Historic city continues to attract as it charges ahead. Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province, has been making the headlines following Samsung Electronics’ recent announcement of a record $7 billion (5.6 billion euros) investment in the city.
The move by the South Korean giant helps seal Xi’an as a major destination for foreign investment in western China, as the provincial capital undergoes rapid modernization and globalization.
But as any fan of Chinese history knows, Xi’an is much more than that.
The ancient Chinese capital, formerly known as Chang’an, or Perpetual Peace, was once the largest settlement in the world. Home to 13 Chinese dynasties and the capital of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), Xi’an preserves priceless facets of China’s glorious past, even as it charges ahead along with the country’s development.
Xi’an rewards visitors with an amazing number of precious relics and historical sites.
Its Terracotta Army is justifiably known as the eighth wonder of the world. The ancient Silk Road also started there, through which China’s influence spread westward.
All these sights mean visitors will still be able to get a fair share of history and culture on short or weekend trips to the city.
Here are a few of the attractions to start with:
1. The Museum of the Terracotta Army
The Terracotta Army is one of China’s most famous attractions. As one of the world’s most significant archaeological finds, this formidable excavation site reveals thousands of life-sized terracotta figures of warriors and horses arranged in battle formations to accompany Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, in the afterlife more than two millennia ago.
Guides will explain the details of the attraction and make the visit even more worthwhile.
The site is about one hour’s drive from the city center of Xi’an. Arrive early to avoid the crowds. (The museum opens at 8:30 am and closes at 6 pm.)
2. Shaanxi History Museum
Many say the history of Xi’an is the history of ancient China. The Shaanxi History Museum, one of the top museums for its collection of Chinese antiquities, offers visitors a crash course on Chinese history to better prepare for the visit of the area’s sights.
The museum, located to the northwest of the iconic Xi’an Wild Goose Pagoda, which is also one of China’s best modern museums. Four major galleries in large, Tang-style buildings house a vast and impressive collection of exhibits that are beautifully displayed with English explanations.
Foreign visitors can get free tickets by showing their passports. It is also possible to bargain at the museum’s gift shops.
3. Xi’an City Wall
Located in the city center, the Xi’an City Wall’s ramparts, gates and watchtowers make up some of the best preserved, as well as oldest and largest city defense systems in ancient China.
This landmark of Xi’an is an extension of the old Tang Dynasty structure that boasts the most complete city wall in China’s long history. Walk, rent a bike or take an electric cart around the full 14-kilometer circuit to enjoy views of the city on either side.
The western gate with its museum is where the Silk Road is said to have started. Bikes can be rented on the wall and the ride around the structure usually takes more than an hour. Wear comfortable shoes and check the tire pressures when choosing a bike.
In summer, the City Wall opens from 8 am to 10 pm. Take an equally enjoyable walk during sunset when lanterns light up the attraction.
4. Night performances
There are several Tang Dynasty dinner shows in Xi’an, such as those at the Shaanxi Grand Opera House and Tang Dynasty Show Palace. These performances usually offer dumpling banquets as well as Tang Dynasty Song and Dance Troupe live performances, the origins of which date back more than 1,000 years.
Colorful costumes, a wide range of traditional instruments and Chinese songs make for an interesting cultural experience.
The dumplings come in different colors and shapes, and with various fillings.
Eating and drinking
As a well-established tourism destination in China, Xi’an offers an international array of Western hotels and restaurants.
Shaanxi traditional local snacks are also available throughout the city. These include roujiamo, finely chopped pork pressed between a steamed bun, and yangrou paomo, a flat loaf of bread in a bowl with noodles, mutton and broth.
Drinks are available at Defuxiang Bar Street near the south gate of the City Wall. The bar street is about 200 meters long from north to south. Prices are comparatively lower than those in Beijing and Shanghai.