Xi’An: Exploring Ancient Civilization Capital In East Asia

“Go to Shanghai and you will find a 100-year-old China; go to Beijing and you will find a 1000-year-old China; go to Xi’an and then you will find a 3000-year-old China.”

Together with Athens, Cairo and Rome, Xi’an is among the four major ancient civilization capitals of the world. As one of the birthplaces of the ancient Chinese civilization, Xi’an should be on your China’s bucket list.

Formerly the capital of China, Xi’an the starting of Silk Road, through the Gansu Corridor to Dunhuang and Kashgar, across Central Asia to Europe. Even today, the atmosphere here is definitely more archaic and authentic than bustling metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai.

Getting In and Out

By Air

The nearest airport is Xianyang International Airport, located 41 km northwest of Xian. There is a great airport shuttle service into the city centre that costs 25 RMB (USD3.50).

By Train

Xi’an is perfectly positioned in Central China, making train travel to/fro the city easy in any direction. There are three railway stations in Xian: Xi’an Railway Station, Xi’an North Railway Station and Xi’an South Railway Station. You can find out more on Xi’an railways here.

I took a 21-hours train ride from Leshan to Xi’an. The train was very noisy; there was a passenger from top bunk keep spitting fruits’ seeds; a lady who kept quarreling with her boyfriend for at least half of the journey. I was in the middle tier bunk which was impossible to even sit up. What an experience!

One of those rides I didn’t enjoyed much

Getting Around

In Xi’an, there are 15 tourist bus lines are in service providing convenient transport for travellers. Usually, these buses can be easily recognized by their numbers marked with the character ‘游’ (You) which means ‘Tourist’. You can learn more about tourist bus here.

Easy to get around Xi’an without joining tours

Where to Stay

I stayed in Xi’an Ancient City Youth Hostel, which has a good location: next to subway and close to Muslim Quarter. The staff can speak English, and knowledgeable on the attractions in Xi’an. They offer tours but will encourage you to go by yourself because it’s easy and cheaper. They even have their own map drawn up if you would like to explore the area by walking!  

Climate

Xi’an has a temperate and continental monsoon climate, with four distinct seasons. Summer is hot and rainy, while winter it is usually cold and dry. The weather is generally pleasant all year round, but spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) are the best seasons to visit Xi’an.

Still managed to catch the beautiful Autumn leaves in December

Peak season is between June and August (summer) with the low season falls with the temperatures in winter (December – February). Attraction tickets are generally cheaper from November to March.

Food

I am a big believer in this: Eat well, Travel well. Not necessarily be eating in over-rated restaurants but more of eating like a local. The best place to eat in Xi’an is undoubtedly the Muslim Quarter. Not only will you find a bunch of street-side restaurants and snack vendors on the main road, but you can get cheap street food on the side roads running parallel to the main road.

Yummy fresh bread
Candied fruit sticks (冰糖葫蘆)

Safety

Xi’an is a generally a safe place and the main problems are bad drivers and petty crimes like pick-pocketing. Just pay attention to your valuables, especially on crowded buses and tourist attractions and you should be fine.

I did lost my wallet in Muslim quarter. While backtracking to find back my wallet, some vendors told me it’s common to be pick-pocketed in this area. When I almost lost hope finding it, someone came up to me and asked if I’m a Malaysian. Turned out, they found my wallet and surrender it to the nearest police station. I can’t believe my luck!

Always counting on my lucky stars

What to see

Muslim Quarter (回民街)

The Muslim Quarter in Xi’an has got to be my most favourite spot in the city. Located in the Muslim district of Xi’an, this area is believed to be one of the main starting points of the Silk Road. Locally known as Hui Min Jie, it is an impressive stretch of alleyways to experience the fusion between Oriental and Muslim culture and cuisine. The lively area makes a perfect destination for dining, shopping or people watching.

Colorful neon signboards lit up in the evening
Fresh poultry
Mung Bean Paste Cake (绿豆糕)

Getting There: Tourist Line 8 (No. 610) and get off at Zhonglou Xi (Bell Tower West) Station. Walk towards the Drum Tower and you will easily find the street behind the Drum Tower. Bus ticket costs about 1-2 Yuan.

Read More: Chengdu – More Than Just the Hometown of Giant Pandas

The Great Mosque (西安大清真寺)

The Great Mosque in Xi’an is one of the oldest, largest and best-preserved Islamic mosques in China. Unlike most mosques in Middle Eastern or Arab countries, the Great Mosque is completely Chinese in its construction and architectural style, except for some Arabic lettering and decorations.

Mosque or Temple??
Oriental structure with Arabic carvings

Getting There: Tourist Line 8 (No. 610) and get off at Zhonglou Xi (Bell Tower West) Station. Walk north to the Drum Tower and then walk northwest along the Huajue Lane for around 5 minutes to reach the mosque.

Entrance Fee: 25 Yuan (March 1-November 30); 15 Yuan (December 1-the end of February). Muslims are free to enter.

Bell Tower and Drum Tower (钟楼 /鼓楼)

Set relatively close together, the Bell Tower was rung to signal dawn and the start of the day, whereas the Drum Tower drums were beat to mark the end of the day.

Displays of different types of drums, some as old as one thousand years
Bell tower at night

Getting There: Tourist Line 8 (No. 610) and get off at Zhonglou Xi (Bell Tower West) Station.

Entrance Fee: 30 Yuan for individual ticket. Combo tickets is 50 Yuan

Xi’an City Wall (西安城墙)

One of the last remaining city walls in all of China, Xi’an’s city wall is perfectly preserved. Built in the Ming Dynasty (1300-1700 BC), the fact that the wall is still standing and functional is pretty impressive!

Standing at 12-meters high, the wall surrounds all of downtown Xi’an, offering spectacular views of the city. You can also rent a bike on top of the wall. The 14-kilometers wall will take you about 4-hours by foot, or 2-hours on a bike depending on how much you stop.

View from City Wall

Getting There: South Gate (Yongning Gate) – Take Metro line 2 to Yongningmen Station; bus no.6, 11, 12, 23, 46, 215, 239, 258, 600, 603, 608, 910, K600 and arrive at South Gate Station.

Entrance Fee: 54 Yuan (Single bikes can be rented for 45 Yuan and tandems go for 90 Yuan with a RMB 200 deposit)

Mount Hua (华山)

If you are in need of a break from the city, take a train or long-distance bus out to Mount Hua. The mountain, which stands 2,160 meters high, is one of the Taoism’s Five Great Mountains and also known as one of the “Most Dangerous Hike in the World”. The reputation that Mount Hua did live up to was its beauty. The views are incredible and the pathway is constantly adorned with beautiful padlocks and red ribbons. 

Don’t Miss: Hua Shan – Conquering One Of The Most Dangerous Hike In The World

View from one of the peaks
The infamous plank walk

Terracotta Army (兵马俑)

A stop in Xi’an wouldn’t be complete without seeing the Terracotta Army. Buried and forgotten for nearly 2,000 years, the collection of more than 8,000 life-sized figures of warriors, chariots, horses and acrobats was built to safeguard Emperor Qin Shi Huang (260-210 BC) in the afterlife. Each soldier has different facial characteristics and expressions, wearing different clothes, and their hair is styled in various ways. It was only rediscovered in 1974 and has since dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an eighth wonder of the world.

Selfie with Emperor Qin
The biggest burial site of all 3
For 10 Yuan (USD2), you can take a proper picture with the army in the studio

Getting There: Take Tourism Bus No.5 (306). The journey will take about an hour and cost 7 Yuan for 1-way. 

Entrance Fee: RMB150 (March 1-November 30); RMB 120 (December 1-the end of February)

Lastly, if you want to keep a track of all my photos and travels, remember to follow @wanderrsaurus on Instagram!

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Aloha! I'm Bunzy, a curious dreamer who is passionate about roaming around the world getting lost, experiencing new cultures and meeting the locals. My superpower is to be able to sleep anywhere, anyhow!

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