I visited Xi’an as part of a volunteer program with IVHQ. After spending the first 3 days in Beijing, I then arrived in Xi’an via a rail train. See previous post on my train ride from Beijing to Xi’an.
There is just so much to see in Xi’an, every city in China is very similar but there’s always a distinguishing feature that sets the city away from the rest of China. Till today, I’m still in awe with how big these cities are. It’s not even just peak hour- but there’s always this amazing rush of people. And for me, I love busy streets. It makes me feel alive and energised!
For anyone who is visiting Xi’an, I’ve compiled a list of the must-see sights here in this very city:
1) Bell Tower
2) Drum Tower
3) Terracotta Warriors
4) Big Wild Goose Pagoda
5) Xi’an City Wall (following post)
6) Muslim Quarter (following post)
I was quite lucky to have lived with Xi’an locals so they had a list of all the places to visit and how we were going to get there from the location of our stay. Keep in mind that these are not the only sights in Xi’an, it’s such a big city that there is so much more to see. I was here in Xi’an for only 2.5 weeks with 2 weeks of teaching so there wasn’t much time for me to visit every place.
Bell Tower, Drum Tower and the Muslim Quarter are all very close together. Terracotta warriors requires a bus trip to a secluded area of about an hour away from Xi’an, and then the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is right at the center where all the shops and fast food outlets are. Xi’an City Wall is a bit out of the city as the name suggests, it’s a wall which circles the city.
Read on as I go into detail with each Xi’an sight below.
1) Bell Tower
As typical as it sounds, this tower was built in the 14th century by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang as a way for country men to provide warning of any attacks by the rival rulers.
Just by walking down the streets, you’ll be able to spot the Bell Tower whilst you walk alongside high-end shops on both sides of the road with a mix of average shops.
You’ll walk past this Parkson Shopping Center (one of Xi’an’s biggest shopping centres)
At night, the Bell Tower really stands out with the red, yellow and green lights shining through. It’s an amazing sight because it’s surrounded by a roundabout.
You’re probably wondering how you get to the Bell Tower if it’s a roundabout with a million cars going round and round without an actual pedestrian crossing. Well once you get closer to the Bell Tower, you’ll notice this underpassing sign at the top of an entrance which leads underground:
The underpassing is extremely busy but thankfully there are enough signs to guide you to the entrance of the bell tower. You take these underpassings to get to the other side of the road or to the center, which is at the Bell Tower.
One of the good deals I made good use of was the combined ticket to enter both the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower. This cost 50 yuan which was pretty decent.
Here’s the big bell which sits right at the edge.
The walls are painted red with unique chinese engravings on it. The yellow lighting really did accentuate the Chinese culture within itself.
And from here, you could see the whole road right to the end. A road full of lights, non-stop.
Not too far in the distance is the Drum Tower which you can spot from the Bell Tower. Both towers next to each other, would look so alike however, if you look closely, you can spot the drums at the bottom level of the tower.
2) Drum Tower
As I had already purchased a combo deal for 50 yuan, I didn’t buy a separate ticket to enter the Drum Tower. A single ticket would’ve cost 35 yuan.
The beautiful row of drums is one of the first things you’ll see as you walk up the stairs. That’s when you also know you’re in a drum tower, not a bell tower !
3) Terracotta Warriors
So I caught the direct bus from Xi’an City Centre (railway station). It’s pretty much a huge area filled with buses, which mainly travel long distances. You’ll have to find the specific bus – tourist bus 5 (306) which should take you directly to the Terracotta Army Museum. Bus ride will take about an hour.
Tip: always make sure you check the bus before boarding because I’ve heard there have been instances of fake buses.
So entry to the museum costs about 90 -100 yuan between peak season from around March – November and then around 60-70 yuan for the rest of the year.
TIP: If your goal is to explore the museum at your own pace without a tour guide, do not fall into the trap of paying a tour guide! When they asked me if I needed a tour guide, I hesitated and politely walked off however, they were persistent in telling me that without a tour guide, there was no way I’d understand and find my way around. So I ended up paying the tour guide for about 90 yuan. And let me say, they just pretty much go through the history of the museum which I found extremely useful however, I always felt pressured with time and had to move very quickly around the museum. So if I were to visit this place again, I’d definitely go solo without a tour guide !
You’d think that the museum contains Terracotta Warriors found from decades ago however, the below photograph captured the statues which have only recently been discovered and still continue to be discovered in the process.
Walking around Xi’an
I love exploring the city and seeing the different structures around. This was while I was making my way to the city centre where the main shops are and the Big Wild Goose Pagoda.
This shopping mall is one of the places which you will come across as you make your way to the Pagoda. Noted as Xi’an’s biggest shopping mall, SAGA International Shopping Mall holds some of the big brands from Armani Jeans, Tommy Hilfiger to Guess and Uniqlo, along with many boutique stores.
There are basically 8 levels which 2 sections – and underground and an above ground. Each floor is meant to have a different theme, with specific categories of shops aligning to. On one floor, there is a huge children’s playground which is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in a shopping centre.
To get to this area, take any of these buses and get off at Xiaozhai Station. I was always taking bus 5 and would usually just hop off when I noticed it was a busy area.
TIP: Other buses you can take include 12, 14, 19, 24, 26, 30, 34, 36, 215, 229, 239, 323, 400, 401, 407, 504, 521, 600, 603, 605, 616, 704, 716 and 726. Note that most bus rides would cost 1, 2 or 5 yuan.
Inside the shopping mall, there’s a spectacular water feature which extends across multiple floors.
Around the Pagoda and Daci’en Temple, there are many gardens around with markets and shops as well as the beautiful water feature in front.
Spot the fast food outlet – Burger King !
There’s even a little show to depict the ancient chinese history :
4) Big Wild Goose Pagoda
I didn’t get close to the Pagoda so only viewed it from afar. The best part would have been the Musical Fountain which happens at 12pm and 8pm from Monday to Friday, and 12pm, 2pm, 4pm, 6pm and 9pm on weekends. There are however, no shows from November to January except for the Spring Festival.
Being Asia’s largest musical fountains, The Music Fountain Square of Big Wild Goose Pagoda is split into 3 areas: a 100 metre waterfall pool, plunge pool and a music pool. Beautiful music (symphony- Water Phantom of Tang) is played during the fountain performance and goes for about 10-15 minutes. It’s a beautiful experience. I remember it started sprinkling but I stood there for the whole show just because it was a very unique experience.