Xi’an China is probably best known for being the base from which to see China’s famous Terracotta Warriors.  What isn’t as well known is that Xi’an (formerly known as Chang’an) ranks right along with the likes of Rome and Constantinople as one of the 10 Ancient Capitals of the World … and, and … the start (or terminus, depending upon how one views it) of the Silk Road!

So how does one go about a day in such a historical city?  By seeing its sights (and eating as much food as you feel morally justified in gorging upon) of course! We stayed at the Bell Tower Hotel while there and while we could have been more impressed on aspects such as room freshness, it did offer an excellent location at least. We were within easy walking distance to the bell and drum towers as well the Muslim Quarter.

So without further delay, here are ten things to see and do in Xi’an, China:

1. Eat Xi’an Street Food

Little girl eating noodles.Xian China
My favorite? The street-side sandwich stalls, offering up your choice of minced beef, chicken or pork (chicken is the tastiest, in my opinion), served with spices and pickled beans on a steamed bun. Yum!
Fast Food.Xian China
Xi'an Street Food Vendors.Xian China

2. Xi’an Bell Tower (“Zhong Lou”)

Xi'an Bell Tower
Smack dab in the middle of town, Xi’an’s Bell Tower is touted as the largest and best-preserved wooden bell tower in China. Originally built in 1384, the Xi’an Bell Tower commands a great view of downtown Xi’an — as well it should, because the tower’s purpose was to serve as an alarm center against invaders.
Xi'an Bell Tower. Xi'an China
Cost (for dual entry of Bell and Drum Towers): 50 RMB per Adult (less than 10 USD)
Open Hours: 8:30 am to 9:30 pm (April 1 to Oct 25) and 8:30 am to 6 pm (Oct 26-March 31)

3. Xi’an Drum Tower (“Gu Lou”)

Xi'an Drum Tower. Xi'an China
Across the square and northwest of the Bell Tower stands Xi’an’s Drum Tower. The Drum Tower was built in 1380 but has been renovated twice since then. The drums were used as a way to indicate the time, and on occasion, as an alarm for emergency situations.
Xi'an Drum Tower. Xi'an China
Cost (for dual entry of Bell and Drum Towers): 50 RMB per Adult (less than 10 USD)
Open Hours: 8:30 am to 9:30 pm (April 1 to Oct 25) and 8:30 am to 6 pm (Oct 26-March 31)

4. Shuyuan Xiang Shopping Street

Shuyuan Xiang Shopping Street by South Gate (5)
Shuyuan Xiang Shopping Street. Here, you can browse for calligraphy brushes, clay whistles, stationary, jade products, teapots, oil paintings and more. Browsing is free, of course, and if you are looking for a place to stay or eat, a couple streets over (facing the south city wall), lies a strand of outdoor bars, cafe’s and a super friendly hostel called Jano’s. We were especially taken with the selection of calligraphy material here; brush handles range from bone to plastic to bamboo to hard wood to stone, depending upon one’s budget. Also, the calligraphy training papers are quite clever: just dip a brush in water, trace the character over the paper and presto, the strokes appear in black color. Once the water evaporates, the color goes with it, leaving the paper clear for another attempt.
Shuyuan Xiang Shopping Street by South Gate. Xian China

Caligraphy brushes. xian china

5. Big Wild Goose Pagoda (Dayan Pagoda)

Big Wildgoose Pagoda. Xian China
Located two and a half miles from downtown Xi’an, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is an important Buddhist structure originally built in 652.

The legend goes that back in the day, there were two schools of Buddhist thought, one of which allowed the eating of meat. One day, several monks were very hungry and yet could find no food. One monk declared that he hoped Bodhisattva would send them some meat, and in the next moment, a goose flying overhead broke his wing and fell to the ground. The monks took this as a sign from Buddha that they should no longer eat meat. So, they built the pagoda where the goose had fallen and promptly converted to a life of vegetables!

All around the Big Wild Goose Pagoda stretches a pretty square with gardens, bronze statues and kiosks selling funny souvenirs. At night, an enormous musical fountain puts on a light display.
Big Wildgoose Pagoda.Xi'an China
Big Wildgoose Pagoda.Xi'an China
Entrance to the park and fountain: free.
Entrance to the pagoda: 30 RMB
Open Hours: 8 am to 5 pm

6. Xi’an City WallXi'an City Wall.China.TongaTime

Xi’an is worth a visit simply for a view of the walls. Originally built in 1370, the restored 12-meter-high (40 feet!) wall stretches around 8 miles of city. If you enter through the south gate, chances are a performance is underway in the cobblestone inner courtyard. For instance, at 2 pm, you may catch the (questionably authentic, but entertaining) “Changing of the Guards” performance.
Entrance Fee through the south gate: 54 RMB

Guard at Xi'an City Wall. Xi'an ChinaOnce you climb the stairs to the wall, you can walk the continuous 8-mile loop, passing by a few elaborate temples and a smattering of food vendors. Or, you can rent a bike for 40 RMB (per 100 minutes) with a 200 RMB-per-bicycle deposit. Not up for either? A battery-powered trolley can take you around for a mere 80 RMB!
Open Hours: 8 am to 10 pm (April-Oct) and 8 am to 8 pm (Nov-March)
Cycling and Walking Xi'an City Wall. Xian China

7. The Great Mosque

The Great Mosque. Xian China
One of the oldest and best preserved mosques in all of China, Xi’an’s Great Mosque offers ambiance a plenty. The open, landscaped grounds and unique blend of Chinese and Muslim style architecture is not to be missed.
The Great Mosque.Xian China
The Great Mosque.Xian
Built in 742 during the Tang Dynasty, the Great Mosque has been renovated several times since. The grounds cover over 13,000 square meters, but what makes this place so different is that most of this space is actually outside. Only half of the total area contains buildings.
Website: www.xaqzds.com.
Entrance Fee: 25 RMB (includes an information pamphlet in English. No entry into Prayer Hall during worship for non-Muslims).
Open Hours: 8 am to 7:30 pm

8. Muslim Quarter Night Market Shopping, Xiyang Shi

Obama Mao.Muslim Quarter Xi'an
Just outside the entrance to the Great Mosque, the shopping alleyways of the Muslim Quarter stretch north, spilling over with Little Red Books, purses, silk, jewelry, lanterns and random knickknacks.

Mao-inspired t-shirts and (rather graphic) revolution-era posters are on full display, along with mini-mouse dresses trimmed in faux white fur and an assortment of other bewildering fashion choices.
Muslim Quarter Night Bazaar.Xian

Xi'an Muslim Quarter Night Market. Xian China

Fashion choices at Xian Muslim Quarter Night Market

9.  Muslim Quarter Beiyuanmen Market

Xi’an’s famous Muslim Quarter can be reached through the arch of the Drum Tower. The cobblestone, tree-lined street oozes with sights and smells. This is the perfect place to spend a golden-lit evening and sampling the excellent food on offer. The main street stretches 500 meters, but little alleys twist and turn into more venues of stalls, shops and quaint back streets where locals sip tea and chat with neighbors. I loved this area so much, and found the neighborhood so expressive, that I thought I’d include more than a few pictures for this one.

Women making noodles from scratch!Xi'an Muslim Quarter.Women making noodles

Dates and other dried goods.Xi'an Muslim Quarter.Dates for sale

Steamed dumplingsXi'an Muslim Quarter.steamed buns

Noodle soup with vegetables and chickenXi'an Muslim Quarter (31)

Roasted …?Xi'an Muslim Quarter (7)

Another soup restaurant. I think this place may be making Xi’an’s famous Yanrou Paomo, which is a stew made of mutton and crumbled, unleavened bread.Yanrou Paomo Restaurant.Xi'an Muslim Quarter

A variety of barbecue!Xi'an Muslim Quarter.barbeque

10. Walking Around Xi’an at Night (Drum Tower)Muslim Quarter Xi'an (21)

Xi’an is gorgeous at night. Lights flicker everywhere, fountains stream vivid colors of purple and blue, squares fill with kite fliers kitted with battery-charged lights, but the stars of the show are the breathtakingly beautiful Bell and Drum Towers.

Xi'an drum tower at night.Xian China
That wraps up our stay and our list of ten things to do and see in Xian … other than visiting the Terracotta Warriors, of course.

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