A Guide to visiting old capital of China – Xi’An

Xi’An – the capital of China throughout 10 dynasties and 7 centuries, the city with a history of over 5 millenniums, definitely doesn’t need advertisements. It receives millions of tourists every year. Compared to Beijing and Shanghai, it is also rather cheap and has delicious food options. Unfortunately, there is another side to this city, it is a developed industrial city and quite polluted.

We arrived to the Xi’An North station late in the evening. The station is new and sleek and also covers an open huge area. The hotel I booked suggested that we should take a taxi and it would cost about 30 yuan. As the hotel wasn’t close to any metro station (we realized later, that booking this hotel was a mistake), taxi really was the best option, so we took it. We headed to the official taxi stand, which exists at every train station and were directed to the free taxi. This was our first time taking a taxi in China and I was apprehensive of any cheating, but everything went smoothly. It was a 15 minute ride to the center and it really cost 30 or 31 yuan.

Even if by Chinese standards, the city is not that huge, it is quite big, which I didn’t realize previously. That’s why, the traffic can be heavy, especially during mornings and taking buses is inconvenient.

Day 1

On our first morning in Xi’An, we woke up bright and early (okok, it wasn’t so bright, as mornings never are for me J and headed to Terracotta warriors.  If you are going by public transport, it is impossible to get there earlier than the crowds, as bus 306 starts running only from 8am.

For this you have to get to the main railway station. See the detailed information on visiting Terracota Warriors and how to get there.

We made it back to the Xi’An railway station at about 3pm. From here there are direct buses, such as 603 and 611, that can take you to the Bell Tower and to the South gate of the Xi’An Wall.

If you have two days in the city, I suggest to go to the Three sisters restaurant on your way to the South gate and get to the gate, while it’s light. If not, visit the Bell & Drum towers before heading there.

The South gate boasts with numerous famous visitors. You will find a number of photos around, showing the people visiting it. Even the tickets are extremely pretty.

You can walk around the small area of the wall, or rent a bike, if you like and ride along the wall for a couple of hours. Keep in mind that it won’t be a smooth ride and after rain it can be slippery, so be careful. We chose to simply walk around and enjoy the views. Stay on the wall, until it gets dark and see the lights being lit. The views of the lit street leading to the Bell tower are beautiful.

In the evenings (not sure if every evening), they have light shows at the south gate. Tickets are very expensive, so we decided not to do this.

 

After walking on the wall, you can either head to the Wild Goose pagoda or to the Muslim quarter (if you only have a day). Every day at 12.00 and 20.00, there is a fountain show at the pagoda.

Day 2

Start your day by visiting Bell and Drum towers. You can get to them by metro line 2, get off at the Zhonglou station Exit B.

Every big city in China has them, but the ones in Xi’An are the largest and best preserves, hence, very popular for the visitors. Both of them were built by the end of the XIV century. The main idea of these towers were announce dawn and dusk to the city population. The bells at the Bell tower were stricken at dawn, hence, the name Bell tower. The drums of the Drum tower were beat at sunset to inform about the end of the day.

Bell tower is located at the heart of the city, at the crossroads. Access to the bell tower is from the underground. When you go down, find a map, which will show you directions for the entrance to the towers, otherwise you may wonder in circles. You will buy a ticket for both towers together (adult ticket costs 50 yuan and you can get a student discount, if you find a nice cashier). When you go up the base of the tower, it provides nice views over surrounding areas. The tower provides a view of the Drum tower as well, which is located closeby.

You will find a giant bell here. This is not the original bell from Tang dynasty. That one was moved to a museum for preservation. This one was cast as the duplicate of the original.

Climb to the upper floor for the usual Chinese style pavilions and the roof decorations. Those have been my favourate.

Leaving the Bell tower, come out of the underground towards the west side and head to the Drum tower. In all honesty, I was more fascinated by this one, than by its sister.

This one is smaller and cuter and has a number of drums, when you climb to its base. Some even say that you will find the world’s largest drum here (but I highly doubt that information is correct 🙂 You can even try your skills of beating the drums, people did with the help of the guards 🙂

While here, we caught an interesting performance. Obviously, it was crowded and you can’t sit, but it’s short, so you can stand to listen.

Both Bell tower and Drum tower have short performances at 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 15:00, 16:00 and 17:00, so try to time your visit to catch at least one of the shows.

 

From here head to the Muslim quarter. If you need to buy any souvenirs, while in China, you will find relatively cheaper prices here. Obviously, as everywhere, you may be quoted a reasonable price (like triple of the real price 😀 or 10 times more. Either way, it is easier to find places, where you can bargain and get things at the price, that is ok.

Muslim quarter has a number of food stalls. If you are adventurous eater, you can eat these things. I am not fully sure, what they are. One looks like an octopus I believe.

The market is busy during the day and night, so visit any time, wonder around and get lost in these streets. While here, find the Great Mosque of Xi’An. It is a fascinating mix of Chinese and Muslim architecture. We unfortunately didn’t manage to visit it, as it was too late, when we got to the area. So I obviously have something to come back for 🙂

If you still have time left and are interested, visit the Shaanxi museum. You can get here by metro, from Dayanta station, passing the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. You can have a look at it also, if you haven’t done so previous evening. However, if you have limited time, it’s not worth a visit.

The museum is free, so there are queues. They let a limited number of people every day (I believe they have only 6 thousand tickets), so if you decide to go, be sure to do this early enough in the day.

Have you been to Xi’An? What was your impression?

Visited 50 countries and counting, Lived in 3 cities and collected a lot of useful information to help fellow travel junkies out there.

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