8 Best Xian Attractions: Highlights of an Ancient City

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As an important site along ancient trading routes and capital to several bygone dynasties, Xian is adorned with impressive cultural wonders, long-ago architecture, and a host of world-famous attractions, making this city a must-visit on any tour in China.

Walk atop the ancient city wall, a remnant of the cities prosperous trading days, gape in awe at the thousands of life-size soldiers made of clay known as the famous Terracotta Army, or discover the stunning landscapes of Mount Huashan on a spectacular hiking route. These are just a few of the fantastic things to do in Xian. Read on for more ideas— in this article we list our 8 top Xian attractions that will help you make the most of your trip to Xian.

1. Terracotta Army

  • Entrance fee: USD 23.17 (March – November); USD 19 (all other months)
  • Opening hours: 8:30 am – 5:30 pm

The Terracotta Army is the most well-known and intriguing out of Xian’s tourist attractions. This collection of clay statues was made to protect the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor. The excavation of the Terracotta Army in 1974 brought this majestic collection back to life.

  • Good to know: The souvenir shops next to the museum sell overpriced goods. Markets in Xian offer the same souvenirs for better prices.
  • Best time to visit: November – March, as there are fewer visitors.

2. Xian’s ancient city wall

Situated at the end of the ancient Silk Road, Xian city wall encloses an area of about 14 square kilometers
A traditional structure building with people walking nearby
The archery tower provided security to one of the four gates of the Xi'an city wall
  • Entrance fee: USD 8 for sdults and USD 4 for children
  • Opening hours: All 4 entrances of the city wall are open from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm

At Xian’s 14th-century fortification, you can get a sense of the city’s history. When Xian was a major trading hub more then 600-hundred years ago, the city needed a reliable stronghold, which is why the wall was built. The wall used to be closed to the public but nowadays you can walk atop the massive walls and see the glorious watchtowers.

  • Good to know: Renting a bicycle is a fun way to explore the City Wall.
  • Best time to visit: June – September, when there is less crowd.

3. Giant Wild Goose Pagoda

View of a seven storied building
Built in 652, the giant wild goose pagoda was originally only 60 meters tall
  • Entrance fee: USD 8; if you wish to climb the pagoda, there is an additional cost of USD 4.63.
  • Opening hours: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is one of the most essential structures of Chinese Buddhism. The brilliant tower is part of the Daci’en Temple, a 7th century complex of great significance, and one of the most gorgeous Xian attractions.

  • Good to know: February – October are the only months when you can watch a show with lights and fountains in front of the pagoda; it’s one of the most exciting things to do in Xian.
  • Best time to visit: February – October, as the light show is closed during winter.

4. Bell Tower

A view of a huge traditional building
The Bell Tower is one of the grandest symbols of the city of Xian, China
  • Entrance fee: USD 5.41
  • Opening hours: 8:00 am – 10:00 pm (April – October); 8:00 am – 5:30 pm (November – March)

The Bell Tower was once literally the heart of ancient Xian and was built as a watchtower to guard the city against intruding enemies. Originally built in 1384, the Bell Tower has been an intriguing symbol of Xian’s rich history for many centuries.

  • Good to know: For an additional cost (USD 1.40*), you can hit the old bell inside the tower three times for prosperity and good luck.
  • Best time to visit: The Bell Tower can be visited year-round, but fewer crowds visit this place from October – March.

5. Qianling Mausoleum

  • Entrance fee: USD 7 (March – November); USD 4 (December – February)
  • Opening hours: 8:00 am – 6:00 pm (March – November); 8:30 am – 5:30 pm (December – February)

Overlooking a lush valley, the Qianling Mausoleum sits on a hilltop, 1049 meters above sea level. Several emperors and empresses are buried in this complex, which is decorated with statues and beautiful stone carvings. The Qianling Mausoleum lies about 85 kilometers outside Xian, making it a perfect day-trip destination.

  • Good to know: If you want to avoid the walk to the top of the hill, you can opt for a 30-minute-ride on the horse cart
  • Best time to visit: During the warmer months (May – September)

6. Muslim Quarter and the Great Mosque

A view of many entrances to a one story building
The Great Mosque, also known as "Huajue Mosque", is the largest mosque in China
  • Entrance fee: Muslims can enter the Great mosque for free, but for non-Muslims, the entrance cost is USD 4 (March – November) and USD 2.32 (December – February).
  • Opening hours: 8:00 am – 7:00 pm

The Muslim Quarter draws attention with its food streets and unique architecture like that displayed in the Great Mosque. Explore this monument of Chinese Muslim architecture that stands out with its colorful artwork.

  • Good to know: We recommend joining a food tour through the Muslim Quarter, where you can try rare dishes such as cold noodles and buns stuffed with lamb meat.
  • Best time to visit: May, June and September, when temperatures are pleasant to walk around.

7. Shaanxi Provincial History Museum

A view of traditional house complex with a horse sculpture in its yard
The Shaanxi museum in China houses over 370,000 artifacts, including murals, paintings, pottery and coins. 
  • Entrance fee: Free
  • Opening hours: 8:30 am – 6:00 pm (March – November); 9:00 am – 5:30 pm (December – February)

For a good understanding of the history of China, a visit to the Shaanxi Provincial History Museum should be at the top of each traveler’s list. Centuries-old artifacts, terracotta figures and prehistoric pottery are just some of the highlights.

  • Good to know: Reach early, because the museum allows only 4000 people daily.
  • Best time to visit: Year-round

8. Mount Huashan

A view of ancient buildings and narrow stairs atop a hill
Mount Huashan's upward route has been named as one of the most dangerous hikes in the world by HuffPost and Outside
  • Entrance fee: USD 26 (March – November); USD 15.45 (December – February)
  • Opening hours: All day

Mount Huashan is a favorite spot among local and foreign nature enthusiasts and thrill-seekers. Walk the narrow mountainside ridges and enjoy the natural scenery lined with temples along the way. Huashan is of great importance to Taoism and is one of the sacred mountains for this religion.

  • Good to know: Wear proper shoes, for the trails right next to the abyss are narrow and can be slippery.
  • Best time to visit: September – November, as the leaves color beautifully and the views from the mountain are stunning.

Xian’s attractions stand out within China; the historical significance of the city and the mix of religions and architecture makes a visit to Xian one of the top things to do in China. Whether you like to spend your time in the great outdoors or indulge in Xian’s culture, this eastern starting point of China’s Silk Road is well worth stopping by.

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  • Ruby Zhao
    Ruby Zhao
    Travel Expert in China
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    Micheal Fan
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    Cindy Wang
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