Visiting Xi'an China

So Much Xi’an, So Little Time

There's a lot to see and do in Xi'an, but let's start with Qin Shi Huang's terracotta army. Located less than an hour outside of Xi'an city wall, it currently attracts over a million visitors per year. Unearthed by local farmers in the mid-1970s, and still, under excavation, the historical site was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites in 1987.

terra cotta soldiers

Terracotta warriors.

Numbering into the thousands, the warriors rank from archer to general. More amazing still is that no two soldiers are exactly alike. All differ in hairstyles, facial features, and clothing styles. These sculptures, as well as, more works in bronze, were created by local laborers and artist to surround the burial site of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China.

terracotta soldiers

More Terracotta Warriors.

His tomb remains sealed, but three of the four pits that exist at the site are open to the public. Here you can learn how archaeologists have identified and reconstructed each member of the army from the rubble left behind by those who purposely tried to destroy them.

terracotta warriors

Even More Terracotta Warriors.

I traveled to Xi'an nearly 3-years to the day after visiting the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco for a peek at their 2013 exhibit of the terracotta warriors. The exhibit is quite good. Naturally, it pales a bit in comparison to the actual excavation site, but if you do have the opportunity to see it while it's touring, you will not be disappointed. Chinese history is fascinating, at least to me.

street gate

Shuyuan Gate - Shuyuanmen is an ancient cultural street in Xi'an now filled with trendy shops, kiosks and restaurants.

Xi'an was the first capital city of China and where the silk road began. There are several points of interest in and around Xi'an in addition to the Terracotta Army. In fact, Huaqing Hot Spring lies between the excavation site and Xi'an. It is an excellent spot to learn more about China's rich history, especially from the Tang dynasty era. Other popular sites include the Big Goose pagoda located inside Daci'en Temple and the Shaanxi Provincial History Museum.

bikes on wall

Tour the 14 km (8.7 mi) of the City Wall of Xi'an on a rented bicycle.

The one site in Xi’an you can’t miss is, of course, is the City Wall built by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang in the 14th century under the Ming dynasty. Spanning 13.7 kilometers around the city, along with a moat, the wall is 12 meters high and 12-15 meters wide.

Though originally guarded by soldiers and meant to protect the city from invasion, it is now open to the wanderings of locals and visitors alike. Those interested in exploring the perimeters of the wall can walk it, or even rent a bicycle and peddle their way around. Don’t forget to stop along the way to take in the view from each of the gates facing NSEW.

blossom bell tower

Sunset at the Bell Tower of Xi'an

The bell and drum towers constructed to sound for the opening and closing of the gates still stand, with the bell tower sounding at dawn and the drum tower at dusk. The view of the towers from the gates is slightly obstructed by the modern city, but these exquisite timekeepers are certainly worth a closer look.

Beautifully constructed, they reflect every minute of the sun's changing light from sunrise to sunset. Once the sky grows dark, the towers are lit and continue their duties, shining brightly at the center of the city's busy nightlife.

bell tower night

Bell Tower of Xi'an at night.

Nighttime in Xi'an is far from boring. There are countless bars and restaurants for those who like to carry on until the wee hours. Defu alley is a popular spot for westerners. 

drum tower crowd

Crowds pass by the Drum Tower of Xi'an on their way to the Muslim Quarter.

If you are looking for a show, there are multiple options year round. My one regret is not attending a Qinqiang. This folk opera, representative of the Shaanxi province, is the oldest style of Chinese opera.

chili dude

A spice vendor crushing local chili powder in the Muslim Quarter.

For those looking for family-friendly entertainment, visit the largest-scale acoustic complex in the world at the North Square of the Big Goose Pagoda. A music and light show takes place daily at the fountain. Showtimes are weekdays 12 p.m. or 10 p.m. Weekends every 2-hrs 10 a.m. -10 p.m. The show is free, and an umbrella is recommended.

just beat it

Candy crushers in the Muslim Quarter.

The Muslim Quarter is an excellent place to explore in the evening. This busy area is a great spot to fill up on street food or pick up souvenirs, local treats or spices. With vendors pulling taffy, cooking street-side, and grinding chili powder and walnut flour, most will find a stroll through these lively, crowded streets colorful and entertaining.

Here's a montage of all of my Xi'an vacation photos. Yep. All of 'em.

Buses to the Terracotta Army
Buses leaving from the train station outside the north gate of the city wall will get you nearly anywhere you want to go.

#306 is the most direct to Qin Shi Huang's burial site and Terracotta Army. The fare is ¥7 each way.

#914 and #915 take less direct routes, but they will get you there. The fare is ¥9 each way.

#608 AKA 游8 or "Tourist 8" connects the railway station, the Bell Tower, the Small Goose Pagoda and Xi'an Museum, the Shaanxi Historic Museum and the Big Goose Pagoda, but you may wait 30-60 minutes for it to arrive.

Tipping in China

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