I spent my first day in Xi’an taking in all the sights within walking distance of my hostel. On the next day I took a Terracotta Warriors tour and discovered the parks to the south of the walled city. I really enjoyed visiting Xi’an. A lot of people speak basic English and the traditional, Chinese architecture has largely been preserved. I’d recommend three full days to see all of the sights.
The main train station is located in the north of the city, right by the old city walls. There are about two-million people living within these walls and it’s where you’ll find most of the tourist spots, including (i) Muslim Quarter, (ii) the mosque and (iii) the drum tower. I stayed at Seven Sages Hostel (belonging to the Youth Hostelling Association), which was great. It was clean, cheap and friendly.
I booked a half-day Terracotta Warriors tour through my hostel. I knew it was going to be a money-spinner, but I also knew that I didn’t have long in Xi’an so I couldn’t afford any delays. Our tour group was shown first to the replica museum and then onto the warriors themselves. They are spread across three pits, all within walking distance of each other.
The Terracotta Warriors is your top priority for Xi’an. Next should be the famous Muslim Quarter. Head south along the main avenue and you will come across the Drum Tower and the Muslim Quarter is just behind the tower. You enter a packed network of bazaars that come out onto a maze of tiny, bustling streets. The food is brilliant, so make sure you eat here, too. There are two mosques in Xi’an. My favourite is to be found down a tiny street, hidden behind an inconspicuous gate. It’s the kind of mosque you see on TV – beautiful and ornate.
The Terracotta Warriors have fascinated me since I was a child and the Muslim Quarter lived up to my high expectations. Once I had exhausted all of the sights within the city walls I left the inner-city. There are two pagodas to see in the southern part of Xi’an. Your priority should be the Big Goose Pagoda. It doesn’t resemble a traditional Chinese pagoda, which is a welcome change. And it sits in the middle of a large expanse of parkland and public spaces. Nearby you will find a built-up area that has both Chinese and Western food courts.
Xi’an is without a doubt my favourite Chinese city. It has so much to offer: (i) an excursion to the Terracotta Warriors, (ii) lots of traditional Chinese architecture, (iii) the famous Muslim Quarter, (iv) huge expanses of beautiful parkland as well as (v) a good selection of bars and Western dining options. It’s tiny compared to Beijing and Shanghai, so getting around is so much more straightforward. Expect a lot of walking, though. I found it nearly impossible to find taxis.