Xi’an is often referred to as the birthplace of Chinese civilization. Better known as the capital of the Shaanxi Province and the start of the Silk Road, Xi’an is an ancient city that still holds many historical secrets. While most tourists stay for only two or three days, if you love Chinese history then a trip here could easily warrant a week. Here is a quick guide to Xi’an.
FAST FIVE FACTS
Population: 7.16 million
Location: Guanzhong Plain of Shaanxi Province, China
Time Zone: GMT + 8
Currency: Renminbi / Chinese yuan
WHEN TO VISIT
The best time to visit Xian is during spring and autumn. March – May is characterized by temperatures of 7 – 19 degrees while autumn is characterized by a range of 13 – 19 degrees. Light rainfall and cooler weather during these months make exploring much more pleasurable.
By air: Xianyang Airport is one of China’s best connected airports. It receives flights from all major Chinese cities and a range of international ones too.
By Train: Xi’an’s main train station is located just outside of the city walls. Major train routes run to big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Guilin, Lanzhou and Zhengzhou. While not much English is spoken at the ticket counters, most hotels and hostels can help you pre-book tickets.
TOP THINGS TO SEE & DO
Bell Tower & Drum Tower
Dating back to the 14th century, the Bell Tower is located right in the heart of Xi’an’s city center. It is said to be the start of the Silk Road and originally was a symbol of sunrise. It holds a large bell that would be rung at dawn while the Drum Tower symbolizes nightfall. Entrance for a combined ticket costs around RMB 40.
Xian has long been home to a large Hui (Chinese Muslim) community. Located along the backstreets, just north from the drum tower, you will find the bustling Muslim quarter. Here you will find rows of local eating houses, mosques and chili stands.
Founded in the 8th century and now forming one of the largest mosques in China, the Great Mosque holds a unique blend of Chinese and Islamic architecture. The mosque faces to the west towards Mecca. Look out for a range of Chinese styled pagodas and a spirit wall that has been designed to keep demons away. Entrance is approximately RMB 25.
The Army of Terracotta Warriors
This forms one of China’s most famous archaeological finds to date. A life-sized army of thousands of terracotta warriors stand watch over one of China’s greatest emperors. These soldiers, which are already in battle formation, were uncovered by peasants drilling into a well back in 1974.
Cycle around the Ancient City Walls
Xian is one of the very few Chinese cities that have their old city walls still standing. Built in 1370 during the Ming dynasty, the 12 meter high ancient city walls are surrounded by a dry moat. Rent a bike for approximately RMB 100 and spend a few hours cycling on the city wall.
WHAT TO EAT & DRINK
Visit the Muslim Quarter for a unique fusion of Chinese and Muslim taste. Popular dishes include majiang liangpi (cold noodles in sesame sauce); roujiamo (Chinese hamburger: fried pork or beef in pita bread) and yangrou paomo (a soup that has crumbed bread, noodles, mutton and broth).
EASY PHRASES TO REMEMBER:
Hello – Nĭhăo
Goodbye – Zàijiàn
I need… – Wŏ xiăngyào…
How much is it –duoshao?
Train station – huŏchē zhàn
Metro Station – Xī ān ditìĕ