Xian was our first destination in China and in honesty it was not what I expected. Xian is far from a sleepy backwater; it is a new, exciting and surprisingly modern city. It is also very smoggy. Xian China is more of a historical city, the ancient structure and architecture now surrounded by sprawling stretches of concrete, traffic and flashing lights, not so different to cities of the west. While the city centre of Xian was not what I expected what we find is better, a city showcasing both old and new China, authentic yet modern. It is also a simple city to navigate centering round the Bell Tower where roads span out North, South, East and West towards city gates (bring a compass?). Photos below are of Xian Bell Tower then each street travelling out, taken from inside the Bell Tower. Here for the top attractions in Xian.
Xian City Wall and City Gates
Tourists rarely venture beyond the City Centre of Xian aka the ‘City Midst’. This is the ‘old city’ centred by the Bell Tower (as above) and surrounding areas are which are held in by city walls with exits North, South, East and West at coinciding city gates. This can be shown in the simple map I pilfered (below). One of the top attractions in Xian is trekking the perimeter of the walls, along the top where a path covers roughly 14km. If planning to circle the city walls the South gate is the best starting point, entrance to access the walls is 54 Yuan+ and bike rental (I think) was 40 Yuan / 100 Minutes (pp). Being lazy we opt for the lazy option touring the perimeter by shuttle car 80 Yuan. All Xian City gates are similar in structure and layout; if you see one you’ve more or less seen them all.
Xian Drum Tower and Muslim Quarter
From the Bell Tower you cannot miss the Drum Tower (North West) which has a similar layout and design to the bell tower (only with drums). Along with the Bell Tower they mark the city centre of Xian and both are top attractions which can be toured on the inside. My advice is tour them quick then get to the Muslim Quarter which sits just behind the Drum Tower on Beijyuanmen Street. Without a doubt one of the best street food streets in Asia (video below) with never-ending aisles of eating.
Transport and Taxis in Xian
Taxis in the city centre of Xian are cheap, easy to find and surprisingly honest. In our time being there we were not asked once for a fixed price; every taxi driver starting the meter without asking. A first for me in Asia; Beijing proving a different story. To be safe stick to the Green Taxis, they are hard to miss. Taxis print receipts, add a 1 Yuan surcharge to it and pay through the seperating bars (as below). There are other (illegal) modes of transport but they will likely rip you off and best used as one off experiences. We paid well over the odds for a three-wheeled Tuk-Tuk Rickshaw thing and was sold a lift in what looked to be a disabled cart.
Airport Shuttle Bus
A shuttle bus runs between Xian Airport and the Bell Tower in Xian City Center. Extremely easy to use and a lot cheaper than taxiing the journey. The drop off point is a short walk from the Bell Tower on West Street; opposite the drum tower, next to the Melody Hotel (shown in images below). Buses leave every 20 minutes in both directions and cost 26 Yuan. Note when travelling to the airport a bunch of dicks may pester you to get a taxi e.g. ‘there’s no more buses’, ‘you’ll be late for your flight’…. don’t listen to them. Thankfully they hound the domestic travellers more as their English isn’t great.
Xian Subway and Beyond City Walls
Xian does have a rather extensive Subway system but chances are you won’t bother with it during a visit. The station in Xian City Centre is found beneath the Bell Tower area (Zhonglou Station). We did use the Subway on two occasions, the first travelling to Xian North Railway Station (for Mount Huashan) and the second to Big Wild Goose Pagoda where we taxied back from for extremely cheap. Unless travelling on a tiny budget the metered taxis will bring you to wherever. Terracotta Warriors maybe best done on a guided tour through hostel / hotel.