Top 5 things to do in Xi’an

No trip along the Silk Road is complete without visiting Xi’an, a city which occupies a pivotal position on both the ancient and modern Silk Road, serving as a vital hub for trade and cultural exchange. During the heyday of the ancient Silk Road, Xi’an was the starting point of the overland travel route that connected China with Central Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. Merchants from far-flung corners of the world converged here, exchanging goods, ideas, and cultures, fostering a legacy of cross-cultural interaction that endures to this day.

In the modern era, Xi’an is a key transportation and logistics hub in China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, reviving the spirit of the ancient Silk Road through infrastructure development and economic cooperation.

On our Istanbul to Beijing guided tour we will enjoy a couple of days in Xi’an giving us time to explore all the city’s top sights and experiences.

Here are our top 5 things to do in Xi’an:

Terracotta Warriors

No trip to Xi’an is complete without a visit to the famed Terracotta Army, one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 20th century. Guarding the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, these life-sized terracotta warriors stand as silent sentinels, each with a unique expression and pose. Even if you have seen hundreds of photos of it in the past, witnessing the sheer magnitude and craftsmanship of this ancient army is an unforgettable experience.

Ancient City Walls

Dating back to the Ming Dynasty, the well-preserved ancient city walls offer panoramic views of the cityscape, adorned with traditional pagodas and modern skyscrapers. A great way to explore the walls is to rent a bike and take a cycle (leisurely or otherwise!) along the top of the ramparts.

Markets & Culinary Exploration

Xi’an has a diverse culinary scene which is well-known for its savoury street food and delicious regional dishes. Head to the bustling Muslim Quarter behind the Drum Tower for authentic dishes such as lamb skewers, roujiamo (Chinese hamburger), and hand-pulled biangbiang noodles. There are a number of other night markets around the city, all offering a range of local delicacies.

Bell Tower

The Bell Tower, is a stately traditional building, that marks the geographical centre of the ancient capital. The wooden tower, which is the largest and best-preserved of its kind in China was built in 1384 by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang as a way to dominate the surrounding countryside and provide early warning of attack by rival rulers. In 1582 the tower was moved to its current position.

Wild Goose Pagoda

Located on the southern outskirts of Xi’an, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is an iconic symbol of Buddhist architecture and spirituality. Built during the Tang Dynasty, this seven-story pagoda towers above its surroundings, offering panoramic views of the city. Today you can explore the temple complex and admire the elegant pagoda, a testament to Xi’an’s role as a centre of Buddhist learning and pilgrimage. In the evening there is a light show.

Why is it called the Wild Goose Pagoda? According to ancient stories of Buddhists, there were two branches of Buddhism, one of which was strictly vegetarian and for the other, eating meat was not a taboo. One day, they couldn’t find meat to buy. Upon seeing a group of big wild geese flying by, a monk said to himself: “Today we have no meat. I hope the merciful Bodhisattva will give us some.” At that very moment, the leading wild goose broke its wings and fell to the ground. All the monks were startled and believed that Bodhisattva showed his spirit to order them to be more pious. They established a pagoda where the wild goose fell and stopped eating meat. Hence its name.

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