One of the four great ancient capitals of China, Xi'an has more than 3,000 years of history which has endowed the city with an amazing historical heritage. As the eastern departure point of the Silk Road trading route, Xi'an has long been an important crossroads for people throughout China, Central Asia and the Middle East, hence today it is a melting pot of cultures and religions.
Our selection of tried and tested itineraries highlight some of China's most fascinating areas and help you discover the must-see sights and hidden haunts of this intriguing country. Each tour is accompanied by a knowledgeable local guide to ensure you gain a real understanding of the place, its people, history and culture.
Without doubt the biggest draw is the Terracotta Warriors, which lie around 20 miles east of Xi'an. Discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well, this vast treasure is considered one of the most significant archaeological excavations of the 20th century and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is estimated there are more than 7,000 life-sized terracotta soldiers, horses and chariots arranged in battle formations within this grand mausoleum, constructed in the 3rd century to guard Emperor Qin Shihuang's tomb. The site comprises three large vaults and raised walkways allow visitors to view the figures at close quarters, most of which been restored to their former grandeur and incredibly each figure is unique with different facial features, expressions and weapons.
Within Xi'an itself the massive Ming-era city walls are the best preserved, oldest and largest ancient city defence system in China. Built to encircle and protect the old part of Xi'an city the 40ft wall, which extends for nearly nine miles, today stands between modern Xi'an and the old city centre. Surrounded by a deep moat, which has been reconstructed and integrated within a park, the grandness and simple beauty of the wall can't fail to impress; it's also the most dramatic place to take a stroll and view this fascinating city or alternatively, hire a bike and cycle along the wall!
At the heart of the old city is the imposing Bell Tower and smaller Drum Tower. Dating from the 14th century the Bell Tower originally held a large bell that was rung at dawn, while in the Drum Tower drums were beaten at dusk to mark nightfall. Both are now museums and when lit at night look quite spectacular. The Drum Tower also marks the entrance to the city's Muslim Quarter, whose narrow streets and alleyways teem with vendors of all descriptions, Also not to be missed here is the magnificent Great Mosque, one of the oldest, largest and best preserved Islamic mosques in China, and is unusually completely Chinese in its construction and architectural style.
Other significant attractions include the seven-storey Big Wild Goose Pagoda, situated just south of the city centre in the Da Ci'en Temple complex; the lesser known Small Wild Goose Pagoda and the astonishing Shaanxi History Museum, whose collection of over 3,000 historic artefacts includes tools and pottery from Palaeolithic and Neolithic times and Ming dynasty ceramics.
Xi'an is a fantastic place for shopping, particular arts and crafts, Terracotta Warrior replicas, Chinese calligraphy works, traditional Shaanxi paper cuttings, silk clothing and embroidery. The Muslim Quarter's warren-like alleys are by far the best area for shopping, with a number of large outdoor markets, antique and curio shops.
Restaurants are plentiful, particularly around the Bell and Drum Towers, while nightlife is varied, vibrant and colourful. To experience a traditional Chinese evening don't miss the Tang Dynasty Show during which over 100 artists entertain with a colourful spectacle of music and dance.
- Incredible Terracotta Army
- Fascinating Shaanxi History Museum
- Magnificent city walls
- Ancient pagodas
- Amazing food
- Shop for cultural items