In this guide we will discover some of the best Xian Attractions, including a few well hidden gems!
The city of Xian is over 3,000 years old and has been an important seat for China’s most important dynasties for thousands of years. History abounds and evidence of Xian’s past can be found throughout the city from the Bell and Drum Towers, City Walls to the world famous Xian attraction the Terracotta Army.
As the starting point of the ancient Silk Road, Xi’an also benefits from a range of Middle Eastern and central Asian influences within its food and architecture.
The city is also a bustling metropolis with world-class shops and hotels, interesting cuisine and thriving business areas.
The Terracotta Army, City Walls, Muslim Quarter, Bell Tower, Wild Goose Pagoda and more.
No, by western standards hotels and food are very cheap in Xian.
You can fly (2 hours), take the bullet train (4 to 6 hours) or overnight sleeper train (11 to 15 hours) from Beijing to Xian.
Xian is the capital of Shaanxi Province in north-western China.
Top Xian Attractions
Xi’an City Walls
Xian’s centre is surrounded by 14km of 12m high walls. Punctuated by grand gates at the north and south ends, this Xian attraction is not to be missed! Cycling along the world’s largest city wall is an excellent way to pass a couple of hours. Entrance to the wall is ¥54 and bike hire starts at ¥45 for two hours (¥200 deposit required).
If you are looking for a more relaxed way to take in the walls then you can take a circular ride around in a battery car for ¥80.
Bell and Drum Towers and the Muslim Quarter
Located within the walls and at the geographic centre of the city is the Bell Tower (¥35), one of the top attractions in Xian. Built in 1384 by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, it represents the oldest and best preserved building of its kind in China. The views from the tower towards the walls at each compass point make a trip well worth the small entrance fee.
The nearby drum tower and another of Xian’s attractions, marks the beginning of the Muslim Quarter with its bustling cobbled lanes lined with food-stalls and shops. Head directly west from the Bell Tower and then walk North of the Drum Tower.
Take metro line 2 to Zhonglou and walk west of the Bell Tower, then north when you reach the drum tower.
Top Xian Attractions – The Terracotta Warriors
Arguably the most well-known and popular of the Xian attractions is the site of the Terracotta Army (Terracotta Warriors and Horses). Unearthed in the 1970’s by farmers digging a well, the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang (died 246BC) was surrounded by an army of life-size warriors and horses.
Three of the excavated pits are open to visitors and is a must see for any serious tourist in China. I found the museum and archaeological site so interesting I went round twice! The site is not huge and you can easily see everything in around 2 hours, but the pleasant gardens make for an excellent place for a picnic in spring and summer. Entrance is ¥150.
To get to the Terracotta Army take bus 306 from the East Square outside Xi’an Railway station. Journey time is approximately 1 hour and the cost of the bus is ¥7.
From the grounds of the Terracotta Army, Lishan Mountain can be seen in the distance and this makes an excellent side trip. The base of the mountain has some wonderful landscaped gardens and hot springs and has been a site visited by the Emperors of China for centuries.
A cable-car runs part way up the mountain, but it is possible to hike up and down in around 4 hours. Stone steps lead all the way to the summit and the views out over the Yellow River basin are magnificent. As with the Warriors, take bus 306 from Xi’an station (¥7 45 minutes).
Hidden Gem: Cuihua Geological Park
Situated in the Qinling Mountains 20km South of Xian lies the Cuihua Geopark. Mountains, an alpine lake, ice caves and the enormous remnants of a landslide make Cuihu a geological paradise and fun for all the family.
Get lost in the ice and wind caves as you descend beneath gigantic boulders. Stroll along the shores of the Heavenly Lake or climb the steep precipitous steps 2,000 metres to Cuihua peak (strenuous but worth it for the views at the top). Entrance to the geopark is ¥70.
To get to get to the mountain take metro Line 2 to Weiqunan and then take the 905 bus (¥4). Journey time is about 90 minutes from central Xi’an. You could also take a taxi if you can negotiate (around ¥100).
Type in “World’s most dangerous walkway” into Google or Youtube and Huashan will be at the top due to the infamous Plank Walk; a few rotting boards of wood held together with some rusty nails 2,000 foot up the side of a sheer cliff.
Huashan also happens to be one of China’s 5 holy mountains dotted with temples clinging to the cliffs high above the clouds. For those without a death-wish it makes an excellent day trip from Xi’an as it is just 30 minutes away by fast train. If you don’t fancy the stomach-churning climb then cable cars can take you to 2 of the 5 peaks where you can hike between them at the top.
Luoyang (for Longmen Grottoes and the Shaolin Temple)
The ancient city of Luoyang is 90 minutes by bullet train from Xianbei station (¥175 second class seat) and is worthy of a few days to explore the Longmen Grottoes; a selection of 100,000 Buddha statues carved into mountainside, and the world famous Shaolin Temple and home of Kung-Fu.
Go to Beikezhan (final stop on metro line 2) and take the train from Xianbei. Tickets can be bought at the ticket office and usually don’t sell out given the number of trains running per day. You can also book online or via the Ctrip app (download here).
Eating and Drinking in Xi’an
Xi’an is famous for its food. Whether you want to tuck into interesting street-food on Muslim Street, grab a burger at a famous chain or dine in one of the any upmarket Chinese and western restaurants in the centre of the city there is something to suit all tastes and budgets.
Xi’an also has a great selection of bars located around the southern gate (metro stop Yongningmen on line 2).
Marleys Coffee serves cheap but tasty western meals (¥20 for handmade burger and chips) and has a great selection of beers and cocktails (I recommend the “Tomorrow”). The décor is “backpacker” with flags and graffiti on the walls and the music selection is usually pretty good. A great place to while away an evening.
Near Wall Bar has an on-site brewery and live music every night. A good selection of real beers and snacks and has a great atmosphere. Located next to the wall 500m west of the South Gate.
Xi’an Cook Shop is an upmarket and popular restaurant a few minutes walk from the Bell Tower specializing in Xi’an’s cuisine. Large open-plan restaurant with views to the bustling kitchen. Nice surroundings, good service, the food is delicious and very reasonably priced. We ordered four large dishes and two beers and the bill came to ¥128 for two.
Getting Around Xi’an:
Xi’an has 4 metro lines with Line 2 running from Xianbei (North Station) to the south of the city with stops at most of the major central destinations.
Taxi’s are ubiquitous, but traffic can be heavy. The minimum fare is ¥10 and then ¥1.50 for each additional kilometre.
Buses are great to get to the outlying attractions such as the Terracotta Army, Lishan and Cuihua and cost from ¥1 to ¥7.
Within the city walls everywhere is reachable on foot.
Where to stay in Xi’an
Xi’an has accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets. See the booking.com map below for locations and prices.
Budget: Travelling with Hostel (South Gate)
This excellent hostel is right next to the South Gate and very close to the main Xian attraction. There is a rooftop bar with fantastic views across the city (you can visit even if you are not staying at the hostel). Dorm beds under ¥100.
Metro: Yongningmen, Line 2
Luxury: Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel
This upscale hotel has rooms overlooking the south gate and walls with rooms starting at ¥500 per night. There is a restaurant and spa on site. The buffet breakfast is superb with a large selection of Chinese and Western options. A great base to explore Xian’s attractions!
Metro: Yongningmen, Line 2
Getting to Xi’an
Air: Xi’an Xianyang International Airport is 40km north east of the city and is serviced by flights to most major Chinese cities and also includes a handful of international flights (Helsinki, San Franciso, Bangkok and Singapore). See Trip.com for great deals on flights.
Rail: Xi’an is well serviced by three railway stations. Xianbei in the north is the high speed line with connections to Huashan, Luoyang, Beijing and Shanghai. The North station can be reached by going to Beikezhan (final stop on metro line 2).
Xi’an Station and Xi’an South service Chinese cities in the South and East.
About the Author
Steve Rohan, originally from England, has lived in China for over six years. He has lived in the frozen city of Harbin, the ancient capital of Luoyang and now resides in the tropical paradise of Sanya on Hainan Island.
He has travelled extensively across Europe and Asia, mostly by train, and has written about his travels for this blog as well as self-publishing his first book, Siberian Odyssey.
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