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Home Travel Guide How to Plan a Trip to Xian: A Step-by-Step Travel Planner

How to Plan a Trip to Xian: A Step-by-Step Travel Planner

Planning your first trip to Xian, China, and looking for some essential Xian travel tips? Then, read on! This Xian travel guide will cover some basics of this ancient capital, and everything you need to know to make planning your trip to Xian easy and seamless.

From top attractions, top things to do, and how to get there to the logistics of where to stay and where to eat, etc., we’ll help you make the most of your trip and enhance your overall experience.

As one of the four great ancient capitals of civilization alongside Cairo, Athens, and Rome, Xian is always ready to welcome visitors worldwide with its rich heritage and relics!

Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses
Terracotta Warriors and Horses

Top Tourist Attractions in Xian

As the eastern starting point of the ancient Silk Road, Xian is a witness to the glorious history of cultural exchange between East and West. Since once served as the capital city of 13 dynasties throughout Chinese history, Xian is full of cultural and historical heritages, museums, and other cultural highlights.

The following popular Xian attractions are some of the main reasons for most tourists to travel to Xian.

Terracotta Warriors and Horses:

Hailed as the eighth wonder of the world. An integral part of the Mausoleum of the First Qing Emperor with over 8,000 life-size meticulously crafted soldiers and horses. Characterized by vast scale, diverse forms, and exquisite workmanship. Offers a glimpse into unparalleled artistic craftsmanship of Qin Dynasty and formidable aura of the Qin army.

Ancient City Wall:

A significant landmark in Xian showcasing the ancient defensive system and military strategies. Initially built in the Ming Dynasty, is the largest and best-preserved one of its kind in Ch Visitors can walk or cycle atop the wall to appreciate ancient architecture and panoramic views of the city.

Giant Wild Goose Pagoda:

An iconic structure in Xian blending architectural style of India, Nepal, and China. A witness to glorious Tang Dynasty history and Buddhist culture, housing rich Buddhist relics, scriptures, murals, etc. Offers a breathtaking panorama of Xian.

Huashan Mountain:

One of the five sacred mountains in China, about 1.5 hours drive from Xian city center. Features precipitous cliffs and ravines, and is considered one of the most dangerous mountains in the world. Offer breathtaking mountain landscapes, stunning sunrises, and exhilarating hiking experiences.

Shaanxi History Museum:

A national-level museum being praised as “the Treasure House of China”. House over 1.7 million precious artifacts, Shang and Zhou bronze ware, figurines from various dynasties, Tang Dynasty murals, and gold and silver artifacts are the four particularly famous categories. Showcase splendid achievements of ancient Chinese civilization.

Xian City Wall bike ride
Ride a bicycle on the City Wall

Best Things to Do in Xi’an 

Prioritizing which corners to see and what activities to experience in Xian can be an overwhelming task, given its abundance of historical and cultural treasures, and  the myriad of options available to visitors. If you are visiting Xian for the first time, the following activities are some of our highly recommended choices.

Visit the Terracotta Army and Make Your Own Miniature Terracotta Soldier

A guided Terracotta Army visit is highly recommended to ensure an immersive experience. Being equipped with a wealth of historical knowledge about these terracotta figures, an expert guide will enlighten you on the details of the military system, artistic craftsmanship, and legendary stories behind these remarkable statues.

Consider learning the crafting skills of Terracotta Warriors after that. You can have a cool experience to create your own miniature terracotta soldier under the guidance of a skilled artisan.

Cycle on the Ancient City Wall

The pathways on Xi’an’s city wall are wide and flat, making it perfect for biking. Along the way, you can flexibly stop at any city gates, inscriptions, or other military installations like embrasured watchtowers, enemy towers, and turrets to appreciate these ancient fortifications up close.

And as a bonus, the vantage point atop the wall allows for a bird’s-eye view of the cityscape and locals’ entertainment activities in the surrounding parks.

Taste Local Specialties in Muslim Quarter or Yongxingfang

More than rich historical heritage, Xian also stands out for its vibrant food culture. Muslim Quarter and Yongxingfang are two of the most popular food streets in Xian.

The Muslim Quarter is the most iconic food street in Xian, teeming with various Muslim food and Northwest-style snacks. Some of the must-try dishes here include Yangrou Paomo, grilled lamb skewers, Liangpi, etc.

Yongxingfang exudes a more antique charm and is dominated by unique snacks from different regions within Shaanxi Province. Many Shaanxi intangible cultural heritage food can be found here, and you can also expect diverse folk art performances here.

Challenge Huashan Mountain for Thrilling Adventure

Commonly revered as “the most precipitous mountain under heaven”, Mount Huashan beckons countless adventure seekers thanks to its soaring peaks, rugged ridges, steep trails, and most importantly, the breathtaking scenery. Sure, the hiking itself is challenging enough, and your sense of achievement will soar when standing on the summit.

Mt. Huashan in Xian
Mt Huashan

Spend Your Night at Big Wild Goose Pagoda

As night falls, the squares at the foot of Giant Wild Goose Pagoda will transform into a mesmerizing world of light shows and diverse cultural performances. At the North Square, the musical fountain show, the largest of its kind in Asia, will shock you.

Continue moving south, and you will encounter the essence of Xian’s nightlife at the Great Tang All Day Mall. A vibrant cultural hub in Xian, Great Tang All Day Mall is actually a pedestrian street lined with Tang-style architecture. At night, the mall becomes alive with street performances, light shows, and a variety of local snacks.

How Long to Stay in Xian

The duration largely depends on your schedule, what kind of travel pace you want and what sights and activities you with to experience, etc. Given its countless heritage an treasured attractions, staying longer will allow you a deeper experience of the charm of this ancient city.

Generally, most people arrange 3-5 days for their Xian tours.

1 Day in Xian

Terracotta Warriors and the Ancient City Wall are the top two highlights of Xian and can be arranged on a full-day trip to Xian. One or two other attractions near the city wall, such as the Muslim Quarter, and Bell Tower can also be added. >>Xian Exploration Day Tour

For a more relaxed itinerary, you suggest you cover the Ancient City Wall and 2 or more attractions in the city center area.  >>Old Xian City Day Tour

You can also get inspiration from more of our Xian day tours.

2 Days in Xian

2 Days in Xian will allow you to explore more of its classic attractions. Terracotta Army, Ancient City Wall, Big Wild Goose Pagoda, Shaanxi History Museum, Muslim Quarter, Bell Tower are some of the most popular tourist attractions we suggest to arrange in your itinerary accordingly. Based on your preference, you can also replace some of these mentioned attractions to Hanyangling Museum, or Small Wild Goose Pagoda.

Recommended 2-Day Tours in Xian:

3 Days in Xian

With 3 days in Xian, you can explore more attractions compared to the two-day itineraries. A leisure travel pace allows you to have more time at the historical sites, or more free time. Also, consider to add Mount Huashan or other cultural experiences to your trip to Xian.

Recommended 3-Day Tours in Xian:

4-5 Days in Xian

4-5 days are ideal for you to not only experience Xian’s classic historical heritages, cultural activities, and Moun Huashan at leisure, but also enjoy more in-depth Xian local folk culture. Also, you can flexibly extend your trip to Chengdu, Luoyang, Dunhuang, etc.

Recommended 4-5 Days Tours in Xian:

Recommended China Tours from Xian:

Best Time to Visit Xian

Generally, Xian will guarantee you a grand time no matter when you visit, as the most historical and cultural sites are accessible all year round, and this ancient city rarely sees extreme weather. While for people who are on the lookout for the best time to visit Xian, we recommend considering March to June and mid-September to early November which combine the pleasant weather and fewer tourists.

Xian Weather in Different Seasons

Xi’an enjoys a distinct monsoon climate with clear-cut seasons. Spring usually lasts from March to May when the days are warm and dry, seeing abundant sunshine and vibrant blossoms.

The summer heat and peak tourist season in July and August may make traveling in Xian a little grueling. Fortunately, air-conditioning is common in all hotels and indoor venues, and you can plan and book in advance to ensure availability of hotels and flights.

In autumn (September to November), the weather will be pleasant for sightseeing, and the fall scenery are brilliant. the Dacien Temple and Guanyin Zen Temple are made more charming by the golden leaves of the ancient ginkgo trees.

Despite the relatively cold and dry weather in winter, the ancient city walls, Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, etc. showcases a distinct charm when covered by snow.

How to Get to Xian: Flights, High-speed Trains

Xian is easily accessible by either flights or high-speed trains.

Xianyang International Airport in Xian is the aviation hub of China’s northwest region, offering numerous international flights connecting Singapore, Bangkok, Paris, London, Moscow, New York, Los Angeles, etc.

Also, there are abundant direct flights connecting Xian with most domestic cities such as Beijing (1.5-2.5 hrs), Shanghai (2-2.5 hrs), Guangzhou (2.5-3 hrs), Chengdu (1-1.5 hrs), Guilin (2-2.5 hrs), Zhangjiajie (1.5-2 hrs), etc.

Since Xi’an is located at the heart of the inland region in China, the extensive high-speed rail networks make it convenient to connect nearly all important cities and regions in the country.

Travel from Beijing to Xian:

Many visitors choose to arrange a trip to Xi’an after their visit to Beijing. To travel from Beijing to Xi’an, taking a high-speed train is more recommended with a travel time of about 4-6 hours. There are about 20 pairs of daily high-speed trains operating between Beijing West Railway Station and Xi’an North Railway Station, allowing for flexible scheduling.

Though faster speed of flights (with a travel time of about 1.5-2.5 hrs), airports are farther from the city center, requiring more time to reach. Moreover, compared to the high-speed trains, flights are less comfortable and are more susceptible to weather uncertainties.

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Travel from Shanghai to Xian:

Both daily direct high-speed trains and flights are frequent, so you can choose either option based on your schedule and preferences.

The high-speed trains usually take about 5.5-8 hours to travel from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station to Xian North Railway Station.

Flights generally take about 2-2.5 hours from either Pudong International Airport or Hongqiao International Airport to Xianyang International Airport.

Obviously, taking a flight is more time-efficient. While a second-class seat on a high-speed train is usually more spacious and comfortable than an economical seat on flights. Plus, the fares for high-speed trains are relatively more stable and affordable in high seasons.

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Travel from Chengdu to Xi’an:

Considering the farer distance from city center to the airport, it is more recommended to take a high-speed train from Chengdu to Xian, which will take about 3-4.5 hours. A flight between these two cities typically take about 1-1.5 hours.

Need a Visa or Not to Travel to Xian?

Citizens from 54 countries can enjoy 144-hour visa-free access to Xi’an if they make a transit at Xi’an Xianyang International Airport and meet certain conditions. For example, they need to have an onward ticket to a third country or region within a specified time, hold a valid passport with more than 3 months validity remaining, with no visa refusal stamp from Chinese visa authorities, etc.

Applying for a China visa is necessary if you plan to visit more destinations in China.

Where to Stay in Xian?

As a popular tourist city in China, Xian boasts a large number of accommodation options, from economy hotels to local-featured boutique hotels and 4-5 stars of international brands. Below are some recommended locations with convenient transportation, vibrant nightlife, or near to certain attractions.

  • Near the Bell Tower and Muslim Quarter: The very heart of the city, offers convenient transportation, close proximity to major attractions, a bustling environment, and various dining and entertainment options.
  • Near the City Wall: Offering great chances to closely explore the ancient city. This is also the city center area, thus with a variety of transportation options. A great choice if you are interested in taking a nighttime walk atop the wall and enjoy the illuminated cityscape.
  • Around the Big Wild Goose Pagoda: Adjacent to the Great Tang All Day Mall and Tang Paradise, both of which offer vibrant night activities, including captivating Tang Dynasty performances and abundant food options.
  • Lintong District: The ideal choice for easy access to Terracotta Army and Huaqing Hot Spring. Particularly recommended if you plan to watch the spectacular “Everlasting Regret” performance in the Huaqing Palace at night. Relatively further from the city center, hotels are cheaper.

What and Where to Eat in Xian?

What are you picturing when you think of Xian food? Is it the various noodles of different widths and thicknesses? As a noodle capital, Xian is famous for its diverse noodle dishes, such as Biangbaing noodles, oil-splashed noodles, sauzi noodles, etc.

In addition to the variety of noodles, Xian is also home to various dough-base dishes featuring rich meat flavors, and unique seasoning style. Grilled lamb skewers, liangpi, roujiamo, yangrou paomo and sour soup dumplings are some of the most popular ones for both locals and tourists. Like the city and its attractions, many dishes in Xian also boast a long history.

Muslim Quarter, Yongxingfang, Dapiyuan, and Sajinqiao are a small selection of top food streets in Xian, proving that its cuisine is more than just noodles and roujiamo.

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