Xi’an, a city which blends modern and ancient, is famous for many things including being the end point of the Silk Road. The gateway for the Terracotta Army, there is plenty more to discover in this intriguing destination than 8,000 stony-faced soldiers. Caroline Shaw, from our UK reservations team, recently discovered the best ways to spend time in Xi’an on our Chinese Checkers tour.
1. Cycle the Xi’an City Wall
The Xi’an City Wall is China’s most complete ancient wall stretching for 14 kilometres. The wall separates modern Xi’an and the old city centre. The buildings of the old city on the inside are limited in their height, whereas outside the new buildings reach for the sky. A great way to spend your first afternoon in Xi’an is to cycle along the wall.
The ride is very flat, though due to the old paving stones it can be bumpy in parts. A leisurely pace will see you complete the wall in about an hour and a half. This allows time to stop and take photos overlooking the traditional temples. As you ride you’ll see daily life in both the old and new parts.
For those who don’t feel comfortable on two wheels, there is the option to take a golf cart around the wall. I choose to cycle with three other members of the group. Despite the wall being in the middle of the city, it was a very peaceful experience. Peddling along the wall we took in the picturesque sights, the traditional music coming from the speakers along the wall serenading us throughout.
2. Shop and eat in the Muslim Quarter
As we made our way down to the main street we came across the food stands of the Muslim Quarter selling an array of snacks. There was a huge variety of food on offer, from fried squid to quail eggs, lamb skewers to fried banana.
There were plenty of dishes to try even for vegetarians or the members of the group who didn’t want to try anything too exotic. I sampled some of the veggie options including bamboo stuffed with sweet rice and beans, fried crisps on a skewer and chilli nuts. Pineapple mixed with rice and sugar, heated up slightly before serving, was my favourite.
Heading off the main square we walked into a labyrinth of alleyways. Suddenly the whirlwind of noise from the streets disappeared and we peacefully perused the souvenir stalls, selling local art, chopsticks, souvenirs and clothes. The stall holders were all friendly and didn’t hassle us but be prepared to haggle if you’re interested in buying.
3. Visit the Xi’an Great Mosque
According to the historical records carved in mosque’s stone tablet, the Great Mosque was built in 742 AD during the Tang Dynasty. The largest mosque in China, it covers a total area of 13,000m2 with buildings covering 6,000m2. It was built in the shape of a rectangle from east to west and has four courtyards. As soon as you enter the religious building, you will feel how tranquil the mosque is.
Since opening in 1978 the mosque has received over 10,000,000 visitors from over 100 countries. During our visit as we wandered around the serene courtyards, our guide leading the way, we got a much better understanding of Muslim life in Xi’an.
4. Enjoy a hot pot lunch
A fantastic dining experience to enjoy in China is a ‘hot pot’ meal. This DIY meal is great fun when there is a group of you. On your table you have a small stove burner and a saucepan of hot water to cook your food in. Spread out on the Lazy Susan will be a variety of vegetables, meat. noodles and tofu.
As the meal is cooking, you create sauces from sesame paste, soy sauce, spring onions, chilli and garlic. This was a great dining experience as you get to experiment with flavours and choose the right level of spice for your palette.
5. Explore the Wild Goose Pagoda
A big draw card of Xi’an is the Wild Goose Pagoda. Pagodas are a traditional part of Chinese architecture with the Wild Goose Pagoda considered to be Xi’an’s most famous landmark. It is one of China’s best examples of a Tong-style pagoda and dates back to 652 AD.
The pagoda is spectacular, an incredibly well preserved ancient building, however the gardens were an unexpected surprise. They are the perfect place to sit, relax and enjoy views of the Pagoda.