My trip to Xi’an, northwest China, coincided with my birthday. I love celebrating my birthday abroad. During previous trips, I celebrated my birthday in Thailand, Morroco, and Malaysia, and now I can add China to that list. Fortunately, Xi’an turned out to be a great place for a history lover like me. A city with 3,000 years of history and a dozen of sights to show for it. A perfect recipe for a day I would never forget. Curious how I spent my birthday? In this blog post, I will share a list of the sights that visited on my birthday in Xi’an.
Things to do Xi’an: spending a wonderful birthday
1. Gazing at the Terracotta army
My birthday started early. Around 7.30 am we got in a taxi and drove to the world-famous Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. This was the first emperor of China, and it was definitely a man who liked to think big. Not only did he gave orders to build the Great Wall of China, but Qin also had his eye on an underground mausoleum. He believed that death was the second phase of life on earth and he had to prepare for this. Thousands of workers helped to build his dream tombs with hundreds of chambers and an army of 9,000 terracotta soldiers, horses, and warriors to protect him. Today, only a small portion has been discovered, but it is already enough to fill a museum with.
Grand army, sad exhibition hall
Good to know: the museum buildings housing the excavations of the Terracotta Army aren’t that impressive. Especially building number one. It looks like a giant factory hall with a hole in the middle where the soldiers are standing. Building numbers two and three are a little better. Here you can find an exposition of the dug-up heads of the soldiers, horses, spears, and many more items. Of course, the discoveries aren’t done. It’s all work in progress.
Practical tips for the Terracotta army
- Terracotta Army is located 40 km outside Xi’an, which is about a 1-hour drive.
- You can arrange a taxi to get there, but you can also take the bus. Go to station Fangzhicheng (stop on metro line 1) and hop on Tourism Bus nr. 5 / bus 306. Ticket for this bus is 7 CNY per person.
- Entrance fee for the Terracotta Army is 150 CNY. In comparison to the Forbidden City (60 Yuan) it is quite expensive.
2. Cycling on Xi’an city wall
After a cultural morning at the Terracotta Army, it was time to get active. The old city center of Xi’an is surrounded by a massive city wall from the Ming dynasty. A fun way to explore Xi’an’s city wall is by bike. I love cycling when I’m traveling, but I never cycled on a 600-year-old wall. It’s over 14 kilometers long so it takes quite some time to cycle its total length. Most people do one or two sides of the wall. There are bicycle rental points at every corner, so you can return your bike whenever you want.
Practical tips for Xi’an city wall
- Entrance fee for the Xi’an City Wall is 54 CNY per person.
- Bike rental is 20 CNY for 100 minutes.
- It’s possible to rent longer. Per 10 minutes it is 5 CNY extra.
- Additionally, you also need to pay a deposit of 100 CNY per bicycle.
3. Watching Calligraphy at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda
The Big Wild Goose Pagoda is a remarkable Buddhist monument in Xi’an. Pilgrims from all over China come to this place to admire the holy writings of monk Xuan Zang. This monk made a pilgrimage journey through India and he brought all sorts of things back. For instance, the pagoda with its seven layers was used to store all of his books. Personally, I really liked the park surrounding the Pagoda. On a warm day, locals often come here for some shade and to take a look at the fountain music show on the North Square (starts every other hour). I also watched this show but I was not a fan. What I did like, were the men who practiced their calligraphy on the big grey tiles. With only some water and brushes they created beautiful gracious letters.
Practical tips for Big Wild Goose Pagoda
- Entrance to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is 50 CNY per person.
- To climb the pagoda, you have to pay 25 CNY (March – November) or 20 CNY (December – February) extra.
- The musical fountain show on the North Square is free, unless you want to sit on the viewing platform (30 CNY).
4. Playing rock, paper, scissors at the Drum and Bell tower
We ended the day at the square between the Drum and Belltower (Zhonglou and Gulou). At sundown, this is a nice place to end the day. It’s just around the corner from the Beiyuanmen Street Food Market and close to the restaurants and shops at Dong Daije. On a clear day (just like the day I was there) you can watch the red sunset light reflecting on the beautiful Bell tower which is also a roundabout on the busiest roads of Xi’an.
As we were watching the sunset, we met some young kids who wanted to play rock, paper, scissors. A game that is pretty well-known all over the world. Though my boyfriend lost every time, it was still the perfect ending to a perfect birthday.
Practical tips for Drum and Belltower
- Entrance fee to the Drum and Belltower is 30 CYN each. A combination ticket for both towers is 50 CNY.
- To get here by metro, take metro line 2 and get out at Zhonglou station.
And there you have it: a couple of great things to do Xi’an. Have you ever celebrated your birthday abroad? Tell me where it was!