Xian, located in the heart of China’s Shaanxi province, is a city with a rich history and vibrant culture. Home to one of the world’s most famous archaeological discoveries – the Terracotta Army, Xian offers a unique blend of ancient wonders and modern attractions. From exploring the well-preserved city walls to indulging in the lively atmosphere of the Muslim Quarter, there is something for everyone in this captivating city.
As the ancient capital of China for over 1,000 years, Xian was the starting point of the world-renowned Silk Road and served as a melting pot of different cultures and religions. Today, this historical significance is evident in its stunning architectural landmarks, captivating museums, and bustling streets lined with traditional markets. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a food lover, or simply seeking adventure, Xian has countless experiences to offer.
In this article, we will delve into the 11 best things to do in Xian, highlighting the must-visit attractions and experiences that will make your trip truly unforgettable. From exploring the marvels of the Terracotta Army to immersing yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of the Muslim Quarter, we will guide you through the city’s hidden gems and iconic landmarks.
So, get ready to embark on an extraordinary journey through the ancient capital of China as we explore the 11 best things to do in Xian.
Visit the Terracotta Army
No visit to Xian is complete without witnessing the awe-inspiring Terracotta Army. Discovered in 1974 by local farmers, this archaeological wonder is often hailed as the Eighth Wonder of the World. The Terracotta Army consists of thousands of life-sized clay soldiers, horses, and chariots that were buried alongside Emperor Qin Shi Huang to protect him in the afterlife.
Upon entering the impressive Pit 1, you’ll be greeted by row after row of meticulously crafted terracotta warriors. Each soldier has unique facial features, hairstyles, and armor, reflecting the incredible craftsmanship and attention to detail of the artisans who created them over 2,000 years ago.
As you explore the site, you’ll also have the opportunity to visit the smaller pits, which house other treasures such as bronze chariots, weapons, and acrobats. The depth and scale of the Terracotta Army is truly mesmerizing, and it offers a fascinating glimpse into the ancient history and artistic achievements of China.
To make the most of your visit, consider hiring a guide who can provide insights into the historical background and significance of the site. Also, be sure to allocate ample time to fully explore the three pits and visit the onsite museum, which displays additional artifacts and provides further context about the construction of the army.
Pro tip: To avoid the crowds, try to visit the Terracotta Army early in the morning or late in the afternoon. This will not only allow you to explore the site more comfortably but also provide better lighting for photography.
Visiting the Terracotta Army is an absolute must-do in Xian. Its historical significance and awe-inspiring scale make it a truly unforgettable experience that will leave you in awe of ancient Chinese civilization.
Explore the Ancient City Wall
Standing proudly in the heart of Xian, the Ancient City Wall is one of the best-preserved city walls in China and offers a glimpse into the city’s ancient past. Built during the Ming Dynasty, the wall stretches over 13.7 kilometers and is an impressive architectural marvel.
Walking or cycling along the wall is a popular activity for both locals and tourists alike. The wide pathway allows for leisurely strolls or invigorating bike rides while enjoying panoramic views of the city. The wall is also beautifully illuminated at night, creating a romantic ambiance that is perfect for an evening walk.
As you make your way along the wall, you’ll encounter numerous guard towers, each offering a unique perspective of the city. Climb up the towers for breathtaking views of Xian’s skyline, with its modern high-rises juxtaposed against the historic architecture. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the stunning vistas.
For those seeking a more immersive experience, consider renting a bicycle and cycling around the entire wall. It takes approximately 2-3 hours to complete a full circuit, depending on your pace. The rental bikes are readily available at various points along the wall, and it’s a fantastic way to explore the different neighborhoods and landmarks that lie within the ancient city.
If cycling is not your preferred mode of transportation, you can also opt for a leisurely electric cart ride. These carts provide a comfortable and convenient way to explore the wall while enjoying informative commentary from the driver.
Besides the wall itself, the South Gate and the Bell Tower are worth visiting. The South Gate is the main entrance to the wall and offers a grand entrance with its intricate architecture. The Bell Tower, located in the center of the city, served as a timekeeping mechanism in ancient times and now houses a museum.
Exploring the Ancient City Wall is not only a great way to connect with the city’s history but also provides a unique perspective of Xian’s modern development. The stunning views and the sense of awe as you walk atop this ancient structure make it a truly memorable experience.
Discover the Shaanxi History Museum
Step into the rich cultural heritage of Xian by visiting the Shaanxi History Museum, which is considered one of the finest museums in China. Located near the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, this museum houses over 370,000 artifacts that showcase the history and culture of the Shaanxi province.
Upon entering the museum, you’ll be greeted by a grand display of ancient relics, including bronze wares, pottery, jade artifacts, and exquisite Tang Dynasty murals. The exhibits span thousands of years, offering a comprehensive overview of the region’s rich history from prehistoric times to the Qing Dynasty.
One of the highlights of the museum is the extensive collection of terracotta figurines, which provides an excellent supplement to the famous Terracotta Army. These intricately crafted figurines depict a range of individuals, from soldiers and officials to musicians and dancers, offering a glimpse into the diverse social fabric of ancient China.
The museum is thoughtfully designed, with each gallery representing a different period in history. As you move from one section to another, you’ll notice the evolution of artistic styles, cultural practices, and technological advancements, providing a deeper understanding of the region’s past.
Audio guides and English placards are available throughout the museum, enabling visitors to learn more about the artifacts and their historical context. Guided tours are also available for a more comprehensive experience.
Pro tip: The museum can get crowded, especially during weekends and holidays. To avoid long queues, plan your visit for a weekday morning or late afternoon.
Exploring the Shaanxi History Museum is like embarking on a journey through time. The intricate artifacts, well-curated exhibits, and informative displays offer a fascinating insight into the rich history and cultural heritage of Xian and the surrounding region.
Explore the Muslim Quarter
Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of Xian’s Muslim Quarter, a bustling neighborhood that offers a delightful mix of traditional Muslim culture, mouthwatering street food, and bustling markets. Located near the Drum Tower, this lively area is a must-visit for food enthusiasts and those seeking to experience the local culture.
Upon entering the Muslim Quarter, you’ll be greeted by a maze of narrow streets filled with a plethora of food stalls, shops, and traditional architecture. The area has a rich Islamic heritage, dating back to the Tang Dynasty when the Silk Road trade route brought merchants and travelers from all over the world to Xian.
One of the highlights of the Muslim Quarter is the street food. Get ready to tantalize your taste buds with a wide array of flavors and aromas. From the famous “Roujiamo” (Chinese-style burger) to “Yangrou Paomo” (crumbled bread soaked in mutton soup), the street vendors offer a diverse range of culinary delights that are not to be missed. Don’t forget to try the sweet and sticky “Persimmon Cake” for a satisfying dessert.
As you stroll through the bustling streets, take the time to explore the local shops and markets. You’ll find an abundance of traditional handicrafts, souvenirs, and unique trinkets. Bargaining is common practice, so don’t be afraid to negotiate for a good price.
Visiting the Great Mosque is another highlight of the Muslim Quarter. Built during the Tang Dynasty, this magnificent mosque is one of the oldest and largest in China. It showcases a remarkable blend of Chinese and Islamic architectural styles and provides a serene oasis amidst the bustling streets.
In the evening, the Muslim Quarter comes alive with vibrant lights, street performances, and a lively atmosphere. The night markets offer a different experience, with additional food stalls and entertainment options.
Pro tip: The Muslim Quarter can get crowded, especially during weekends and holidays. To avoid the crowds, consider visiting in the morning or early afternoon.
Exploring the Muslim Quarter is like stepping into a different world within Xian. The combination of delicious street food, unique shopping experiences, and the rich Islamic heritage make it a vibrant and unforgettable part of any visit to the city.
Marvel at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda
Rising majestically in southern Xian, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is an iconic symbol of the city and a must-visit attraction for history and architecture enthusiasts. Built during the Tang Dynasty, this ancient Buddhist pagoda stands at an impressive height of 64 meters and offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding area.
The pagoda is part of the Da Ci’en Temple complex, which also includes beautifully landscaped gardens and other historical buildings. As you approach the pagoda, you’ll be captivated by its sheer size and elegant design, adorned with intricate carvings and Buddhist scriptures.
The pagoda was originally built to house Buddhist scriptures and relics brought back from India by the famous monk, Xuanzang. Inside, you can explore the seven-story structure and marvel at the ancient architecture and religious artifacts. Each level offers a different perspective and a deeper understanding of Buddhist teachings.
For a small fee, you can climb to the top of the pagoda, where you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of Xian’s skyline. On a clear day, you can even catch a glimpse of the distant mountains and the city stretching out in all directions.
In the evening, the pagoda comes alive with a beautiful light and music fountain show. The synchronized display of lights, water, and music creates a mesmerizing spectacle that is not to be missed.
Pro tip: To avoid the crowds, consider visiting the Big Wild Goose Pagoda early in the morning or late in the afternoon. This will not only allow you to explore the site more comfortably but also provide better lighting for photography.
A visit to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is a journey back in time and a chance to appreciate the rich cultural and religious heritage of Xian. Whether you’re captivated by its architectural beauty or drawn to its spiritual significance, this iconic landmark is sure to leave a lasting impression.
Explore the Great Mosque
Discover the harmonious blend of Chinese and Islamic culture by exploring the Great Mosque, one of the oldest and most significant Islamic sites in China. Located in the Muslim Quarter of Xian, this architectural masterpiece dates back to the Tang Dynasty and offers a tranquil retreat from the bustling streets.
Unlike traditional Chinese temples, the Great Mosque follows a unique architectural style influenced by Islamic art and design. As you enter the complex, you’ll be greeted by a serene courtyard adorned with beautifully landscaped gardens, decorative arches, and traditional Chinese pavilions.
Explore the intricately designed prayer halls, each characterized by delicate calligraphy, vibrant colors, and ornate patterns. The main prayer hall, known as the Xuanzong Temple, is a masterpiece of Islamic architecture, with its exquisite wooden carvings and ancient artifacts.
One of the distinguishing features of the Great Mosque is its fusion of Chinese and Islamic elements. The traditional Chinese-style gate and pavilions coexist harmoniously with Islamic motifs and Arabic inscriptions, creating a unique architectural blend that reflects the multicultural history of Xian.
Take a walk through the peaceful gardens surrounding the mosque, where you can find ancient trees, tranquil ponds, and stone pathways. The serene ambiance provides an ideal atmosphere for contemplation and reflection.
Pro tip: Respectful attire is required when visiting the Great Mosque. Ensure that your shoulders and knees are covered, and be mindful of the mosque’s significance as a place of worship.
Exploring the Great Mosque is not only a chance to appreciate its architectural beauty but also an opportunity to learn about the history of Islam in China. The serene atmosphere and the intricate blend of cultural influences make it a must-visit destination for any traveler interested in the diverse heritage of Xian.
Visit the Huaqing Palace
Nestled at the foot of Mount Li, the Huaqing Palace is a historical site that offers a glimpse into the luxurious lifestyle of ancient Chinese emperors. This stunning palace complex boasts beautiful gardens, hot springs, and magnificent architecture, making it a popular destination for both history buffs and nature lovers.
The Huaqing Palace has a history that dates back over 3,000 years, serving as a retreat for various emperors and imperial concubines. It gained fame during the Tang Dynasty when it became the favored summer resort of Emperor Xuanzong and his beloved concubine, Yang Guifei.
Take a leisurely stroll through the palace grounds and marvel at the well-preserved halls, pavilions, and courtyards. The intricate carvings, vibrant murals, and ornate decorations showcase the opulence and grandeur of the Tang Dynasty.
One of the highlights of the Huaqing Palace is the famous Nine-Dragon Pool, a picturesque reflecting pool adorned with nine majestic dragon sculptures. This serene setting offers a perfect spot for relaxation and beautiful photo opportunities.
Don’t miss the chance to indulge in the natural hot springs of the Huaqing Palace. The thermal waters are believed to have healing properties and have been enjoyed by emperors and empresses throughout history. Immerse yourself in the warm waters and let the soothing ambiance rejuvenate your mind and body.
Pro tip: The Huaqing Palace can get crowded, especially during peak tourist seasons. To avoid the crowds, consider visiting during weekdays or early in the morning.
Visiting the Huaqing Palace is like stepping back in time and experiencing the opulence of ancient Chinese royalty. The combination of stunning architecture, serene gardens, and therapeutic hot springs creates a memorable and enchanting experience in the heart of Xian.
Explore the Bell Tower and Drum Tower
Rising majestically in the heart of Xian, the Bell Tower and Drum Tower are two iconic landmarks that offer a glimpse into the city’s cultural and architectural heritage. These ancient structures served as important timekeeping mechanisms in ancient China and continue to be symbols of Xian’s history and charm.
The Bell Tower, located at the city’s geographic center, is a magnificent wooden structure that dates back to the Ming Dynasty. Standing at a height of 36 meters, it once housed a large bronze bell that was rung to mark the time and make important announcements to the city’s inhabitants. Today, the Bell Tower serves as a museum and observation deck, offering panoramic views of Xian’s bustling streets and surrounding areas.
Adjacent to the Bell Tower is the Drum Tower, another impressive architectural masterpiece. As the name suggests, this tower once housed a collection of enormous drums that were used to keep time and alert the city of important events. Visitors can enjoy the spectacular drum performances that take place regularly, showcasing traditional Chinese music and culture.
Both the Bell Tower and Drum Tower are beautifully illuminated at night, creating a captivating spectacle that is not to be missed. The vibrant lights and intricate architectural details make for stunning photo opportunities.
Surrounding the towers are lively pedestrian streets, bustling with shops, markets, and traditional eateries. This area is a shopper’s paradise, offering a wide range of souvenirs, crafts, and local delicacies. It’s the perfect place to immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of Xian and indulge in some authentic cuisine.
Pro tip: Visit the Bell Tower and Drum Tower during the evening to enjoy the vibrant nightlife and see the towers illuminated against the night sky.
Exploring the Bell Tower and Drum Tower is a journey into Xian’s past and offers a unique perspective on its ancient timekeeping traditions. The combination of stunning architecture, cultural performances, and vibrant surroundings make this a must-visit destination for any traveler.
Marvel at the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda Fountain Show
Prepare to be dazzled by the mesmerizing fountain show at the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian. Held every evening, this incredible spectacle combines water, music, lights, and lasers to create a stunning visual and auditory experience.
The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, a UNESCO World Heritage site, serves as the backdrop for this impressive show. As darkness falls, the square surrounding the pagoda transforms into a vibrant stage, with water jets and colorful lights dancing in perfect harmony.
The fountain show consists of a series of choreographed water displays set to a variety of musical genres, from classical compositions to contemporary hits. The perfectly synchronized movements of the water, accompanied by a symphony of lights and lasers, create a memorable and immersive experience.
As you watch the fountain show unfold, be prepared to be captivated by the dynamic formations and patterns created by the jets of water. From cascading waterfalls to intricate geometric shapes, this spectacle is sure to leave you in awe.
The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda Fountain Show is not only a feast for the senses but also an opportunity to appreciate the historical significance of this iconic pagoda. Built during the Tang Dynasty, the pagoda served as a repository for Buddhist scriptures brought from India by the famous monk, Xuanzang.
Pro tip: Arrive early to secure a good viewing spot, as the square can get crowded. The fountain show typically begins around sunset, but be sure to check the exact timing beforehand, as it may vary seasonally.
Whether you’re seeking an evening of relaxation, entertainment, or cultural enrichment, the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda Fountain Show is a must-see attraction in Xian. Prepare to be mesmerized by the dazzling display of water, lights, and music that creates a truly memorable experience for all who witness it.
Visit the Tang Paradise
Step into the vibrant world of ancient China by visiting the Tang Paradise, a cultural theme park that beautifully recreates the grandeur and elegance of the Tang Dynasty. Located near the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, this sprawling complex offers a unique blend of entertainment, history, and natural beauty.
The Tang Dynasty was considered a golden age in Chinese history, known for its flourishing arts, literature, and vibrant culture. The Tang Paradise aims to capture the essence of this prosperous era through its meticulously designed gardens, traditional architecture, and captivating performances.
Take a leisurely stroll through the park’s expansive gardens, which are adorned with stunning pavilions, intricately carved statues, and colorful flowers. The design of the gardens reflects the principles of Chinese landscape architecture, combining elements of nature, elegance, and harmony.
Throughout the day, various live performances and cultural shows take place, showcasing traditional Tang Dynasty music, dance, and theater. Be enthralled by the melodic tunes of ancient instruments and the graceful movements of the performers, transporting you back in time to the grandeur of the Tang Dynasty.
One of the highlights of the Tang Paradise is the nightly musical fountain show, a spectacular display of water, lights, and music. The choreographed water jets, set against the backdrop of the stunning landscape, create a mesmerizing experience that is sure to delight visitors of all ages.
Don’t forget to explore the Tang-style market, where you can find a wealth of souvenirs, crafts, and local delicacies. Immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere, interact with vendors dressed in traditional attire, and savor a variety of authentic Tang Dynasty dishes.
Pro tip: The Tang Paradise can get crowded, especially during weekends and holidays. To make the most of your visit, consider arriving early in the day and planning your itinerary accordingly.
Visiting the Tang Paradise is like stepping into a time capsule and experiencing the grandeur of the Tang Dynasty. The combination of beautiful gardens, captivating cultural performances, and immersive entertainment makes it a must-visit destination in Xian.
Explore the Small Wild Goose Pagoda and Xian Museum
Immerse yourself in ancient history and art by visiting the Small Wild Goose Pagoda and the Xian Museum. Located in the picturesque Jianfu Temple complex, this hidden gem offers a serene escape from the bustling city and a chance to delve deeper into Xian’s rich cultural heritage.
The Small Wild Goose Pagoda, also known as the Little Wild Goose Pagoda, stands at a height of 43 meters and is a stunning example of ancient Chinese architecture. Built during the Tang Dynasty, this pagoda served as a Buddhist library, housing numerous scriptures and relics brought from India by the renowned monk, Xuanzang.
As you explore the pagoda, take in the intricate carvings, delicate brickwork, and serene surroundings. Climb the spiral staircase to the top for panoramic views of the temple complex and the surrounding area, offering a unique perspective of Xian’s urban landscape.
Adjacent to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda is the Xian Museum, housed in the former Hall of Guanyin in the Jianfu Temple complex. This museum showcases a vast collection of artifacts, including ancient calligraphy, paintings, ceramics, and sculptures, providing a comprehensive view of Xian’s cultural history.
As you wander through the museum’s galleries, you’ll gain insights into the development of Chinese art, religion, and society spanning various dynasties. English descriptions and audio guides are available to enhance your understanding and appreciation of the exhibits.
Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the temple complex surrounding the pagoda and museum. The beautiful gardens, serene courtyards, and ancient architecture create a peaceful ambiance that invites contemplation and reflection.
Pro tip: The Small Wild Goose Pagoda and Xian Museum are located in a tranquil park setting, making it a perfect spot for a leisurely picnic or a break from sightseeing. Bring some snacks and enjoy a relaxing moment surrounded by history and nature.
Exploring the Small Wild Goose Pagoda and Xian Museum offers a deep dive into the cultural richness and artistic achievements of Xian. The combination of the exquisite architecture, historical artifacts, and peaceful surroundings make it a must-visit destination for any lover of history and art.
Xian, with its deep historical roots and cultural significance, is a city that truly captures the essence of ancient China. From the awe-inspiring Terracotta Army to the serene beauty of the Small Wild Goose Pagoda, this city offers a myriad of experiences that will leave you in awe.
Throughout your journey in Xian, you will have the opportunity to explore magnificent architectural wonders, immerse yourself in vibrant marketplaces, and witness captivating cultural performances. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a food lover, or simply seeking adventure, Xian has something to offer every traveler.
As you traverse the city’s streets, you’ll encounter the remnants of its glorious past, with landmarks like the Bell Tower, Drum Tower, and the ancient city walls serving as reminders of the city’s historical significance. But Xian is not just a destination for history lovers; it also offers plenty of modern attractions, such as the Tang Paradise theme park, which beautifully recreates the splendor of the Tang Dynasty.
Throughout your journey, be sure to indulge in Xian’s culinary delights, from the mouthwatering street food of the Muslim Quarter to the aromatic flavors of traditional Tang Dynasty dishes. The fusion of flavors and influences will tantalize your taste buds and leave you craving for more.
As you leave Xian, you’ll carry with you memories of the Terra Cotta Warriors standing tall, the captivating performances at the Tang Paradise, and the tranquil beauty of the Xian Museum. The city’s rich cultural heritage and welcoming atmosphere will leave an indelible mark on your soul.
So, whether you’re a history buff, a culture enthusiast, or simply seeking a unique travel experience, Xian is a destination that will captivate and inspire you. Embark on a journey through time and immerse yourself in the marvels of ancient China. Xian is waiting to be discovered.