Home to many of China’s most significant historical and cultural sites, including the famous terra cotta warriors, it’s easy to see why Xi’an is regarded as the country's living “natural history museum”.
Xi’an was the capital for many influential Chinese dynasties over thousands of years and the city still retains many buildings and structures from those times. Among these is the City Wall, which is 12 metres (39 feet) high, 39-46 feet (12-14 meters) wide and 8.7 miles (14 kilometers) long. Rent a bicycle at the South Gate and make your way along the wall at sunset to enjoy beautiful views of the city.
Near the City Wall’s South Gate is the Forest of Stone Steles Museum where you can examine intricate calligraphy carved into stone tablets. While in the area, visit the Great Mosque and the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower.
See other artefacts from China’s dynasties at the Shaanxi History Museum. Its collections include stone tools and weapons, jade wine glasses and belts, chinaware and coins. Note that very little information is in English, so it’s worth getting an audio guide. Combine your museum visit with a trip to the Da Ci’en Temple site, home to the ancient Big Wild Goose Pagoda. Stroll through the north square and admire its gardens, sculptures and fountains.
The treasure Xi’an is probably most famous for, however, is actually located 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of the city at the Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum Site Park. Take a bus to the park from Xi’an to see one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century: the army of life-size terra cotta warriors and horses. On your way back, stop by the Huaqing Palace and Hot Springs to see what was once a retreat for emperors.
Back in the city, enjoy a meal of dumplings or try the local dish of yangrou paomo, which consists of crumbled unleavened bread in mutton stew.
Reach Xi’an by plane into the international airport located about 19 miles (30 kilometers) northwest of downtown, or by train or long-distance bus from many other major cities in China.