Exploring Xi'an: Travel Days Needed

how many days to travel in xian

The ideal number of days to spend in Xi'an, China, is generally considered to be between two and four days. This allows visitors to explore the city's top attractions, including the Terracotta Army, the Ancient City Wall, the Muslim Quarter, and the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda.

One day is often spent visiting the Terracotta Warriors and Horses, a renowned archaeological site and a must-see for visitors to Xi'an. The Ancient City Wall, one of China's best-preserved city walls, is another popular destination for walking or cycling. The Muslim Quarter, known for its lively atmosphere, delicious street food, and souvenirs, is also a highlight for many travellers.

With two days in Xi'an, you can explore the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, immerse yourself in the Muslim Quarter, and visit the Great Mosque. On the second day, you can discover the Terracotta Warriors and Horses, as well as other sites like the Hanyangling.

Three days in Xi'an allows for a more relaxed exploration of the city's historical sites and cultural offerings. In addition to the above-mentioned attractions, you can visit the Shaanxi History Museum, one of the four largest museums in China, and enjoy the evening Tang Dynasty Ever Bright City performance.

Four days provides an opportunity for a deeper dive into Xi'an's culture and history. You can take a day trip to Mount Huashan, renowned for its breathtaking natural scenery and challenging hiking trails. Additionally, you can explore other sites like the Bell Tower, Drum Tower, and Small Wild Goose Pagoda.

Some travellers suggest that even with just one day in Xi'an, you can cover the major sites if you plan your time efficiently. However, for a more comprehensive experience of this ancient city, two to four days is recommended.

Characteristics Values
Number of days to visit Xi'an 2-4 days
Number of days to visit Terracotta Warriors 1 day
Number of days to visit Mount Huashan 1 day
Number of days to visit Shaanxi History Museum Half a day
Number of days to visit Giant Wild Goose Pagoda Half a day
Number of days to visit Muslim Quarter Half a day
Number of days to visit City Wall Half a day


The Terracotta Army

The construction of the tomb, which began in 246 BCE, involved 700,000 conscripted workers. The terracotta figures were manufactured in workshops by government labourers and local craftsmen using local materials. The figures were created using assembly line production, with specific parts being made separately and then assembled. The warriors' faces were created using molds, with at least ten face molds believed to have been used. Clay was then added to provide individual facial features, making each figure appear unique. Originally, the figures were painted with ground precious stones and pigments, but in Xi'an's dry climate, much of the colour coating flaked off soon after excavation.

The discovery of the Terracotta Army has provided valuable insights into the history and culture of ancient China. The figures offer a glimpse into the military might of Qin Shi Huang, who is believed to have conquered China with an army of over 500,000 men. Additionally, the presence of non-military figures and intricate bronze chariots suggests that the emperor also held a sophisticated civil administration system, which endured for centuries. The standardised weapons and other artefacts found at the site provide evidence of the centralised empire that Qin Shi Huang established.


The City Wall

The Xi'an City Wall, also known as the Fortifications of Xi'an, is one of the oldest, largest, and best-preserved Chinese city walls. Built in 1370 during the Ming dynasty, the wall stands 12 metres high and 12–14 metres wide at the top, with a base width of 15–18 metres. It has a total length of 13.7 kilometres (or 14 kilometres, according to some sources) and encloses an area of about 14 square kilometres.

The wall was initially built from tamped earth, with the base layer also including lime and glutinous rice extract. Over the years, it has been refurbished and rebuilt many times. In 1568, the wall was strengthened with blue bricks, and in 1781, it was enlarged and modified with drainage features and crenels. In recent times, the Shaanxi Provincial Government has carried out further restoration work, with the most recent renovations taking place in 1983.

The Xi'an City Wall is recognised as a heritage National Historical and Cultural Unit and is on the tentative list of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. It is one of the few remaining city walls in China and is considered the most complete surviving example in the country. The wall features four main gates: the East Gate (Changle Gate), West Gate (Anding Gate), South Gate (Yongning Gate), and North Gate (Anyuan Gate). Each gate has three towers: the Zhenglou, Jianlou, and Zhalou. The wall also includes a moat, drawbridges, watchtowers, corner towers, parapet walls, and gate towers.

Walking along the top of the wall typically takes around four hours, and it is also possible to cycle or take a sightseeing battery car. Visitors can access the wall from several gates, including the South Gate, East Gate, North Gate, and West Gate. The wall offers a unique perspective of the city, showcasing the juxtaposition of old and new Xi'an.


The Muslim Quarter

The history of the Muslim Quarter can be traced back to the Tang dynasty, when Muslim merchants came to Chang'an (modern-day Xi'an) via the Silk Road. Over time, the Muslim population started to reside around Da Xuexi Street and Huajue Great Mosque, and the town hall of Xi'an was built close by during the Ming dynasty. This attracted a large number of wealthy merchants and nurtured a commercial lifestyle led by Muslims within the quarter.

Today, the Muslim Quarter is known for its traditional foods and cultural activities. It is a great place to sample local street food and shop for souvenirs. The Beiyuanmen Muslim Market, located just north of the Drum Tower, is a popular choice for tourists looking to explore the city centre. The street is paved with dark-coloured stone and shaded by green trees during the summer. The buildings on both sides of the street are modelled after the styles of the Ming and Qing dynasties, with restaurants and stores owned by Muslims.

The Great Mosque, located in Huajue Lane, is the most famous and popular mosque in the area. There are about ten mosques in the Muslim Quarter, with the others including the Middle Mosque and the West Mosque. The mosques in the quarter were either turned into factories or occupied by other organisations during the Cultural Revolution, with only the Great Mosque and Sajinqiao West Mosque remaining in use.


The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda

The pagoda was originally built during the Tang dynasty, which ruled from 618 to 907, or more specifically, in 648 or 652 during the reign of Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty. The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda was constructed to collect Buddhist materials brought from India by the monk, scholar, traveller, and translator Xuanzang. Xuanzang obtained permission from Emperor Gaozong to build a pagoda inside the Da Ci'en Temple complex, which was constructed in honour of the Empress Zhangsun. Xuanzang supervised the building of the pagoda as the first abbot of the temple. The pagoda was originally five storeys tall and stood at a height of 60 metres (197 feet).

The pagoda was rebuilt in 704 during the reign of Empress Wu Zetian, who added five new storeys, bringing the total to ten. A massive earthquake in 1556 heavily damaged the structure, reducing it to seven storeys, which is its current number of storeys. The pagoda currently stands at a height of 64 metres (210 feet) and offers panoramic views of the city of Xi'an from the top. Visitors can climb the interior staircase to appreciate the view. The interior walls of the pagoda feature engraved statues of Buddha by the renowned 7th-century artist Yan Liben.


The Shaanxi History Museum

The museum was constructed from 1983 to 2001 and opened to the public in 1991. Its architectural style recalls the Tang Dynasty, with a two-storied central hall and four worship halls around it. The predominant colours of the halls are black, white and grey, creating an atmosphere of solemnity and rustic charm.

Shaanxi, the ancient imperial capital of China, was the seat of more than 13 feudal dynasties, including the Zhou, Qin, Han, and Tang dynasties. The museum houses a collection of over 370,000 relics unearthed in Shaanxi Province, such as bronze wares, pottery figures, and mural paintings from Tang tombs.

The museum's exhibits are divided into four main groups: the Preface Hall, the permanent exhibition halls, the temporary exhibition halls, and an exhibition hall for Tang Mural Paintings. The permanent exhibition halls showcase Shaanxi's culture in a timeline, from the Prehistoric Times to the Qin Dynasty on the first floor, and from the Han Dynasty to the Northern and Southern Dynasties on the second floor. The third floor covers the Tang Dynasty and later years, showcasing splendid gold and silver articles, tri-colour glazed pottery, and artefacts related to the Silk Road.

The museum also features a variety of themed exhibitions, such as the Exhibition of Cultural Relics in the Liujiawa Cemetery, the Exhibition of Artefacts of the Zhou, Qin, Han, and Tang Dynasties, and the Exhibition of Chinese Celadon Sword in Longquan.

A new branch of the Shaanxi History Museum in Qinhan New City opened in May 2024, with an exhibition area of about 11,300 square metres. This new museum is jointly built by Qinhan New City and the Shaanxi History Museum, and is over four times bigger than the original museum.

Frequently asked questions

2-4 days are enough to see the highlights of Xi'an. This includes visiting the Terracotta Army, the City Wall, the Muslim Quarter, the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, and the Shaanxi History Museum.

For an in-depth exploration of Xi'an and to uncover hidden cultural gems, 4-5 days are ideal.

Mount Huashan is about 2 hours' drive from Xi'an and can be visited as a day trip. However, if you plan to hike the mountain, allocate a full day for the activity.

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