Ahhh, Xian you were definitely a surprise packet. A city on the small side by Chinese standards, but with a population of 12 million, still one of the most populated cities in Western China! Visiting Xian with kids should be on every travelling family’s Chinese itinerary. There’s definitely more to Xian than the Terracotta Warriors but visiting China without seeing them is like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower!
I definitely underrated Xian and only had a very short amount of time there. I wish we had allowed a few days to see all the top things to do in Xian. Of course the Terracotta Warriors are a big drawcard for many people, however many think that’s all there is to do in Xian. But that couldn’t be further than the truth.
You’re also welcome to join my Hong Kong & China Travel Planning Facebook group – it’s a great resource for all things travel in Hong Kong & China!
Xian, once part of the Silk Road, has a great vibe and is a little less intense than other larger Chinese cities and due to the Terracotta Warriors the city is well equiped for tourists. Getting to Xian is very streamlined particularly given it is a well worn tourist path between Beijing and Xian enabling people to tick off the two major Chinese tourist attractions in the Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Warriors.
My guide on Beijing with kids, includes a comprehensive section on visiting the Great Wall of China and lays out all the different sections of the wall and which are best for everyones personal fitness level. Heading to Shanghai? I’ve got you covered there too, with our Ultimate guide to visiting Shanghai with Kids, Our Ultimate Guide!.
Getting around China is very easy with the introduction of the fast rail system, you can read my guide on booking a train for Beijing and Xian however the guide can be utilised to book any rail tickets in China and includes a detailed section on reading the tickets to ensure you get to the right platform, carriage and seat without having to ask anyone!
Xian is an exciting city in China, it’s not as big and overwhelming as some of the other better known Chinese cities but there is still plenty to do to keep the kids busy and entertained. Not sure where to begin with your Xian trip, don’t fret I’ve done it for you, see below for amazing things to do in Xian with kids or even without kids!
Visiting The Terracotta Warriors
This is the main attraction in Xian and probably what put Xian on the tourist map to start with. I can honestly say a trip to China is not complete without visiting the Terracotta Warriors.
I recommend getting to the Terracotta Warriors early, the earlier the better. I arrived after lunch and the crowd was definitely something I could have missed. Going early ensures you get there before the tour buses. I have to admit, the local people were very respectful and often moved out the way so I could have a better view.
The Terracotta Warriors were only discovered in 1974 by a farmer drilling series of wells looking for water. By 1976, three pits had been uncovered, within these three pits were 8,000 Terracotta Warriors and horses and more than 100 chariots. It is estimated to have been buried in the earth for approx 2,200 years. I got to meet the farmer and have my photo with him.
In 1987, the Terracotta Warriors and the surrounding Mausoleum and Museum were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as a world-class cultural heritage site. I’m not going to harp on about it but you definitely need to include it on every China itinerary.
If you’re more of an organised tour type person I have included a link below to a tour commencing from downtown Xian. Tour includes pick up from your hotel, making this the most hassle free experience.
If the full day tour is not what you want, click the link below, scroll down to the bottom and you’ll find a variety of other options for half day tours and tours that include the Xian Walled City.
There are plenty to choose from so click the link and have a look at which tour suits you best.
Getting to the Terracotta Warriors from Xian independently
If you are travelling independently or on a budget, I have listed a few different ways to get to the Terracotta Warriors. You can choose an option based on your budget but also on how comfortable you are getting around on transport within China.
Get the tourist bus
The tourist bus #5 (also known as bus #306) runs from East Square of the Xian Railway Station. The bus runs every 7 mins between 8am – 7pm, the price is 7Y – equivalent to $1.20AUD. The bus takes approx 1 hour however you do have to allow for the particularities of China. Some say the bus leaves when full yet the official comment is every 7 mins. It will likely depend on whether it is peak season or not.
This however is a very budget friendly option particularly if you are on a flexible itinerary and like all things in China, I’m sure it will be a great experience.
Get a taxi
If you are planning on getting a taxi, I would speak to the concierge prior and wouldn’t attempt to hail one off the street. Taxi’s in China are notorious for ripping off tourists so a well trusted taxi driver would be beneficial and I’m sure your hotel reception or door man will assist you.
Expect the ride to take approximately 1 hour plus from downtown Xian, its about 65kms but depends on traffic. Expect to pay 150Y-200Y – equivalent to $30-$40AUD each way trip.
If you’re after a stress free ride, a pre-booked private transfer might be the best option. I will say that this is quite an expensive option but it does give you the option to design your own itinerary and include a number of attractions in the one day.
Pre-book your tickets to the Terracotta Warriors
If you’re like me and prefer to be organised, you can pre-book your entry ticket through the link below. It would be a terrible shame to get the bus or pay for a taxi or transfer only to arrive and the tickets to be sold out.
I always just feel comfortable when I have the tickets in my hand and know that once I get there all should run pretty smoothly. If you’re the same, click the link below to pre-purchase and choose the date that suits your itinerary.
Things to do in Xian with kids - Free or minimal charge
While most people really only visit Xian to see the Terracotta Warriors there are plenty of other things to do in Xian with kids so make sure you give yourself a bit of time to explore there. My biggest regret was not spending enough time in Xian especially after I saw all the fun things you can do there.
There are quite a few things you can do in Xian independently, I recommend Xian as the place to get out and explore alone. Its a smaller city than Beijing and Shanghai and I found the local people to be very approachable and willing to help.
Xian City Wall
Xian city centre is surround by a brick wall similar in style but not quite as grand or popular as the Great Wall of China. Built in 1370 the wall stretches for 13.7kms. There are four main gates the Change Gate in the East, Anding Gate in the West, Yongning Gate in the South and Anyuan Gate in the North.
Walking around the wall at your leisure costs a small entrance fee 54Y ($11AUD) per adult and 27Y ($6AUD) per child however you are also able to hire electric buggies/vehicles or a bicycle. I think the bicycle would be the most fun and traditional way to explore the wall. You can go all the way around or part, depending on your fitness level.
To complete the whole circle takes 1.5 to 2 hours at a medium speed. Bicycle deposit is 100Y ($20AUD). The single bicycle costs 45Y ($9AUD) for 3 hours. The tandem bicycle costs 90Y ($18AUD)/3 hours. Tandem would be a great option if you are travelling with younger kids.
Getting there is easy, catch the Metro Line 2 and either get off at Yongningmen Station and walk to the South Gate or get off at Anylianmen Station and walk to the North Gate.
Drum Tower/Bell Tower
Located right in the centre Xian the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower are located right close to each other. The Bell Tower was built in 1384, close to the Drum Tower, as the city grew the geographical centre moved so in 1582, the tower was moved 1,000 meters east of the original site.
Both are wooden towers, which are the largest and best-preserved of their kind in China, and while they are quite beautiful to see during the day, an evening visit should not be missed. I visited right on the golden hour and it was spectacular. One of my favourite photos from my trip.
There is a small entrance fee to walk around the Towers, 30Y ($6AUD) per person per Tower however if you purchase a combined entry for the Drum and Bell Tower it will cost 50Y ($10AUD) which is great if you were planning on visiting both.
Getting there is very straight forward, catch the Metro Line 2 and get off at the Zhonglou Bell Tower Station. However all roads lead to the centre of town and I’m sure you wont be able to miss it.
Xian Dang-dang Sightseeing Bus
A recent addition to Xian, they currently have 2 lines running and a 3 line due to commence soon will include Xian to the Terracotta Warriors. The sightseeing bus is a very affordable option check the prices below for each line:
- Line 1 – Night Tour – covers Yongxingfang – Bell Tower & Drum Tower – Nanmenwai – Xiaozhai – Datang Tongyifang – South Square of Giant Wild Goose Pagoda – Great Tang All Day Mall – Qujiang Pool Park – Qujiang Cool Cave Heritage Park (Han Yao) – operates between 6pm until 10pm and costs 50Y ($10AUD);
- Line 2 – Food Tour – covers Muslim Quarter / Bell Tower – Yongxingfang – operates between 8am until 6pm and costs 2Y (0.50cAUD).
Located North of West Street is the Muslim Quarter, the quarter covers several blocks inhabited by over 20,000 Muslims. Muslim food and a fantastic souvenir market is another feature of the area including the very popular Beiyuanmen Muslim Market located just to the north of the Drum Tower. About 500 meters in length from north to south the Muslim Quarter can be best reached through the archway under the Drum Tower.
Wander around at your own leisure and try some of the different food options, you’ll find the area very busy at night as its a popular tourist attractions for those staying in Xian for a night or more.
Getting there is easy, on Metro Line 2 again, get off at Zhonglou Bell Tower Station use Exit B, walk towards the west for around 6 minutes you’ll see the Drum Tower. The street is behind the Tower.
Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
Originally located along the ancient Silk Road, the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List on June 22, 2014, together with other sites along the Silk Road.
Located a few blocks outside the Xian City Wall you could walk from the Bell Tower, it’s an easy walk through downtown Xian which is very flat and easy to get around. If you have young kids it might be worth getting a Didi lift.
Walk straight down South St from the Bell Tower, pass through the Xian City Wall then turn right at Youyi East Rd.
Located right next to the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is the Xian Museum, full of history and home to 130,000 cultural relics from the Zhou, Qin, Han and Tang Dynasties. A three storey building built in 2007 and houses many relics removed from the Bell and Drum Tower.
Tickets are free but you must present your passport for entry. Once the daily number of visitors exceeds 3000, no other tickets will be issued.
Take metro line 2 and get off at the Nanshaomen Station, use Exit A1 or A2, walk west to the north gate of the Jianfu Temple, and then find the museum inside.
DO YOU NEED A VISA TO VISIT CHINA?
The short answer is yes but there are a few exceptions.
Transit Without Visa Policy (TWOV)
24 Hour Transit Visa Exemption
To increase tourist numbers, China is now issuing 24 hour transit visa exemptions for some countries, Australia is one of them. Travellers must have an onward flight booked leaving within 24 hours from arrival. The 24 hour transit visa exemption is available to all foreigners and from most ports of arrival.
72 – 144 Hour Transit Visa Exemption
Passport holders of 49 countries may be eligible for transit visa exemptions for stays of 72 – 144 hours provided they are transiting through specific airports such as: Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Guangdong, Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shenyang, Dalian, Liaoning, Xiamen, Qingdao, When, Chengdu and Kunming.
Australia and New Zealand are eligible for this exemption as with 25 Schengen countries in Europe, 15 other European countries, 6 countries in North and South America and 11 countries in Asia and the Middle East. You will need to contact the Chinese Embassy nearest to you for further information or click here for a list of the countries that participate.
Tourist Visa (L Visa)
To successfully obtain a Chinese tourist visa you will need to show one of two things, you can either obtain a Letter Of Invitation issued by a resident of Mainland China or a company based in Mainland China or produce your paid round-trip tickets plus the hotel reservations for the duration of your stay in Mainland China. The hotel reservations will need to cover every date that you will be in country.
This means you’ll need to be very organised! One option is to book hotels on any aggregator site, such as Booking.com, Agoda.com or Expedia.com. These generally have free cancellation up to a certain date prior to arrival (sometimes only 24-48 hours), this way you can cancel should you need to and not be out of pocket if for whatever reason you are not granted a visa.
For Australians, lodging your Chinese Visa application is straight forward provided you have the correct information, along with two passport photos and the application form. Chinese Visa Application Service Centres are located in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Perth. You will need to return to collect your passport containing your visa 3 days later.
Chinese visas are not cheap, when applying in Melbourne I paid AU$109 and multi entry visas are even more expensive. Others have applied for their Chinese visas in other parts of Asia and have reported that it’s substantially cheaper. You’ll need to contact the Chinese Embassy in whatever country you’re in for further details.
I always get my visa information for every country from the Australian Government Smarttraveller website (link takes you to current information regarding entry and exit to China), it provides you with a Chinese Visa checklist, so you can make sure you have the correct paperwork ensuring you only have to lodge it once. There are so many different visas for China, however I’m only covering the L class tourist visa, click here to view other forms of visa.
CHOOSING THE BEST HOTELS IN Xian WITH KIDS
The best place to stay in Xian with kids is definitely as central to the activities you want to do and see. I don’t recommend staying at the Terracotta Warriors as there is little else to do out there. That’s ok though, I’ve made it easy for you, see my recommendation below:
We stayed at the Grand Noble Hotel Xian on East St which is literally a 10 min walk to the Bell Tower, the street is very lively and its a great central location inside the Xian City Wall.
I highly recommend staying at the Grand Noble Hotel Xian just for pure convenience especially if you are short of time and like to stay in a centrally located area.
Click here for current prices at the Grand Noble Hotel Xian.
GETTING around Xian
There are many options for getting around Xian, it can be challenging though due to the language barrier and the vast majority of signage is in Chinese.
Metered Taxi – metered taxis are cheap and efficient but you run the risk of being ripped off. You will experience difficulty communicating with many taxi drivers as it is likely they will only know the Chinese name of most places. We took a card from our hotel with the hotel address written in Chinese so we could get back and make it easier for the taxi driver;
Didi App – Didi is a Chinese version of Uber, if you download the app, it will be much easier than attempting to communicate with taxi drivers that don’t speak English and minimising the risk of a miscommunication. The app will tell you the cost prior to getting in the car which will also minimise the chance of getting ripped off like I did!
Xian Metro – The Xian Metro has 4 metro lines connecting all areas of the city.
Xian Metro Line 1 – runs East West across Xian city;
Xian Metro Line 2 – runs North South across Xian city;
Xian Metro Line 3 – runs between Yuhuazhai in the South West and Baoshuiqu in the North West of Xian city;
Xian Metro Line 4 – runs between Beikezhan North Square in the North and Hangtianxincheng in the South East of Xian city.
Train stations are announced in Chinese and English, most stations you can buy your ticket from at the Customer Service Centre or self-service ticket vending machine. Tickets are issued for one day use only.
Xian Bus – the Xian bus network consists of 7 different bus stations and are popular with tourists visiting Xian. The 7 stations are Xian Bus Station, East Bus Station, West Bus Station, Sanfuwam Bus Station, Shaanxi Bus Station, North Bus Station and Mingdemen Bus Station.
Each bus station can take you to nearby cities and tourist attractions such as Mount Hua, Luoyang and Hukou Waterfall.
Walk – I always recommend getting out and walking in new cities and Xian is the perfect place to get around on foot. Compared to other Chinese cities its fairly flat and compact and many of the main attractions are in walking distance from the city centre. Exploring by foot opens the door to experiencing things you’d otherwise miss when in other forms of transport.
GETTING to and from xian
Xian is a very popular city in China, there are many options for transport to and from the city. Xian has one airport, Xian Xianyang Airport. Located 40kms north west of Xian city central and is the hub for China North West Airlines. The airport connects with most major cities in China and several international cities in Asia such as Hong Kong, Macau, Seoul, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Hiroshima.
If travelling domestically you should also consider travelling on the China Rail system, I have written a comprehensive post on how to book the Beijing to Xian train tickets both in person and online. This guide can be used for booking all trains in China. I found train travel quick and efficient, Beijing to Xian is a 5 hour journey. I found this much better then navigating a foreign airport.
BEST TIME TO VISIT xian WITH KIDS
Autumn and Spring are the recommended seasons to visit Xian, best time is September/October however May and early June are also good. Summer is reasonable if you like hot weather however winter you’ll experience extremely cold temperatures.
I visited Xian in mid-June and we had fantastic weather although it was very humid. It was very hot and stuffy at the Terracotta Warriors and visiting in the afternoon is not the best choice in these weather conditions.
If you are in Xian in summer I do recommend visiting the Terracotta Warriors early in the day, not only will it be a more comfortable experience but you’ll beat the afternoon tour group crowds.
WHAT TO PACK WHEN VISITING xian WITH KIDs
Make sure you pack comfortable shoes that you can walk in and if visiting the Terracotta Warriors I recommend hiking shoes/sneakers or hiking sandals. The area is huge but it’s flat so not strenuous.
A light rain jacket is beneficial, one that’s easy to roll up and pack away. Layers in winter will be your best friend. That will mean you are prepared for all types of weather, you can layer up or down to keep you comfortable all day.
When travelling I always recommend dressing respectfully when visiting religious and culturally significant locations. While China has no restrictions like other Asian countries, its always nice to respect local custom. Preferably no skimpy tops or really short skirts/shorts, dress appropriately for the weather and conditions.
I have the weather app on my iPhone and I download each city I will be visiting prior to leaving so I have a good idea of what weather conditions to expect over the first week. This helps with packing and ensure I’m prepared have have packed appropriately.
You will be able to purchase most things you need there if you have forgotten something.
BUDGET FOR VISITING Xian WITH KIDS
Budgets are always hard for me to recommend as I’m never really great at keeping to one!
Xian is a very affordable city in China making it very affordable by western standards. Hotels are of a high standard for what is charged and ground costs such as transportation are very affordable and efficient.
I recommend travelling independently around Xian, as its fairly compact and relatively easy to get around. You can save a good amount of money however you need to be patient and ask for help when you don’t understand as the language barrier is significant in every Chinese city. You’ll find that in every Chinese city though, patience and staying calm will go a long way. There is usually someone that will try and help you, particularly the younger generation who are more confident speaking english.
You might find doing a tour to the Terracotta Warriors a good option, most of which include hotel pick up and drop off, a much easier option than navigating public transport as it is a good hour from Xian. I recommend doing the Terracotta Warriors as a tour or with a private driver and the rest independently. This will ensure you have a bit of a break from the challenges of independent travel. That’s not to say independent travel is impossible, its not, but its definitely more challenging and leaves you open to opportunistic scammers.
DO I RECOMMEND TRAVELLING TO xian WITH KIDS
Totally recommend it, Xian is a fabulous city and the highlight of course is visiting the Terracotta Warriors, no visit to Xian or even China is complete without it! There’s a lot of culture and history in Xian and the City Wall is a great family friendly activity.
I definitely recommend getting out and about in Xian, it’s very safe and people are welcoming and happy to assist tourists. Explore the Muslim Quarter for a different feel from many other areas of China and experience some food you wont find anywhere else.
I also think a mixture of independent and tours is perfect for visits to Xian. I also recommend travelling by China rail to other areas of China, including Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu.
Should you not yet be confident to tackle China independently, there are plenty of great and affordable China tours groups, covering everything from a week to 3 plus week tours. Tours are a great way to get your bearings and then you might be confident to return independently and explore an amazing country.
Have you been to Xian? Do you have any questions? Please leave them in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer them for you.