Five things to do in Xian, besides visiting the Terracotta Warriors
Shaanxi's capital is home to the Terracotta Army, one of the most visited tourist attractions in China. But there's more to the city than its famed legion of sculpted warriors
Ride a bike around the city wall
Many cities in China have historical sites, but if you really want to see a part of its ancient history, then head to Xian's city walls. These are the most intact city walls in the country as well as being one of the largest military fortifications anywhere in the world. To make the most of it, head there in the late afternoon and stay for the warrior parade performance at 6pm. It's a great spot to catch the sunset, and when it's dark, the wall and watchtowers are lit up in a colourful display. Bicycles are available for hire throughout the day from several huts along the 13.5km route. If you're feeling lazy, you can always take one of the buggies — but be prepared for a bumpy ride.
Take a boat around the moat
Xian has undergone a series of changes in the past three years, especially around the city wall area. It has been regenerated with tourists in mind. One of the most popular features is the moat, which is a great place to relax and spend half a day. For a different experience of the city, rent a boat from the South Gate. These can be hired by the hour. There are larger boats that are more like pleasure cruisers. When you're done being captain for the day, go for a wander around the City Wall Park, which is bursting with flowers and trees. In the morning, you'll find the locals doing their exercises, playing chess and singing Shaanxi opera.
Fountains at Dayanta
Take a trip to Dayanta, also known as Big Wild Goose Pagoda. It is said to be the home of the largest musical fountain display in Asia. Try to be there for the 8.30pm show. Afterwards, wander around the pagoda, where every evening a large group of locals come to dance, sing and shoot the breeze. There's everything from waltz, hip hop and a rather bizarre take on the Texas two-step — and don't be surprised if you're invited to show off your moves. After you're finished making new friends, head to Maan Coffee. Decorated with chandeliers and giant sofas, it overlooks the square and serves hot drinks and the best waffles in town.
Visit the cave people
Just outside the city centre you can find cave dwellings. People have lived in them for thousands of years, and visiting is a great way to gain insight into what life is like for villagers who work and lead a traditional life here. Take a bus to Ma Ming Gong Lu. There are hundreds of dwellings along this road. The inhabitants are very welcoming to tourists — take time to explore the village — the area is surrounded by orchards and feels far away from the hustle and bustle of central Xian. To experience it first hand, you can stay the night in one of the caves with a local family. This can be booked through countrystay.cn or you can stay as part of a tour with Xian Insiders xianinsiders.com.
Eat in the Muslim Quarter
With its position at the end of the Silk Road, Xian has picked up influences from many places and cultures. Sample the mix of Muslim and traditional Chinese food in the city's Muslim Quarter. Walk down the main street and take in the sights and smells as dishes are prepared outdoors. Make sure you try yangrou paomo, which translates as "crumbled flat bread in mutton stew". For dessert, grab a snack from one of the street vendors, such as some sweet cake or fruit on a stick, as you wander through the market.
Tips to beat the crowds
If you go to see the famous Terracotta Army, you should visit the pits in reverse order saving the pit with the most warriors until last. Also, if you want to avoid all the tour groups, the museum is quieter after lunch, so visiting then will cut down on the stress levels and allow you to take your time and get the best photos.