Photograph by Zoonar GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo
Read Caption

Fountains frame the Big Wild Goose Pagoda at night in Xi'an, China.

Photograph by Zoonar GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo

A Local's Guide to Xi'an, China

Follow these insider tips for an authentic trip to the home of the famed terra-cotta warriors.

Blogger Camila Labaronne never planned to land in the imperial city of Xi’an, China. After an intense year of teaching, learning Mandarin, trying out calligraphy, and trying to cook Chinese food, this world traveler wants to show people that there’s much more to her city than the terra-cotta army.

When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is the impressive City Wall (at night), built over 600 years ago to protect the city.

Fall is the best time to visit my city because the sky is clear, the weather is still warm, and the Wei River flows.

You can see my city best from the TV Tower.

Locals know to skip the busy streets of the Muslim Quarter and check out a hutong, or narrow alleyway, outside the center instead.

The Shu Yuan Men books and art market is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs. For a more traditional and authentic feel, the bird and flower market in the Muslim Quarter is an unforgettable experience, although there’s not much you can take home for your friends.

In the past, notable people like film director Yimou Zhang and model Sun Feifei have called my city home.

My city’s best museum is Shaanxi History Museum because the collection is incredible even if you’re not a history buff. Plus, admission is free.

If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that getting a taxi can be a hassle, especially if you’re a foreigner, but it’s still the quickest way to get anywhere.

The best place to spend time outdoors is the Qinling Mountains—a few hours away by train but definitely worth the trip.

My city really knows how to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, when delicious and handmade mooncakes can be purchased anywhere on the streets.

You can tell if someone is from my city if the first thing they ask about your country is related to food.

For a fancy night out, I go to De Fa Chang restaurant and eat loads of dumplings.  

Just outside my city, you can visit the famed terra-cotta army protecting the tomb of the first emperor of China. The mausoleum is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

My city is known for being the ancient capital of China and an important place of history, but it’s really the best culinary city and the springboard to incredibly diverse landscapes.

The best outdoor market in my city is any alleyway that you can find, my favorite being Sha Jing Cun.

Any street stall selling jianbing guozi (which means "fried cake") is my favorite place to grab breakfast, and the Beiyuanmen Night Market is the spot for late-night eats.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read the English-language Xianease.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I go to a village in the mountains, visit a temple, or try a new museum since these activities are mostly free.

To escape the crowds, I spend a night in the Qinling Mountains.

The dish that represents my city best is biangbiang noodles, and ancient liquor baijiu is my city’s signature drink. Sample them at any hole-in-the-wall place.

The 3 Carats jazz bar in the northwest part of the city is the best place to see live music, but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out Helen’s Bar.

In the spring you should go to historic Mount Huashan, about 75 miles away from the city, for incredible views.

In the summer you should try our refreshing, cold rice noodles, liangpi.

In the fall you should go to Cuihua Mountain to enjoy the rivers and the waterfalls.

In the winter you should wander around the city and take romantic photos of the architecture blanketed with snow.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the fountain show at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda.

The best book about my city is Old Xi’an: Evening Glow of an Imperial City because it’s a clear introduction to the history of the city. There’s also a short movie that shows life in a side of Xi’an unknown to visitors: “Summer Night” by Nihao Films.