Xi’an used to be the capital a few times since Qin or Han dynasty, and one of the earliest and oldest cities in China. After 4 days in Beijing, we took Gaotie (high speed railway 高鐵) from Beijing West station to Xi’an North station, about 4.5 hour ride. A side note, overhead luggage space is super competitive at all of our Gaotie rides. We stayed in Xi’an 5 days 4 nights, one day we spent the whole day hiking in Huashan. The whole city felt a bit more relaxing than Beijing, with a lot of historical heritage while being a modern city with subway.
Terra Cotta Warriors (兵馬俑)
It was quite a shocking moment when I first walked into the first pit, Pit 1. Rows and rows of terra cotta warriors standing straight with expressions on their face. Other than taking pictures and listening to the audio guide, I looked at them for maybe five minutes, studying some details and imagining how these warriors were built and then buried by Emperor Qin. The scale, and the attention to detail were beyond imagination.
We definitely woke up early for this one. Didi ride was about 45 minute ride and 140 RMB from bell tower. Entrance was 150 RMB, and we got audio guide for 35 RMB.
Xi’an City Wall (西安城牆)
This was probably my favorite activity in Xi’an. The wall was first built in Ming dynasty around year 1368, based on foundation from Tang dynasty back in 7th-10th century when Xi’an used to be the capital. The founding emperor of Ming dynasty was advised by a Taoist priest to build walls in cities for food storage to fortify the country he later became emperor of.
To avoid scorching hot weather in June during the day, we went hiding at the city wall cafe until about 5pm. In the summer, the gates and bikes close at about 10pm, so we still got a few hours to bike around the wall.
Sunset from the city wall was poetic. The city wall went through lots of historical events, including numerous wars and almost got torn down after cultural revolution. Now the city wall sits in the heart of Xi’an, with gates and temple buildings along all sides of the wall. They also have marathons on the city wall nowadays!
We biked slowly with our Java mountain bikes, through a few temples built along the walls. Starting around 5pm, we biked through sunset into nightfall, for about 2-3 hours.
Muslim Street (回民街)
We did not realize we were in the middle of Muslim Street area, until suddenly surrounded by vendors and pedestrians. It is like night markets in Taiwan, with more Muslim style food vendors. We ate at a restaurant in the area, but it was fun walking through crowds of people and narrow streets.
Food we had
There are a few famous dishes in Xi’an, and its province Shaanxi. Still a few other local food items we did not get to fit in our trip, but here’s our list of recommendations. Most items are within 50 RMB.
Pita Bread Soaked in Lamb Soup (羊肉泡饃)
We went to Mahong (馬洪) for this lamb soup dish near Huimin street, and we were the only foreigners in this busy restaurant! When ordering, I was asked: “machine or hand?” I was so confused, and the cashier just told me “machine then”. At our shared table, we saw a few other groups sat down with a bowl of whole pita bread, and they started tearing the bread into bite size doughs. Now we understood, and actually glad that I didn’t answer “hand” 😆
Chinese meat burger (肉夾饃) – signature Xi’an snack
Chinese burger is perfect snack food at almost anytime. Breakfast, lunch, night snack. There are a few famous vendors (樊记,子午路张记, and 秦豫), and they are served almost everywhere. We went to one across from our hotel, where we could pick the level of meat fatness. The bun was baked and so good when it was warm. Too bad I focused too much on eating and forgot to take a photo 😅
Calabash Chicken (葫蘆雞) – Xi’an dish from Tang dynasty
Along with spinach noodles, these two dishes are popular in this Shaanxi restaurant 江城小館. Calabash chicken is usually made in three steps: boiled in clear water, steamed with a variety of spices, and then fried. It was served in a calabash, with spice in a little dish. Chicken was tasty with the spice, calabash was more of a decoration. I thought the spinach noodle was a bit greasy, but I liked the flavors of herb and spice.
Many kinds of noodles – biangbiang noodles (褲帶麵), Saozi noodles, tomato noodles…
Biangbiang noodles are famous Shaanxi food. Wide and long noodles like belts, and usually topped with meat sauce, vegetables and spicy sauce. I personally liked the tomato noodles more, where I had at Lao Wan. We also tried Saozi noodles at Lao Wan, another popular noodle soup dish in the area. The soup was sour, which I was not very used to.
Cold noodle skin / Liangpi (涼皮)
This is another famous dish, especially refreshing in hot summer. It has a few variations, some noodles more transparent and flatter, some with different sauces. Normally, there are chilled chewy noodles topped with uncooked or slightly cooked vegetables and a splash of spicy oil and spices. Ours was spicy with a bit of sourness. We had this with other noodle dishes, great as an appetizer. Some locals have it for breakfast as well.
From my research, bell and drum tower neighborhoods are the most convenient way to check out the city. We stayed at Citadines Central, an apartment type hotel with coin based laundry facility. Its location is perfect, close to bell tower subway and walkable to many restaurants. Lots of foreigners at this hotel, we even bumped into my previous coworker David who lived in Shanghai and came to Xi’an for Huashan! We grabbed breakfast buffet at the hotel, with noodles and fried rice.
We spent most of our time in Xi’an within the city wall. Getting around is convenient with subway and DiDi. Reading up some history about the city gave us more insight while exploring, it certainly has many stories to tell. Check out our itinerary, and lists of places we went or considered.