Xi'an (pronounced she-ahn) is probably most well known for the Terracotta Army, but there is so much more to this city then that! I spent just 48 hours on my trip to China, but experienced much in that short time. Xi'an is a tier two city, and even with the skyscrapers and high-rise condos it managed to keep the city wall built in the 1300s intact today. It was so cool to see people in 2017 driving cars through the city gates that have been around for over 600 years.
You could spend several weeks in this city, but if you only have a couple days like I did then this quick guide to the best things to do in Xi'an is for you.
Without a doubt, the most famous attraction in Xi'an is the Terracotta Army. Over 2,200 years ago the first Emperor of China had his soldiers dig 600 underground pits for his graveyard. To date, only 3 pits have been unburied and they are still excavating those. In pit one over 6,000 soldiers made from terra-cotta clay, all with unique facial features. Some were in great condition, while most of them have had their pieces carefully put back together. Most of them have some damage. But even with that, this historical site is one of the most astounding thing I have ever seen. Give yourself at least three hours to spend here. Upon entering you will walk or catch a ride to the first pit museum. There will be crowds, but take your time to enjoy the pit from every angle before moving on to pit two and three and save 20 minutes to watch the film in the theater for some background on the Emperor and how the soldiers came to be broken and then forgotten about until the 80s when a farmer digging for irrigation found it. I really enjoyed the Terra-cotta Army site and (just like with all other places in China) the Chinese love to take pictures with you.
Xi'an is famous for its dumplings and I can verify their reputation. If ure in Xi'an for just a short time, make sure to spend at least one night at a local restaurant famous for its dumplings. One night we went to a place that turned dumplings into art for us to enjoy a banquet dinner with 17 different types of dumplings! And the restaurant had Chinese musicians playing in the background.
Dance with the locals at Xingqing Park
Every morning starting around 6am until 11am locals retired Chinese gather in Xingqing Park for morning exercise and singing. The retirement community starts young in their 50s and exercise consists of Tai Chi (with swords!), hacky sack, low-impact exercises, and dancing with drummers and singers! When we came upon then they gave us fans and Chinese ladies riding donkey costumes took our hands to dance around with them during one of the 15-minute songs. It was one of the most fun experiences of my life!
They also sing to release the bad air that accumulated overnight. They actually had an orchestra and conductor in the park! And when we stopped by the welcomed us into the front room and played jingle bells for us! The Chinese people here (and everywhere) were so kind and friendly and made us feel like total celebrities, clapping and waving as we left. It was amazing.
If you have a few hours to spare and want to see more of Xi'an here are a couple other things you could do:
Shaanxi Provincial History Museum in southern Xian has tons of historical artifacts and treasures from the Han and Tang dynasties. All of the signage is in Chinese and English so you can learn a little more about the culture here
Eat desert! We stayed at the Golden Flower Hotel in Xi'an and the restaurant had a wide selection os beautiful and unique deserts you will only find in China. Try them out while you have some time!
Walk through the tea emporium. I have never seen such a grand mall selling only one thing - tea. Everywhere you turn there is an abundance of loose leaf teas to create your own, prepackaged tea in the most beautiful wrapping and tea sets. This place is a tea lovers dream.