Visiting Xi’an was one of the most affordable trips I’ve taken in a while. Generally speaking, I am rather frugal and am careful about what I choose to spend my money on. If I’m going to splurge on anything, it has to be travel related. So of course it’s always extra exciting if I can have an amazing trip that doesn’t cost a lot of money.
This is one of the great perks of traveling around Asia where there are loads of affordable travel destinations. Living in Shanghai, though, isn’t always cheap, so it’s nice to travel to other cities and save some money.
Xi’an, however, is super affordable! For two nights at our hostel, we each only paid $11 USD. For less than $6 a night, I would have gladly stayed longer. Round trip flights from Shanghai were roughly $100. As terrible as it sounds, I’ve spent that on a single night out in Shanghai before!
So now that I’ve shamefully admitted that on occasion I can waste far too much money hanging out in the city, let’s talk about why Xi’an is worth a visit (and how affordable it really is).
Traveling anywhere in China can be quite fascinating. The culture has been around forever, seemingly; there’s so much history to be discovered. The history of Xi’an is one that dates back more than 2,000 years. Xi’an was home to the Qin Dynasty, a fact that plays an important role in its recent popularity as a tourist city. It’s been said to be the starting point of the Silk Road, and there’s a enjoyable combination of Muslim and Chinese cultures. There is really a lot to experience in Xi’an. It feels as though you’re being transported back in time, and it’s absolutely amazing. Let your imagination take you away when you visit, and make the most of your trip!
What to Do
1. Terracotta Army (bingmayong – 兵马俑)
The top of the list is, of course, the Terracotta Army. This is what has brought in so many tourists in recent years, and odds are it’s one of the main things you think of when you hear “Xi’an.” Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Qin Dynasty had this army created to protect his tomb. The Warriors and Horses were discovered only 43 years ago in 1974. Since then, it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Seeing pictures simply does not do this archeological find justice. There are three separate pits filled with members of the Terracotta Army. The amount of time it must have taken and the commitment to the first emperor is just amazing. It all seems too magnificent to truly comprehend, especially when you think about how long ago these were created.
Cost: 145 RMB
Directions: Take a bus to the Xi’an Railway Station. 1-2 RMB. Hop on bus 306 which will take you to the Terracotta Army (Bingmayong – 兵马俑 in Chinese). It’s about a one hour drive and costs about 8 RMB.
Important: BRING YOUR PASSPORT. YOU WILL NEED IT TO GET IN!
2. Bike the City Walls
This one was super fun for me. I never would have imagined myself biking the city walls of an ancient capital city. The walls are in pretty good shape, but the bike ride is a bit rough. They stop renting out bikes after 6 pm, so it’s important to show up before then.
Cost: 54 RMB to enter and get up on the city walls. 45 RMB to rent a bike for 2 hours. 200 RMB deposit for the entire group, which you should get back unless you do something terrible to the bikes!
Directions: Easily accessible from the same stop to catch the bus to go to the Terracotta Army (hint: look for stairs with a ticket box/security below). That’s the North Gate. The other gates have the bikes as well, and you can drop off at any of the locations around the wall.
3. Muslim Street Market (Beiyuanmen Islamic Street)
Every one of my Chinese coworkers and parents of the students I tutor told me that the food is amazing. They weren’t lying. Do yourself a favor and read up on some of the best dishes in Xi’an.
Going to the Muslim Street Market at night was a memorable experience with such tasty food and a lively atmosphere. Nighttime is definitely the best time to go. Come hungry and try as much as you can!
Cost: However much it takes to get full! Each item typically costs between 10-20 RMB.
Directions: Not far from the city center, you’ll want to find Beiyuanmen street -it’s located right behind the Drum Tower, which you can see from the Bell Tower. Across from the circle of the Bell Tower, there are some stairs that lead to a Starbucks and an alley of restaurants and shops. If you follow that alley to the Drum Tower, Beiyuanmen will intersect on the right.
4. View the Bell Tower at Night
You pretty much can’t get around Xi’an without seeing the Bell Tower. It’s the center of everything, so you’ll constantly come across it. Make sure you make a stop near it at night though while it’s lit up and even more beautiful.
Directions: You can’t miss it, honestly. It is the center of everything. If that isn’t useful to you, the metro stop is Zhong Lou.
5. The Shaanxi History Museum
This one I recommend lightly. If you have time and are looking for a way to spend an hour or two, go for it. There’s a lot of cool things to check out, including history of the Shaanxi people, how the Terracotta Army was made, and lots of bronze as it was popular at that time. It is an EXTREMELY POPULAR museum and with a great reputation. The museum provides you with a lot of history (some in English), however a lot is in Chinese (naturally). Enjoy reading what is available to you and move right along. We enjoyed it overall, but were slightly underwhelmed. Some of the exhibits have an additional cost which can be quite hefty (300 RMB). We opted out of those, so maybe that’s part of the reason this museum didn’t completely blow us away. It was worth 30 RMB and skipping the line though!
As mentioned before, this museum is insanely popular, so the queue to get in is crazy long. Pro tip: Skip the line and walk up to the ticket office across from the mass of people. I don’t know if people are unaware they can get tickets at the other ticket window, but there is no line. Considering the long queue, it’s of course busy on the inside as well. You won’t be able to spend as much time reading and pacing yourself due to the crowds, so you don’t need to leave a ton of time to see it all.
Cost: 30 RMB
Directions: Off of Line 3 or Line 2 – stop: Xiaozhai. Take exit C, turn left, and walk until you see a giant queue of people under tents on the sidewalk (or about 800 meters).
Xi’an is surprisingly easy to navigate. We took taxis, buses, and the metro several times. We never had any issues, even with the buses! Don’t be afraid to go the cheapest route here. It’s relatively simple, so no worries! If you do find yourself needing a cab, they are still really affordable, just make sure you know the street names you’re looking for.
The entire weekend – museums, food, sites, transportation, flights from Shanghai, and accommodation cost just under $175 USD.
We had such a great time in the day and a half we had to explore. There are plenty of other places to visit in Xi’an if you’re staying longer than I did, but with limited time, these were the 5 things at the top of my list.