After Beijing and Shanghai, Xi’an is the top destination for travelers in China. No trip to the countryside would be complete without a few days in China’s former capital. Far from a shell of its former glory, Xi’an draws thousands of travelers every year to get a glimpse of its amazing historical and archaeological attractions. Xi’an served as the home for several dynasties in the past millennia, including the Zhou, Qin, Han, Sui and T’ang Dynasties. So it’s no surprise that the vibe there is more authentic and culturally vibrant than the bustling metropolises of the coast.
Visitors should spend a few days in the city and check out ancient architecture like the Bell Tower and Wild Goose Pagoda. A short bus ride will take you to natural wonders like impressive Mt. Hua and Huaqing Hot Springs. Here are our top four recommendations for Xi’an and beyond:
– Terra Cotta Warriors
No stop in Xi’an would be complete without a visit to the Terracotta Army. Buried for nearly 2,000 years, the army is a collection of 8,000+ of life-sized clay figures. The army of chariots, warriors, horses, acrobats and more were built and buried to safeguard Qin Emperor Shihuang (260-210 b.c.e.) on his journey in the afterlife. It was rediscovered in 1974 and has since been dubbed a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
– Beiyuanmen Muslim Street
The Beiyuanmen Muslim market is an impressive expanse of 500 meters of succulent snacks and souvenirs. The street, located in the muslim district, has a long history as one of the main starting points of the Silk Road. Here Arab and Persian merchants settled and married local girls. Their descendants, the Hui people, still sell their wares along this street. But the best investment by far is the hot and fried treats sold on the street by Hui vendors. Stroll down the long promenade and try local favorites like lamb skewers, gravy dumplings and mutton-soaked flat bread.
– The Song of Unending Sorrow
If you’re lucky enough to be in Xi’an from April to October, be sure to catch a performance of the Song of Everlasting Sorrow. You can buy tickets at the Xi’an railway station and ride a free shuttle bus from there to Mt. Lishan. The historical drama is performed twice in the evening at Huaqing Hot Springs, just below the mountain. Marvel as the performers erupt in an impressive presentation of song, dance, music, lights and and costume, all set against the background of freshwater ponds, willow trees and pavilions. The poem tells the tragic love story between T’ang Emperor Xuanzong (c.e. 685-782) and his beloved concubine Yang Yuhuan (which, like most such stories, ends horribly for our protagonists).
– Day Trip to Mt. Hua
Return to the beautiful trees and dramatic cliffs of rural China by hopping on a train to Mt. Hua. The mountain stands about 75 miles east of Xi’an and 2 kilometers high! One of Taoism’s Five Sacred Mountains, Mt. Hua has five stunning peaks and one of the most dangerous hiking trails in the world—thanks to its steep pathways and narrow passes. The risk is doubled in the summertime due to the sheer amount of tourists trying to ascend the mountain all at the same time. But never fear! Proceed with caution, take a lot of water and good shoes—the view is, to understate, worth it.
WIT Agents Barb and Pam have recently been to China with Alexander & Roberts and Viking River Cruises. Read more about their trips on our Destinations: China page. Call us up for some firsthand feedback and other travel tips to China, 503-224-0180 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.