Top Things to Do in Xi’an – LTL’s Travel Guide
Looking for things to do in Xi’an? Well look no further…
You’re coming to China to learn Chinese, and what better place to do that but in Xi’an?
This beautiful city at the edge of the Ancient silk road is a great place to learn Mandarin, the accent is not too difficult to understand and the people are friendly!
Which is very important if you’re going to be practising your Chinese outside of the classroom too.
So it’s a good thing there there are lots of exciting things to do in Xi’an, luckily we’ve got lots of ideas for you to keep you busy when you first get here.
Come and meet us in Xi’an and join our wonderful community!
- Visit some of the top sights in China
- Eat local delicacies
- Practice your Chinese out and about
- Get to know an Ancient city
- Navigate a city of 12.9m people
- Climb one of China’s most difficult hikes
- Learn all about Chinese history at Xi’an’s many museums
Top Facts About Xi’an That You Need to Know
Xi’an is the capital of Shaanxi province, one of the ancient capitals of China, and home to the iconic Terracotta Warriors Museum.
This amazing city, which once marked the eastern end of the Silk Road, offers visitors historical sites, a wonderful cultural mix of Islam, Buddhism and Atheism and the most mouth-watering street food in China.
Before you move, or even think about things to do in Xi’an it’s good to get to know some context about the place, so that you can get a feel for it.
- One of China’s four great Ancient Capitals
- Used to be called Chang’an 长安
- Referred to as the birthplace of Chinese civilization
- It was the capital city during 13 of China’s dynasties
- Also knows as the “Eternal City” due to the long history
- 西安 Xi’an literally means ‘peace in the west’
- The base of China’s national security and space exploration program
- Surrounded by 8 rivers, the biggest of which is River Wei
- Population of 12.9m people (as of 2018)
- Home to the Terracotta Army – one of China’s most popular tourist attractions
Top things to do in Xi’an – LTL’s Guide
1. Visit the Terracotta Warriors – 兵马俑博物馆 (bīngmǎyǒng bówùguǎn)
This is probably number 1 on most China explorers lists of things to do in Xi’an.
The Terracotta Warriors were discovered by a local farmer who was digging a well in the countryside nearby to the city of Xi’an in 1974.
The sculptures, which depict the soldiers in Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s army, were estimated to be buried with Emperor himself around the year 210 BC, supposedly to give him protection in the afterlife.
The UNESCO World Heritage site displays more than 8,000 terracotta warriors (said to be models of Qing’s real-life army), horses, and around 10,000 bronze weapons.
With millennia underground, these intricate sculptures have become one of China’s most popular attractions since their re-discovery.
The Museum is always full of people, and it takes at least 3 hours walking around.
They are definitely a must-see in Xi’an, and really give you the chance to feel Xi’an’s Ancient side for yourself.
How to get to there: You can take a public bus to the site of the Terracotta Warriors from downtown Xi’an Buses run around every 15 minutes and take just over an hour to reach the warriors and museum.
2. Sample Xi’an’s Local Delicacies (Muslim Quarter) – 回民街 (Huímín jiē)
Luckily for all of you coming to Xi’an, this city has some of the best street food and snacks in the whole of China (our personal opinion).
Famous for its culinary delicacies, snacks, and souvenirs, the Muslim Street of Xi’an is the physical mark of the Silk Road (once linking China with the Middle East and Europe).
There are plenty of places that you can grab a delicious bite to eat across the city, but one of the most popular for newbies to the city is the muslim quarter.
You try out some of Xi’an’s most famous dishes including:
- 羊肉泡馍 – a mutton soup with a special kind of crouton
- 肉夹馍 – China’s answer to a burger or in other words a pulled pork bun
- ‘Biang Biang’ noodles – long, flat, dry noodles that come with meat, egg and lots of fresh veg. Yummy!
- 串儿 – all kinds of kebabs, and particularly lamb in the muslim quarter
- And much more!
You can also do pretty much all of your souvenir shopping while you’re at it, as there are plenty of market stalls selling all kinds of traditional Chinese gifts, trinket, accessories, pretty much everything you can imagine.
From cuisine to clothing, the city is deeply influenced by Islamic culture and this mix of cultures results in a brilliant place to visit in Xi’an, where you can taste delicious and mouthwatering local Chinese dishes served with typical flavours from the Middle East and enjoy the ancient architectural buildings.
If you want to get a better idea of what some of these treats looks like before you try them check out the video on the left.
And if you’re the adventurous kind and have already tried the above, look for more recommendations in video to the right.
3. Check out some of Xi’an’s Famous Museums (西安博物馆)
Interested in history? Chinese history?
Well then, Xi’an is definitely the place for you. Luckily interesting museums and cultural sites are plentiful!
There’s lots to choose from so here are some examples:
- Shaanxi History Museum – historical bits and pieces from all over the province and China!
- Stele Forest – collection of interesting stone carvings, which detail all aspects ancient Chinese life
- Banpo Museum – an archeological site turned museum which breathes life into a neolithic settlement
- Xi’an Museum – a museum of local heritage as well as a garden and pagoda complex
- And many more things to see!
4. Cycle the Ancient City Walls – 明代城墙 (Míngdài chéngqiáng)
The old town of Xi’an is surrounded by an impressive, well-preserved wall, built more than 600 years ago in the Ming Dynasty.
In truth, the Xi’an city walls are some of China’s best-preserved city fortifications.
Though re-furbished many times since their original construction, the walls run all the way around the central area of Xi’an.
As well as their historical appeal, the walls make for a great afternoon out getting a feel for the city.
If cycling is your thing, you can rent a bike, and once you’re up on the wall, cycle around the length of them. It’s a great way to get a view of the city, and if you head out at sunset you might get some nice snaps of the city at dusk.
If you’re feeling adventurous and came to explore the city with a friend, you could even have a go at renting a tandem bike and looping the city walls together.
Though of course, if you’re not feeling the cycling you can also just go for a wander on foot too.
You can access the walls from various gates around the city walls, but we’d recommend to go for the South gate (Yongning Gate), as it’s a pretty one to take some snaps of from below.
5. Take a Weekend Trip Out of the City
Mount Hua/Huashan – 华山 (Huàshān)
Just a couple of hours away from Xi’an by bus, is Huashan, one of China’s Five Great Mountains.
With its five main peaks, the highest of which is the South Peak at 2,154.9 meters, Mount Hua is best known for its steep slopes and hair-raising walkways.
It’s a great for a long day trip (if you don’t mind a very early start) or an overnight weekend trip if you’d rather take your time.
Nicknamed the most dangerous climb in the world, a trip to Huashan isn’t for the faint-hearted. Some parts of the trail (or even ledge in some places) are so narrow that only one person can fit across at the same time. Harnesses are available for certain parts as you go.
If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then there is also a cable car option that will take you to Huashan’s summit too. Whichever route you choose you’ll be able to get some spectacular views from the peak.
Be prepared for adrenaline, heights, and to be swept away by the natural beauty of its landscape.
Foping Nature Reserve – 佛坪国家级自保护区 (Fópíng guójiājí zì bǎohù qū)
Want to see the pandas while you’re here in China?
Although most international tourists choose to head to Chengdu to see the Giant Panda Research Base, did you know that there’s a nature reserve a little close to home in Xi’an where you can see China’s favourite fury friends?
Foping Nature Reserve in South Shaanxi Province is home to around 300 kinds of wild animals, including more than 100 Giant Pandas.
The area is an important habitat for pandas and other wild animals.
In 1985 an unusual light brown and white Giant Panda (later named Dandan) was found in Foping Nature Reserve, it appeared that she had been abandoned for her different looks. She was taken into care and restored back to full health. She was the first known brown and white panda.
6. The Big Wild Goose Pagoda – 大雁塔 (Dàyàn tǎ)
Located approximately 3 miles south of Xi’an city center, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a Buddhist landmark built-in 652 by Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty.
It was built to preserve the sutras and relics that the Tripitaka Master Xuanzang brought back from India (travel that inspired one of the best-known works of Chinese literature, Journey to the West).
The Big Wild Goose Pagoda houses excellent architectural beauty, precious Buddhist relics, and rich religious culture and offers the opportunity of enjoying the beautiful view of the whole Xi’an city on the 7th floor.
Absolutely worth a visit on your list of things to do in Xi’an!
How to get to there: You can take the metro which is conveniently located nearby the Pagoda. Head to Dayanta Station (Line 3/4) to arrive at the Pagoda. Alternatively, go to Xiaozhai station (Line 2) and head out eastwards, 10 minutes later you’ll arrive there.
7. Xi’an Famous Towers – 西安鼓楼 and 西安钟楼
While visiting Xi’an you just won’t be able to miss out on the city’s famous towers!
The Drum Tower (西安鼓楼 xī’ān gǔlóu) and Bell Tower (西安钟楼 xī’ān zhōnglóu) are located in the center of Xi’an, not too far from each other, within the city walls.
A quick visit but it’s worth it! You will discover China’s finest architecture design and feel its strong history.
- The Drum Tower, built in 1380, is the largest of its kind and the most intact of the drum towers left from ancient China.
- The Bell Tower is the largest of the country and said to be the best preserved building in China. It was built in 1387, the 17th year of Emperor Taizu during the Ming Dynasty.
Both are landmarks of Xi’an, a must-visit!
How to get there: You can take the metro which will take you directly to the towers. Take Line 2 and stop at Zhonglou Station (钟楼站), Exit C, and you’ll arrive near the Bell Tower’s ticket office. The Drum tower is accessible through the same station, Exit B, and is a 5 minutes walk from there.