Xi’an is known for the world-famous Tarracotta Army that was built over 2,000 years ago but only discovered in 1974. It only takes a few hours to visit the army, which is located about 50 kilometers from the city center. Luckily, there is so much more to see here!
As Going Awesome Places mentions in their blog post about Xi’an: “Go to Shanghai and you will find a 100-year-old China; go to Beijing and you will find a 1000-year-old China; go to Xi’an and then you will find a 3000-year-old China.”
If you only have one weekend to see what Xi’an has to offer, I recommend visiting the City Wall (skip the boat tour, it’s not worth it), the Big Goose Pagoda for the fountain light show and the Muslim Quarter. Although I am still quite confused about the history and social factors of the large Muslim populations living in China, I have a lot of experience sampling their delicious food. It may be available all over the country but it is by far the best and most diverse in Xi’an!
The Muslim Quarter is a vibrant maze of streets full of multi-cultural vendors selling fragrant foods and the cheapest souvenirs in Xi’an. The area is quite large and always busy with tourists from all over the world as well as locals coming to grab lunch. Make sure to come on an empty stomach because there is SO much food to sample.
We happened to visit the Muslim Quarter on a random rainy Saturday with bad moods and low expectations. This quickly changed. As soon as we turned the corner of a quiet street with just three friendly vendors we were assaulted by lights, smells and dangerously driving e-bikes! There were hundreds of vendors selling everything from nutty desserts and pomegranate juice to quail eggs on a stick and large bamboo skewers of smoked lamb.
After trying sweet sticky rice and splitting a bowl of famous hand-made noodles (to save room for more food) we explored the area. Walking past Chinese-style neon signs with Arabic characters and people dressed in colorful shawls and hats, we were almost overwhelmed with the bustling atmosphere and mix of cultures.
The streets were all lined with vendors ranging from young tan men wearing typical Turkish-Islamic hats to older Chinese-looking women in brightly colored headscarves. What really made the place stand out was the attitude of the vendors who weren’t fazed by the bad weather. Everyone was smiling, yelling greetings at passersby and inviting us to film their goods without expectation of purchase.
Since I have never had the opportunity to visit the Middle East (with exception of a family trip to Egypt when I was 8), I can’t make comparisons between the Muslim Quarter and authentic Arab markets. It was definitely different than any Chinese or European market than I have ever been to. Even though it was too crowded and rushing e-bike drivers kept trying to run me over, I highly recommend everyone visiting Xi’an to come explore the area.
The Muslim Quarter has so much character and it was definitely one of the most exciting places I have ever visited in China. Sadly we only saw it during the day and it’s supposed to be even more amazing at night. Come see it for yourself because my photos don’t do it justice. Video coming soon!