Xian, China’s former capital in the west, is often considered the end of the Silk Road. It is one of the most interesting Chinese cities we travelled to, with its mix of Chinese and Muslim traditions, old buildings sprinkled throughout the city centre and the famous Terracotta Warriors nearby.
It is easy to spend two or three days here, maybe even more, without running out of things to do. But even if you only have one day, Xian can be a wonderful destination. We have put together an itinerary to help you see the best sights in the area.
And maybe you’ll even get inspired to come back one day.
Table of Contents
One day in Xian itinerary
#1 See the Terracotta Warriors
The Terracotta Warriors are Xian’s most famous sight. Discovered by a local farmer, this giant grave has not yet been completely excavated. Underneath the earth lie hundreds of warriors, most of them shattered into pieces.
You can see three different pits and a museum, in which a chariot has been preserved. Two of the pits are small and in one of those, excavations are still ongoing.
The third pit is the one you want to go to. Here, you can see the impressive Terracotta Army guarding the tomb.
Unfortunately, since the Terracotta Warriors are so famous, you will have to share the site with thousands of tourists. Getting close to the warriors is not permitted and you have to fight with other visitors to see them at all.
If you have a camera with a good zoom, take it.
Personally, by the time we were done with our visit, we were pretty fed up with the crowds. a woman had rammed her elbow and her fan in my side to get to the front and I had to constantly fight to keep my place to take any pictures at all.
Despite all that, the Terracotta Army is still a cool place to visit. Bring a couple of snacks and a lot of patience and we are sure you will enjoy the warriors.
As you only have one day in Xian, make sure to arrive early and plan to stay here until lunchtime.
#2 Tandem bike on the city wall
Have you ever ridden a tandem bike? It is a lot harder than it looks.
It took us a while to find our balance and we kept wobbling as we tried to go in a straight line. But once we got the hang of it, it was great fun.
Riding a bike on Xian’s city wall is the best way to see it. It has a total length of almost 14 km and bikes are available for rent on top of the wall. You don’t have to go with a tandem bike if you don’t want to, they have regular bikes as well.
You can find the bike rental points at the north, south, east and west gates of the city wall. Bringing your own bike (if you have one) is not permitted, you need to rent it.
If you visit Xian in summer, consider heading to the Great Mosque and the Drum and Bell Tower first, and doing the tandem bike later in the afternoon. We came here at noon on a hot August day and it only took five minutes for us to get soaked in sweat.
#3 Xian’s Great Mosque
If you think mosques are all about domed buildings and Arab architecture, come to see Xian’s Great Mosque.
All you will see is Chinese architecture, blending perfectly with Muslim traditions and conventions. The minaret is constructed in the shape of a pagoda, the roof tiles shine in a brilliant shade of turquoise.
Xian’s Great Mosque is the perfect introduction to the city’s Muslim quarter, my favourite Xian neighbourhood. Its current shape dates back to the 1300s, though a mosque stood here as early as 742 already.
At the entrance, you will get a leaflet explaining about the mosque, its history and its different parts so you understand what you are looking at. Prepare to spend some time here, as the complex consists of more than 20 buildings.
#4 Drum and Bell Tower
Drum and Bell Tower, located close to each other, were the first buildings I noticed when we drove into Xian. One of them is located inside a roundabout, while the other marks the entrance to Xian’s Night Market.
Both of them are impressive to watch from the outside, but you can also go inside and climb them if you like and still have enough energy.
Your one-day-in Xian itinerary is almost over. Don’t worry, we promise that the last stop on our itinerary is more relaxing, so once you get tired from all the sightseeing, it’s time to head back to the Muslim Quarter.
#5 Have dinner in the Muslim Quarter
The night market in Xian’s Muslim Quarter is our favourite part of the city.
Spread out along several streets and alleys, you will find both souvenir and food stalls. Come here for dinner and try as many dishes as you can, from fried potatoes to squid on a stick. We also found an excellent dumpling restaurant in one of the small alleys.
Half of the fun is exploring and discovering as many delicious foods as possible.
Make sure to leave some room for dessert. I highly recommend the shaved yoghurt ice cream, but if you prefer rice cakes or fried bananas, you can find them here as well.
Best time to visit Xian
Xian has a continental climate. In winter, temperatures can drop to below zero, while summer days can get sweltering hot.
The best time to travel to Xian is in spring and autumn. April and May as well as September and October offer pleasant temperatures and are not as busy as summer. From June to August, expect heat and large crowds of tourists.
In winter, on the other side, you can get better offers on hotel rates, but you need to dress up.
That said, it is possible to visit Xian at any time of the year and enjoy yourself.
How to get to Xian
Many people consider Xian the end of the Silk Road, and as such, it’s always had great connections. You can easily reach Xian by train, plane or bus.
If you’re already in China, the most convenient way to get around is to take a bullet train. Those high-speed trains can cover large distances in just a few hours.
Don’t believe me? I took an overnight train from Beijing to Kunming once. I got on in the evening, went to sleep and woke up the next morning in Kunming – 2.500 kilometres away from where I had started.
This railway map of China gives you a great overview of all available train lines.
If you’re already close to Xian, you can also take local buses to get there. They don’t cover as much ground as quickly, but they’re great for moving to remote locations not connected by train.
Finally, you also have the option of flying. The Xian airport mostly handles national flights, and a few within Asia, so you might be able to get a good connection.
Getting around Xian
Getting around Xian is easy as the city features an extensive network of public transport. Plus, the city centre and the Muslim Quarter are compact enough that we walked almost everywhere.
A great way to get around is by metro. You can also take one of the many bus lines that cross the city.
Finally, it’s easy to catch a taxi on the street. Remember to always carry a business card from your hotel with you. When you want to go home, you just give it to your taxi driver and you don’t have to worry about the language barrier.
There you have it, an itinerary for one day in Xian. We loved this part of China, and we hope you’re going to enjoy your time here as much as we did.
If you’ve recently visited, leave us a comment below and let us know what you liked best.
Also, why you’re here, make sure to check out our other posts about China that will help you plan your trip:
- The best things to do along China’s Silk Road
- How to spend a perfect day in Chengdu
- Discover where the Chinese Wall ends in Jiayuguan
- Get off the beaten path and explore Kashgar in Western China
Until your next adventure!
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