Boasting over 6,000 years of rich history and culture, Xi’an is one China’s oldest cities and the home of world famous sights like the Terracotta Warriors. Read on for our choice spots to visit, plus a lovely new hotel to stay in.
Getting There: Xi’an is over 1,000 kilometres from Beijing; a high-speed train service that opened in December 2012 can get you there in 5.5 hours. High-speed trains depart from both cities ten times a day; those who prefer to take their time can choose an overnight sleeper trains. Direct flights are around two hours.
Stay: We recommend a two-night stay (which allows for visiting the Terracotta Warriors and a full day in Xi’an) at the Crown Plaza Xi’an, an upscale, relatively new hotel with reasonable rates, good service and very comfortable rooms. It’s located in Xi’an’s tallest building, the Shaanxi Xinxi Tower, not far from the CBD and city walls, making it a popular choice with business and leisure travellers alike.
See: The Terracotta Warriors are, of course, the main draw to this city of eight million people. The excavation sites are located east of Xi’an and can be viewed in a few hours, leaving time to tour the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi, snake through the narrow alleys and food stalls of the Muslim Quarter, walk or cycle atop the old Ming city walls (now fully restored) and stop for a drum show at the Bell Tower.
Booking a Guide: Tailor-made Xi’an Tours is a small group of professional guides offering city tours of Xi’an, along with hiking, biking, hot springs, countryside and three-day Taoist pilgrimage experiences, too. Get an overview of the city in the Xi’an “Essence” tour, the company’s popular one-day tour to see the Terracotta Warriors, the city wall and the Muslim Quarter. Transportation to and from the train station can be arranged (even on days you are not touring with them), and the guides, in our experience, have above-average English skills.
Did You Know?
The terracotta soldiers protect the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, which is said to be a palatial underground cavern filled with jewels, rivers of mercury (ground tests in the area show mercury levels 100 times higher than normal) and Indiana Jones-style booby traps. For a number of reasons, the tomb has yet to be excavated. For now, you’ll have to settle for a photo of the grassy mound that covers it, located 2km from the terracotta soldiers’ excavation site.
When touring the terracotta soldiers, skip the ticketed tram service to the excavation site; the walk is short. Bypass the audio tour and opt for a private guide instead. At the site, tour the pits in reverse – 3, then 2, then 1 – to save the best pit for last. Don’t miss the small on-site museum, which tells tales of the atrocities that occurred when the tomb was being built – namely, the thousands of artisans that were killed to preserve the secrecy of the tomb’s location.
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