12 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Xi'an

Jul 22, 2021

One of the world's largest and best-preserved ancient cities, Xi'an is a must-see destination for the history buff. Here you can visit the monumental Terracotta Warriors and Xian's finest collection of imperial treasures and modern buildings. Also explore a collection of world-class museums, fascinating Muslim, Buddhist, and Taoist monuments, and a dizzying maze of cobbled lanes.

The Terracotta Warriors, the work of two unknown sculptors, are the undisputed highlight of Xi'an. Their artifacts provide invaluable insight into the life and culture of China's earliest dynasties, from the former Chinese Imperial Family's personal servants to the symbolic monsters representing the abundance of food on earth.

So if you have two weeks to spend in Xi'an, this is the destination you'll want to focus on. Find out where to stay, what to do, and what to skip by using our list of the top things to do in Xi'an.

The Drum Tower

Photo of Drum Tower of Xi'an
Drum Tower of Xi'an: en.wikipedia.org

This stunning Ming-dynasty construction (15th-16th century), known as 'the Drum Tower' in English, has the hallmarks of Chinese buildings: a square base, and regular rows of windows on each side. This one, with its dramatic crenelations, is the best-preserved of the 30 or so towers that form the Seven Wonders of Xi'an, and has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The Terracotta Warriors

Photo of Terracotta Army
Terracotta Army: en.wikipedia.org

The most well-known terra-cotta warriors are in the tomb of the First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, in Xi'an, and they are simply called the Terracotta Warriors. They were made in two phases between 209 and 220 BC by the First Emperor's followers and most of them were buried in underground chambers and tunnels inside a mound near the palace. During the excavation process from 1974 to 1978, the sites were discovered as a result of the construction of a new dam and lake. Some of the tombs and burial chambers are open to the public and can be visited by guided tour.

Great Mosque of Xi'an

Photo of Great Mosque of Xi'an
Great Mosque of Xi'an: en.wikipedia.org

Founded in the year 220 AD, the first mosque in Xi'an is one of the world's largest Buddhist buildings and certainly its most sacred, a fact reflected in the 1,650 sq. meter, six-level prayer hall. The structure boasts a golden ceiling, 24 stained-glass windows and an elaborate tree of life chandelier. Built by Muslim traders from a region of Central Asia now part of Kazakhstan, the mosque opened in the year AD 806 after a 20-year construction project. When you visit the Great Mosque of Xi'an, you'll also be surrounded by the preserved buildings from the Tang dynasty, which in Xi'an were used as museums for the past 500 years. Today, all is open to the public and displays include the City Wall of Xi'an and the Three Great Immortals.

The Bell Tower

Photo of Bell Tower of Xi'an
Bell Tower of Xi'an: en.wikipedia.org

Built in 1592, The Bell Tower (Lungguan) is the tallest brick tower in the world. It's a must-see site in the heart of old Xi'an, and visitors can walk up the spiral stone staircase to the viewing platform, which gives visitors a splendid 360-degree view of the city, including a clear view of China's Great Wall. The area around the Bell Tower is full of early dynastic buildings, but most important is the Drum Tower (Dinggong), which sits on the other side of the large water moat and originally functioned as the city's main defensive structure.

Forbidden City

Photo of Forbidden City
Forbidden City: en.wikipedia.org

Xi'an's first courtyard, originally constructed around AD 111, the Forbidden City is often considered the most perfect example of its kind and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. It features two of China's most important emperors, the first of which, Qin Shi Huang, ordered the building of the palace, and the second, Emperor Yongle, overseeing the final building stages.

The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor

Photo of Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor
Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor: en.wikipedia.org

Also known as the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, the First Qin Emperor is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Often overshadowed by the "pyramid" of Cheops, a different and equally ambitious structure was built during the reign of the Qin dynasty. The First Qin Emperor's mausoleum is quite different from its Cheops counterpart, being much larger and square in plan. However, the Emperor's role in its construction is the same – to symbolize his role as the first emperor and unifier of China. Located in Xi'an in northern China, the complex was originally built during the reign of Emperor Zhao of Qin and finished around 211 BC.

Jade Buddha Temple

Photo of Jade Buddha Temple
Jade Buddha Temple: en.wikipedia.org

Jade Buddha Temple, also known as Jingdian Temple (in Chinese, pronounced Gwa daan cheu l), is an ancient temple located in the northwest part of Xi'an City, Xi'an, in the Shaanxi province, People's Republic of China. The temple was established in the Qin Dynasty (221 BC - 206 BC). The temple is dedicated to the Yellow Emperor, the First Emperor of the Qin. Located inside, you can see the king of the statue in front of the door with his face coated in white jade and an oval-shaped figure next to him. Also, the Daxiong Hall, made of green jade, with a roof shaped like a duck's back, is very famous. The temple has existed for more than 2,300 years and has a large area of more than 300,000 square meters.

Baiyun Temple

Photo of Guangzhou
Guangzhou: en.wikipedia.org

Baiyun Temple (Baiyun Guan), a Buddhist temple originally built in AD 596, is in Xi'an, a UNESCO world heritage site and capital of Shaanxi province. The enormous structure, with its domed ceiling, wooden pillars and abundant carvings, was the largest temple in China during its time. It is located in the Jiaxing, a residential area, where it is surrounded by typical limestone buildings and many beautiful gardens. Visitors can see the Beiyun Cave where Buddha's footprints are enshrined.

The Temple of Heaven

China's first garden and one of the best examples of Ming architecture, the magnificent Temple of Heaven in Xi'an was built in the 15th century and is still in use today. Also known as the Temple of the Celestial Mountain, the structure is dedicated to the spirit of heaven. Its majestic appearance is constructed with granite stone and impressive wooded surroundings. The gardens of The Temple of Heaven offer a wide variety of exhibitions, from interactive historical documents to planetarium shows, for example. Travel to Xi'an is easy, and once you arrive, public transport is plentiful and easy to access. Bus and train lines connect Xi'an with most major cities in China.

Yungang Caves

Photo of Yungang Grottoes
Yungang Grottoes: en.wikipedia.org

In 1961, a yellow, alabaster statue of Buddha was discovered during the construction of a new building in Yungang Caves, in the city of Xi'an, northwest China. This discovery has sparked worldwide interest and has subsequently led to archaeological expeditions and other excavations in the caves. Built in 1 BC, the caves were built by people in Xi'an's city walls. In 1982, five bronze statues of the Buddha and other Buddhist relics were discovered, along with rock carvings that represent scenes from Buddhist religious tales. The statues are all different from each other, but their faces are the same as those in Japan, suggesting they may have been exported to Xi'an. There are four ways to see the Yungang Caves:

Ancient City Wall

Photo of Fortifications of Xi'an
Fortifications of Xi'an: en.wikipedia.org

Since 2000, Beijing and its surroundings have been undergoing rapid development. Among the inevitable changes was the demolition of the city's ancient wall to make way for the modern highway. Ancient City Wall is located at a major crossing point, along a bridge over the Qinhuai River. Today, it is possible to walk for two and a half hours along the wall and see the marvelous sight of the numerous ancient structures still standing. In addition to this most spectacular historical sight, there are museums in the area as well as some excellent local restaurants. You can also access the area from Xi'an by taking bus 2, or by the recently constructed railway. These take 40 to 60 minutes from the city's main long-distance bus station.

Lama Temple

Photo of Yonghe Temple
Yonghe Temple: en.wikipedia.org

Lama Temple was built during the Sui Dynasty to house the body of a popular Buddhist monk. During its renovation period, several other relics, from stone relics to icons, were discovered inside the temple. This is now the center of Lama culture, and pilgrims from all over the world visit to pay their respects to the holy relics. Xi'an was a capital city during the Tang dynasty and is located in the Shaanxi province. This historical city has recently received over 3 million visitors, making it a must-visit destination. Every night, the bustling streets come alive with performances and opera from local musicians and singers.