People have been fascinated with visiting the Terracotta Army since the figures were discovered by rural Chinese farmers digging a well, in 1974.
Today, the Terracotta Army (or Terracotta Warriors) of Emperor Qin Shi Huang is famed as one of the oldest UNESCO World Heritage Sites and regarded as one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century, rivalling the treasures found in Egypt.
As the Terracotta Army is one of China’s most popular (and busiest) attractions, this guide shares everything you need to know if you’re planning to discover the secrets of the Terracotta Army during your trip to China.
Why should you visit the Terracotta Army Museum?
The museum site represents the emperor’s palace. The areas excavated so far include offices, stables, halls, and other structures. The whole complex was buried beneath an unremarkable earth pyramid, protecting it from tomb raiders for two thousand years!
The museum showcases thousands of warriors in battle formation, guarding the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. The figures include infantry, cavalry, and charioteers, plus acrobats and numerous animals.
“There were Seven Wonders in the world, and the discovery of the Terracotta Army, we may say, is the eighth miracle of the world. No one who has not seen the pyramids can claim to have visited Egypt, and now I’d say that no one who has not seen these terracotta figures can claim to have visited China.”Jacques Chirac – former President of France
Prepare for Your Visit
Try to make sense of (some of) the history before you go with a good guidebook.
The Terracotta Army by the traveller and historian John Man is a good introduction, as it’s not as dry and scholarly as some.
It’s a well-written and enjoyable read.
How to visit the Terracotta Army Museum
The museum is located in the Lintong district, about an hour by taxi or 70 minutes by tourist bus from the city of Xi’an. Travelling by bus is safe, fully air-conditioned, and comfortable – just be sure you get a tourist bus as others are not as well maintained.
Tourist buses are greyish green, with bold turquoise signage; the bus number is prominent in bright yellow. Bus conductors wear a blue-black uniform and speak English.
Bus Info: Tourist Bus number 5 (306) departs from the East square of Xi’an railway station, but it can be very busy, particularly at weekends.
Hours: July 7 to September 1: 9 am to 12:45 am; Rest of the year: 9:30 am to 11:45 pm
Cost: The fare is CNY7; however, this does increase a little during peak periods.
When can you visit the Terracotta Army?
- The museum is open daily from 8.30 am until 5.00 pm (last entry).
- The best time to visit the Terracotta Warriors is between 8.30 am, and 10 am as this is before the big tour groups arrive.
- The hour between midday and 1 pm is generally quieter too, as many visitors stop to eat at that time.
- Try to avoid visiting during local and national school holidays and weekends as this is when the site will be extra crowded.
Tickets and Tours
If you’re visiting independently, it’s easy to find the ticket booths as soon as you arrive. The entrance fee is CNY150 in the high season and CNY120 in the low season.
Alternatively, you may prefer to book a guided tour. Visiting with a professional guide is the ideal way to understand the history and layout of the museum and avoid missing any highlights.
Here are some tour options you can choose from, departing from central Xi’an. They vary slightly in duration and how you will travel to the museum.
Pick the one that best suits your sightseeing plans, travel style and time allocation.
- Skip the line Terracotta Warriors Private Day Tour (Highly Recommended)
- Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum Museum Guided Tour
- Terracotta Warriors Walking Tour With Transfer Options
It’s a pleasant 10 to 15 minute (1 kilometre) walk from the parking area to the site. The walkway is beautifully maintained and immaculately clean.
If you can’t walk (or prefer not to), golf carts are available from the car park to the museum but prepare to queue during the high season (May to October).
Wheelchairs are also available from the car park, and the entire site is wheelchair accessible.
Archaeologists believe that they will still be working on the Terracotta Army Museum in 50 years time, as there is still so much to discover!!
Highlights of the museum
If you’re wondering “what was the Terracotta Army”, the vast museum with its three large excavation pits helps to explain the history and significance of these artefacts.
1. The Terracotta Warriors
You’ll learn about the different types of soldiers in the Emperor’s army and how to identify their rank by their clothing. Look out for the individual facial expressions on the figures, which are believed to have been modelled on real soldiers.
Every single one of the 10,000 warriors has a different facial expression.
2. The Terracotta Horses
Even if you’re not a “horsey” person, the magnificent terracotta horses will make an impression on you. It’s awe-inspiring to see the incredible detail on the horses’ faces hundreds of years after they were created.
Just imagine what they must have been like when they were freshly made, and the colour was still bright and new! Even the horses all have different expressions.
3. The Exhibition of Bronze Chariots
This area is packed with valuable artefacts from the excavations, and it tells the story of the Qin dynasty.
How long should you spend at the Terracotta Warriors Museum?
Aim to spend at least 2 to 3 hours at the museum as it’s huge (16,300 sq. metres) and split across three pits, with a cinema and exhibition hall. The site closes at 7 pm.
Note: There’s a gift shop where you can also buy refreshments. The souvenirs are high-quality, at high prices. Expect to be told that the prices are fixed by the government; however, if you walk away, staff are often willing to negotiate a little.
Related Post: 2 Incredible Landmarks You Can See for Free in Xi’an
The Best Itinerary for Visiting the Terracotta Army
While most guides and guide books suggest that you visit Pit 1, then Pits 2 and 3, followed by the Exhibition Hall, it’s better to start with the Exhibition Hall, then visit the pits in reverse order – start with the smallest pit (Pit 3) and saving the biggest area – Pit 1 for last.
1. The Exhibition Hall of the Bronze Chariots
Smaller than the excavation pits, this area can get very crowded, so it’s well worth arriving early and making this your first visit.
2. Pit number 3 – The Command Centre of the Terracotta Army
This is the smallest of the pits at 21 metres by 17 metres, with only 68 terracotta figures, all of which are officials.
3. Pit number 2
Archaeologists consider this pit to be the most complete, despite still being only one-sixth excavated so far. It contains all the types of terracotta warriors found to date, including infantry, cavalry, chariot warriors, and archers. It will be keeping archaeologists busy for decades to come!
It’s believed that this pit contains over 80 war chariots, 1,300 terracotta warriors and horses, and many thousands of bronze weapons.
4. Pit number 1 – 6,000 soldiers and horses
Be prepared to be blown away by the sheer size of this pit which was the first to be excavated after local farmers discovered the burial site.
The sight of the thousands of pottery soldiers and chariots is mesmerising. Every warrior is different, modelled from the Emperor’s real-life soldiers, and some still bear traces of their original colour.
The Unsolved Mysteries of the Emperor’s Tomb
While archaeologists know where Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s tomb is located, it’s not been excavated yet. The Chinese authorities have banned all excavation work here for at least 50 years to enable archaeologists to find a way to preserve artefacts fully.
We must wait to discover the secrets of the Terracotta Army and whether the myths of a mercury river, booby traps, a diamond-encrusted sky, and boundless buried treasures are true.
Essentials for Visiting the Terracotta Army
- Comfortable shoes because the site is vast
- A bottle of water as there are limited places to buy water onsite, and the pits get (extremely) hot during the summer months.
What to Avoid When Visiting the Terracotta Army
When you leave the Terracotta Warriors museum site for the parking area, you’ll find the usual array of cheap tourist trap shops. The prices on some stalls may look tempting, but many of the goods are of poor quality.
The Refreshment Outlets
There’s a proliferation of food outlets – even a KFC! If you want to stop and eat, agree on the price before you order!
What to do after visiting the Terracotta Army
You’ll have time to relax and recharge your batteries on your journey back to Xi’an. If you made an early start, you may still have time to visit the Shaanxi History Museum – or just to relax or take a stroll through the fabulous Muslim Market.
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What do you think?
Have you visited the Terracotta Army? What did you love the most? Maybe you’re planning a trip? What are you most looking forward to seeing? Leave your comments below, as we love to read them.