7 Amazing Xian Attractions

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Known around the world for its famous Terracotta Warriors, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a stunning China landmark, Xian is well and truly on the radar for most visitors to China. Other Xian attractions include the culture and architecture in Xian’s Muslim quarter, temples and towers.

The capital of China’s first emperor is a fascinating city to visit and one of the top places to visit in China. Xian is the capital of  Shaanxi province and one of China’s ancient capitals. Here are a few Xian attractions to put on your bucket list. 

Unlike other cities in China, such as Xiamen in Fujian province (see Xiamen attractions)  or Macao, where much of the history has western influences, Xian is a pure hotbed of Chinese history. 

Xian Attractions

1- Xian Tang Dynasty Show

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Seeing a historic show is one of the fun things to do in Xian to understand history.

The Tang Dynasty Emperor strides ceremoniously down the aisle in his black gold-trimmed robe. Gorgeous concubines dressed in flowing gowns trail behind him.

As he walks past my table at the front of the hall, I feel like I should drop to the ground with my head pressed to the floor.

1400 years ago when Xi’an was the capital of the Tang Dynasty, my head would have been certainly been chopped off for not showing the Emperor proper respect.

The Emperor is a performer in the Tang Dynasty Song & Dance Troupe, a dinner show with a slickly choreographed routine where dancers in bright costumes leap and twirl on the stage with acrobatic flair.

Here, Xi’an’s history comes to life in swirls of colour, dance and music. 

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Learning more about the city’s rich history is one of the top Xian attractions.
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One of the fun things to do in Xian.

2- Terracotta Warriors

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Seeing the Terracotta Warriors is an awe-inspiring thing to do in Xian.

Xi’an’s main historical sight is the Terracotta Warrior Museum, which covers an area of more than 20 hectares and is divided into three pits.

More than 8,000 figures of warriors and horses, along with other items such as chariots and weapons, have been unearthed in these pits.

The army of clay warriors was assembled by Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259-210BC) to protect the Emperor in the afterlife.

The life-sized figures of soldiers (many of which hold real weapons) and horses are arranged in classical battle formations.

Although many pieces have been restored, excavation and restoration work is an ongoing process.

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Make sure you have enough time to take in this top Xian attraction.

The Tang period was the golden age of Chinese literature and art.

So my next stop is the Forest of Stone Steles Museum, a gallery of stone tablets that records Chinese culture and history in a variety of writing styles.

The collection, which is housed in what was once a Confucian temple, dates back to 1090 AD and is a library of 3000 engraved stone tablets.

There are classics such as Classic on Filial Piety written by Emperor Xuan Zong in AD 745, the Ming De Shou Ji Stele (a record of the peasant uprising against the Ming emperors) and the Popular Stele of Daiqin Nestorianism (engraved in AD 781 to mark the opening of a Nestorian church in China). 

3- Big Wild Goose Pagoda

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The Big Wild Goose Pagoda has an interesting story and is a top Xian attraction.

Next on the literature trail is the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, an ancient architectural marvel built with layers of bricks but no cement to hold the bricks in place.

The pagoda is on the grounds of the Temple of Great Maternal Grace, which during its heyday had 13 courtyards and 1,879 rooms.

There was a chamber dedicated entirely to the translation of Buddhist scriptures.

4- The Bell Tower and Drum Tower 

things to do in xian
Exploring the Drum Tower is one of the things to do in Xian you shouldn’t miss.

Xi’an’s historic centre is marked by its bell tower, a traditional building that was built by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang as a watchtower in 1384.

Across the square from the bell tower is the 600-year-old drum tower, named for the huge drum that originally hung within it. During ancient times, the beat of the drum at sunset indicated the end of each day.

Inside the drum tower is a drum museum with displays of different types of drums, some as old as one thousand years.

A drum performance is held here each day. 

5- Xian’s Muslim Quarter

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Exploring the Muslim Quarter is one of the attractions in Xian.

Below the drum tower is the start of the Muslim Quarter, the hub of Xi’an’s Muslim community.

I amble past the traditional Ming and Qing Dynasty shop houses, catching whiffs of barbeque beef and mutton roasting slowly over charcoal fires.

I browse through dried fruit and nut shops and souvenir stores with rows of imitation terracotta warriors.

The cafes are packed with Muslim men in white skull caps sipping tea.

I pull up a seat at a café and a young waitress slaps a metal plate with a dozen skewers of meat on the table in front of me.

She has typical Chinese features and is dressed in t-shirt and jeans like any modern teenager in China.

Food stall in Xian
The food in Xian is delicious and one of the Xian attractions to savour.

“My family’s Muslim food is the most popular in Xi’an,” she says.

Xi’an’s Muslim community is a tightly knit group descended from diplomatic envoys and merchants who settled in the area centuries ago.

Although the Muslim Quarter is compact, it has an ambience that differentiates it from the rest of the city.

Its main landmark, the Great Mosque, is one of China’s largest.

Built in an eclectic mixture of traditional Muslim and Chinese styles, visitors can enter the mosque’s courtyard to admire gardens, stone arches, glazed tiles and ancient tablets but only Muslims are allowed into the prayer hall.

Although the present mosque only dates back to the 18th century, it’s believed that an original mosque might have been established on this site during the Tang Dynasty as a result of Islam being introduced into China by Arab merchants and travellers. 

6- Xian’s Wall

The city wall is one of the top Xian attractions.
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Xian souvenirs.

Later that evening, I follow the glittering lights on a walk around Xi’an’s ancient wall.

One of the very few cities left in China where the old city wall is still visible, Xi’an’s wall forms a rectangle around the ancient Tang Dynasty city.

Visitors can climb steps to the top of the wall and take a 16-kilometre jog along the top of the wall.

A large group is gathered on the grassy area beneath the wall to watch local performers singing and dancing.

The entire structure, with its guard towers, is lit up like a fairytale fort and is a glittering reminder of Xi’an’s imperial past. 

7- Dumplings and noodles

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One of the Xian attractions is its special dumplings and noodles.

One of the top attractions in Xian is the dumplings and the noodles, which are delicious and different to most places in China. 

The snacks and street food available in Xian are unique and you could easily spend a few days discovering different tastes. 

Here are a couple of Xian’s famous foods:

  • Cold noodles or liangpi (凉皮) drizzled with vinegar, chilli oil, pepper and garlic with a bean sprout and cucumber topping.  
  • Sour soup dumpling or suantang shuijiao (酸汤水饺) are mutton dumplings dished up in a leek and cilantro broth.