48 hours in Xi’an

Steeped in history and heritage, China’s ancient capital should be at the top of any travel itinerary, says Kaye Holland

History buffs will be in their element in Xi’an. The former capital of the Tang Dynasty and the starting point of the Silk Road is today regarded - together with Athens, Cairo and Rome - as “one of the four major capitals of ancient civilization.” 

Xi’an’s premier sight - and one of the most famous archeological finds in the world - is without a doubt The Terracotta Warriors. The life like army (no two warriors have the same features) was built more than 2,000 years ago to serve Emperor Qin in the afterlife but it wasn’t until 1974, that the army was discovered by peasants drilling a well. Today the aforementioned peasants are bonafide celebrities and sit outside the site signing (for a fee) guide books 24/7. 

Ticked off the Terracotta Army? Make a beeline for The Big Goose Pagoda which was constructed during the Tang Dynasty to house the Buddhist sutras brought back from India by Xuan Zang. The famous translator and Buddhist monk’s travels served as the impetus for Journey to the West – one of the most well known works of Chinese literature. 

Xian’ is also home to one of the oldest city walls in China. It takes four hours to walk around the City Wall (builtback in 1370 to serve as a defense against the Emperor’s enemies) although a golf cart can whizz you around for 200RMB.

Inside the wall, The Drum and Bell Tower is the big draw. The Bell Tower originally housed a bell that, in ancient times, was struck every morning while the Drum Tower, marked nightfall. Both offer arresting views of the surrounding area and serve as a wonderful example of Xian’s ancient architecture.

Lastly don’t miss the Muslim Quarter that’s been home to the city’s Chinese Muslims for centuries. The narrow streets are full of shops and stalls peddling sweets, salted nuts and every souvenir under the sun.

Wendy Wu Tours includes a visit to Xi’an as part of its ‘Imperial China’ tour. As well as historic Xi’an, the eight day private tour (from £2,090) also takes in bustling Beijing. Price includes international flights, domestic transport, all accommodation, some meals, entrance and visa fees. www.wendywutours.co.uk

DAY ONE

Morning
Take a trip to see the famous forces - aka the Terracotta Warriors. Start with the smallest pit and work your way up to the largest pit (home to 6000 warriors and horses) for an impressive finale. 

Afternoon
Check out the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang which took a work force of 700,000 people, some 38 years (246-210 BC) to complete. Legend has it that Qin ordered precious stones to be placed into the ceiling. The craftsmen were then buried alive, so that the location of the first (and most infamous) Emperor of China’s tomb remained a secret.

Evening
Make for the Muslim Quarter where, in streets such as Dapi Yuan and Liyang Shi, you can get stuck into good tasting specialities like Guan tang baozi (steamed buns served with sauces) and Yangrou paomo (a soup dish that involves breaking a loaf of bread into a bowl and adding broth, mutton and noodles).

DAY 2

Morning
After a leisurely breakfast, hit the Big Goose Pagoda - rightly regarded as a masterpiece of Buddhist architecture. Expect to see walls and doors carved with exquisite Buddha figures.

Afternoon
Wander around Xian’s City Wall - the largest and most intact Ming Dynasty castle in the world. Then pick up a trinket (think jade and Mao memorabilia) or two at Northwest Antique Market by the Zhongshan Gate.

Evening
Feast on dumplings while enjoying traditional dance, music and singing at Tang Dynasty. Thedinner dance show is big, bold, brash and, if you’re in the right mood, fabulous fun. For a night cap, head to one of the many bars on buzzy Nan Dajie.