I really enjoyed my time in Xi’an. The main reason I visited was, of course, to come and marvel at the Terracotta Army, which is one of the most prestigious archaeological discoveries in modern history. Yet there are other noteworthy attractions here in the city and I will guide you through some of the best of them below:
The Xi’an City Wall is actually the largest city wall in the world and its current form was built in the Ming Dynasty on exactly the same site of the Tang Dynasty’s own city wall! The wall is 12 meters high and 15 metres wide at its peak, and stretches for over 13km around the city limits. You can rent a bike to ride all along the wall for CNY40, but walking is completely free – just be aware it will take at least 4 hours to complete!
Muslim Street was one of the more fascinating areas of Xi’an, as I had no idea Islam was so popular in this part of China; I had thought it was only prevalent further north west, and closer to the fabled Silk Road countries in central Asia. Still, the mixture of Islamic and Chinese on display here at Muslim Street, epitomised by the awesome Grand Mosque, was a delight to see.
Also around Muslim Street was some nice street food vendors and shops, and some of them were serving up the local Shaanxi delicacy Biang Biang Mian (noodles). These thick noodles are distinctive to all other Chinese noodles dishes I have seen, and I just had to order some. They were awesome, and it’s always good to load up on carbs before you explore the rest of the Xi’an!
The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda was my favourite attraction in the city of Xi’an. It serves as an official emblem of the city, and as such it may look familiar to you if you have had a passing interest in China up to now. Its beginnings occurred in the 7th century when a Buddhist traveller from India used its interiors to store many statues and figurines of Buddha. Nowadays, the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is a working Buddhist temple and monastery – and if you have the legs, you can climb the pagoda and take in some amazing views of downtown Xi’an!
The Xi’an Bell Tower is situated right in the middle of the city, and is usually combined with a trip to the Drum Tower. The Bell Tower, however, is the more impressive of the two, with its striking exterior. The legends surround in the Bell Tower are so interesting and this kind of romanticism really enhances your trip to the tower!
The Forest of Steles was one of the weirdest things I saw in Xi’an but still found it interesting enough to include here, and it is a major attraction in the city for all travellers. It is basically a collection of 2000 stone epitaphs sticking out of the ground, some dating back to the 7th century.
Banpo Village Ruins was a day trip I took from Xi’an on my final day in the city. It may not be for everyone, but I thought the site of a 6000 year old village with in tact architecture, tools, and pottery from the era was too good an opportunity to miss. The ancient village and accompanying museum here is a nice change of pace from what you may be used to in the city proper.
When all is said and done, though, the main reason tourists come to Xi’an is to see the Terracotta Army. Nowadays, tour companies even offer day trips from Beijing (certainly do-able)! The Terracotta Army was discovered by a few Chinese farmers in 1974 and is now deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I paid CNY150 for admission to the site, and while that is relatively expensive, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity (despite all the other great things to see and do in the city)!