With its 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 of China is also one of the country’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.
Best Things to Do in Xi’an
- 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 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,
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.
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!
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.
The sheer size and the busy crowds make it essential to know what you want to see, so you can plan your visit before you arrive.
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.
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.
One of the best ways to experience the Muslim Quarter 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.
4. The Old Xi’an City Wall
Start your second day in Xi’an with a visit to the magnificent, fully-restored city wall.
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.
The 14 km ride around the city wall takes about one hour, allowing for regular stops to enjoy the view and take photos.
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.
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.
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 meticulously landscaped gardens.
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.
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.
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 Xi’an
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!
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 or take the bullet train. I’ve found Skyscanner and Momondo very reliable at finding the best deals.
Book Your Accomodation 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.
We stayed “within the walls” in the Old City of Xi’an, 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 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 a choice of over 1,000.
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
- Cycling the City Wall: How to Have the Best Experience
- The Three Best Things about Visiting the Terracotta Warriors
- How to See the Top Sites in the Shaanxi Museum in Just 2 Hours
Are you planning a trip to China? Read all of our posts about China in our China Travel Guide.
Happy travels! If you have any questions about planning your trip to Xi’an, comment below!
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