Xian is 1200 kms southwest of Beijing (1hour and forty minute flight); 1084 kms northwest of Shanghai (2 and half hours flight). Xian had long been the capital of ancient China. The emperor Qin Shihuang went on to establish the first imperial capital of China in Chang'an (present day Xi'an). For centuries, the Chinese Empire was governed from this location, and Chang'an remained largely its political hub until the end of the Tang dynasty around 900 AD.
Located at the eastern end of the Silk Road, Xi'an is home to some of the most spectacular sights in China, including the UNESCO-listed mausoleum of Emperor Shihuang with its thousands of life-sized terracotta warriors and their horses. Xi'an's excellent museum is one of the best in China, with Tang Dynasty pottery figurines and other relics. The Muslim Quarter, the Great Mosque, and the spectacular City Walls are all great historical sites.
So no visit to Xi'an should be considered complete tour to China without at least a stop here.
Best time to visit?
Spring and Autumn
How to get there?
Beijing - Xian
There are about 20 flights a day starting at 07:55 and ending at 20:00. Flight time is approx. 1 hour and 45 minutes.
There are about 16 flights a day starting at 07:55 and ending at 20:00. Flight time is approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Full price ticket (one way)
Beijing to Xian: Z19(20:30-08:00)) 7hours 30 minutes
What to see
It's hard not to get a shiver down your spine as you survey the unromantically named Pit 1, with four columns of warriors in each of the 11 passageways; there are over 6,000 infantry in battle formation, stretching back 182m (600 ft.). Originally painted in bright colors, they were constructed from interchangeable parts luted together by clay. Because the heads were hand-molded, no two appear the same. Qin Shi Huang's army was drawn from all over his vast empire, and this ethnic diversity is reflected in the variety of hairstyles, headdresses, and facial expressions. Even on the mass-produced bodies, the level of detail is striking, down to the layering of armor and the studs on archers' shoes that prevented them from slipping.
The City Wall
The largest and best-preserved city wall in China is definitely worth a visit. The pieces of the wall have recently been reconnected so that you can do the 14km (8 3/4-mile) loop around it by foot, bicycle, or a golf cart. The walls were built during the early Ming dynasty, on the remains of Tang palace walls. The wall provides little protection from sun or wind, so dress accordingly.
If you visit one museum in China, make it this one, for its unrivalled collection of treasures. Items are displayed chronologically, starting with the Shang dynasty (ca. 17th c.-11th c. B.C.) and the Zhou dynasty (ca. 11th c.-221 B.C.) on the ground floor, including items that speak to eating, drinking, and merriment in the Western Zhou (ca. 11th c.-771 B.C.).
Things take a martial turn as you enter the Qin dynasty (221-206 B.C.): Aside from the bronze swords and rusting iron weapons (which gave the Qin a decisive military edge), a striking exhibit is a tiger-shaped tally covered in characters (duhu fu) which gave its owner, one General Du, imperial authorization to mobilize over 50 soldiers at will. As you move on to the Tang dynasty (618-907), the influence of Buddhist art from the Silk Routes becomes apparent -- carvings are more sophisticated, and bright colors are introduced. Perhaps the most startling exhibits are the frescoes (bihua) relocated from the Tang tumuli around Xi'an. A depiction of ladies-in-waiting (gongnu tu) shows nine women carrying the tools of their trade -- candelabras, fans, cloth bundles, powder boxes, even fly swatters. You can easily spend 3 or 4 hours here.
Wild Goose Pagoda
This is the best-known temple in Xi'an, and worth a visit if, like many in the U.K. and Australia, you were entranced by the TV version of "Monkey" as a child. The scripture-collecting journey of Xuanzang (596-664) to India, on which the show was based, lasted 15 years, and was immortalized and lampooned in Wu Cheng'en's novel Journey to the West (Xi You Ji). But the journey was not the end of Xuanzang's travails. Upon his return, he requested the construction of a pagoda to house the scriptures; his request was accommodated inside a temple built from 647 to 652 by Prince Li Zhi in honor of his mother, Empress Wen De. Construction of the pagoda commenced in 652, in a style similar to those seen by Xuanzang in India -- hence the simple, tapering structure. Xuanzang is credited with translating 75 texts into over 1,000 volumes, an amazing feat since the originals contained a host of specialized terms with no Chinese equivalents.
Do not buy your terracotta statues at the market. Yes they are very cheap but they will not survive the trip back to the hotel let alone the trip back home. Far better to buy in the factory shop where they are better quality and they can also be shipped home.
Go to see the Terracotta Warriors early in the morning as the site gets very crowded as the day goes on.
The "warriors" are not in the city of Xi'an but are a 40 minute drive northeast of the city.
Since the 2008 earthquake visitors are no longer allowed to climb to the top of the Wild Goose Pagoda.
The majority of Xi'an residents are Han Chinese, which make up 99.1% of the city's total population. There are around 81,500 ethnic minorities living in Xi'an, including 50,000 Muslim Hui people, many of them concentrated in the famous Muslim quarter, which is also home to the beautiful 1,360 year old Great Mosque of Xi'an.
Xi'an cuisine has a good, hearty style that should never let you leave the table hungry. Noodles and dumplings are the staples of the local food and these are almost always filling and warming.
Xi'an is a store house of anicent Chinese culture and calligraphy! There are more than 300 steles dating from the Han, Wei, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties collected in the Forest of Steles in Xi'an. Books of rubbings from some of the most famous Chinese calligraphers can be purchased there. If you are interested in Chinese history, language, or calligraphy, then this is an excellent oppurtunity to enrich your collection of calligraphic rubbings.
One fantastic and very special type of souvenir from Xi'an is a local folk painting. The local folk painters have borrowed the line drawing techniques of traditional Chinese brush painting and draw inspiration from cultural and historical figures, animals, flowers and birds. These eye-catching and colorful paintings overflow with the atmosphere of Chinese country life and are widely enjoyed by travelers to Xi'an.
Green Porcelain (Qing Ciqi) is method of making porcelain which originated in the Song Dynasty. Lifelike animals and flowers are the major decorative themes and the most common colors of this porcelain are blue and green. Useful and durable, yet also elegant and pretty, this porcelain has many uses and forms. Green Porcelain is especially favored as a material for making tea pots.
Paper cutting is an extremely popular folk art in the Shaanxi Province villages. On days of celebration such as holidays and weddings, villagers like to decorate the doors and windows of their homes with colorful paper cuttings.
The designs of the paper cuttings are rich and varied, but they always feature symbols of good luck and happiness as the main theme. Other secondary themes include landscape scenes, legends and myths, and folk stories. These folk paper cuttings are usually inexpensive, but you should still bargain.
Tang Pottery Replicas
Xi'an's proud tradition as the capital of the Tang Dynasty is kept alive today by modern day replicas of Tang Dynasty pottery. Tang Dynasty pottery, with its distinctive blue, green, and yellow color glazes is still hand-made as it was during the Tang. Common themes include figurines and ceramic camels and horses.
Because of this revival in the art of Tang style pottery, buyers should be wary of any shop owners or hawkers that claim their pottery to be "old". Just a reminder! The Tang Dynasty was from about 600 to 900 AD. That would make any genuine Tang Dynasty pieces out of the reach of any ordinary modern day shop.
Take a Terracotta Warrior home with you! Many different types of replicas are available as souvenirs, from a few inches tall to life-size! Prices range as well, from one US dollar to several thousand dollars for the largest statues.
- Ancient City Xi An (Terracotta Army Site)
- Xi'an (Terracotta Warriors) & Luoyang (Grottos & Shaolin Temple)
- Maijishan Grottoes & Famen Temple
- 3-day Tour to Datong (Grottoes) & Xi'an (Terracotta Warriors)
- Ancient City Xi An (Terracotta Army Site) & Yangtze River Cruise
- The Long March's Terminus Yan'an & Yellow Earth