With the new rules allowing travellers 72 hour transit visas, take advantage of a weekend layover in one of the qualifying cities. Read about how to best spend a long weekend in the fascinating city of Xi’an. This is a guest post by travel writer Linda Dunsmore.
How to spend 72 hours in Xi’an
While many China travelers stick to the main cities of Beijing and Shanghai, there are so many more intriguing places to visit in the country. One of these places is Xi’an. Once an influential capital of the Chinese Empire (cue: Terracotta Warriors) and the bridge between East and West through the Silk Road, Xi’an is one of the most fascinating cities to visit in the world. Here’s how you can see Xi’an in one weekend.
The Muslim Quarter
Being the center of town, it’s best to start your trip at the Muslim Quarter. You can find accommodation for all budgets around this area, as well as an abundance of street food and shopping. On top of that, the Muslim Quarter has an intriguing history as it was populated by Muslim merchants travelling to Xi’an through the Silk Road hundreds of years ago. Today, these Chinese Muslims represent their own minority group called ‘Hui’. The Muslim Quarter is by far the best place to try your way through Xi’an’s diverse food culture. No matter if you are looking for local breakfast bites, lunch meals or dining options, the Muslim Quarter never disappoints.
How to get there – Get off at subway station: Bell Tower Station.
The Great Mosque
One of the highlights of the Muslim Quarter is the Great Mosque. It’s not only the oldest mosque in China but also the largest. The mix between Buddhist, Confucianism, and Islam really comes to life here. Take your shoes off before entering and be aware of the gender-segregated areas in and around the mosque.
How to get there: Take bus Take bus 4, 7, 32, 201, 215, 222, 251, 252 or Tourism Bus No. 8 (610) and get off at Zhonglou (Bell Tower) Station.
Xian City Wall
Your next stop should be Xi’an City Wall, the best-preserved city wall in the entire country built in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). While hiking the wall is a popular way to explore it, you can also rent a bike and ride around it. On foot, this journey takes around 3.5 hours. However, don’t miss the historic changing of the guards in front of the South Gate at 09:30, 15:30, and 18:40 daily. If you want to soak in amazing night views, return after dark and you will see a completely different Xi’an.
Start your journey at the South Gate: Subway Line 2, get off at Yongningmen.
The Drum Tower & Bell Tower
After the city wall, head to the city’s two iconic landmarks: Bell Tower and Drum Tower. The former used to mark the center of the ancient capital (called Chang’an originally), while the latter was used to communicate emergency situations to the citizens. On top of that, the Drum Tower houses the largest drum in China and also regularly hosts traditional musical performances. The Bell Tower allows guests to climb to the top and have stunning 360-views in all directions of the city.
How to get there: Take Subway Line 2 and get off at Bell Tower Station.
Big Goose Pagoda
Often overlooked when in the city, the Big Goose Pagoda is one of my favorite parts of the city. The complex also houses the Da Ci’en Temple with the main pagoda built in 652. Its purpose was to hold Buddhist relics and scripts from India for pilgrims from all over Asia.
It’s an important place for Buddhists and also includes the Da Ci’en Temple complex. The pagoda itself was built in 652 and used to collect Buddhist relics and scripts from India. I loved wandering around this beautiful area and especially enjoyed the numerous bronze statues depicting what life was like during the famous Tang Dynasty when Xi’an was one of the most prosperous cities of its time.
If you decide to visit the pagoda in the evening hours, you can enjoy the world’s biggest fountain show at the complex.
How to get there: Take Subway Line 2 to Xiaozhai Station (Exit C) and walk eastward for 10 minutes.
This incredible site is the reason most people visit Xi’an. Famous all over the world, these 7,000 unearthed pottery soldiers, horses, and chariots are one of the most important finds in archaeological history and you definitely have to see them when you’re in Xi’an. The best way to do this is to leave early in the morning to get there as early as possible before the crowds arrive. The UNESCO site is located a little outside of Xi’an and the best way to reach it is to take a taxi.
How to get there: Negotiate a taxi price for about 200 RMB round-trip. There are buses going there for much cheaper but you need to change buses – not easy when you can’t speak Chinese and have limited time.
On your way back to Xi’an, stop at Banpo, which is about halfway between the warriors and the city. This museum is the excavation site where the Yangshao people lived over 6,000 years ago. This group of early humans is often considered the ‘first Chinese civilization’ and an important part of Chinese history. The village showcases how these people lived and you can also see real parts of the old archaeology site.
How to get there: Take Subway Line 1 to get off at Banpo Station, get out from Exit A, keep walking 360 meters.
72 Hours in Xi’an
This itinerary is ideal for a weekend trip to Xi’an, one of China’s most incredible cities. Not only does it offer amazing historic sites and attractions, the local culinary scene is unlike anywhere else in China. Due to the mix of Chinese and Muslim culture, local dishes are the perfect blend of East and West. If you’d like to experience a unique city that was once China’s gateway to the Western world, you’ll have a great time in Xi’an!