First time visitors impressions of Xi'an (China)

Written by Paul Bourke
October 2006

Bell tower

This is located in the center of the city, that is, in the middle of the old walled city. If you choose to take the bus to the city from the airport then this is where you will end up.

Main bell

Big goose pagoda

This is a huge park located south of the city, outside the walls. It includes a long musical water fountain, the sequence lasts about 20 minutes and is best viewed in the evening when the coloured lights are also operating. Next to the fountain (on the right facing south) is a small park with delightful statues of gnome or troll like creatures.

Little goose pagoda

I personally preferred the smaller little goose pagoda, a couple of blocks north west of its larger cousin. It is less frequented by tourists and the climb to the top is much more challenging/interesting as the corridors and stairs get smaller and smaller towards the top. The gardens around this pagoda seem to concentrate on little men riding lions ... I never found out the significance. The top of this pagoda was damaged in a earthquake but it only lost a single layer.

View from the top

Terra-cotta Warriors

Of course this is what most people go to Xi'an to see. Unfortunately it is a victim of its own success with crowds of tourists and locals, literally hundreds and hundreds of buses at peak times. I would recommend not going on one of the official tours, they move around very slowly spending 3-4 hours for what can easily be seen in 1-2 hours. Take a taxi instead or go with a smaller group where you can dictate the time spent.


Pit 1

The site consists of basically three excavation pits, the first being the largest and corresponds to the lowest ranked soldiers. Pit 2 has more archers and horses, pit three is the command center. The statues were built on the grounds of the Shihuang mausoleum.

Pit 3

Over the years the statues have systematically been destroyed, as such none of them have been uncovered in one piece except for a single archer. So all the statues one sees in the tourist brochures and on site have all been assembled from the broken clay remains. The original colour of the warriors is also lost, it seems the dye of those uncovered still with some colour, disintegrates quickly. Supposedly only perhaps 10% of the statues have been uncovered so far.

History Museum

The history museum is certainly pleasant and has a reasonable collection from the rich and long history of China. While there are various temporary exhibitions, the main permanent exhibition is the ancient history of Shaanxi from prehistoric age to the Qing dynasty (1911). It includes the history of the Zhou, Qin, Han, and Tang Dynasties. Open every day.

City wall

The city wall and gates are certainly impressive especially when you find out just how much land they encompass. The current wall was called the inner wall, there used to be an outer wall as well but only a few stone outcrops are left. For a small fee you can go for a walk along the top.

South gate

The wall is also, for the most part, surrounded by a moat and there are regular lookout towers on the corners and along the length of the wall.


Fine/clear days are rare it seems so if you get one then make the most of it to climb to the higher structures for a view of the city.


If you want to get around yourself the taxis are very convenient, what you need through is a map of the city with both the English (or your favourite language) and the Chinese text. This way you decide where you want to go and point to the Chinese text, this works well and make sure you have the name of your accommodation in Chinese for your return trip. The taxis are metered and there seemed no attempt at any overcharging, the exception to this are taxis to/from the airport which should be negotiated before the trip unless your hotel offers transfers.


The markets are certainly fascinating with all sorts of weird and wonderful produce, don't explore if you are at squeamish or sensitive to discomfort in animals.

Tomb of General Hucheng Yang

I ended up here after the taxi driver obviously misunderstood where I wanted to go, it only happened this one time. I didn't even know who this was but it is a pleasant climb up the hill which is dotted with graves, monuments, and temples. After returning the name of the General buried and some brief history was provided by Ren Chen .... "He, together with another warlord, general Xueliang Zhang kidnapped the chairman of China at 1936 and convinced him to agree to stop the civil war and fight the Japanese. But he himself was captured and killed later for this kidnapping."

Emperors Mausoleum

This is somewhere between the terra-cotta warriors and the city. Basically a huge hill constructed by the first Chinese emperor. The terra-cotta warriors are intended to protect this site. A great walk and view at the top on a fine day. At the base of the hill are regular shows re-enacting the life of the royal family. The tomb has yet to be opened to the public, there is supposedly a river or mercury on the interior.

Hot spring pools


As with many Asian cities the roads are an experience in themselves, this is certainly true of Xi'an. If you do take a tour bus try to get the front seats, sit back and wonder at the skill of the drivers.

City lights

Don't miss the chance to explore the city at night, especially around the bell tower where various forms of entertainment is on offer. In particular, the city wall is outlined and highlighted by a line of lights.

Inside south gate

Bell tower

Illuminated city wall

Followers of South Park may have a chuckle over this device being exhibited in the square next to the bell tower.


New exhibition centre

OmniMax (old) theatre

To the west the television tower is unmistakable, unfortunately it doesn't seem possible to go to the top. Next to the television tower is the old OmniMax planetarium, undergoing renovation during my visit. To the side of these is a huge exhibition center, also under construction.

Television tower

Surrounding most of the popular tourist location are street sellers, mostly trinkets of questionable quality and if you initially show some interest and then walk away, will be offered for ridiculously low prices. The market seems saturated by box sets of miniature terra-cotta warriors. One can also not help noticing the large number of pomegranate and persemin vendors, often every 20 or so meters. These are clearly considered exotic fruit by the locals but they are still very cheap.

Baked sweet potato

Endless supply of pomegranates and persemin

The traditional Chinese architecture is certainly prevalent, as graves, monuments, temples, and so on.


The airport is "fairly" modern, the building looks as though it is a sister to the one in Shanghai but a bit smaller. Not sure how common it is but we were ferried by bus to the plane waiting on the tarmac. Be warned, there are few facilities for arriving passengers and the currency exchange booth only works limited hours so you may like to get some initial currency before arriving. Taxis from the airport to the center of the city range from 150 to 200 RMB depending on your negotiation skills....and they may ask you to pay the tolls if you negotiate to well.

Language barrier

The biggest challenge for non Mandarin or Cantonese speakers is the language barrier, very little English is spoken and I imagine that goes double for other languages.