Anyone visiting China could overlook Xian as an important destination to visit. The Terracotta Warriors are an amazing discovery for the city, but Xian, China is a great location to visit for so many other reasons. Here is what we did while visiting Xian, China in one day.
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Xian City Wall
Xian Muslim Quarter
We stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel in Xian to treat ourselves, but there are so many amazing hotels in the city. Here are some of the best areas and places to stay in Xian.
We took the overnight train from Beijing to Xian and so arrived in the city around 8:30 a.m. We flew out the next day at around noon. Because I knew we’d only have one day in Xian, I did not plan too many things — but stuck to three important locations while we were there.
Xian City Wall
The Xian City Wall is a must-see when in Xian, and was even more amazing in person than all the videos I watched. The city wall is nearly 700 years old, and is the most complete city wall that exists today in China. It is 13.7 kilometers (around 8.5 miles) around, with numerous gates all the way around.
Renting bicycles on the Xian City Wall
To get to the top of the Xian City Wall, you can find one of the numerous gates around the city and climb up. You can walk around the entire thing, although the length may take a little longer than a one-day trip will allow (if you are planning to do other things too).
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We rented bicycles to ride around, and took a leisurely ride. We stopped for beer once, and there is a short section that is too busy to ride, so you have to get off your bikes and walk.
With those stops, our entire ride took nearly three hours.
There are a few cafes on top the wall, and you can have a small bite to eat or a beer on your way. This moment was one of my favorite from my entire trip to China, and is so worth spending some time.
One tip: If you are looking to get your deposit back on your bicycle (100 yuan, or around $14), you have to ride all the way around. There are so many times you will look over the side and see something cool — like a street market or monastery — and will want to get off. But you will not be able to if you want to get your deposit back, so just keep that in mind when you rent your bicycle on the Xian City Wall.
Xian Muslim Quarter
After a day at the Terracotta Warriors and riding a bicycle around the Xian City Wall, I was exhausted and was ready to rest. However, I had heard so many things about the Xian Muslim Quarter that we had to go — and I am SO glad we did.
The Xian Muslim Market is one of many markets in Xian, but it feels the most local and genuine. In China, so much is targeted to tourists — and even with the high-profile coverage of this market, it feels like it has not changed much in decades.
Taking the overnight Beijing to Xian train – the Deluxe Soft Sleeper on the Z19 train
To get to the market, you will walk a mile or two away from the main road and tourist areas through backroads of Xian, which in itself is a wonderful experience (of course depending on the location you are coming from). Once you get there, you will find a market lined with food vendors and neon lights, and some of the best food you will ever eat.
We stopped at four different booths and got meat on a stick, potatoes, and amazing dumplings (the best I had on this trip). The market is not incredibly long, but is enough time to eat all the authentic Chinese food you can and then find your way back to the main road.
If you are in Xian, do not miss the Muslim Quarter, because it will be one of the best things you will do on your trip to China.
I saved this one for last, because it’s the most obvious thing to do in Xian, but my least favorite of all the things we did. The only reason I even put Xian in our itinerary is because of the Terracotta Soldiers, but it was very over-hyped and underwhelming. That being said, I am not unhappy with my decision to put this location on our list.
The reason the Terracotta Warriors was underwhelming is because there were too many people there, it was hard to see the soldiers, and they were just attempting to sell you things.
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The Terracotta Soldiers site is not yet completely excavated — so if you think of the living history we are in it’s pretty amazing. But because of this, you have to stand very far away from the soldiers, along with thousands of others trying to get a view. To get to the actual site, you have to take a bus pretty far out of Xian, stand in line for minutes (or even hours), walk even further to the site, and then fight your way into the building.
The soldiers themselves are pretty amazing when you think about what it all means. There were thousands of soldiers carved for the tomb, each with their own faces, and then painted individually. They sat undisturbed for centuries before being discovered.
Take the 306 Bus to the Terracotta Warriors
To get to the Terracotta Warriors, find the 306 bus from the Xian Railway Station. It is pretty inexpensive and will take you to the site. They will collect your money on the bus.
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To get back to Xian is a little trickier. Signs for the bus were not clear, and the only line we could find was for a different bus. Even though we were fairly certain it was the return bus, the line for the bus was at least 400 yards long. We decided to opt for a taxi on the way back, along with a German couple we ran into while looking for the bus.
We negotiated a rate, and spent around $25 total to get back to Xian — really not bad, especially if you’re sharing the cost.
Even if you decide you don’t want to see the Terracotta Warriors, I would definitely suggest Xian on your next trip.
There were one or two things I wish we had seen, so even though you can see Xian in one day, I would suggest spending at least two days in Xian if you are planning to go — it is a former capital and a beautiful city in so many ways. It was the least touristy and most authentic Chinese city we were in, and full of so much culture and history.