China Travel Guide
Xi'an (literally "Western Peace";), is the capital of the Shaanxi province in the People's Republic of China and a sub-provincial city. As one of the oldest cities in Chinese history, Xi'an is one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China because it has been the capital (under various names) of some of the most important dynasties in Chinese history, including the Zhou, Qin, Han, the Sui, and Tang dynasties. Xi'an is the eastern terminus of the Silk Road and known as the site of the Terracotta Army, made during the Qin Dynasty. The city has more than 3,100 years of history, and was known as Chang'an (literally "Perpetual Peace") before the Ming Dynasty.
Since the 1990s, as part of the economic revival of interior China especially for the central and northwest regions, the city of Xi'an has re-emerged as an important cultural, industrial and educational center of the central-northwest region, with facilities for research and development, national security and China's space exploration program.
Xi'an has a 6,000-year history and was known as Chang'an in ancient times.
During 1,000 years, the city was capital for 13 dynasties, and a total of 73 emperors ruled here. With so much history within the ground the city lies upon, it is no wonder that there are so many historical ruins, museums, and cultural relics to be found here. Even before the lives of Christ, Mohammad, and Siddhartha, Xi'an was a world class city! It was already influencing the world outside of the Great Wall of China as the eastern terminus of the Silk Road Here traders from far and wide brought goods and ideas for sale and took goods and ideas back with them to their native countries. In present day Xi'an not much of its former glory remains within the city confines. Sadly this is due to the constant warfare and political changes that swept China particularly throughout the 2Oth Century. However, this clean and modern city has a pleasant cosmopolitan flare to it and it is worth visiting for the famed Terracotta Warriors alone. It has often been said that, "if you have not been to Xi'an, you have not been to China!"
Geography and climate
Xi'an lies on the Guanzhong Plain in central China, on a flood plain created by the eight surrounding rivers and streams, most of which are too polluted to be used as sources of fresh water. The city has an average elevation of 400 meters above sea level and an annual precipitation of 1100 millimeters. The urban area of Xi'an is located at 34°16′N 108°56′E / 34.267°N 108.933°E / 34.267; 108.933 The Hei river provides potable water to the city.
The city borders the northern foot of the Qinling Mountains to the south, and the banks of the Wei River to the north. Hua Shan, one of the five sacred Taoist mountains, is located 100 km away to the east of the city.
At the beginning of Han Dynasty, Prime Minister Zhang Liang advised the emperor Liu Bang to choose Guanzhong as the capital of the Han Dynasty: 'Guanzhong Plain, which is located behind Xiao Pass and Hangu Pass, connects Long Plain and Shu Plain. Land of thousands miles and rich in harvest can be found here, as if this place is belongs to the nation of the heaven.'Since then, Guanzhong is also known as 'Nation of the Heaven'.
Xi'an has a humid subtropical climate. The region is characterized by hot, humid summers and cold, dry winters. Spring and autumn are brief in between. Xi'an receives most of its annual precipitation from August to late October in the form of rain. Snow occasionally falls in winter but rarely settles for long. Dust storms often occur during March and April as the city rapidly warms up. Summer seasons also experience frequent but short thunderstorms.
|Weather data for Xi'an, China|
|Average high °C (°F)||3.9
|Average low °C (°F)||-3.9
The city is surrounded by a city wall, in its middle the Bell Tower. From this one, the four main streets descend into the four points of the compass.
Do not get confused by different names in tourist guides, addresses and bus stops: Nandajie, Nanda-Street, South-Street, South-Avenue are all the same.
Locals often speak about Within city walls and Outside city walls when talking about locations. Outside the walls, the southern part is the most interesting, it offers shopping streets, bars and some nightlife.
There are plenty of buses departing everywhere in short-intervals (main lines every 5-10 minutes). If you are not confident enough with orientation, or if you do not like packed buses, the cheap taxis are the best alternative, broadly available, except for during rush hours.
By train / subway
As of June 2007, Xi'An has broken ground on the North/South line; the first line. Officials claim it will take one year to build and once the North/South line is built, they will build an East/West line which is projected to take another year. Once North/South and East/West are completed (2009), a beltway is planned around the outside of the city.
As of June 2009 subway was still not available. Current plans have the first subway line scheduled to finish in 2011.
There are many buses leaving regularly for the Terracotta Warrior museum in front of the Xi'an bus station (opposite the train station, just outside the city walls).
- (1) Bus 306 (Chinese bus green 5) from the central bus station. It will take you to a parking lot right in front of the museum site within 40 minutes. A one way ticket costs ¥8.
- (2) Small buses which are used by the locals. These buses will also take you to the Museum however they go through local small roads (no highway express like Bus 306) therefore it will take longer to arrive. Not a bad trip if you want to see the local bumpy rural roads.
- (3) Alternatively, most hostels run tours to the warriors with an English speaking guide. These aren't necessarily better, be prepared to spend a good portion of the day (as with any Chinese tour) visiting "terracotta factories," "museums", "Chinese medicine shops", and other tourist traps. But, you will get to your destination without dealing with the bus (the warriors are quite far outside of town) and not all of the public buses that go there are legitimate. However, sticking with the 306 bus (a nice coach with 306 in parenthesis), and riding it to the end of the line is your best and cheapest bet.
Watch the taxi drivers in Xi'an as the industry is not regulated as it is in other larger cities like Beijing. You may find yourself being taken on a long ride around town to get where you are going. It can also be difficult to convince them to take you anywhere (even to the railway station), if in doubt get your hotel or hostel to write down the place you want to go in Chinese. Trips within the city walls are generally around ¥10, longer trips to the attractions south of the city are ¥12-20. Especially when you take a longer ride, like to or from the airport, it is always good advice to insist on using the taxi meter.
The rate for the normal (green) taxis is ¥6 for the first two kilometers and then ¥1.5 for every additional kilometer. Waiting times longer than 2 minutes will be charged ¥1.5 per minute. After 11PM the starting price is ¥7. At the airport and around some of the big hotels you might also find black taxis. They charge ¥2.4 per kilometer, but are more spacious and comfortable.
Fortunately Xi'an's main sites (with the notable exception of the Terracotta Warriors) are bunched fairly close together, so renting a bike is a good option. Be wary of the narrow streets and cars that squeeze you out of the way. Bike lanes are availbable, making it somewhat safer than driving in the direct lane of traffic.
Inside the city
- City Wall of Xi'an. As the only intact connecting city wall remaining in the world, the Xi'an city wall has been restored and is wide enough to easily ride 5 bikes across. You can hire one at the top of the South or East gate; you must return it where you got it, but beware bikes will not be rented if there is any chance of rain, because the top of the wall becomes slippy. Check the weather forecast before you buy a ticket to enter the wall. If you want to foot it though, a complete loop of the walls takes approximately 3 hours. The landscaped park around the base of the exterior walls and moat also makes for a pleasant stroll and gives a different perspective on the battlements and towers. There is a small museum inside the city walls at Hanguang Gate, about halfway between the southwest corner and the South Gate, accessible from the top of the city wall itself. Look for a staircase down inside a covered structure. Inside are the unrestored remains of a gatehouse and a calligraphy collection. The wall is lit up at night and makes for a pleasant stroll. ¥40, ¥20 if you have student card (Apr 09)].
- Shaanxi Provincial Museum, This museum houses a collection of local artefacts that span the entirety of the province's history from the Neolithic through the Qing dynasty. In particular it contains fabulously well preserved pottery from nearby BanPo neolithic village (also worth a visit) and many excellent Shang dynasty bronzes. Although some guidebooks call it "one of the best museums in China", its old fashioned pots-and-arrowheads-behind-glass format may appeal mainly to enthusiasts, though they also feature some well-made but glorifying high-definition movies in the exhibition halls. Arrive early to avoid crowds and to get one of 1000 free tickets each day (bring your passport). ¥35 in winter, ¥50 in summer.
- Forest of Steles, (Just inside the southern city wall, near the Wenchang Gate). This collection of 2,300 stone tablets (many written to provide an "official text" of the Chinese classics) and epitaphs is the largest and oldest of its kind in China. This includes the famous Nestorian Stele, dating back to the 7th century. It depicts the coming of Nestorian Christianity to China. The Nestorian Stele is in Showroom Number 2 and is the first stele on the left.
- Wolong Temple, (One block North and East of the Forest of Steles museum). This active Buddhist temple dates back to 200BC. Recently restored the temple is vibrant and busy.
- Big (Wild) Goose Pagoda, (At Ci'en Temple, take bus 41 or 610 from the main train station). Built by Emperor Gaozong （Li Zhi) in 652AD. Emblem of the city of Xi'an. In the fountain in front of the pagoda there is a very nice water and music show sometimes during the day with plesant parks and western eateries nearby. RMB25 to enter the temple complex, another RMB20 to enter the pagoda.
- Little (Wild) Goose Pagoda, (At Jianfu Temple). Completed in 709AD. To enter you will have to buy a fairly expensive joint ticket with the adjoining Xi'an Museum (¥50, June 09).
- Bell Towers, (In the exact center of the city). ¥27 (or ¥40 including Drum Tower).
- Drum Tower, (Just to the northwest within the Muslim Quarter). ¥27 (or ¥40 including Bell Tower).
- Grand Mosque, (Behind Drum Tower). Built in a perfect mixture of Islamic and Chinese architecture styles with seating for 1,000 worshipers and the Muslim Street district around it. It is famous as the very first mosque ever to be built in China. It can be quite difficult to find through the winding back streets but is very well known to locals. Only muslims are permitted entry to the actual mosque but there is plenty to see in the many accompanying courtyards. Ladies are ask to cover up with a scarf according to muslim tradition.
- Eight Immortals Temple, An active Daoist temple built for the famous Eight Immortals, including the Eight Immortals Bridge, lots of steles in the walls with text and illustrations, and multiple worship halls.
Outside the city
- Army of Terracotta Warriors and Horses, (A short distance away from the Qinshihuang Mausoleum, it is the last stop of bus 306). This mighty army of terracotta warriors and horses, found in three vaults, is perhaps the most popular tourist attraction of Shaanxi and of the most popular in all of China. An in-site museum has been built over these pits, covering a floorspace of 20,000 square meters and displaying 8,000 life-like terracotta warriors, 100 or so chariots, and 30,000 weapons. The assemblage has been billed by the tourist industry as the Eighth Wonder of the World and a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO in 1987. ¥90, bring a student ID for half-price.
- Banpo Village Ruins. 6,000 year old ruins of a village site including the residential and pottery-making areas, ancient tools, as well as a burial ground. Visit also the Shaanxi Provincial Museum to see the best examples of the pottery found at Banpo.
- Famen Temple. This Buddhist temple, which records mention as far back as 67AD, contains a 13-storied brick pagoda as part of the monastery. This pagoda fell down in the rain in August, 1981 and revealed a 1000 year old underground vault full with 2,400 treasures belonging to the Tang and previous dynasties given as offerings. These included gold and silver utensils, glazed wares, porcelains, pearls, precious stones and textiles, as well as religious items. The biggest treasure is a finger bone of Buddha offered to the Emperor of China during the Tang dynasty.
- Huaqing Palace, (First stop of bus 306). Built by the Tang emperor Xuanzong near hot springs at the foot of Li Shan in Lintong County so he could frolic with his favoured Imperial Lady Yang to his heart's content. It is possible to take hot baths inside. ¥70, hot bath ¥30.
- Mao Ling Mausoleum. The tomb of the fifth emperor of the Han Dynasty, includes many stone carvings.
- Qinshihuang's Mausoleum, (Third stop (second for the museum) of bus 306 before the Terracota Warriors). Mausoleum of the First Emperor of China. You can visit the surrounding gardens and mountains, but you can not get inside the mausoleum. There is a low quality museum with a reconstruction of the Mausoleum. Taking pictures in the dimly lit museum is forbidden, although staff will not control it too much. Mausoleum ¥40, museum ¥15.
- Qian Ling Mausoleum. The only shared tomb of the first empress of China Wu Zetian, and her husband Emperor Tang Gaozong of Tang Dynasty.
- Taiping National Park, (44km southwest of Xi'an, north slope of Qinling Mountain). Famous for its waterfall and the largest area of wild Zijing flower (the city flower of Hong Kong) in north China.
- Xiangyu Forest Park, (36.9km south of Xi'an, north slope of Qinling Mountain).
- Hua Mountain, (About 2.5 hours outside of Xi'an). This is one of China's sacred mountains. Very beautiful misty mountain where you can climb steep stairs while holding on to chain railings for support. There are many tours that drive to the Mountain, just be aware that half of the time you will be stoping for jewelry, Chinese medicine, etc. Worthwhile if you get a nice coach.
- Tomb of Emperor Jingdi, (Near the airport). Han dynasty tomb containing 50,000 doll-sized terracotta figures. The excavation site has a glass floor so that you can look down on the ongoing excavations and is definitely worth a visit (although is best done as part of a journey to or from the airport).
- Hui Muslim Quarter, Huimin Street. Walk through the Muslim quarter sampling food and buying souvenirs.
- Walk the City Walls. Walk along the city walls and see the South Gate, which is illuminated at night.
- Bike the City Walls. Bicycling around the city walls will take about 2 hours. Bicicle can be rented on East and South Gates for 100 minutes, ¥20 per person, and it has to be returned to the same deposit where it was taken. Remember to take your passport with as a deposit for the bike that you rent, or at least ¥200. Make sure that you keep the deposit ticket, the bike vendor will not give you the deposit back without it!
Xi'an souvenirs include small copies of terracotta warriors, wood-carved Buddhas and dragons, Tang Tricolored Pottery, hand made paper cut (by many regarded as the most important arts form in Xi'an), all other kind of folk art and also fake western products.
- Terracotta Warriors. If you are visiting the Terracotta Warriors, be prepared to meet some of the most hardcore hawkers you are likely to meet anywhere. If you keep quiet, they will usually bargain themselves down in front of you in desperate pleas for your money. Buy a 15 cm Terracotta warrior for ¥5-10 even if they offer it to you for ¥45. Wood-carved Buddhas and Dragons for about the same. They are fortunately kept at a distance from the actual site. Many travelers report enjoying this experience. It is definitely not a reason to avoid seeing the Terracotta Warriors. The exit from the pit areas to the parking lot leads through long avenues lined with souvenir stalls and shops. The barkers will try to get your business, but are not as aggressive as the touts at the entrance or immediate exits.
- Bazaar Area, (Behind the Drum Tower in the Muslim Quarter around the Great Mosque). The best place to buy souvenirs in the city center is the bazaar area. The seller usually offers you a very high price, and even if you bring them down by 50%, they will still make a big profit. This is also a good place to buy folk art, specifically folk style block prints in a single shop which go for about ¥50 if you can stand bargaining when the older gentleman artist himself is standing right there. This area is also full of fake name-brand products like watches, bags, clothes. Bargain hard.
- Calligraphy Street, (Near South Gate inside the city wall towards the east, walking down South Street on the left side, continue to where the road splits in front of South Gate and turn left to find the entrance gate next to a small pagoda, midway do a slight dog leg to the right, at the far end is the Forest of Steles). This is another souvenir shopping area. Less hectic than the Muslim Quarter.
- Tang Tricolored Pottery Factory. Tang Tricolored Pottery is a style that was lost and has now been recreated from pieces of pottery found in tombs. It is graphic in image and eye-pleasing in color. The factory recreating the style offers over 100 varieties of items, like statues, animals, and utensils.
Xi'an is amazingly cheap for clothes.
- East Street (Dong Dajie), (The eastern of the four big streets descending from the central Bell Tower). Has regular fashion shops.
- South Street (Nan Dajie). Has finer clothes and shoes (e.g. Louis Vuitton).
- Baihui Market, Local youngsters shop here. It is one of those fake-brand markets. Sport shoes should be less than ¥150, pullovers and nice jeans sometimes less than ¥100, lots of cheap fashion accessories. This is also a great place for DVDs and CDs but understand these are mostly pirated copies.
- Kangfu Road, (Outside the east city wall, straight through the Northeast Gate). A great place for a bargain. Nothing is (bargained for) over ¥50 and most clothes can be bargained down to about ¥20 if you are really aggressive. But this place is full of poor quality stuff.
Xi'an specialties include:
- Yang Rou Pao Muo is one of the signature dishes of the area, it consists of a piece of bread and a kettle of lamb soup. The diner shreds the bread with his hands and places the shreds in a bowl, the soup is then poured over the shreds. The trick is to shred the bread into pieces that are as small as possible. Most first-timers will shred their bread in pieces that are too large. Tong Sheng Xiang Restaurant is recommended.
- Biang Biang Mian is a local provincial specialty noodle dish that is extremely good. The wide noodles are spiced, have a broth, and include toppings such as eggs, tomatoes, beef, etc. A popular chain has a red sign with white characters, and includes the face of the "Noodle King".
- Rou Jia Mo is the closest thing to a beefburger, this is a local tradition and should be very easy to locate, sandwich like, with pork, beef or lamb, this is a must try item for anyone who is in this area.
- Xiao long bao-zi are basket-steamed dumplings (one basket ¥3), common as a midnight snack. Look for its big brother "Da bao-zi" only available first thing in the mornings, like a steamed cornish pastie, but very nice.
- Guan Tang bao-zi are steamed buns served with sauces inside.
Some good places to look for restaurants are:
- The Muslim Quarter close to the Drum Tower is a vibrant area with many restaurants spilling out onto the street and mixing with the street sellers.
- Street food (mostly sold after sunset, or some near night clubs/bars after 11PM) presents a variety of local/regional dishes, ranging from noodle soups, dumplings, hot pot, and so on by tens of little food vendors on street side, each with a red lamp.
A good way if you do not want the expensive hotel food or just want to try real Chinese cuisine, is to simply go into a small restaurant and point to a dish somebody else is having and you will get a meal for less than ¥10 (seldom ¥20) per person.
A good street for eating is Xiyang Shi running east-west near the mosque in the Muslim quarter.
- Wen Xin Jiaozi Guan, 123 Xushimiao Street (Next to the Good World Hotel, off of Lian Hu Lu). A good cheap place for jiaozi (Chinese dumplings). There is no menu, but endless supplies of fresh jiaozi of many flavors. From ¥4-5 a bowl.
- Lao Sun Jia, G/F Dong Dajie. Has fantastic yangrou paomo which is very cheap but flavoursome. No English spoken but easy to communicate with sign language!
McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC or its Chinese brother, Dicos, are widely available within city walls for a change from the daily Chinese cuisine. There are also three Starbucks within a 5-minute walk of the Bell Tower.
- Highfly Pizza, (Down the right hand street after coming out of South Gate). Real pizza and other western food.
- Green Molly Restaurant & Pub, (200m north of Ginwa Shopping Center on the intersection of Gaoxin Road and Keji Road), ☎ +86 29 81883339. 10AM-11PM. A restaurant where you can indulge in the tastes of home, whether that be in the US, Europe or even Mexico. The restaurant owns only the second authentic pizza oven in Xi'an. Downstairs, the first and only real pub in Xi'an has a wide selection of beverages ranging from imported beers to wine and delicious cocktails.
- Small World Cafe, Huancheng Nanlu Dongduan 90# (Outside Jian Guo Gate). Run by a Dutch women. Great European cafe feel. Good food. Pizza, salad, fried chicken and real cake.
- Delhi Darbar, Dayanta West Road (Directly west of the Big Goose Pagoda on a street full of upscale bars and restaurants). Authentic North Indian food run by a wonderful Indian manager. Service is good, food is devinely delicious, and prices are very affordable. Mango Lassi for only ¥10 is a must have. Average meal price is about ¥40 per person. Highly Recommended.
Night clubs in Xian are not abundant since the hip-hop culture is not popular in the city. All clubs play the same music, a mix of Chinese disco and some pop music, but it might change slowly in future. But for now, don't expect latest chart-toppers or hip-hop music. Most people go out between 10PM and 1AM, but clubs are generally open until 4AM.
In summer time, the area around South Gate is beautiful. East of it are three nice bars with terraces and gardens.
Along the short Nandajie are the most clubs (you can also eat on the street as there are restaurants open past midnight).
- MIX, (Big light ad). Rather nice places to sit and drink.
- Palando. Rather nice places to sit and drink.
- Night Cat. Dance floor, some foreigners and OK-DJs.
- Kulala. Dance floor.
Other options include:
- 1+1, Dongdajie (In the middle of the street). Remains one of the most popular clubs and definitely the most popular amongst foreigners. The club has 2 dance floors: first floor is mostly J-pop music, second floor is mostly hip-hop. There is a relaxed open air bar on the 5th floor which has live music every night.
- Salsa, West Street. Is probably the most popular club. This club is your best bet on Fridays and Saturdays however yi-jia-yi is more consistent during the week. The dance floor, while smaller than yi-jia-yi's, is usually less crowded, so you have a bit more room to dance.
- Off-road Tea Bar, Jiefang Road (800 meters south direct to Xi'an Railway Station). Has been checked by Goofle Business. Here, one could enjoy the fresh green tea in Southern Shaanxi and could meet local cycling and trekking lover.
- Havana Bar, Renmin Square (In Sofitel Hotel). Has a Colombian band and does good cocktails.