Xian was one of the original historical capitals of China for over 1,000 years. Over five days you'll discover its secrets and highlights, such as the ancient City Walls and of course the thousands of clay statues that comprise the Terracotta Army. You'll cap the adventure with a trip to Luoyang where you'll see thousands of Buddhist rock carvings that date to the 5th century.

Highlights

  • See the famous Terracotta Army of Xi'an
  • Visit city highlights like the Ancient Walls and Muslim Quarter
  • Tour the Longmen Grottoes and see historic Buddhist rock carvings

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Xi'an Xi'an
Day 2 Xi'an Highlights Tour - Cooking Class Xi'an
Day 3 History & Culture Tour of Xi'an Xi'an
Day 4 Day Trip to Longmen Grottoes Xi'an
Day 5 Departure from Xi’an  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Xi'an

There are thousands of Terracotta Warriors
There are thousands of Terracotta Warriors

Welcome to China and Xi'an!

This city is notable for many things. With over 12 million residents, it's the most populous city in north-central China. It's also the oldest of the country's Four Great Ancient Capitals. It was founded way back in 202 BCE and has served as the capital city of 13 imperial dynasties. 

Perhaps most famously, Xi'an is home to the Terracotta Army. This massive collection of incredibly detailed, life-size clay sculptures depict the armies of Qin Shi Huang. He was the founder of the Qin Dynasty and the first emperor of China, reigning from 221 BCE to 210 BCE. Upon Qin's death, this clay army was buried with him so as to guard him in the afterlife. 

Upon arrival at the airport, you'll transfer to your hotel for check-in. If you have the energy, head out to a local restaurant for dinner. In Xi'an you can sample various styles of Chinese cuisine, including Cantonese and Sichuan.

Specific items to try include Xi'an kebabs (chuan'er), mutton dumplings (suantang shuijiao), and Biang Biang noodles, which are broad, hand-stretched noodles often served with spicy chiles. Also not to be missed is roujiamo, similar to a hamburger and which consists of baked bread filled with braised, shredded meat.

Day 2: Xi'an Highlights Tour - Cooking Class

The Terracotta Army
The Terracotta Army

A car will meet you in the morning at your hotel for the one hour drive east of Xi'an to Mount Li, home to the Terracotta Army Museum and the famous life-size warrior sculptures.

The excavation site where these earthen sculptures were found is part of a larger necropolis: the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. He was the founder of the Qin Dynasty and died in 210 BCE. This enormous site covers approximately 38 square miles (98 square km), and its discovery in 1974 represents one of the most important archeological finds of the 20th century. 

The famous terracotta warrior sculptures were created to be symbolic guardians of Qin's burial tomb and thus protect his spirit in the afterlife. And the hundreds of thousands of artisans and government workers tasked with building them spared no expense. They created thousands of figures, all incredibly detailed and distinct according to their roles within the army.
 
Touring the massive excavation pits, you'll see various warriors, chariots, and cavalry figures. Originally, they were positioned around the burial mound as if on guard and standing at attention in a military formation. There are also non-military figures in certain excavation pits that represent musicians and even acrobats. 

You'll break for lunch then drive back to Xi'an. Your next stop is the city center and the famous Fortifications of Xi'an. These stone walls were commissioned in the late 14th century by Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, to protect the city. They run a length of 8.7 miles (14 km) in a rectangular pattern and are the most well-preserved ancient walls in all of China. The best way to experience tour these ramparts is on a bicycle ride, which you can do if weather permits. 

After touring the ancient walls, you'll return to your hotel. In the evening you'll have the option to join a local family for dinner where you'll learn how to make traditional Chinese dumplings.

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Day 3: History & Culture Tour of Xi'an

The Mulsim Quarter of Xi'an
The Mulsim Quarter of Xi'an

After breakfast, you'll head to the Shaanxi History Museum, located in south Xi'an. This state-run, modern museum is one of the nation's largest. It has accumulated over 370,000 ancient artifacts that were unearthed in Shaanxi Province. These include bronze items dating to the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE), ceramic figures, and murals found in tombs dating to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 ACE). It's a great place to get an overview of the region's history.

You'll break for lunch then head to the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, a well-preserved example of Xi'an's rich history. It's a seven-story Buddhist pagoda made of solid brick and was constructed in 652 ACE.  As for the unique name, it derives from a Buddhist legend of a "giant wild goose" that fell out of the air dead in front of a group of monks. Supposedly this was a sign telling the monks to be more pious, so they built a pagoda on the very spot where they found the goose.  

Later, you'll visit the historic Muslim Quarter. Located in the center of Xi'an behind its ancient walls, the old buildings lining the narrow streets here are home to Xi'an's Muslim, or Hui, community. It might come as a surprise, but Islam is the most enduring of all faiths in the city. It was first introduced by Arab merchants during the Tang Dynasty and flourished during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). Today the Muslim Quarter is a popular area with many shops, restaurants, and street-food vendors.

After the tour, you'll return to the hotel and will have the remainder of the day free.

Day 4: Day Trip to Longmen Grottoes

The ancient caves at Longmen Grottoes
The ancient caves at Longmen Grottoes

After breakfast, you'll take hop a train for the two-hour ride to the city of Luoyang. A guide will meet you at the train station and you'll transfer by vehicle to Longmen Grottoes.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site dates to 493 ACE and is comprised of 2,300 caves carved out of limestone cliffs along the Yi River. Besides the caves there are 118,000 stone Buddha statues, 2,800 inscriptions on steles, and 60 Buddhist stupas. Creating the Longmen Grottoes was an ongoing process, with the actual carving occurring between the Wei Dynasty of the late fifth century to the Tang Dynasty in the mid-18th century. All in all, the project took 400 years to complete.

After touring the grottoes you'll return to Luoyang and hop on a train for the ride back to Xi'an. You'll transfer back to your hotel and will have the evening free.

Day 5: Departure from Xi’an

Farewell, Xi'an
Farewell, Xi'an

At the appropriate time, you will transfer to the airport for your departure flight home. Until next time!

Map

Map of Highlights of Xi'an - 5 Days
Map of Highlights of Xi'an - 5 Days
Max
Written by Max Yang, updated Feb 14, 2020