Trips to hot springs, ancient archeological sites, and temples can easily fill one day in Xian.
The well-preserved landmarks make Xian one of the best travel destinations in China for history buffs. It should be, as one of the oldest cities in China, and the oldest of the Four Great Ancient Capitals. Thanks to the 1990s economic revival of inland China, there’s plenty more to do, too.
Within the Muslim Quarter, you can lose yourself in the twisting alleys lined with shops and stalls. In the modern urban areas, you’ll find an assortment of bars, resorts, and fine-dining restaurants.
Located in the middle of fertile plains surrounded by rivers and mountains, the region outside the city also has lots to offer.
Don’t know how to spend your time? Start planning your trip with this complete 1-day Xian itinerary…
What to do in Xian in 24 hours: A complete 1-day itinerary
Luckily, the metro makes it easy to go quickly from one spot to the next.
You’ll start in Lintong, where you’ll get to examine the archeological site containing hundreds of Terra Cotta Warriors. From there, you’ll travel toward downtown, with a stop at a hot springs pool.
When you reach the bustling city centre, you’ll get to spend the rest of the day on foot, exploring all of the cool temples, museums, and cultural sites.
Kick-off your trip with a visit to the Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum
You’ll start your 24 hours in Xian at the Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, giving you a chance to see the most visited tourist attraction in the city.
By car or bus, the mausoleum is about 45 minutes from downtown Xian, located in the Lintong district. Several bus routes into the city have stops at the mausoleum, so it’s not too hard to start off here.
Arriving at the site first thing in the morning also helps you beat the crowds to the museum and the nearby archeological dig.
The mausoleum is over 2,000 years old and not fully excavated. In fact, you can’t tour the tomb. You can take a trip through the museum and check out some of the artifacts that they’ve uncovered.
The museum has English language tours and displays, which will help you learn more about the history of the first Qin emperor. The real treat is just down the road.
When you complete the tour, walk down the street to reach the archeological dig housing the Terracotta Army. While the tomb has not been excavated, the terracotta sculptures are on display.
Archeologists estimate that the uncovered complex housed over 8,000 sculptures of soldiers intended to guard the emperor in the afterlife.
PRO TIP: Want to simplify your visit to the mausoleum? Hop onto the Xi’an Terracotta Walking Tour! The tour includes a skip-the-line ticket and the convenient option for a round-trip transfer to & from your hotel in Xi’an.
Relax in hot springs at the Mountainside Huaqing Palace
After you finish counting the soldiers of the Terracotta Army, it’s time for a trip to a pool. Hop on the tourist bus 306 to Huaqing Palace.
The relic site includes a mausoleum and museum built along the mountainside, but the real treat is the hot springs pool. Enjoy scenic views of the surrounding area from the comfort of an invigorating hot spring.
The hot springs, mausoleum, and the Huaqing Palace are over a thousand years old, built at the foot of the mountain. If you come back to Xian for more than just day, hike the mountain trails to reach some of the lookout spots.
At several peaks on the path, you can look out and see downtown Xian from the mountain.
While touring Huaqing Palace, you’ll also get a chance to try some local cuisine. Across from the parking lot entrance, you’ll discover an entire street lined with restaurants. Choose from noodle shops, family restaurants, and even a Subway.
PRO TIP: Looking to further explore the outskirts of Xi’an? Join in on the Private Old Xi’an Tour! The tour includes stops at the Terracotta Warriors and Horses, Banpo Neolithic Village, and Huaqing Hot Springs along with round-trip transportation and a Chinese lunch.
View the ancient Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
If you don’t fall asleep in the hot springs, you should still have plenty of time left to explore the rest of Xian in one day. First, you’ll need to reach the outskirts of the city centre to visit the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda.
Jump on the Xian metro train leaving the relic site or take a taxi to the pagoda, located in the Yanta District. South of the downtown area, the pagoda is part of the Daci’en Temple complex, along with two large halls and a forest.
The original structure includes eleven stories, but an earthquake levelled part of the pagoda. Seven stories remain, standing about 64 metres tall.
Tour the inside of the pagoda to view engraved Buddha statues lining the walls.
PRO TIP: Want to learn more about Xian’s Buddhist culture? Book yourself onto a Big Wild Goose Pagoda Small-Group Buddhism Tour!
Get close to ancient culture with at the Shaanxi History Museum
From the ancient Buddhist landmark, travel up to Xiying Road, and head west to continue your cultural tour of the city with a stop at the Shaanxi History Museum.
Trying to see all of the museums in Xian in 24 hours is impossible. If you can only see one, visit the Shaanxi History Museum to view one of the largest collections in China.
The museum has over 370,000 items, from paintings to pottery. You can also view ancient coins, murals, and various gold and silver objects.
Covering over 55,000 square metres, the main exhibition hall features traditional Tang architecture. Throughout the various exhibits, you’ll get to see pieces of history from all 13 of the feudal dynasties that once ruled Xian.
The museum even has a few of the soldiers from the Terracotta Army. In contrast to the life-size soldiers, you may enjoy the painted funerary guards of Prince Qinjian. The small figures stand about two feet tall, but there are hundreds of them lined up on display.
PRO TIP: Want to get more insight into history of Xian? Hop onto the Xi’an Full-Day Sightseeing Tour! The tour includes stops at the Shaanxi History Museum, Big Wild Goose Pagoda, and the Great Mosque.
Enter the historic area through the south gate of the ancient city walls
When you finish appreciating the exhibits at the museum, it’s time to enter the downtown area. Continue west until you get to Chang’an Middle Road, taking you all the way to the southern gate.
Even if you’ve only got 10 days in China, you’ll likely have time for a short trip to Xian and a visit to the historic area bordered by the ancient fortifications of the city.
The city walls remain mostly intact, thanks to continuous maintenance and occasional renovations. You can now walk on the top of the wall and get views of the surrounding area.
The walkways are wide, measuring over six metres. The top also includes benches, lanterns, and three watchtowers.
Walking the wall allows you to enjoy the scope of the construction, considering the age of the structure. If you want to give your feet a rest, you can ride an electric car around the entire length of the wall.
PRO TIP: Need a great introduction to Xi’an? Book yourself onto the One Day Xi’an Highlights Tour! Stops include the Terracotta Warriors and the City Wall.
View more of the city from the base of the iconic Bell Tower of Xian
The Bell Tower is one of the first things that you’ll see as you pass through the southern gate. It’s directly in front of you on the other side of Xian Huancheng Park.
Built during the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century, the Bell Tower has a large square base covering over 1,300 square metres. It’s topped with a multi-storey pagoda. The timber and brick structure measures close to 40 metres high.
It’s one of the largest and best-preserved bell towers in the country and a symbol of the city. Over the years, parts of the tower have closed for renovations.
Currently, part of the base should be open to the public. From the base, you get a great view of Xian, as it’s in the centre of the old city. Four roads extend in each direction from the tower and you can look down each of them to see the layout of historic Xian.
The tower is one of the most visited spots in the city and the most popular photo-op. Snap a few photos in the evening. As the sun sets, the surrounding area lights up, highlighting the features of traditional Chinese architecture.
PRO TIP: Want to make new friends as you explore Xi’an City Wall? Join in on the small-group Xi’an City Wall Guided Tour and let a professional guide weave together stories of Xi’an’s illustrious past as you walk (or bike) along the wall!
Enjoy local specialities at Huimin Street
By the time you finish exploring the Bell Tower, your stomach should be growling. It’s time to fill it up with a selection of local delicacies found on Huimin Street.
Huimin Street is a popular food street and one of the noisiest spots in the city. The vibrant area contains small shops crowded together and streets overflowing with stalls.
As you walk the street, vendors shout over each other for your attention. It’s loud, bright, crowded, and the perfect end to your trip around Xian.
Fill up on lamb and other staples of the local Muslim culture or try authentic Chinese dishes, such as savoury grilled duck. You’ll also have plenty of street food to choose from, including greasy fried dumpling-like snacks filled with various meats and vegetables.
Besides food, you’ll come across vendors selling crafts, souvenirs, and trinkets. If you’re not interested in the local goods or cuisine, you’ll find a few fast-food restaurants around the corner.
Unfortunately, there are still a lot of places you could add to a Xian itinerary, but there is not enough time. If you come back for a longer trip, try to visit more of the historic sites, such as Stele Forest or the Banpo archeological dig.
PRO TIP: Building up an appetite? Explore Xi’an with your tastebuds on the awesome Xi’an Gourmet & Street Food Tour! Includes tastings of at least ten local dishes including such as steamed dumplings, barbecued lamb, bingfeng (orange soda), and peanut candy.
Where to stay: The best hotels for 24 hours in Xian
As with many larger cities in China, trying to decide where to stay in Xian can sometimes be challenging. Although the city spreads out over a large area, the best districts to stay for a layover in Xian include Xincheng and Beilin in the city centre. Here are a few of the best hotels to keep on the lookout for…
- Campanile Xian Bell Tower Hotel: An excellent choice for travellers on a tighter budget looking to get front-and-centre with the top tourist sites in Xian.
- Eastern House Boutique Hotel: A fantastic boutique hotel featuring large rooms with a ton of space and a whole lot of style. It’s located close to many of the main stops on this one-day Xian itinerary.
- Sofitel Legend People’s Grand Hotel Xian: A top choice for luxury in the city, this grand hotel features, in addition to its elegant rooms, a host of excellent amenities including several on-site restaurants, lounges, bars, sauna, spa, and fitness centre. It’s the prefect choice for a romantic getaway in Xian.