for you:
Have a wonderful time in Xi’an. And don’t forget your VPN!
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Page last updated 15 November 2021. Main image credit: Christel Sagniez on Pixabay. Commercial relationship disclosure: The Helpful Panda has commercial arrangements with organizations that may appear on this page, such as affiliate links. See our terms for more info.
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