Xi'an travel guide
Beijing was just a distant blot on the Chinese map when Xi’an was the capital of the Empire. Considered to be the biggest city in the Middle Kingdom, this magnificent place was the symbol of everything the Chinese was proud of – pavilions, temples, palaces, pagodas, academies, markets – the height of sophistication and the start of the Silk Road, Xi’an was a city unlike the world had ever seen before.
With roots stretching back to antiquity, Xi’an’s typically Chinese grid system streets date back to the Tang Dynasty, meaning that you could never get lost. Home to 20 million people, Xi’an has been modernized in recent years but the ancient buildings stand proud next to recent constructions. With its exhilarating atmosphere, its rich cultural legacy, and ancient history marking every corner of the city, Xi’an is a place not to be missed.
A city guide to Xi’an is essential for ensuring that you don’t miss out on the many things to do here, but one place you are guaranteed not to miss out on is a trip to see the Terracotta Warriors. The iconic symbol of the region, the Terracotta Warriors are the brainwave of the First Emperor of China, Qing Shi Huang Di, who used them to guard his tomb as he rested for all eternity. Located 18 miles east of the city and discovered only in 1974 by a peasant, the various warriors included infantrymen, archers, officers and horses, are located in the Museum of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses (Qinshihuang Bingmayong Bowuguan), are visited by millions each year.
Another cultural attraction well loved by visitors are the Qingling Tombs, situated about 80km northwest of the city. These ancient tombs were built fashioned into the mountains and are the final resting places of emperors and various court nobles, many of which still lay unopened. Indeed, the third Tang emperor, Gaozong and his wife, Wu Zetian (the only female emperor in Chinese history), slumber here.
As Xi’an was the starting, or ending, point to the Silk Road the city was home to many different nationalities, including Muslims. The Great Mosque (Qingzhensi) was constructed in 742 CE for members of this faith to worship. Largely fashioned in the distinctive Chinese style, the complex is made up of exquisite gardens, pavilions and other temples.
There are other temples for you to visit here in Xi’an. Many were destroyed, either partially or completely, during the Cultural Revolution but modern restoration projects have seen several re-openings in recent years. Pay a visit to the Lama Temple (Guangrensi), the ancient Buddhist Zen temple known as Wolongshi, the Daoist temple Dongyuemiao where you can pay your respects to the mountain and god Taishan, and lastly, Baxianan, the Temple of the Eight Immortals.
Xi’an has several museums which are all good ways to understand about the city’s importance to Chinese history but the Shaanxi History Museum (Shaanxi Lishi Bowuguan) is by far the best. Situated in the southern area, there are vast galleries designed to take you on a complete journey of the city’s history.
The Big Wild Goose Pagoda (Dayanta) is another cultural attraction that visitors never fail to miss. Constructed back in 652 CE, it once stood in the centre of the city but now sits in the centre of farm land due to the city’s re-design. It was built to be the home of several holy Buddhist texts brought back from India. At seven storeys high, the pagoda is truly spectacular.
Restaurants in Xi’an cater to all kinds of wonderful things to eat but like with most places, has several dishes which are truly unique to the area. If you want a taste of authentic Xi’an, try the Yang Rou Pao Muo, Biang Biang Mian, Xiao long bao-zi and Shi Zi Bing.
Luxury hotels in Xi’an won’t come cheap but are much more affordable than in Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong. Mid-range hotels are probably the best when it comes to rates, comfort and space although you will find several cheap hotels and hostels near the train station if you are on a tight budget.
Xi’an is one of those cities that you must visit at least once in your lifetime, although it may take you at least two trips to get round and see everything. A glorious testament to the strength, the power, the beauty and the long history of the country, Xi’an is a city that certainly makes an impression.