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Our Xian Itinerary At the Bell Tower
Our Xian Itinerary
At the Bell Tower

The first thing on our Xian itinerary was, of course, the famous Terracotta Warriors. Of course, Xian is famous for the amazing Terracotta Army and it is an absolute must-see if you’re in the city. Of course, I’ll be telling you all about the Terracotta Warriors in this article. However, there is quite a lot more to Xian. So I want to share some tips on exploring the city and give you an idea of what other great attractions you can visit.

Xian is in central China in the province of Shaanxi. In fact, it is located at the eastern end of the famous Silk Route. Even more, Xian has a rich history spanning many thousands of years. So it’s a fantastic place to visit on a trip around China. We arrived in the city at the main station after taking the overnight train from Beijing. There are other options though. You can take a daytime high-speed train or you can also fly in as Xian has its own airport.

Xian Itinerary Index

Getting Around Xian
Where to Stay
Bell Tower
Drum Tower
Small Wild Goose Pagoda
Shaanxi History Museum
City Wall
Terracotta Warriors

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Getting Around Xian

View of Xian from the Bell Tower
View of Xian from the Bell Tower

Xian had a subway system when we were there but it’s expanded quite a bit since then. As I have said before, I think using the metro or subway system is one of the easiest ways to get around if a city has one. We walked from Xian Railway Station to our hotel because there was no metro station. However, now it is much easier and you can get to the main railway station directly on subway line 4. You can also take line 1 to Wulukou station and then it is a short walk.

If you arrive in Xian on the fast daytime train then you will find yourself at Xian North Station. This is a little way north of the city centre but it is also connected to the subway system. Take either line 2 or 4 to reach Xian North Station.

Xian subway system is still under development and there will be lots more lines eventually. However, for now, there are 4 lines in service: Lines 1, 2, 3 and 4. You can buy single fare tickets. The cost starts at 2 CNY (about 25p) but depends on how far you’re going. If you use the machines to buy your ticket you can put in your destination station and then it will tell you how much to pay. As you can see, using the subway is a really cheap way to get around. You can also buy an unlimited one-day pass for 15 CNY (£1.75) or 3-day for 40 CNY (£4.50) which is also excellent value and does make using the subway very straightforward.

Where to Stay in Xian

Our Xian Itinerary The Gardens in Renmin Square
Our Xian Itinerary
The Gardens in Renmin Square

Renmin Square

Of course, Xian is a big city and it has plenty of accommodation options. I only like to recommend places I’ve actually stayed at myself so I’m going to talk about where we stayed. We booked to stay at the Mercure Xian on Renmin Square during our Xian itinerary. Basically, I picked this hotel for its location. We could walk there from the railway station and it was also close to the main sights.

Basically, Renmin Square is a small private complex which has three hotels surrounding some lovely gardens. As you can see in the photos, it’s a very pleasant environment to stay. Xian can be hot, busy and also chaotic. Although we thoroughly enjoyed our time exploring it was wonderful to return to the tranquillity of Renmin Square to relax at the end of the day.

The fountain in the garden at Renmin Square
The fountain in the garden at Renmin Square

Grand Mercure Hotel

The other reason I booked the Mercure is that it was the cheapest of the three hotels and you could still use the pool and spa facilities at the Sofitel. In the end, we didn’t stay at the Mercure. When we arrived, very early, as usual, there was a conference at the Mercure so we were upgraded to the Grand Mercure Hotel instead. This is the rather posher and more grand looking sister hotel next door. It’s not the most expensive of the three, that’s the Sofitel Hotel, but it is pretty impressive. We were certainly very pleased with our upgrade. Not only that but they were hugely apologetic and were happy to give us access to our room straight away. Even though it was only 9 am.

Grand Mercure Hotel Renmin Square Xian
Grand Mercure Hotel Renmin Square Xian

This is typical of the customer service at all these hotels. They can’t do enough to help during your sta. Our room at the Grand Mercure was huge with a separate lobby area and an enormous bathroom with a separate sink area and wet room.

Pool & Spa at the Sofitel hotel

We used the pool and jacuzzi spa at the Sofitel quite a bit during our stay. It was very quiet and although we didn’t have it to ourselves there were only one or two other people there whenever we visited. The Sofitel is also the hub for restaurants and bars and there is plenty of choice. We ate dinner at their Moroccan restaurant and the food was excellent. Be warned though, wine and beer were expensive. Wine is always expensive in restaurants in China but the beer usually isn’t quite so pricey.

I’d highly recommend staying at the Grand Mercure Hotel in Xian. When you consider that we paid less than £50 a night to stay in this luxury you can see what great value it is. That rate also included breakfast. It is a little bit more than that if you actually book the Grand Mercure but only £10-15 a night more. If you’re on a tight budget then book the Mercure as you still get the lovely environment to relax in and can use all the facilities. To check availability for the Grand Mercure just click here. Or click on any of the hotel names above if you want to check availability for the others.

Xian Sights

Bell Tower

Our Xian Itinerary Xian Bell Tower
Our Xian Itinerary
Xian Bell Tower

We found the Bell Tower in the centre of Xian. It’s also in the middle of a busy roundabout surrounded by modern shops, restaurants and cafes. It really is a bit strange how ancient and modern buildings are just crowded in together here, existing alongside each other. The Bell Tower definitely stands out though. Undoubtedly, it’s a very impressive building.

Firstly, you need to find your way across the busy road to the tower. Above all, don’t be tempted to try and cross the road. As you can see in the photo below there are several lanes of quite fast-moving traffic. Fortunately, there is a pedestrian subway network running underneath your feet. Look for the steps going down on each corner of the roundabout. Underneath you’ll find lots of little shops and market stalls as well as safe access to the Bell Tower.

The traffic around the Bell Tower is busy. Use the pedestrian subway network under your feet.
The traffic around the Bell Tower is busy.
Use the pedestrian subway network under your feet.

Inside the Bell Tower

Xian Bell Tower
Xian Bell Tower

In fact, Xian used to be the capital of China and the Bell Tower was built at its centre deliberately as a marker. Once inside you walk up a series of steps as you ascend the tower. It’s not a big climb though. In the photo above you can see the bell. Apparently, there used to be a bigger one but it was replaced with this one at some point in its history. It still looks rather impressive to me.

Inside the Bell Tower
Inside the Bell Tower

You can also go inside the pagoda at the top and see the various smaller bells. There are regular performances when you can hear the bells rung. Each one lasts about 10-15 minutes and it’s well worth staying around to hear it. You can see an up to date schedule when you buy your tickets but they usually occur every 30 minutes or so.

Our Xian Itinerary At the Bell Tower
Our Xian Itinerary
At the Bell Tower

Bell Tower: Practical Information

Opening Hours
March to October: 08:30 am to 9 pm
November to April: 08:30 am to 6 pm

Ticket
Bell Tower only: CNY 30 (£3.50)
Combined ticket with the Drum Tower: CNY 50 (£5.75)

Nearest Metro
Bell Tower Station on Line 2

Drum Tower

You’ll also find the Drum Tower near the Bell Tower in the centre of Xian. In Ancient China, the drum was used to tell the time and might also be beaten if there was an emergency.

The Drum Tower
The Drum Tower

In the photos, you can see the large upright drum. This is actually quite a new drum since it was replaced within the last 20 years. Inside you can also enjoy musical performances. They take place approximately every 45 minutes. Catch one if you’ve time during your visit.

The large drum at the Drum Tower
The large drum at the Drum Tower

Drum Tower: Practical Information

Opening Hours
March to October: 08:30 am to 9 pm
November to April: 08:30 am to 6 pm

Ticket
Drum Tower only: CNY 30 (£3.50)
Combined ticket with the Bell Tower: CNY 50 (£5.75)

Nearest Metro
Bell Tower Station (Exit B) on Line 2

Small Wild Goose Pagoda

There are two Wild Goose Pagodas in Xian. The Big (or Giant) Wild Goose Pagoda and also the Small Wild Goose Pagoda. While we were in Xian, we visited the UNESCO World heritage Small Wild Goose Pagoda which is on the site of Jianfu Temple.

Entrance to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian
Entrance to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian

The Pagoda and museum are set in a lovely park just south of the city wall. It dates from the Tang Dynasty so around 618-907. Originally it was called Jianfu Temple Pagoda but became known as the Small Wild Goose Pagoda later on. Undoubtedly, that is a comparison to the larger Big Wild Goose Pagoda which was built earlier.

Our Xian Itinerary Small Wild Goose Pagoda
Our Xian Itinerary Small Wild Goose Pagoda

Inside the Small Wild Goose Pagoda

Paul climbed the steps to the top of the Pagoda but I stayed at the bottom with the bags. I’m a bit claustrophobic and I also didn’t fancy the rather steep climb. Paul said it was very dark and narrow and the last bit was a ladder through a small hole so I’m rather glad I didn’t attempt it as it didn’t sound very nice. Here you can see some photos that he took inside so you can make up your own mind.

Inside the Small Wild Goose Pagoda
Inside the Small Wild Goose Pagoda

This photo makes me feel a bit claustrophobic just looking at it. Paul said it wasn’t actually too bad but he did wonder what it would be like if it got busy.

Inside the Small Wild Goose Pagoda
Inside the Small Wild Goose Pagoda

He did get some great views across Xian from the top though. You can see that it is a little bit hazy which apparently isn’t uncommon in China in March/April.

View from the Small Wild Goose Pagoda
View from the Small Wild Goose Pagoda

Small Wild Goose Pagoda: Practical Information

Opening Hours
April to October: 9 am to 6 pm
November to March: 9 am to 5.30 pm

Ticket
Entrance to the pagoda area is free. If you want to climb the Pagoda it costs 30 CNY (£3.50).

Nearest Metro
Nanshaomen Station (Exit A1 and A2) on Line 2

Shaanxi History Museum

Afterwards, we walked through the beautiful gardens you can see in the photos below as we left the Small Wild Goose Pagoda. It’s an absolutely stunning sight. Full of cherry blossom and fountains. Two of my favourite park features. To the side of this lovely park, you’ll also find the Shaanxi History Museum.

Gardens near the Shaanxi History Museum
Gardens near the Shaanxi History Museum

I don’t actually have any photos of the museum itself but no matter as you can view these lovely gardens instead. I’m not sure why I don’t have any museum photos but I’m guessing that they didn’t allow photography inside. Don’t let that put you off though, it’s a great museum and completely free to enter. So well worth a visit.

Gardens near the Shaanxi History Museum
Gardens near the Shaanxi History Museum

It’s a modern building shaped like a traditional pagoda and inside you’ll find artefacts representing thousands of years of Chinese history. In fact, many of the exhibits are specific to the Shaanxi province. I always really enjoy spending time in these regional museums because it gives you the opportunity to find out something about the region you’re in. Because China is a very diverse country it’s a mistake to assume that history is the same right across this vast country.

Xian Highlights Gardens near the Shaanxi History Museum
Our Xian Itinerary
Gardens near the Shaanxi History Museum

I won’t list all the various displays as you can see those for yourself. Do make sure you visit the exhibition of Tang murals though. I’m sure you’ll agree that they are rather spectacular. After you’re finished in the museum take some time to relax and enjoy the gardens. Although it’s a popular spot with locals, it’s still relatively uncrowded and of course, totally free.

Shaanxi History Museum: Practical Information

Opening Hours
April to October: 08:30 am to 6 pm
November to March: 9 am to 5.30 pm

Ticket
Entrance is free. Just show your ID at the ticket desk.
You can rent an Audio Tour in English for 30 CNY (£3.50). You need to leave a 100 CNY deposit (£10)

Nearest Metro
Xiaozhai Station (Exit D) on Lines 1 and 2

City Wall

Xian was a fortified city and an amazing amount of its wall still remains intact. That’s quite incredible considering it was built during the Ming dynasty, many hundreds of years ago. It is nearly 14 km (over 8 miles) long and has four main gate towers and also several smaller ones. On top of the wall, you’ll see wide walkways and it’s a great way to see more of the city from an elevated viewpoint.

Xian Tourist Attractions Walking on Xian City Wall
Walking on Xian City Wall

Also, as you can see in my photos, it’s quite uncrowded up there. In fact, we hardly saw anyone else while we were walking. We visited out of season but during busier times it is also possible to take a ride on the battery car. Although we didn’t see it at all when we were there. You can also hire bicycles and cycle along the wall. The rental place is near the Southern Gate.

Gate Towers

Xian Highlights Walking on Xian City Wall
Xian Highlights
Walking on Xian City Wall

As you walk around there are several points of interest along the wall itself. You’ll find two small museums at the gate towers. Both are included in your ticket so do take a look. Here you can see a photo of me standing by a large bell displayed in a corner on the wall. Behind me, you can also get a glimpse of the city of Xian.

Our Xian Itinerary Bell on the Xian City Wall
Our Xian Itinerary
Bell on the Xian City Wall

We started our walk along the wall at the north end which is near the main Railway Station. As you exit the main entrance you can see the wall straight in front of you. Indeed, you can’t miss it! If you walk slightly to your right then you’ll see the ticket kiosk and the steps up onto the wall. You can also enter the wall at various other points. If in doubt, just follow it until you see a ticket kiosk and steps going up. Although you can enter at lots of different places, if you’re making a special journey it is easier to head to the North or South gates which are both close to subway stations.

Xian City Wall: Practical Information

Opening Hours
March to October: 8 am to 7 pm
November to April: 8 am to 6 pm

Ticket
Adults: CNY 54 (£6)
Children: CNY 27 (£3)
Children under 1.2m tall are free

Bicycle Hire
45 CNY (£5) for 2 hours or 90 CNY (£10) for a tandem bicycle
You need to leave a deposit of 200 CNY (£23)

Nearest Metro
(North Gate) Anyuanmen Station on Line 2
(South Gate) Yongningmen Station on Line 2

Terracotta Warriors

A highlight of our Xian Itinerary The Terracotta Warrior Army
A highlight of our Xian Itinerary
The Terracotta Warrior Army

Getting there by bus

You can’t come to Xian without visiting the Terracotta Warriors so we set off early one morning in search of them. There are lots of tours available. And also what seems like a million taxi drivers all offering their services. However, I am not a big fan of either organised tours or taxis so I was determined to get there by public bus. We like travelling by public transport when visiting a city but we usually stick to trains and the subway with the occasional tram. Mainly because it’s easier to tell when you’ve reached your destination. Buses rarely have named stops and are thus much harder to use without risking ending up somewhere miles away from where you intended to be.

A model in the museum showing the countryside where the warriors were discovered
A model in the museum showing the countryside where the warriors were discovered

However, the only way to get to the Terracotta Warriors Museum by public transport is by bus so we walked back up to the main railway station and looked for bus 306(5) in the bus park to the right of the station entrance. It was actually very easy to find and there was only a small queue so we were on the next bus and on our way to the warriors.

On the bus

There was the option to stop at the hot springs on the way but we decided against it. We can sit in hot water at the hotel and we didn’t want any distractions from our main purpose. The ticket lady, suitably uniformed to indicate her official status, took our money – 7RMB each – that’s approx. 70p. Great value indeed as it is 35km to the museum. 

The journey took about 50 minutes and was very interesting. Chinese driving is a tourist attraction in itself and our bus driver was fully adept at both using the horn and trying to take out other motorists.

A Stunning Sight

Our Xian Itinerary Statue Outside the Terracotta Warriors Park
Our Xian Itinerary
Statue Outside the Terracotta Warriors Park

At the museum, we firstly purchased our entrance tickets. Then although we had intended to wander aimlessly around the museum on our own we managed to acquire ourselves a young Chinese guide. She only charged 150RMB to accompany us throughout the museum so it seemed like a good idea. She immediately earned her money by pointing me towards some clean toilets after which she ushered us onto a motorised shuttle. This was a bit like a large golf cart (cost 5RMB each) and whisked us to the museum entrance. 

Security is tight throughout China and bags are scanned at the entrance to museums, subways, trains stations etc. Our tickets to the museum were scanned twice. Clearly, they don’t want anyone sneaking in!

Terracotta Warriors Pit 1
Terracotta Warriors Pit 1

Our guide took us to Pit 1 first. This is the largest pit with the standing soldiers. It is really an incredible experience to see them all stood there, in their original positions. We saw the travelling exhibition of the warriors some years ago when we were on holiday in Malta, where we saw several soldiers, a chariot and some horses. However, amazing as that was, it doesn’t come close to the impression of seeing them lined up in Pit 1.

Ongoing excavations and recovery

Renovation area where work is carried out on the Terracotta Army
Renovation area where work is carried out on the Terracotta Army

They were first discovered around 40 years ago but the process of excavating and reconstructing them is a long one and many pieces are still being worked on. We were able to see the Chinese archaeologists working on the recovered warriors and our guide was very knowledgeable about the process. 

One of the pits under excavation
One of the pits under excavation

There are 2 further pits, Pit 2 holds more soldiers and Pit 3 was set up as a headquarters and the soldiers are stood around as if in a meeting. There is also a stable with horses. The colour of most of the soldiers was lost due to a number of factors, decay and fire playing a part as well as a deliberate attack by a subsequent Emperor. However, some do still have some colour in them and we were able to see these in the museum building.

Museum Exhibits

You can get a close-up view of the models in the museum
You can get a close-up view of the models in the museum

The detail on the soldiers is amazing. The infantry are all young, slim men with knots on their heads, the middle-ranking officers are slightly plumper and older ones have square hats. Then the Generals, of which there were only a few, were quite fat, much older and had heart-shaped head-gear. Their shoes also differ according to rank. In addition, there are archers and horsemen with their own specific designs. It is really quite incredible.

See how different the two types of soldiers are
See how different the two types of soldiers are

In the photo below you can see one of the museum display boards. This shows some kneeling archers being excavated. You can see how they were found and their condition before any repair or recovery work was done. Obviously, the condition of the statues varied throughout the site but it is incredible how well preserved these are.

Museum display board showing the excavation of some kneeling archers
Museum display board showing the excavation of some kneeling archers

Afterwards, our guide took us to a local noodle restaurant for lunch. It didn’t look much from the outside but she helped us order bean curd, chicken and noodles with egg and tomato and it was very tasty. We did quite well with the chopsticks I thought although the waitress did appear with some forks after a while so perhaps not.

Terracotta Warriors: Practical Information

Opening Hours
March to October: 8 am to 6 pm
November to April: 8.30 am to 5.30 pm

Ticket
Adults and children over 1.4m tall: CNY 120 (£14)
Children under 1.4m tall are free

Audio Guide
40 CNY (£4.50)
You need to leave a deposit of 100 CNY (£11.50)

Public Transport
From Downtown: Take Bus 5 (306) from Beijing Railway Station
From Beijing North Railway Station take the free shuttle bus

Our Xian Itinerary is part of our around the world without flying tour. Take a look at my other articles about this trip by clicking on one of the image links below.

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Discover Xian in China. Home of the Terracotta Warriors. Take a look at our Xian itinerary and see just how much there is to do in this historic Chinese city. Make sure you allow time to see the other sights as well as the Terracotta Army as this is a fascinating city.