Since it’s easy to find information about what to see in Xi’an, we decided to provide you some information that you may not find online. In this article, after a brief historical introduction necessary to understand the importance of the city, we will tell you how to get to the most relevant sights, how much they cost and how many days you need to spend in Xi’an to fully enjoy the city.
Brief History of Xi’an
Once the ending point of the Silk Road and melting pot of cultures and religions as well as residence of emperors, poets, merchants and warriors, Xi’an started declining around the X century but today you still can find several proofs of the glorious past in the modern and chaotic city. Under the Qin dynasty (221-206 B.C.) China was unified for the first time and Xianyang, northwest of Xi’an, became its capital. The first Chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huang, ordered the construction of the Terracotta Army and his mausoleum just to the east of Xi’an right after his ascension to the throne. The following dynasties, among which the Han (206 B.C. -220 A.D.), the Sui (518-618) and the Tang (618-907), made Xi’an, at the time called Cháng’ān, their capital and the city became the largest and richest city in the world. However, the capital was then moved to Luòyáng (Hénán province) due to threats of foreign invasions and the rich city of Xi’an started declining. Rebellions and famines further contributed to worsening the, already precarious, condition of the city and Xi’an was largely devastated by the earthquake of 1556, that caused the death of around 830000 people. The once rich city of Xi’an became one of the poorest cities in the empire and the extreme poverty contributed to make Xi’an one of the ports of entry of communist ideologies reaching China from the Soviet Union. From 1950, Xi’an has become one of the most industrialized cities in China and, thanks to its geographical position, has also become one of the main railway and highway hub. In fact, Longhai rail line connects the East and the West of China passing through Xi’an and a dense network of highways connects the city to other cities in the same province or in neighbouring ones.
Most relevant sights and the answers that you generally don’t find online:
- Terracotta Army. If you go to Xi’an you will definitely end up to the Terracotta Army. The site is located quite far from the city centre (40km), it will take a while to get there and the ticket costs 120¥ including the emperor mausoleum. You have three options to get there:
- Taking a shuttle bus organized by your hotel/hostel. This is definitely the most comfortable option but probably the most expensive one as well
- Taking a shuttle bus at Xi’an central railway station (it departs from behind the wall) . We assume that this is the preferred option by most tourists, since you just need to get into the bus, which stops right in front of the ticket office. We did it on the way back but we don’t recommend it since it wasn’t the fastest option. It took us more than 2hrs to come back to the city centre due to traffic jam and the cost was 10¥
- Taking the metro and bus. This is our preferred option since it’s the fastest and the cheapest. From the city centre of Xi’an take the metro to Fangzhicheng metro station (last stop on the line 1) then EXIT ON THE LEFT and take the tourist bus number 5, also called 306, at the bus stop in front of you. You will probably see a bunch of people waiting for it. It took us “just” 1h and a half and the total cost was 7¥ (4¥ the metro +3¥ the bus)
- Xi’an city wall. Cycling or walking on the city walls at sunset is a not-to-miss experience in Xi’an. You can only access (cost 54¥ per person) from the South Gate (Yongningmen metro station) and, on the wall, you can hire a bike. You can return the bicycles at any gate and the cost is 45¥ per bike. After 7pm you can only return the bikes to the South Gate.
- Great mosque of Xi’an. In the heart of the Muslim neighborhood, the Great Mosque of Xi’an is definitely one of the best mosque we have visited in China. The entry ticket costs 25¥ per person. Unfortunately though, you can visit all the gardens but you cannot access the mosque itself unless you are Muslim. However, they stopped just western tourists and not Chinese citizens from getting in. Were they all Muslim? We don’t think so! Most probably, they just didn’t want to have problems with the Chinese government considering what’s going on in Xinjiang.
- Xi’an bell and drum tower. You can get a cumulative ticket for 50¥. Both are worth to be visited and, if you manage, try not to miss the music show at the drum tower. Here the timetables:
- Daci’en temple/Big wild goose pagoda. Take the metro to Dayanta metro station (metro line 4) then walk 500 metres southward to get there. The entry ticket to the temple costs 40¥ and it doesn’t include the visit to the pagoda. If you want to go on top of it, it will cost you 25¥. Does it worth to go on top of the big wild pagoda? Not really, we don’t recommend you to do so! The inside is modern and there is not much to see a part of a nice view of the city from the top (you will get the same if you go on top of the city wall).
How many days do you need to visit Xi’an? Well, it’s up to you but we suggest you to calculate at least three days to see the most of it. Consider that you will need almost one full day to visit the Terracotta Warriors unless you don’t go to the emperor mausoleum and the distances between the sights are huge! In three days we managed to visit most of the sights of interest and we were glad we spent one day more than our original plan in Xi’an!