As one of China’s seven ancient capitals, Xi’an served as capital for 13 ancient dynasties over 1,000 years. Xian is blessed with numerous precious cultural relics and historical sites. Except the world-wowed Terracotta Army of the First Emperor, there are countless other sights scattering the city.
1. The Terracotta Warriors
A terracotta warrior
One of the biggest archeological discovery of the 20th century, the Terracotta Army is a massive collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first Emperor. It was interred with the Emperor after his death, as an army to accompany him in his afterlife.
The construction was originally built between 210-209 BCE. Nowadays, tourists can see over 2000 of the soldiers- although there are more than 6000 at the site- as well as horses, chariots, and more. It is said that it took over 700,000 artisans over 40 years, between 246 BCE and ending in 206, to complete this wonder.
Presently the site is partly opened to the public, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and has 3 attached museums.
- Hours of Operation: 16 March to 15 November: 08:00-18:00; 16 November to 15 March: 08:30-17:30
- Price: 120 CNY for adults; Free for children under 140 cm (4 feet 8 inches); 60 CNY for children under age 16; 60 CNY for foreign students studying in China with valid student ID
- Time Required: 2-4 hours
2. Mount Hua
Hiking the Mount Hua
Famous for being one of the world’s most dangerous hikes, Mount Hua, or Huashan, is a multi-peaked mountain with dozens of famous sites to see. There are Taoist temples, caves, grottoes, sheer cliffs with hiking paths, forests, snowy summits in the winter, and beautiful vantage points to see the sunrise.
Some of its main draws include the famous Plank Road in the Sky, a 30 cm (11.81 inch) wide track that juts out from a vertical cliff- rock climbers will recognize the plank walk set-up as being similar to a via-ferrata, albeit most tourists will think of this as a death-defying adventure.
With 5 peaks, numerous temples, camping, hotels, restaurants, and cable cars going up and down from different peaks, hard-core hikers and tourists who want to take it easy will find plenty to do on Mount Hua.
- Hours of Operation: Mount Hua and the ticket office are open 24/7
- West Peak Cableway: March-November: 07:00-19:00, December-February: 08:00-17:00
- North Peak Cableway: March-November: 07:00-20:00, December-February: 08:00-18:00
- Xiyue Temple: 09:00-17:30; Jade Spring Temple: 09:00-19:00
- Price: March-November: 160 CNY; December-February: 120 CNY
- West Peak Cableway: March-November: 140 CNY one-way, 280 CNY round-trip; December-February: 120 CNY one-way, 240 CNY round-trip
- North Peak Cableway: March-November: 80 CNY one-way, 150 CNY round-trip; December-February: 45 CNY one-way, 80 CNY round-trip
- Time Required: 1-2 days
3. Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
The musical fountain-lights show in front of the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
Giant Wild Goose Pagoda (Da Yan Ta), is a piece of history dating back to medieval times. Originally built 5-stories tall in 652 and renovated in 704 to 10-stories. After an earthquake severely damaged it, it lost 3 stories and now sits at 7. The pagoda visibly leans west due to the earthquake damage, but nonetheless it is a testament of withstanding the tests of time.
The pagoda was built to house sutras (religious writings) and figurines/artifacts of the Gautama Buddha. Most of these had been collected from India by the Chinese voyager, scholar, translator, and monk, Xuanzang in the 7th century.
Da Yan Ta rests within the DaCi’en Temple complex, a large superstructure with numerous temples, pavilions, and constructions. There is an underground palace, a fountain lights show, and it still functions as a community activity center. Where locals pray, dance, and practice martial arts.
- Hours of Operation: 08:00-17:00 (hours can vary according to season)
- Price: Da Ci’en Temple Compled: 25 CNY; Entering and ascending Da Yan Ta: 40 CNY. Total: 65 CNY
- Time Required: 2-4 hours
4. Xi’an City Wall
Biking on Xi'an City Wall
Also known as the Xi’an Fortifications, the Xi’an City Wall is the most complete surviving city wall in China. The wall forms a square around the ancient city of Xi’an, creating a 13.7 KM (8.51 mile) perimeter around the city. It was originally built in 1370, by the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, so that he could focus on unifying the other states from a well-defended fortification.
Nowadays tourists can bicycle the length of the city wall, or simply scale the city wall from the interior depending on where they are staying in Xi’an. From the Bell Tower, it is only about a 10-minute walk to the City Wall South Gate.
- Hours of Operation: South Gate: 08:00-24:00; North/West/East Gates: May-October: 08:00-19:00, November-April: 08:00-18:00
- Price: Adults: 54 CNY; Children between 1.2 and 1.4 meters (4-4.6 feet): 27 CNY; Children under 1.2 meters (4 feet): Free
- Time Required: 3-4 hours
5. Great Mosque of Xi’an
The Great Mosque of Xi’an
The Xi’an Great Mosque is the largest Mosque in China. It is also one of the oldest, and best-preserved mosques in the nation. It was built in 742, during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), as a result of Arab and Persian merchants visiting via the Silk Road and later settling down and making China their home. Their descendants became the Hui people who live in Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter today.
Presently, prayer is still held five times daily for local Muslims. The mosque is located squarely in the Muslim Quarter of Xi’an, a great place to enjoy the atmosphere, as well as find all kinds of traditional local food and drink.
- Hours of Operation: 08:00-19:00. During the summer opening hours may be 08:00-20:00
- Price: March-November: 25 CNY; December-February: 15 CNY. Muslims enter free-of-charge.
- Time Required: 1-2 hours
6. Shaanxi Historical Museum
Shaanxi Historical Museum
The Shaanxi History Museum is one of China’s first state museums, and one of its largest. It houses almost 400,000 historical artifacts, including pottery, murals, paintings, currency, and precious metal carvings dating from the Zhou (1046-771 BCE) to the Tang (618-907 CE) periods.
It is recommended to get an English-speaking guide at the Museum, as there is no automated audio guide in English. Additionally, entry can be difficult as it is required to use a booking on WeChat (a Chinese social media app that is freely downloadable) to set up a time slot for visitation.
Foreign visitors who wish to visit the museum will have a much easier time booking time to visit the museum if they use a local guide for booking and for English explanation of the museum’s exhibits.
- Hours of Operation: March 15-November 14: 08:30-18:00; November 15-March 14: 09:00-17:30. (closed on Mondays)
- Price: Free
- Time Required: 2-4 hours
7. The Muslim Quarter
Generally regarded as the best place in the city to get food, the Muslim Quarter is a historical neighborhood populated by the descendants of Arab and Persian traders from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) period.
Visitors here can find traditional Xi’an and Shaanxi food like Rou Jia Mo (Chinese hamburger), Yangrou Pao Mo (mutton soup), Biang Biang Mian (special thick Shaanxi noodles), rice cake, dumpling soup, all kinds of Chwar/Shao Kao (barbecued meat) and much more.
It’s a great area to visit at night for the colorful nightlife and to see the way locals live. Walking through the Muslim Quarter, visitors can take in the sights of locals grinding spices, street vendors, and the general buzz of a busy day and night market.
- Hours of Operation: 24/7, but many restaurants and vendors stop selling at 23:00.
- Price: Free entry
- Time Required: 2 hours
8. Bell Tower
The Xi’an Bell Tower is the center of the ancient city, with streets radiating out in the four cardinal directions to the north, south, east, and west city wall gates.
The 2-story tower is the best-preserved of its kind in China and measures 36 meters (124.7 feet) high, and it’s foundation is a square brick base, 8.6 meters (28.2 feet) high and 35.5 meters (116.5 feet) long on each side. It was built in 1384 to provide early warning of attack from enemy forces. It’s original bell, the Jingyun bell, dates to the tang dynasty (618-907) and weights 6,500 kilograms (14,330 lbs).
It stands today as tribute to China’s ancient glory and a piece of living history. It is considered a must-see for first-time visitors to Xi’an.
- Hours of Operation: March 26-October 25: 08:30-21:00; October26-March 25: 08:30-18:00
- Price: Bell Tower: 30 CNY, Drum Tower: 30 CNY; Bell and Drum Tower: 50 CNY
- Time Required: 1-2 hours
9. Huaqing Palace
Huaqing Hot Spring
A bit less famous than many of Xi’an’s attractions, but equally worth a visit is the Huaqing Palace complex. It’s a complex of pools, palace, and hot springs, once used as a bathing pool by China’s emperors.
Tourists may visit the various halls and pavilions, and maybe even bathe in the hot springs themselves. There is a renowned night show- The Song of Everlasting Sorrow- available to see during Spring, Summer, and Autumn.
- Hours of Operation: March-November: 7:00-18:00; December-February: 07:30-18:30
- Price: Pool and Mt. Li: 120 CNY; Children under 1.2 meters: Free; Song of Everlasting Sorrow Show: Starting at 238 CNY; 12.12 Xi’an Incident Show: 169 CNY
- Time Required: 1-2 hours
10. Tomb of Emperor Jingdi
A terracotta figure excavated from the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi
Emperor Jingdi, of the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 AD) was the emperor who overthrew the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE). The Qin Dynasty actually weakened itself through the construction of the Terracotta Army- draining the royal treasury and requiring too much manpower that could have been used elsewhere in the empire. Jingdi’s rebellion brought in a new era frugality and peace.
Jingdi not only ushered in a more peaceful era, but he made strides to improve the lives of common people, and was thus widely-loved. His tomb is a mausoleum with many of the same elements of the Terracotta Army, but on a much smaller scale to save manpower and costs. Visitors to this underrated museum happily note the lack of crowds and can even see the process of unearthing historic relics.
If you are looking to see something less famous, but equally amazing, this is a Xi’an site you shouldn’t miss.
- Hours of Operation: 08:30-17:30
- Price: March-November: 90 CNY; December-February: 65 CNY
- Time Required: 2-3 hours
More Xi'an Attractions/Activities
Experience Xi’an Your Way
Once the starting point of the Ancient Silk Road leading to the West, Xi’an is one of the top four ancient capitals in the world (the other three are Cairo, Athens and Rome) and has been globally famous for its long history and rich historic attractions. To help you experience the city deeply and without worry, we’ve worked out several sample tours: