Xian, the capital of the Shaanxi province, is one of the oldest cities in China and the oldest of the Four Great Ancient Capitals. In English, the name translates to “western peace”.

As part of the economic revival of inland China since the 1990s, Xian has emerged as a cultural, economic and industrial centre for the north-west.
Xian has a rich and important history in China, offering ancient history and a very inviting atmosphere for tourists.

Terracotta Army Xian

I decided to take an organised group tour for Xian for one day, and have a second day free to explore the city on my own. After my visit, I thought this was definitely the right decision, I met some awesome people on the tour and we had a great guide, super informative. The private air-conditioned bus was plus also!

The city tour, which focused on the ancient history of Xian, included the Banpo Museum, Mausoleum of the first Qin Emperor and of course the Terracotta army.

Banpo is the name given to ancient village ruins discovered in 1953. Just east of Xian they have been carbon-dated to 5600-6700 years ago. A truly ancient relic of modern humanity. I knew nothing about this incredible place before this tour, learning the history of the places you visit, especially ones as old as this is one of my favourite parts of travelling.

From Banpo, we went to a sculpture workshop, to check out all manner of local craft. Beautifully intricate jade carvings and hand-woven clothing, alongside full-size replicas of the Terracotta soldiers. You could even have the soldiers made with your head on them, the artists achieving an excellent likeness!

It was now time for the day’s main attraction. The most famous site in Xian would have to be the Terracotta Army. The army was originally discovered by a farmer who was digging a well but found the stone head of a soldier. Since that day the area has been protected and has resulted in one the greatest ever archaeological finds with over 8000 figures spread through a number of pits.

What an incredible sight it is, I just stood and stared, the vastness of the main pit is really staggering.

Chariot Xian

Alongside these 2 major historical sites, I used my free day in Xian to check out some other local attractions, including;

  • Fortifications of Xian
  • Mausoleum of the first Qin Emperor
  • Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
  • Great Mosque of Xian

The fortifications still to this day, run in a full loop around the centre of the town. If you’re feeling up for it, you can walk or ride a bike the 15km circumference right around the top!

If there’s one food dish that represents Xian, it’s ‘yangrou paomo’. This dish is made up of shredded flat bread in a mutton soup. Spicy and delicious.

Alongside this, don’t miss the ‘chuan’er’. Very similar to a shish kebab, this barbecued meat on a stick is wonderfully spiced and flavoursome.

The place to find this food? The Muslim quarter, a district of myriad colours, sounds and flavours. Check it out once the sun goes down, this is when the streets come alive!

Xian Muslim Quarter

In regard to getting around, I will offer the exact same advice as I have in earlier China pieces! It’s super easy!

The city’s subway system is very modern and intuitive, with easily readable maps and very cheap ticket prices. Around $1 will get you almost anywhere in the city!
Taxis are always available to take you where you need. I highly recommend if you don’t speak any Mandarin, to get your hotel staff to write down your destinations and addresses in Mandarin and then show this to the taxi drivers! Always make sure they are using the metre to avoid being ripped off!

Thanks for reading,


Read more articles