Xi’an is known as the “cradle of Chinese civilization”, the home of the Terracotta Warriors, and the easternmost terminus of the old Silk Road. There’s a ton of things to do in Xi’an, but if you’re just here for a couple of days, here are some suggestions for things to do.
Small World Café
In order to prepare for a big day, you need the right start. One of the most delightful cafés in Xi’an is the Small World Café just outside the south stretch of city wall. Owned by a charming Dutch woman, the café serves both Western and Chinese cuisine, and has a nice quaint atmosphere to it. Those with gargantuan appetites can try the Terracotta Warrior breakfast, which should be enough to fuel you through a whole day of sightseeing.
Small World Café (小世界西餐厅)View In Map
Add: 90 Huancheng Nanlu Dongduan
Tel: 029 8122 6785
Xi’an City Walls
From here it’s time to head to the city walls (城墙). Xi’an is one of the few cities of its size in China that still retains the original city walls and gates. The walls themselves are a tourist attraction, and can be scaled. This is probably the best way of getting a feel for the city’s size, and gives you the opportunity to view the city (both inside and outside the walls) from a height If you head to the South Gate (南门) you will find a ticket office, where you can ascend the worn stone steps to the Ming Dynasty parapet, originally built in 1370. From here you can rent a single bike or tandem bike and race around with friends!
Admission: student 30 RMB/non-student 40 RMB
Bike rental: 30 RMB per hour (plus 200 RMB deposit)
Opening hours: 07:00-22:30
After you’ve worked up a sweat, it’s probably time to start thinking about lunch. The signature dish that best represents Xi’an and Shaanxi, has got to be ‘Biang biang mian’.
Biang biang mian
Immediately recognizable by the trauma-inducing complexity of the character biang (see above), which is said to represent the sound of the hand-pulled noodles as they slap the table top, (like a Chinese version of ‘boing’) the fame of this simple dish—also known as kudaimian (裤带面), or belt-noodles, because of their width—has spread over China. With a big bowl costing less than 10 RMB, it’s a cheap way to fill yourself, though it may take some time—the noodles are notoriously hard to grasp with chopsticks, and a lot of time will be spent nearly raising them from the bowl to your mouth, only to slip away at the last moment like a greasy weasel. There’s a small Biang Biang Mian restaurant near the South Gate; walk north from the gate towards the Bell Tower and turn left along Nan Yuan Men (南院门). Keep walking about 200m and it should be on your left, between Dachejia Alley (大车家巷) and Lutang Alley (芦荡巷). Keep your eyes peeled for the distinctive red sign and you shouldn’t miss it.
Shaanxi Provincial History Museum
Now full and sleepy, the last thing you’ll feel like doing is going to a museum, but luckily the Shaanxi Provincial History Museum is one of the better museums in China. The museum takes you on a thorough historical journey of China’s dynastic history, via a treasure trove of artifacts and statues which have either been well-preserved in temples, or unearthed from subterranean tombs. There’s a lot to take in here, so don’t feel you have to see it all, but it provides a comprehensive backdrop to the history of the region, and may shed some light onto why Xi’an became the prosperous capital of the time. Admission is 35 RMB (again, students are eligible for discount). To get there, take bus 610 from the Bell Tower or bus 701 from the South Gate.
Big Goose Pagoda
When you feel like you’ve imbibed enough history for the day (there’ll be plenty tomorrow!), you are just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Big Goose Pagoda. The Pagoda is one of Xi’an’s most famous landmarks, and is said to house the Buddhist scriptures that curious monk Xuan Zang brought back from India (The ‘Monkey King’ stories were based on this). The Pagoda is in a walled enclosure (25 RMB admission); to scale the Pagoda is another 20 RMB, but unless you’re a massive Monkey King fan, or a dedicated Buddhist, then it’s not really worth paying the fee. There are plenty of Western and Chinese restaurants in the grounds around the Pagoda, but make sure you’re done by about 19:30, because at 8 o’clock (9 in winter) the lights go off and things get craaazy!
In the middle of the square is a shallow pond which by day is home to paddling kids and loved-up couples, but when night falls, it turns into a lights and music fountain extravaganza! Allegedly the biggest in Asia, it’s cheesy and kitsch but the perfect antidote to all that history, and a fun way to round off the day. Best of all: it’s free!
Get up early and blast through the Terracotta Warriors. You can get a bus from the train station (just north of the city walls) which should cost about 15 RMB each way. Alternatively you can go on a tour arranged by the hotel (more expensive), or if you feel like haggling, try to rent a taxi for half a day. Expect to pay between 200-500 RMB, depending on a) how hard you bargain, and b) the mood of the taxi driver. It’s about a 4 hour round-trip to see the Terracotta Army (it’s situated in Weinan, about 90 mins east of Xi’an), and when you return to town you can spend the afternoon strolling the Muslim Quarter, just north of the Drum Tower on West Street (西大街).
There’s a fantastic Great Mosque here (one of the largest in China), and you can haggle for tat in the markets surrounding it. There’s no shortage of great restaurants selling muslim style food (spiced mutton, naan breads, fried rice with dried fruits etc.) but most places prohibit the selling and drinking of alcohol on premises.
If you’ve got the king’s thirst for a frosty brew, head down to Wenchang Gate (文昌门); just inside is Vice Versa bar, co-owned by an American expat. Here they have sofas, foosball, beer pong tables, liquor to drown a multitude of sins, and a big screen for showing sports games and movies. All the right ingredients to erase all the historical culture you’ve just learned!
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Keywords: how to spend weekend in Xi’an main sites Xi’an best attractions Xi’an
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