Things to See and Do in Xi'an China

Xi’an in China was one of the four great ancient cities in the world, along with Rome, Athens and Cairo. The city has a wealth of cultural artifacts and jaw-dropping places to visit. Xi’an was the starting point of the old Silk Road to the west, and so the city enjoys a unique mixture of history and heritage not found anywhere else in China, as the customs, religions and ideas from the west all had a distinctive influence over the years on the city and its people.

Xi'an: The Home of The Terracotta Warriors
Xi’an is the home of the Terracotta Warriors; the hidden clay army which lay undiscovered for two thousand years until a farmer digging a well in his field discovered a single mysterious statue many metres under the soil. Xi’an also has an ancient city wall with battlements which still surrounds the city centre today.

Xi'an City Centre

The city-centre itself is built around the famous Bell Tower, well over a thousand years old, which had bells which rang out to wake the citizens of Xi’an and to signal the opening of the city gates to allow in traders. You can still go on the Bell Tower today and for a small fee, you can ring the bell – thousands of people will hear it! Xi’an has a wonderful mix of ancient delights and a modern cosmopolitan buzz(depending on where you are in the city), and so there is plenty to amaze and stimulate anyone coming to teach English in Xi’an.
Finally, the central location in Xi’an makes it a great place to be located if travelling around China is of interest to you. The airport has direct flights to nearly all major Chinese cities.
The Xi'an City Wall
The Xi’an City Wall is the largest city wall on earth and the present wall as it is dates from the 1600’s. It is 15m wide at the base and about 13m wide at the top. The total length of the wall is over 13kmand it will take you about 4-5 hours to wander around the whole length. Should you not want to walk the whole length, there are a number of places to get on/off early. You can also rent bicycles and tandem bikes for around 80RMB for 90 minutes. At the night, the wall is lit up with lights and you can stroll through scenic parks around the wall and get snack foods. Each year, there is a mini-marathon around the wall which you can join. From the top of the wall, you can get a birds-eye view of quaint and hidden back streets teeming with everyday common Chinese life.
Beilin Art Street Xi'an
Just inside the south gate of the city wall, there is an art and culture district full of old folks doing Chinese calligraphy and all kinds of painting shops, jade stores and wood carving places. There are alsosome great bars in this district to be discovered.
The Muslim Quarter and Great Mosque, Xi'an
Running off from The Bell Tower are four major streets running like the points of a compass; North Street, East Street, South Street and West Street. In the quarter between West Street and North Street is the Muslim Quarter. This is where the large Chinese Muslim population of Xi’an lives and works.
You could spend weeks here and still be finding quaint back streets, places to eat and places to explore. There are markets here to buy all of your touristy things to send back home and remember to take your camera, as you’ll get great photos to keep and share for a lifetime. In the centre of the Muslim Quarter is the great old mosque which was built centuries ago for the Muslim population that came through as traders and inhabitants from the Silk Road.
The Terracotta Warriors Xi'an China
About 20km away from Xi’an (there are frequent buses) is the world famous Terracotta Warriors. The Terracotta Warriors were built on the command of the great Emperor Qin Shihuang, who wanted to have an army of soldiers for the afterlife.
The Terracotta Warriors comprise of thousands of soldiers, generals, archers, horses, chariots and weapons. There are three separate pits to see and a museum to learn more about the history of the soldiers. A 3D cinema brings to story of The Terracotta Warriors to life. The faces of the warriors are all unique and different. If you are an English teacher in Xi’an, then you must make visiting here a priority.
De Fu Xiang (Bar Street), Xi'an
De Fu Xiang is a narrow street within the city walls about a ten minute walk from The Bell Tower. Twenty years ago, this street had a different nature altogether – it was the Red Light District of Xi’an!
Today, De Fu Xiang is a really rocking place, with bars on each side of the road, side by side from top to bottom. If you are looking for a brilliant night out after a busy weekend of teaching, hit De Fu Xiang for a brilliant night out, with quiet bars, loud bars, coffee shops, niche corners or live music. It has it all.
Just around the corner, is South Street with an assortment of top quality night clubs if you want to keep going until the early hours.
Huashan Mountain
A few hours away from Xi’an is Huashan Mountain. In China, there are five ‘holy’ mountains, and each one is meant to represent the body, arms and legs of Pangu, a giant God-like creature from the old Chinese creation story. Huashan is one of these five mountains.
Carved into the granite mountain are literally thousands of steps which one climbs to reach the summit of the mountain, which is over 2,400m above sea-level. The climb is very arduous (and it takes nerves of steel!) and for those that can’t make it, then a cable car to take you most of the way is available. Top tip: Stay on the mountain overnight and wake up early to watch sunrise from the top of the highest West Peak.
The Big Goose Pagoda, Xi'an
Ever heard of ‘Journey to the West’ or seen ‘Monkey’? This is the story of a monk who travels to India, finds Buddhism, and then returns to China with the holy scriptures and then Buddhism becomes the dominant force in China, influencing the life and development of the Chinese people and the China story. Well, this event actually happened, and where did the monk leave from and return to? Xi’an. The Big Goose Pagoda is one of the most important religious buildings in all of China and for many years the actual scriptures which came back from India were housed here. You can still go into the temple and the parks and water parks surrounding are an absolute joy to visit.
The Small Goose Pagoda, Xi'an
Less well-known as the Wild Big Goose Pagoda is the Wild Small Goose Pagoda, also situated in Xi’an. This pagoda is 13 storeys high, but the upper most were destroyed in an earthquake centuries ago. You can also go up inside this pagoda, and the final few levels are quite fun and tricky to access. This is my favourite of the Xi’an pagodas.
The Qinling Mountains
They say that China is divided into two halves; the north and the south, and the Qinling Mountains are the border, running across nearly a thousand kilometres of China. This is a stunning mountain range is a 30 minute bus ride to the south of Xi’an and there are numerous National Parks, Panda Reserves, camping spots and areas of stunning beauty. Catch a bus, ride a motorbike, or feeling like a challenge, ride a bicycle out there!
The Tang Paradise, Xi'an
During the Tang Dynasty, Xi’an was unquestionably one of the most powerful cities in the worldand was at its peak of cultural grandeur. One of the original play areas for the Emperor and his concubines was a park and lake area strictly forbidden to be entered by commoners by pain of death. This was a private retreat for the most powerful man on earth and selected friends and lovers. Today, Xi’an has recreated the park to its former glory and it is now open to all. Tickets are around 60RMB to go in and you needn’t worry about losing your head!
Eating and Drinking Out in Xi'an
Xi’an is a very large city with numerous choices of many different styles of Chinese foods and also countless western options. Xi’an is famous for its street foods, and you’ll always be able to get good Chinese food at 3am or 4am!
There are also countless places to get a drink in the evening/night time. Xi'an is awesome at night!!
Xianease Magazine
Xi’an has a thriving expat community with lots of special events going on nearly every day of the week, every month of the year. The city has an ex-pat magazine named Xianease with events, restaurant guides, pub and club guides, reviews, cinema listings, pub crawl events, running clubs, quiz nights, movie nights, trips away, etc. You can check out the Xianease magazine here.
Teaching English in Xi’an
If Xi’an sounds pretty cool, then why don’t you apply for one of our Xi’an teaching jobs? Teaching English in Xi'an will afford you to actually live in this wonderful city on an excellent salary!

by Stuart Allen

Stuart Allen

Stuart Allen has been an English teacher since 2002 and has taught Chinese, French, Italian, Austrian, Korean and Spanish students, both in the UK and China. He runs two successful TEFL blogs in China and is a well-known voice in the China TEFL industry. Stuart is the founder and owner of

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