About Xian

In this article we will discover 11 of the best things to do in Xian (including some wonderful free things to do in Xian).

Xian is the capital of China’s Shaanxi Province and has been an important centre of culture and trade for centuries. The city was once China’s capital and the first city on the ancient Silk Road. As such Xian has an east-meet-west feel about it.

The city is a major stop on most China itineraries as it is the home of the world-renowned terracotta army of warriors and horses, discovered by farmers in 1974.

Xian has a lot more to offer than just the impressive archaeological site. The walled city is bursting with history, art, culture and food making it one of China’s must-see places.


Where is Xian?

Xian Map

Xian is the capital of China’s Shaanxi Province and lies within the plaines of central China not far from the Yellow River. Xian i the last major tourist stop before the wild western region of China and Tibet.


Top Things to do in Xian in 2021

1. Visit Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum (Terracotta Army)

Terracotta Warriors
Terracotta Warriors – One of the best things to do in Xian

On 24th March 1974 a group of local farmers discovered what was to become one of the greatest archaeological finds in history; the gravesite of Qin Shihuang, the first Emeperor of China (259 to 210BC).

And not just any gravesite. No, no, no! Burried along with the Emperor were 8,000 lifesize ssoldiers, 130 chariots and 670 horses, all made from terracotta. 40,000 pieces of weaponry have also been recovered from the area.

Needless to say, on any trip to Xian, China even, the UNESCO listed mausoleum and archaeological pits are a must-see!

  • Opening Hours: 08:30 to 18:00
  • Entrance Fee: ¥120 ($18.40)
  • Time Needed to Visit: two to three hours
  • Address: Qinshihuang Mausoleum, Lintong District
  • How to get to the Terracotta Army

Take metro line 9 to Qinling West Station and transfer to shuttle bus 617. Alternativly take tourist bus number 5 from Fangzhicheng Bus Station.

Full Guide to the Terracotta Warriors and Horses


2. Cycle the City Walls

Xian City Walls
Xian City Walls

Xians ancient city wall stretches for 13km (8.5 miles) around the centre of the centre. The wall was completed in 1370 and remains one of the largest remaining fortifications in China.

There are four main gates on each point of the compass for entrance to the wall. While you would need a whole day to walk the entire length, you can rent a bicycle on the wall and cycle it in under two hours. There are also tourist battery cars availbale for the less mobile.

The views from the wall are some of the best in the city and you can peer across old streets and rooftops, see temples, monasteries and more. The city wall is definitely one of the top things to do in Xian!

Hot pot restuarants abound, so you can dive into one that takes your fancy. Below is a selection of the best ones.

Opening Hours: 08:30 to 18:00

Entrance Fee:

  • Wall: ¥54 (8.20)
  • Bike Hire: ¥45 ($6.90) for three hours. ¥100 deposit required
  • Battery Car: ¥80 ($12.20)

Time Needed to Visit: around two hours (if cycling the entire wall)

Address: Lianhu District

Nearest Metro:

  • North Gate: Beida Jie
  • East Gate: Chaoyangmen
  • South Gate: Yongingmen (closest to the wall)
  • West Gate: Yuxiang Men Zhan

3. Bell Tower

Xian Bell Tower
Xian Bell Tower

Built in 1384, the Xian Bell Tower represents the geographical centre of old Xian. From the tower you can look out down wide avenues to the city walls in the distance.

The tower is built on a brick base with small garden. In spring it is covered with beautiful brightly-coloured flowers.

The Bell Tower is now home to a small museum and photography exhibition, as well as excellent examples of early Chinese architecture.

Opening Hours:

  • Mar to Oct: 08:30 – 21:00
  • Oct to Mar: 08:30 – 18:00

Entrance Fee:

  • Bell Tower: ¥30 (4.60)
  • Combined Bell and Drum Tower: ¥50 (7.70)

Time Needed to Visit: under one hour

Address: Zhonglou Shangquan, Beilin District

Nearest Metro: Bell Tower Station (line 2)


4. Drum Tower

Drum Tower
the Drum Tower at night

The Drum Tower is the sister building of the Bell Tower and located just across the square. Like the drum tower in Beijing, it was used to mark the passing of time and also served as an emergency alarm.

The drum tower was built four years prior to the bell tower in 1380. It has since been renovated in 1699 and 1740. It is home to the largest drum in China!

You can enjoy a drum performance inside the tower, before walking around the corner to Xian’s Muslim Street for some street food (see below free things to do in Xian).

Opening Hours:

  • Mar to Oct: 08:30 – 21:00
  • Oct to Mar: 08:30 – 18:00
  • Drum Performances: 09:30, 10:15, 11:00, 11:45, 14:00, 14:45, 15:30 and 16:20

Entrance Fee:

  • Drum Tower: ¥30 (4.60)
  • Combined Bell and Drum Tower: ¥50 (7.70)

Time Needed to Visit: under one hour

Address: Zhonglou Shangquan, Beilin District

Nearest Metro: Bell Tower Station (line 2)


5. Giant Wild Goose Pagoda

Wild Goose Pagoda
Wild Goose Pagoda

Originally built in 652 during the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907AD) as an important Buddhist place of worship, the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda was rebuilt in 704 under China’s first Empress Wu Zetian.

The Pagoda was used to house Buddhist scriptures and figures of the Buddha collected from India.

The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is one of the top attractions in Xian along with the associated Da Ci’en Temple!

Opening Hours: 08:00 to 17:00

Entrance Fee:

  • Temple and Pagoda: ¥40 ($6.10)
  • Climbing the Pagoda: ¥25 ($3.80)

Time Needed to Visit: around one hour

Address: 1 Ci’en Road, Xiao Zhai Sheng Ye Jie, Yanta District

Buses: 5, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27, 30, 34, 44, 242, 271, 307 or 601

Nearest Metro: Dayanta (line 3 or 4)


6. Han Yang Ling Mausoleum

This mausoleum was constructed for Chinese Emperor Liu Qi of the Han Western Dynasty (206BD to 24AD) and his wife Wang. It was constructed in 152 AD.

This impressive site contains tobms, burial pits, burial objects, seremonial sites and more.

Opening Hours:

  • Mar to Nov: 08:30 – 18:30
  • Dec to Feb: 08:30 – 18:00

Entrance Fee:

  • Mar to Nov: ¥70 ($10.70)
  • Dec to Feb: ¥55 ($8.40)

Time Needed to Visit: two to three hours

Address: Weichang District, Xianyang

Nearest Metro: Take metro line 4 to City Library and change to Tourist Bus No 4.


7. Huaqing Pool and Lishan Mountain Scenic Area

Lishan Mountain
Huqing Pool Scenic Area

Located close to the Terracotta Warriors 30km outside the city, Huaqing Pool is a beautiful gardens at the bottom of Lishan Moutnain.

Tickets to the pool and gardens also includes access to Li Mountain which you can climb the 1,302 metres (4,272 feet) to the top of if you are feeling energetic (stone steps all the way).

The views frmo Lishan over Xian are fantastic. It’s possible to visit both the Terracotta Army and Lishan in the same day.

Opening Hours:

  • Mar to Nov: 07:00 – 19:00
  • Dec to Feb: 07:30 – 18:00

Entrance Fee: ¥120 ($18.40)

Time Needed to Visit: at least half a day

Address: 38, Huaqing Road, Lishan, Lintong District

How to get to Huaqing Pool & Lishan

  • As with the Terracotta Army, take metro line 9 to Qinling West Station and transfer to shuttle bus 617. Alternativly take tourist bus number 5 from Fangzhicheng Bus Station.

8. Huashan Mountain

Huashan
Huashan Mountain

Huashan is one of China’s most famous peaks as it is one of the five holy mountains*. It is also famous around the world for another reason; its infamous “plank walk”. Huashan has five peaks, the tallest of which is 2,154 metres (7.067 feet).

If you do not fancy the four-hour plus climb up narrow steps to the peaks, there are two cable cars going to the North and West peaks, from where you can walk between all of them.

Many Chinese people climb the mountain in darkness for the incredible sunrise, however this is dangerous and not recommended for those without experience. If you want to see the sunrise/sunset there are guesthouses between the peaks at the top.

*The five holy mounains are: Huashan (Shaanxi), Taishan (Shandong), Hengshang South (Hunan), Hengshan North (Shanxi) and Songshan (Henan).

Opening Hours:

Mountain: 24 hours a day

Temples: 09:00 to 17:30

Cable cars

  • Mar to Nov: 07:00 – 19:00
  • Dec to Feb: 08:00 – 18:00

Entrance Fee:

  • Mar to Nov: ¥160 ($24.50)
  • Dec to Feb: ¥100 ($15.30)

The ticket is valid for two days.

Cable Car

  • Mar to Nov: ¥140 ($21.50) one way, ¥280 ($43.00) round-trip
  • Dec to Feb: ¥120 ($18.40) one way, ¥240 ($36.80) round-trip

Time Needed to Visit: one to two days

Address: South Section of Yuquan Road, Huayin City, Shaanxi

How to get Huashan

  • Take the train from Xian North to Huashan North. Journey time is 30 minutes and tickets cost ¥54.50 ($8.30) for a second class seat. From Huashan the free green shuttle bus or a taxi to the visitir’s centre.

Top Free Things to do in Xian

9. Shaanxi History Museum

Shaanxi Historu Museum
Shaanxi Historu Museum

The Shaanxi History Museum is one of the best in China and charts the country’s history from prehistoric time until the mid 19th Century.

There are four main halls of exhibitions over two floors which include over 300,000 artefacts from paintings, murals, pottery, weapons, ornaments, utensils and more frmo throughout China’s history.

Shaanxi History Museum is one of the best free things to do in Xian!

Opening Hours:

  • Mar to Nov: 08:30 – 18:00
  • Nov to Mar: 09:00 – 17:30
  • Closed Mondays

Entrance Fee: free

Time Needed to Visit: two to three hours

Address: 91 Xiaozhai East Road, Xiao Zhai Shang Ye Jie, Yanta District

Buses: 5, 19, 24, 30, 34, 271, 400, 401, 521 or 610

Nearest Metro: Xiaozhai Station, Exit D (line 2 or 3)


10. Muslim Quarter / Food Street

Muslim Street
the Muslim Quarter in Xian

Xian’s Muslim quarter is a pedestrian area with many food stalls selling a variety of street food.

  • Opening Hours: 24 hours
  • Entrance Fee: free
  • Time Needed to Visit: under one hour.
  • Address: North Gaungji Street, Zhong Lou shang Quan, Lianhu
  • Nearest metro: Bell Tower/Zhonglou, Exit B (line 2)

11. Daming Palace Park

This beautiful, large park in the north of the city is home to the Damin Palace Museum, a large lake and many pavilions.

  • Opening Hours: 09:00 to 18:00
  • Entrance Fee: the park is free to visit, but there is a change of ¥60 ($9.20) for the museums and archaeological sites.
  • Time Needed to Visit: around one hour
  • Address: Taihua South Road, Weiyang District
  • Nearest Metro: Daminggong or Hanyuandian (line 4)

Getting to the city from Xianyang International Airport

The airport is approximitely 40km away making it easy to reach the city. A taxi should cost around ¥150 ($23.00).

There airport shuttle buses from terminals 2 and 3. Journey time is around an hour and and a ticket costs ¥25 ($4.00).

The airport (terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5) is linked to the Xian Metro via the Xian Airport Metro Line. Take this to Beikezhan (Xian North Railway Station) and transfer to line 2 for the city centre.


Getting to Xian from the rest of China


Getting around Xian

Xian
Xian with Drum Tower

Xian is a large city, but has a convenient metro system which services most of the main attractions. For sites like the Terracotta Warriors, Lishan and Huashan, there are tourist buses (see individual section for details).

Taxis are ubiquitous and make a cheap and easy way to get around.

Local buses, although cheap at only ¥1 or ¥2 are best avoided for non-Mandarin speakers or unless you know the exact route. The timetables are not in English and buses tend to get very crowded.

Another great way to get around is by making use of the shared bikes. You will need the Alipay or Wechat apps for this and be able to (or have a friend that) speaks Mandarin.


Best Time to Visit Xian

Xian is situated in northern/central China and has four distinct Seasons. Spring, summer and autumn are all great times to visit. Avoid national holidays like Chinese New Year (Jan/Feb) and Golden Week (first week of October) as the city becomes very busy.


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Steve Rohan

About this author: Steve Rohan has lived in China for six years. He has lived in the frozen city of Harbin, ancient capital of Luoyang and tropical paradise that is Sanya.

After teaching English for a number of years, he now blogs full time for this site and adventure travel blog thetripgoeson.com.