One of the most well-known of Chinese cities in the West, Xi’an, with its population of over 12 million, is one of China’s megacities (or megalopolises). It is very important historically, as one of the country’s oldest cities and the eastern end of the Silk Road, and modern Xi’an is built on the sites (with many names, including Chang’an) of the ancient capital cities of several dynasties. As such, there are a great many (almost too many) sources of information about Xi’an on the internet. I’ve listed a few below as a starter:
Travel China Guide
Along with Xi’an’s importance and fame come tourism and traffic. Both can be unbearable. It is also one of the hottest places I’ve ever been. In fact, it was so hot during my stay there, that I had to leave (the lowest daytime temperature was 43 degrees C before noon. In the afternoons, it probably got up to about 50, but I spent much of that time cowering in my hotel room with the airco on maximum power, waiting for the sun to go down). Nevertheless, it is still well worth a visit for as long as you can stand it.
My own visit was also marred by vast roadworks taking place around the city centre (probably for the subway system, the first line of which opened in 2011), making it difficult to walk around. Fortunately, I did manage to take in most of the more significant sites and try some local food specialities.
There were different exhibitions (furniture, drums) on each floor of the Drum Tower, and I even caught a drum troupe rehearsing (sadly, I can’t post videos on this site). Close by the Drum Tower (above) in the centre of town is the Bell Tower (below).
I had brunch in the Muslim quarter before it got really busy (about 30 minutes later). I would come back again the next day, because the food was good – and pretty cheap off the main “Islamic street” (e.g. I had Yangrou Paomo at a breakfast place for 2 Yuan, instead of 40 Yuan on the main – touristy – drag) with lots of local specialities – I tried several, but far from all.
There are several official tourist sites in Xi’an (as distinct from just interesting things to see), and it’s a pretty good place to be – if not for the heat and traffic. Two of the major sites are the Great and Small Wild Goose Pagodas. There is obviously a difference in size, but also in use: the GWGP grounds (or rather the Da Ci’en Temple grounds, of which the pagoda is a part) are used for the usual communal exercises and dancing, with lightshows and special displays in the main square, and there is a college (of music?) on one side, while the SWGP is quieter and more ornamental.
The Small Wild Goose Pagoda is also a part of a temple, the Jianfu Temple, which also contains Xi’an Museum (I didn’t have time to go there). The stairs within the pagoda are pretty narrow and quite hard work, which means that few tourists (almost no Americans) make it to the top, but the views are good for those who do.