The discovery of life-size clay figures known as the Terra Cotta Warriors put Xi’an (pronounced shee-ahn; formerly Changan) on the international tourist map. But this modern city of more than 5 million people was also once a departure point for the Silk Road and the ancient capital of more than 10 Chinese dynasties.
What We Love
Walking the City Walls: Wonderfully intact, 40-foot-high city walls surround one of China’s four great ancient capitals. A guided walk around the Ming-era structure is a great way to spend a morning or late afternoon.
The Muslim Quarter: Xi’an’s position along the Silk Road brought Muslim merchants to the area as early as the 8th century — and a sizable number of Hui (Chinese Muslims) now live in this neighborhood of narrow lanes, aromatic food stalls and mosques.
Best Known For
Terra Cotta Warriors: One of the world’s greatest archaeological finds, this subterranean army of roughly 8,000 life-size warriors guarded the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, China’s great unifier. Their battle-ready formations include horses and chariots, and no two faces are exactly alike.
Tomb of Emperor Jingdi: Another archaeological marvel, the tomb of this Han-dynasty emperor, who ruled from 188 to 141 B.C., is filled with as many as 50,000 clay figurines of servants, eunuchs and domesticated animals.
Bell Tower and Drum Tower: These pagoda-style towers — one holding a bell rung at dawn and the other a drum beat at dusk — date to the 14th century.
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Who It's Best For
Bucket-List Travelers: The Army of Terra Cotta Warriors demand to be seen in situ. This mind-blowing feat of artistic and logistic genius can’t be appreciated by simply eyeballing one or two statues in a museum setting.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
The Air’s Apparent: The pollution here can be astonishingly bad, so travelers with asthma and other health conditions should take precautions.
Donna Heiderstadt is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Coastal Living and Islands.