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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.