Night time at The Bell Tower, Old Xi'an City, China,

With world-famous must-see attractions to explore, Old Xi’an City is one of the most exciting cities to visit in China. This ancient capital city is also one of China’s most popular tourist destinations. Even with only two days to spare, this itinerary makes sure you have time to enjoy the top seven attractions in Xi’an.

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2 Perfect Days in Old Xian, China | Grey Globetrotters
Amazing things to do in Old Xi'an City - visiting the Great Mosque. Grey Globetrotters

Best Things to Do in Old Xi’an City

  • Visit the amazing Terracotta Warriors
  • Take in the treasures of the Shaanxi History Museum
  • Cycle around the Old City Wall
  • Marvel at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda
  • Check out the famous ancient Drum and Bell Towers
  • Experience the foodie delights of the Muslim Quarter
  • Explore the Great Mosque

About Old Xi’an City

Xi’an is one of China’s oldest cities (older than Beijing and Nanjing). It was the starting point for the ancient Silk Road and home to the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huan who founded the Qin dynasty. Today Xi’an is an exciting mega-city with a population of 13 million people (in 2018). There are lots of things to see.

2-Day Itinerary for Old Xi’an City

  • Day 1: Terracotta Warriors, Shaanxi History Museum,
  • Day 2: City Wall, Bell Tower and Drum Tower, Big Wild Goose Pagoda, Great Mosque, Muslim Market,

Day 1

1. The Terracotta Warriors

Your first visit is to Xi’an’s most iconic attraction, the Terracotta Warriors Museum. You’ll need your comfy shoes and a fully charged camera because you’re in for a long day, lots of walking and unusual things to see. If you have a private tour guide, everything will be taken care of for you, but it’s easy to find your way around independently too.

Amazing things to do in Old Xian City - visiting the Terracotta Warriors. Grey Globetrotters

Useful Info

As this is one of the most popular tourist destinations in China, it will busy, and you’ll have to deal with large crowds. Aim to arrive as soon as the gates open, and avoid weekends and Chinese public holidays like the plague!

Here’s everything you need to know to plan your visit to the Terracotta Warriors Museum.

While you’ll spend most of this day exploring the vast Terracotta Army Museum, there’s plenty of time left to visit the Shaanxi History Museum too.

2. The Shaanxi History Museum

The vast Shaanxi Museum is a cornucopia of Chinese history. If you love history, you could spend a week here exploring the cavernous exhibition halls, but it’s possible to see the highlights in a couple of hours.

Amazing things to do in Old Xian City - visiting the Terracotta Warriors. Grey Globetrotters

Useful Info

The sheer size and the busy crowds make it essential to know what you want to see, so you should plan your visit before you arrive.

Here’s everything you need to know about what to see in the Shaanxi Museum in two hours, in just 2 hours.

3. A Foodie Treat in the Muslim Quarter

If you don’t visit Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter, you’ll be missing a trick. A thriving warren of narrow ancient streets dating back to the 7th century. It’s the ultimate foodie location in Xi’an.

Packed with stalls and restaurants selling tempting dishes with ancient recipes, the sights, smells and tastes of the Muslim Quarter tantalise every sense. The ridiculously cheap food is far more inspiring and authentic than a bland hotel meal. A visit here is the perfect way to end your day.

What to do in Old Xian City - visiting the Muslim Quarter. Grey Globetrotters
What to do in Old Xian City – visiting the Muslim Quarter. Grey Globetrotters

Don’t worry if you don’t speak Chinese, as most of the stalls and restaurants have pictorial menus. With a bit of pointing, sign language and a smile, you’ll soon be eating amazing food that’s unlike any Chinese food you’ve experienced in the West! It’s so much better.

Useful Info

One of the best ways to experience the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an is to join an experienced local guide, on a foodie walking tour. We loved visiting food stalls offering new, exciting dishes, including cold noodles, mutton and bread pieces in soup, and glutinous rice and date cake.

Delicious foodie treats in Old Xian City - Mooncakes in the Muslim Quarter. Grey Globetrotters

Day 2

4. The Old Xi’an City Wall

Start your second day in Xi’an with a visit to the magnificent, fully-restored city wall.

Places to visit in Old Xian City - the City Wall Grey Globetrotters

Hiring a bike to cycle around the wall is the ultimate way to see Xi’an, as the wall completely encircles the old city. This tour is an unmissable way to see the contrast between the ancient city streets and the modern sprawl of skyscrapers beyond the boundary of the wall.

Amazing things to do in Old Xian City - cycle the City Wall.

Useful Info

The 14 km ride around the city wall takes about one hour, allowing for regular stops to enjoy the view and take photos.

Here’s everything you need to know about hiring a bike to cycle around the city wall.

5. The Bell Tower and Drum Tower

The next stops on your tour are the magnificent Bell and Drum Towers in the geographical centre of Old Xi’an. Minutes from the City Wall, these ancient towers (the largest of their type in China) will give you insight into the life of the old city.

Amazing things to do in Xi'an City - visiting the Drum Tower. Grey Globetrotters

Useful Info

You don’t need to pay to see these famous Xi’an landmarks but will pay an entry fee if you want to venture inside. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to hear the drums being played.

Here’s everything you need to know about seeing the Drum Tower and Bell Tower for free.

6. The Big Wild Goose Pagoda

The UNESCO World Heritage Big Wild Goose Pagoda is about 4 km outside the centre of Xi’an, within the Da Ci’en Temple complex. Showcasing 1,300 years of history, this holy place for Buddhists sits in vast, meticulously landscaped gardens.

Useful Info

Visit South Square to see the statue of Xuanzang, the monk who imported sacred Buddhist texts into China from India. Afterwards, walk around to North Square to see the most extensive musical fountains in China.

Illuminated water show at 1300-year-old Big wild goose pagoda in Old Xi'an City
Illuminated water show at the 1300-year-old Big Wild Goose Pagoda. Image credit Rolf_52

Huajuexiang Great Mosque

Xi’an is home to one of the oldest and best-preserved mosques in China which still serves the local community of 60,000 Muslims today. It’s the most beautiful, serene place to visit in Xi’an, a peaceful oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the Muslim Quarter.

Amazing things to do in Old Xi'an City - visiting the Great Mosque. Grey Globetrotters

Useful Info

The mosque covers 12,000 square meters, with more than twenty buildings you’ll want to see across its five courtyards. Allow plenty of time to explore here.

The Highlight of Visiting Old Xi’an City

I loved the bustling Muslim Quarter for the fabulous street food and the covered market area which sells every type of souvenir you could want. It’s somewhere I would like to have spent more time exploring!

Exploring the Muslim Quarter in Old Xi'an City is amazing

Book Your Trip to Xi’an

Getting to Old Xi’an City

You’ll need to fly to one of the major Chinese cities (Beijing or Shanghai) and get a connecting flight to Xi’an. Alternatively, the bullet train is fast and efficient, and there’s no airport slog to worry about.

Book Your Accommodation in Xi’an

I’ve used most search sites to book travel and accommodation. Booking.com unfailingly offers the best rates for hotels, including fabulous boutique ones. At first, I double-checked their prices against other comparison sites, but I save time now because they always come up with the goods and I like the selection of hotels they offer.

Recommended Hotels in Xi’an

We stayed ‘within the walls’ to enjoy the atmosphere of Old Xi’an City, and to be within walking distance of the city wall and other central landmarks, including the Muslim Quarter. We loved the centrally located Bell Tower Hotel which is just 200 yards from the Drum Tower and the Muslim Quarter.

We met so many people staying at (and loving) the Sofitel Legend Hotel in Xi’an that it deserves mention here! It’s located just outside of the old city, but you’ll love the comfort and high standards here.

If you want to stretch your budget a little further, check out the boutique hotels and hostels in Xi’an on Booking.com. Prices are remarkably reasonable, with over 1,000 places to choose from in just one city!

Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is your essential protection in case of illness, injury, theft, or cancellation on your trip. I’ve claimed against my travel insurance several times and it’s much less stressful when your insurance company has top-notch customer service.  I shopped around at first, but now only use World Nomads because they offer great value and second-to-none customer service. Older family members (aged 70+) swear by Insure My Trip.

Looking to save money?

Check out our resources page for more recommendations on who to trust when you travel! It’s like our little black book – packed with companies we Grey Globetrotters use to save money when we travel.  We think it will be helpful for you too!

Further Reading About Old Xi’an City

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: First trip to China? What to know before you go.

Planning a trip to China? Read all of my posts about China in our China Travel Guide.

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The best 2 day itinerary for first time visitors to Old Xian City, China | Grey Globetrotters

Have you been to China? Did you get to visit and explore Old Xi’an City? What did you love? If you have any questions about planning your trip to Xi’an, or think I’ve missed anything important out here, please do let me know in the comments below. As always, I love to hear from you.

About Author

Coralie is a Brit living in North Yorkshire. When she's not writing, she's either out exploring, planning a new trip, tasting street food or relaxing with a cold G&T. With 40+ years of adventurous travel to almost 40 countries (so far), she knows there's still much to see and remains an adventure-seeker at heart. Follow her on social media and keep up with her adventures and awesome travel tips.

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