To get to the Terracotta Warriors from Shanghai, travelers must first travel 844 miles (1,359 km) to Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi Province, and then travel another 45 minutes or so via private transfer or bus. Once in Xi'an, it's best to book a day tour or hire a driver and guide so you can go at your own pace.
Most multi-city tours of China include a stop in Xi'an in northwest China like the 8-Day China Golden Triangle Tour, 11-Day China's Highlights Tour, 12-Day Highlights from Shanghai to Beijing Tour, and 13-Day Best of China Tour.
Expect a full-day adventure, from early morning to late afternoon/early evening, but it is possible to visit the Terracotta Warriors in half a day if you are pressed for time. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes as the walk from the parking lot is just over half a mile (1 km) from the entrance. There is a tram from the parking lot to the entrance, but often there is a long queue.
Duration: 2.5 hours (flight) + 55 minutes by car
Flying affords the quickest travel time between Shanghai and Xi'an, but by the time you factor in security screening and travel time to and from each airport and potential flight delays, it's easier and more reliable to take the train.
Travelers can take a two-hour and 35-minute nonstop flight from Shanghai to Xi'an and then take a private transfer. There are dozens of nonstop flights from Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport, just 8 miles (13 km) west of the Shanghai city center, and the busier Shanghai Pudong International Airport, which is 18 miles (30 km) to the east to Xi'an Xianyang International Airport.
From Xi'an Xianyang International Airport, a private driver can drive you in just under an hour to the Terracotta Warriors, which are 42 miles (68 km) from the airport.
Duration: 9 to 11 hours (train) + 45 minutes by car
The high-speed train is the most efficient option between Shanghai and Xi'an even though the travel time is more than twice as long. More than RMB220 billion was spent to build China's high-speed rail system (gāotiě)—the largest in the world—that crisscrosses four provinces.
Approximately nine high-speed and a dozen regular trains whisk travelers daily at speeds up to 236 mph (380 kph) between Shanghai and Xi'an (more trains run on weekends and holidays). Second-class, first-class, and Business Class seats are options on all bullet trains. High-speed (non-bullet train) overnight trains offer standing tickets, soft and hard seats along with hard and soft bed options.
Shanghai has four train stations, but only two of them offer travel between Shanghai and Xi'an. Nine or more high-speed trains depart from Shanghai Hongqiao Station, 11 miles (18 km) west of Shanghai's city center, to Xi'an North Railway Station. The journey on a high-speed train takes five hours and 56 minutes to seven-and-a-half hours.
If you're looking to travel on the fastest high-speed trains, book the "G" category trains. There are one or two overnight "D" trains (non-bullet, express trains) that operate between Shanghai Railway Station and Xi'an North Railway Station. The journey takes about 11 hours. There are local, slower overnight trains from Shanghai to Xi'an Railway Station, but these can take up to nearly 21 hours, so we don't recommend them. While the high-speed overnight train trips are time-consuming, passengers can efficiently save one night's accommodation and a day of travel by opting to slumber in a sleeper train.
Most trains have a food counter with simple fare like xīhóngshì chǎo jīdàn (scrambled eggs with tomatoes) and there are hot water dispensers to use for making instant noodles, coffee, and tea. Most of the local trains have snack carts that are pushed through each train car. The carts have similar items that can be found at convenience stores in and around the train stations: instant noodles, potato chips, crackers, cookies, bottled soft drinks, beer, and water.
Once in Xi'an, there is a free shuttle bus for high-speed train passengers at Xi'an North Railway Station to the Terracotta Warriors, but you must show your train ticket and buy an entrance ticket to the Terracotta Warriors for the same day as your train travel (you can buy tickets at the Tourist Service Center inside the train station) before boarding the free shuttle bus.
If you don't want to worry about being led astray or wait for the shuttle bus, which leaves every hour, you can hire a taxi or a private driver, who can drive you in under an hour to the Terracotta Warriors, which are 27 miles (45 km) from the train station.
If you decide to take the night train and book a hard bed option, don't be surprised if you wander off to the restroom or dining car and return to your door-less cabin to find other passengers sitting on the foot of your bed or even curled up in your lower berth bed Booking a soft sleeper (there are four beds in each cabin) is more comfortable and secure as there is a door that locks. In the morning, music is played to wake travelers up and welcome them to Xi'an.
By Private Transfer from Xi'an
Duration: 45 minutes to 1 hour
It is possible to take tourist buses from the East Square of Xi’an Railway Station or from Tang Paradise West Gate and Giant Wild Goose Pagoda to the Terracotta Warriors, which are 25 miles (40 km) northeast of Xi'an, but for a stress-free and quicker route that doesn't include testing your Chinese skills, hire a private driver for the day to take you to the Terracotta Warriors.