What are the best things to do in Xi’an?

From temples to pagodas, museums to a Muslim Quarter, Xi’an is full of sights and activities that will keep you busy from sunrise to sunset. Make sure to put these picks from our Forbes Travel Guide editors for the best things to do and see in the city at the top of your list:
 
1. See the Terracotta Army. This stone entourage of more than 8,000 life-sized soldiers was built more than 2,000 years ago and buried to protect Emperor Qin in the afterlife. Thanks to its discovery in 1974 by a group of local farmers, tourists can now walk through the pits and marvel at the soldiers, horses, chariots and shiny weaponry, all of which is still in amazing condition. The three underground pits housing the army are located at the Qin Shi Huang Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum, about 25 miles outside of Xi’an – tour companies, buses and taxis all know the route by heart. To get the most out of your trip we suggest asking your hotel to arrange for a local guide to go with you.
 
2. Bike the City Walls. A breezy morning bike ride around the city walls is one of our favorite activities in the city and one of the best places to score amazing panoramas of the area. Xi’an’s city wall is the most complete one remaining in China, its broad stone perimeter stretching for roughly 9 miles. Get started at the South Gate, where you can rent a bike for about $15 for two hours, and take your time pedaling around, stopping along the way at each corner to admire the ancient weaponry, statues and drum towers dating back to the Tang Dynasty.
 
3. Visit the Great Mosque of Xi’an and Muslim Quarter. Just five minutes west of the city center lies the Muslim Quarter. There’s nothing like a stroll through these lively alleyways, especially Xiyang Shi and Damaishi Jie, which have some of the city’s best food vendors and souvenir-shopping opportunities. Get there for an early morning jaunt or a late dinner to avoid the crowds, then make your way through the bazaars and butcher shops until you reach the Great Mosque of Xi’an, the oldest of its kind in the country.
 
4. Explore the Temple of the Eight Immortals. In a city with no shortage of awe-inspiring sanctuaries, the Temple of the Eight Immortals is one of the most famous and the largest Taoist temple in Xi’an. This impressive structure is believed to date back to the Song Dynasty, and today contains artifacts from the Silk Road as well as mythological portraits that line the walls of the courtyard.
 
5. Watch the Water Show at Giant Wild Goose Pagoda. Lights! Lasers! Water! Music! Xi’an’s famous nightly fountain show is a constant crowd pleaser – and it’s free. Located in front of the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, China’s largest musical fountain starts its show at 8:30 p.m. and ends about 45 minutes later. Get there early if you want an up-close view because the show always attracts big crowds.

  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best things to do in Xi’an?

    From temples to pagodas, museums to a Muslim Quarter, Xi’an is full of sights and activities that will keep you busy from sunrise to sunset. Make sure to put these picks from our Forbes Travel Guide editors for the best things to do and see in the city at the top of your list:
     
    1. See the Terracotta Army. This stone entourage of more than 8,000 life-sized soldiers was built more than 2,000 years ago and buried to protect Emperor Qin in the afterlife. Thanks to its discovery in 1974 by a group of local farmers, tourists can now walk through the pits and marvel at the soldiers, horses, chariots and shiny weaponry, all of which is still in amazing condition. The three underground pits housing the army are located at the Qin Shi Huang Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum, about 25 miles outside of Xi’an – tour companies, buses and taxis all know the route by heart. To get the most out of your trip we suggest asking your hotel to arrange for a local guide to go with you.
     
    2. Bike the City Walls. A breezy morning bike ride around the city walls is one of our favorite activities in the city and one of the best places to score amazing panoramas of the area. Xi’an’s city wall is the most complete one remaining in China, its broad stone perimeter stretching for roughly 9 miles. Get started at the South Gate, where you can rent a bike for about $15 for two hours, and take your time pedaling around, stopping along the way at each corner to admire the ancient weaponry, statues and drum towers dating back to the Tang Dynasty.
     
    3. Visit the Great Mosque of Xi’an and Muslim Quarter. Just five minutes west of the city center lies the Muslim Quarter. There’s nothing like a stroll through these lively alleyways, especially Xiyang Shi and Damaishi Jie, which have some of the city’s best food vendors and souvenir-shopping opportunities. Get there for an early morning jaunt or a late dinner to avoid the crowds, then make your way through the bazaars and butcher shops until you reach the Great Mosque of Xi’an, the oldest of its kind in the country.
     
    4. Explore the Temple of the Eight Immortals. In a city with no shortage of awe-inspiring sanctuaries, the Temple of the Eight Immortals is one of the most famous and the largest Taoist temple in Xi’an. This impressive structure is believed to date back to the Song Dynasty, and today contains artifacts from the Silk Road as well as mythological portraits that line the walls of the courtyard.
     
    5. Watch the Water Show at Giant Wild Goose Pagoda. Lights! Lasers! Water! Music! Xi’an’s famous nightly fountain show is a constant crowd pleaser – and it’s free. Located in front of the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, China’s largest musical fountain starts its show at 8:30 p.m. and ends about 45 minutes later. Get there early if you want an up-close view because the show always attracts big crowds.
  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Where are the best places to stay in Xi’an?

    Xi’an is home to an assortment of luxury hotels from well-known international chains, while those on a tighter budget will find some of the best hostels in China here as well. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors feel these are the five places to stay in Xi’an:
     
    1. The Westin Xi’an. Featuring a full-service spa and fitness center, indoor swimming pool and five restaurants and bars, The Westin Xi’an is an ideally located luxury hotel that’s a short walk away from the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda and Tang Paradise theme park. Guest rooms are comfortable and modern, with each equipped with a 37-inch flat-screen television and a Westin Heavenly Bed that’s every bit as comfortable as it sounds.
     
    2. Shangri-La Hotel, Xi’an. Floor-to-ceiling windows in each of the 395 guest rooms and suites are a definite highlight of any stay at this gorgeous hotel, where you’ll be floored by the chic design and impeccable service from the moment you arrive. Be sure to make time for a body treatment in one of six private rooms at serene The Spa, and bring your camera along with your swimsuit down to the awesome indoor pool area, where you can lounge on poolside couches after swimming a few laps in the heated 25-meter pool.
     
    3. Sofitel Xi’an on Renmin Square. Lush, stylish Sofitel Xi’an on Renmin Square flawlessly balances modern luxuries with classic Asian-style grandeur. Its 414 guest rooms and suites feature Wi-Fi access, rain showers and the trademark Sofitel MyBed, while six onsite restaurants, four bars, a full-service spa and indoor pool provide plenty of welcomed distraction for those times when you’re not out exploring the city.
     
    4. Sheraton Xi’an Hotel. Located near the city center, Sheraton Xi’an Hotel is a popular choice for working travelers thanks to its 13 well-equipped meeting rooms, private Sheraton Club Lounge and full range of business services. The hotel’s 395 spacious guest rooms and suites feature goose down duvets, 32-inch flat-screen televisions and Wi-Fi access, but for the ultimate in luxury splurge on the top-floor Presidential Suite, where you’ll be treated to panoramic views of Xi’an, 24-hour private butler service and home-cooked meals prepared by a chef in an attached kitchen.
     
    5. Golden Flower Hotel, Xi’an. This monolithic hotel from Shangri-La offers 416 elegantly decorated guest rooms and suites, along with 35 serviced apartments perfect for those in town for an extended period of time on business. The nearly 5,400-square-meter fitness center and health club is one of the largest in Xi’an, while the hotel’s signature restaurant, Shang Palace, is an excellent spot to taste gourmet Chinese cuisine with a twist, such as beef ribs with red wine sauce and spiced roasted duck.
  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What’s the best side trip from Xi’an?

    If you have an extra day to spare during your visit to Xi’an, our Forbes Travel Guide editors suggest spending it with a side trip to Mt. Huashan. One of China’s Five Great Mountains and the “most precipitous under heaven,” dramatic Huashan is famous for its treacherous cliffs and steep canyons, and you’ll be treated to some truly stunning views of the area from any one of its five peaks. The mountain is also home to a number of religious temples.
     
    The gateway to 7,000-foot tall Mt. Huashan is located at the North Peak, from which you can trek through Huashan village or take a cable car up to Jade Maiden Peak. If you venture up to Lotus Peak, you can take a gondola to the highest summit, Landing Wild Goose Peak, but be careful: Speckled with steep falls, precarious footholds, a narrow wooden plank and a vertical ladder, the trail is literally an obstacle course.
     
    Located approximately two hours outside of Xi’an, the mountain is best reached either by Tourist Bus No. 1, which runs between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., or by the Xi’an-Zhengzhou bullet train; if you choose the latter option, disembark at Huashan Bei and transfer to one of the green mini-buses. Depending on how much climbing you want to do at Mt. Huashan, you can see it in anywhere from a few hours to two days. If you want to do some climbing, one of the quickest — and safest — ways to do that is to hike up the East Peak, spend the night, and watch the sun rise in the morning.
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  • On July 30, 2012
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    What is the best thing to bring home from Xi’an?

    While many visitors happily spring for one of the replica terracotta soldiers sold on nearly every street in Xi’an, there are many other beautiful handcrafted souvenirs available here, particularly in the lively Muslim Quarter, where you’ll find calligraphy rubbings, wooden carvings of dragons and Buddhas, and tri-colored pottery.
     
    Our Forbes Travel Guide editors, however, feel the best thing to bring home from Xi’an is a folk paper cut, a colorful ancient art form in China that dates back nearly 2,000 years. Whether you choose one emblazoned with an ancient Chinese emperor, a dragon, or perhaps Chinese characters, this beautiful artwork will provide a lasting memory of your trip to Xi’an.
  • On July 30, 2012
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    What are the five best Xi’an food experiences?

    Your taste buds will be treated to some of China’s most unique and savory food experiences in Xi’an, where a diverse mix of Muslim and Chinese cultures combine to make this one city with significant appeal for traveling foodies. Don’t leave without trying our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for Xi’an’s five best local specialties:
     
    1. Yangrou Paomo. As you wander through the busy streets of Xi’an you’ll notice people breaking apart bits of bread and dropping them into big bowls of soup – this is yangrou paomo, a hearty lamb stew that’s quite popular with locals and is one of the city’s most famous dishes. Enjoy a bowl of it either at a casual open-air spot or a more upscale restaurant – you won’t be disappointed.
     
    2. Roujiamo. This flavorful meat sandwich is Xi’an’s answer to the hamburger. Stewed for hours and basted in up to 20 different spices, roujiamo is made up of either minced pork, beef, lamb or chicken mixed with cilantro and peppers and served on Mo, a flatbread made with wheat flour.
     
    3. Liangfen. A starchy jelly with a soft texture similar to tofu, liangfen is typically derived from soy, potatoes or green beans. It’s served both hot and cold, but in Xi’an liangfen is often stir-fried with chili, mustard and vinegar sauce.
     
    4. Guan Tang Baozi. These juicy dumplings are a specialty in Xi’an that are stuffed with hot gravy oozing with flavor. They’re widely available throughout the city, but our editors think some of the best are served at Jia Brothers’ Restaurant on Muslim Street.
     
    5. Biang Biang Mian. Popular throughout the country’s Shaanxi province, these (really) long noodles are folded up in a bowl and topped with hot peppers. Traditionally a rural “poor man’s” meal, these hefty noodles have in recent years begun making their way into trendy restaurants, but can also be had at many street food stalls.
  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Where is the best nightlife in Xi’an?

    Xi’an has seen a significant influx of new bars and clubs in recent years, so whether you want to dance the night away or enjoy a few quiet cocktails at a laid-back bar you’re sure to find a nightlife scene that fits the mood.

    If it’s clubbing you’re after, our Forbes Travel Guide editors suggest joining the throngs of partiers at the perennially popular 1 + 1 Bar, a late-night neon labyrinth with a packed dance floor. Don’t be surprised if you see more foreigners here than locals. 
     
    For a more relaxing ambience head to De Fu Xiang, a street lined with more than 20 bars and cafés where you can sip a cold bottle or two of Tsingtao or a glass of Bordeaux.
     
    Feeling extra adventurous? Don’t miss a chance to experience the KTV (karaoke television) phenomenon that’s become wildly popular in Xi’an and other parts of eastern Asia. Karaoke here is a much more private affair than it is in the United States, where you often have to belt out your song on stage in front of strangers. Instead, at places such as Xialudi KTV groups of friends rent a reasonably priced private room (usually around US$15) that contains a few microphones, a big-screen TV and a jukebox where you can select the playlist – and room service helps keep the singing confidence flowing.
  • On July 30, 2012
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    What is the best way to see Xi’an in one day?

    The best way to see Xi’an in one day is to wake up early and start your whirlwind tour by heading to the Muslim Quarter to pick up an egg tortilla and freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast. From there, join up with a tour to see the Qin Shi Huang Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum, which is located about 25 miles away from Xi’an’s city center. Once you’re there you can wander through the three pits containing these iconic excavated statues, and listen to the tour guide tell stories of Emperor Qin’s infatuation with everlasting life. 
     
    After your tour head back to the city center for lunch at Lao Sun Jia Restaurant, which opened more than a century ago and is famous for its delectable yangrou paomo, a satisfying lamb stew with shredded pieces of bread. Once you’ve had your fill make the trek to the South Gate, where you can rent a bike and ride along the tops of the city walls. The ride should only take about two hours, but can at times be physically demanding due to the winds and bumpy cobblestone path.
     
    Spend the rest of the afternoon unwinding and freshening up in your hotel, then enjoy an elegant dinner at Jiasan Guantang Baozi, one of Xi’an’s most acclaimed restaurants – try the steamy dumplings and sweet porridge. After dinner, finish off with a nightcap at De Fu Xiang, a lively street filled with more 20 bars and cafés.
  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Where are the best places to eat at in Xi’an?

    Xi’an is reputed as much for its food as it is its historic resonance – whether you go gourmet or stick to street food you won’t be disappointed. Here are our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ five favorite places to eat in Xi’an:
     
    1. Lao Sun Jia Restaurant. Opened in 1898 and located in the Muslim Quarter, Lao Sun Jia Restaurant is one of Xi’an’s most cherished culinary landmarks and is famous for its juicy lamb dumplings and yangrou paomo, or lamb stew. To prepare the soup you’ll tear buns of bread into tiny pieces, throw them in the soup bowl then wait for your server to take it away and fill it up with broth, noodles, lamb and cilantro. Add some chili sauce and slurp away.
     
    2. De Fa Chang. Dumpling lovers, take note: De Fa Chang is famed for its 18-course feast that features just about every type of dumpling you can imagine. We love that it’s not just the flavors and fillings that are varied, too, with dumplings served in a variety of different of shapes and sizes, from flowers to flying saucers and walnuts.
     
    3. Jiasan Guantang Baozi. This cozy spot is one of the most famous restaurants in Xi’an – not to mention a preferred choice for traveling celebrities – thanks to its sweet rice porridge, variety of succulent meat dishes and juicy dumplings filled with either lamb, beef or prawns.

    4. The Muslim Quarter. From freshly fried egg tortillas to cavernous bowls of lamb stew, the Muslim Quarter is a wonderful part of the city for tasting a variety of different foods. Nibble on pieces of dried fruit, sip blended carrot smoothies and tear into piping-hot kebabs for sale from street food vendors – this is easily one of our favorite places in Xi’an to aimlessly wander.
     
    5. King Town No. 1. There’s a great atmosphere at King Town No. 1, a bi-level restaurant with an appealing modern design and attractive table settings. Snag a table on the second floor to dine on upscale Sichuanese-Cantonese cuisine in a sophisticated setting.
  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best places to stay in Xi’an?

    Xi’an is home to an assortment of luxury hotels from well-known international chains, while those on a tighter budget will find some of the best hostels in China here as well. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors feel these are the five places to stay in Xi’an:
     
    1. The Westin Xi’an. Featuring a full-service spa and fitness center, indoor swimming pool and five restaurants and bars, The Westin Xi’an is an ideally located luxury hotel that’s a short walk away from the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda and Tang Paradise theme park. Guest rooms are comfortable and modern, with each equipped with a 37-inch flat-screen television and a Westin Heavenly Bed that’s every bit as comfortable as it sounds.
     
    2. Shangri-La Hotel, Xi’an. Floor-to-ceiling windows in each of the 395 guest rooms and suites are a definite highlight of any stay at this gorgeous hotel, where you’ll be floored by the chic design and impeccable service from the moment you arrive. Be sure to make time for a body treatment in one of six private rooms at serene The Spa, and bring your camera along with your swimsuit down to the awesome indoor pool area, where you can lounge on poolside couches after swimming a few laps in the heated 25-meter pool.
     
    3. Sofitel Xi’an on Renmin Square. Lush, stylish Sofitel Xi’an on Renmin Square flawlessly balances modern luxuries with classic Asian-style grandeur. Its 414 guest rooms and suites feature Wi-Fi access, rain showers and the trademark Sofitel MyBed, while six onsite restaurants, four bars, a full-service spa and indoor pool provide plenty of welcomed distraction for those times when you’re not out exploring the city.
     
    4. Sheraton Xi’an Hotel. Located near the city center, Sheraton Xi’an Hotel is a popular choice for working travelers thanks to its 13 well-equipped meeting rooms, private Sheraton Club Lounge and full range of business services. The hotel’s 395 spacious guest rooms and suites feature goose down duvets, 32-inch flat-screen televisions and Wi-Fi access, but for the ultimate in luxury splurge on the top-floor Presidential Suite, where you’ll be treated to panoramic views of Xi’an, 24-hour private butler service and home-cooked meals prepared by a chef in an attached kitchen.
     
    5. Golden Flower Hotel, Xi’an. This monolithic hotel from Shangri-La offers 416 elegantly decorated guest rooms and suites, along with 35 serviced apartments perfect for those in town for an extended period of time on business. The nearly 5,400-square-meter fitness center and health club is one of the largest in Xi’an, while the hotel’s signature restaurant, Shang Palace, is an excellent spot to taste gourmet Chinese cuisine with a twist, such as beef ribs with red wine sauce and spiced roasted duck.
  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Where is the best shopping in Xi’an?

    Xi’an is one of the best shopping destinations in China, as long as you’re not intent on browsing upscale Gucci and Prada shops, that is. If you’re looking for authentic, handcrafted Chinese souvenirs, this is where to get them.
     
    Forbes Travel Guide’s editors say the area near the Great Mosque of Xi’an, west of the city center, is the best place to shop for everything from beautiful embroideries and silk screens to colorful paintings and intricately designed hand fans. Wander down Xiyang Shi – our favorite alleyway in the Muslim Quarter – to pick through artwork, wistfully gaze at pricey Chinese antiques and linger around the tea shops, where you can enjoy a complimentary tasting or two. Most street vendors expect to be bargained with to some degree, so feel free to try and arrive at a final price you’re both comfortable with before making your purchase.
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