Xi’an has been ranked as the number 2 destination in China for tourists! For Westerner’s however, it hardly stands a chance of winning the popularity contest against Beijing and Shanghai. Xi’an has an immense historical significance in China’s history and was once the capital of 13 imperial dynasties. Formerly known as Chang’an, Xian’s history traces back to the neolithic times.
A quick vocabulary break is in order: the Neolithic Era is also known as the final stage of the Stone Age when the farming lifestyle began and permanent residences were created (source: Wikipedia).
Xian’s wealthy history (& its immaculate preservation) makes it a perfect place for a thriving tourism industry. Conveniently, there are direct flights to Xi’an from the United States with Hainan Airlines. There are a multitude of activities to do, places to see, and food to eat in Xi’an. This post will help you start planning your trip to Xi’an!
Many countries require a visa for China. Use this website to see if you will require a visa with your passport. As an American citizen, I had to apply for a 90-day Visa to China which cost $140. A ten year visa is the same price therefore consider applying for the ten year instead. The application process took 4 business days and two trips to the Chinese Embassy; one to bring in all the necessary paperwork and the other to pick up my passport/visa. The embassy does not accept mail-in applications. I recommend going to the Chinese Embassy as soon as it opens to avoid long lines. Each one of my visits took roughly an hour.
- China Visa Application Form: You can download a copy of the form here. This application needs to be filled out in capital letters with ink and all items that don’t apply to you must be labeled as N/A. Even one mistake on the form can lead to rejection!
- U.S. Passport: The passport must have 6 months of validity, measured from the date at which you are scheduled to land in China. It also needs to have at least two blank pages – one for the visa and one for the customs stamps.
- Passport Photo: This photo must follow the general requirements of all passport visa photos: no head covering, no smile, nothing covering the eyes (regular glasses allowed, not sunglasses). The background should be pure white. The embassy in New York has a photo booth just in case.
- Copy of itinerary: Flights + Hotels
- Copy of Passport: The embassy in New York has a copy machine (25 cents per copy).
Where to Stay: Shangri-La Hotel, Xi’an
Located near the heart of the tech business neighborhood, the Shangri-La Hotel, Xian embodies modern comfort with floor to ceiling windows, spacious rooms and a contemporary design. When staying at any Shangri-La property, I highly recommend booking the horizon club experience which gives you access to a VIP check-in service, late check-out privileges and the Horizon Club: an exclusive lounge which typically serves daily breakfast, drinks, and hors d’oeuvres. The Horizon Club experience also has other unique benefits such as personal concierge, access to meeting facilities, and even a personal butler at select properties (including Xi’an).
Make sure to pay a visit to Tian Xiang Ge, the hotels traditional take on Chinese cuisine. This will easily be one of the most authentic and upscale dining experiences you will have in Xi’an. Each dish is crafted to perfection and meticulously designed as a work of art rather than just a meal. Chef Mike Li has over 17 years of experience and every dish is so well curated that it looks just as good as it tastes!
In the Neighborhood
1. Muslim Quarter –
Muslim Quarter is probably the last thing you think you’d see in Central China: several blocks inhabited by over 20,000 Muslims, a dozen mosques, and scattered halal food and Arabic souvenir shops. A quick history lesson is in order: Xi’an was the starting point of the ancient Silk Road 1,000+ years ago. Many merchants and students from Persia and Arabic countries lived, studied and worked in Xi’an … eventually marrying and having kids. The Muslim Quarter is colorful, it’s loud, it’s crowded and it smells absolutely horrible. When I saw it, I feel in love instantly. The energy vibrated through me: I couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying, I couldn’t make out what that fried 8 legged thing on a skewer was and it was so loud that I couldn’t hear my own thoughts. The Muslim Quarter is popular among tourists and locals alike and it is well worth the visit!
2. Terracotta Warriors –
The Terracotta Army in Xi’an is a collection of life size army statues representing the army of of troops (and their horses) of the first emperor Qin Shi Huang of the first unified dynasty of Imperial China. These sculptures date back to over 2,000 years but were actually discovered only in the 1974. Local farmers were digging a well for their village and stumbled upon this historical site of 8,000+ sculptures! In fact one of the founding farmers, Yang Ji De, sits in a local tea shop near the museums and signs his book.
3. Tangbo Art Museum –
At the Tangbo Art Museum you will see Ancient China through a number of vital art collections presented in sequence from Shannxi Folk Art to local contemporary artists. The exciting part about this museum is that at the end of the tour you will get to practice your calligraphy skills with a professional!
4. Giant Wild Goose Pagoda-
One of the reason I love China is so much is because of the way the people and government preserve its history. The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, also known as the Dayan Pagoda was built in 652. It is a well preserved historic site and one of great importance to Buddhists. The are around the Pagoda is also very scenic: featuring many smaller temples and gardens!
5. Ancient City Wall-
To piggy back off historical preservation, the Ancient City Wall, built from 1,370 to 1,378 AD, is the largest and best preserved city wall in all of China! Chinese city walls were built as the defense systems to protect the cities or towns in China.* Visitors can walk or bike the perimeter of the wall while enjoying the city views or make sure to check the schedule for performances at the Southern Gate!
6. Tomb of Emperor Jingdi (Hanyangling)
The Tomb of Emperor Jingdi is an underrated spot in Xi’an. This museum is the real burial place of a the Han-dynasty emperor Jingdi (188–141 BC). Upon entering, you are required to cover your shoes with plastic bags as most of the museum features a glass floor with relics that you can see underneath your feet. Inside the museum there are narrow pits with over 50,000 buried Terracotta figurines as well as their servants and domesticated animals. The museum is only 20 minutes from the airport so it is the perfect location to visit during a stopover, too!
7. Mount Huashan
Mount Huashan is commonly known as the “World’s Most Dangerous Hike”. The mountain itself is known as one of the five greatest and most sacred mountains in China. If you are a thrill-seaker, make sure to check out Chang Kong Plank Road … you may have seen photos of this narrow wooden trail built alongside a vertical cliff more than 1,000 meters above ground.