Updated: Apr 11, 2022
Xi’an is a definite must-see city in China. There is so much history here that it’s definitely a place you don’t want to miss. Not only is it home to the terracotta warriors, but it was also once the capital of China and is along the Silk Road.
We chose to do a visit Xi’an by taking a Xi’an to Beijing overnight train. This ensured that we didn’t waste time, was very cost-effective, and truly a cultural experience.
Getting a Beijing to Xi’an Train Ticket
If I was doing this again, I’d recommend booking the soft sleepers and a private room. China Travel Guide is the easiest site I’ve found for English-speakers to book through. It costs more than booking directly through the train station, but in my experience, that was really difficult to do if you do not speak Chinese. It is worth spending a little more on the customer support that China Travel Guide provides. They will not only send you tickets but answer all your questions and give detailed directions for the train station. This became crucial when we were in the train station and unsure what to do.
I would not recommend waiting until you are there to purchase tickets. The hard sleepers were cheaper, but they were not very comfortable and we shared a small space with 6 people in total. The bathrooms were also not cleaned while we were on the train. We were very dirty by the end of the two days! For more on trains in China and tips for travel, you can check out my post full of tips.
On bullet/high-speed trains (C, D, G trains): The options are first-class seat, second-class seat, business-class seat, VIP seat, soft sleeper, luxury soft sleeper. Bullet trains are usually divided into six classes. Among them, the second-class has five seats in a row; first-class has four seats, while VIP class and business class have three seats in a row. We took second-class seats on a bullet train, and it was very nice.
On non-bullet trains (Z, T, K, Y, K, S trains): hard sleeper, soft sleeper, luxury soft sleeper, hard seat, soft seat. Non-bullet trains have six classes of seats. Third, fourth, and fifth class are all in the same cars. Third-class has reserved seats on hard bench seats, fourth-class seats are for those without a reserved seat, and fifth-class seats are standing room only—I don’t recommend these seats.
I took another train while in China to Tai Shan on a third-class ticket, and I don’t recommend this either. We had people already sitting in our seats when we got on. A man was lying on the table in the middle of the six seats where I was sitting, and another person brought their own stool and was lying against my bench seat. It was a bit stressful of a situation for me but very very cheap.
Taking the Train
In general, train stations in China are fairly simple. We used our tickets to scan into the station and showed our tickets again for our space on the trains. Overnight trains are equipped with bathrooms in each car and are shared with all the people in the car, which is quite a lot of people.
The train schedules can and will change, something will not be located where it was listed online, and you might not be able to talk to everyone you need to. Build-in time, and expect these problems to happen. This is not an easy place to go if you don’t know the language. There were times we just didn’t know what to do even though I planned ahead a lot. If you are not going with a tour group, take the time to research as much as you can! This is why I liked using China Travel Guide for our tickets. It really helped!
We took overnight trains there and back, which are a serious experience all in themselves. Our tickets were for hard sleepers and the three of us shared our space with three other people. This was honestly not ideal and the space got very claustrophobic feeling and dirty. We were completely safe and it was fine, just not what I’d call comfortable. If you want to save, the hard sleeper seats are the best option. Bring your own water, food, pillow, and blanket to make life easier. It was hard to sleep with so many people around, and we were tired at the end for sure.
Soft sleepers are more private, comfortable, and have the same number of bathrooms. I’d recommend taking this type of train if it is in your budget.
Costs for Xi’an
Train (round trip) — $132
Tour — $55
Entry to Warriors — $25
Bike on Wall — $8
My favorite city we visited out of all the places in China was Xi’an. A lot of that has to do with our tour guide. She was very helpful and answered our questions with much more candidness than our other tours.
We booked our tour through Viator. Our guide was so nice and very informative. She knew a lot of history about places, not just surface stuff which we ran into a lot in other cities… She was also very flexible and let us do what we wanted with our day which was nice because a lot of other tours in China will not let you spend more/less time somewhere and will require you to visit factories or tea ceremonies.
We had our suitcases with us, and they let us keep our bags in the car while we toured different places and kept it all very secure. They also picked us up right from the train station with a sign waiting for us so we wasted no time looking for them (included in the cost of the tour). They also have bottled water available on the bus for you during the tour. These things were a nice bonus! We didn’t have to pay at the train station. The only downside to this tour is that tickets and lunch are not included. So you do have to factor in that cost, but honestly best tour we took through the whole week.
The terracotta warriors were really cool to see. There are so many more than I had realized and the way they were found is so fascinating. We had to walk through a part of the city where cars are not allowed, then through a park, and finally to the museum. Plan on a lot of walking when visiting the warriors! When there, there are three different buildings to go through and many different types of warriors to see. The coolest ones to me are the ones with the horses guarding the entrance to the rest of the warriors. Definitely don’t skip going into all the different buildings. There are many different preservation projects going on, and you can get fairly close to the warriors.
There a few tourist traps here. You can meet the man who discovered the terracotta warriors and take pictures with replica ones. We didn’t wait in line for the man who discovered the warriors because our guide told us it was not the real man. We did take pictures with the full-size warriors because getting that close to them really helps you see how they were built!
Pro-tip: There are a few signs in English, but having a guide to walk us through was really helpful. I would recommend a guide to take you through the museum and rooms of warriors.
Because of the Silk Road, there is actually a large number of Muslim people in China. Xi’an has an ancient Muslim temple, tons of delicious street food, and small interesting streets to walk through. We tried some interesting dessert dishes and walked the streets smelling delicious meat dishes. Then we visited the Grand Mosque (built 800 years ago). I loved seeing the mosque because I had never been to a mosque before, and this one was so unique because it was a fusion of Chinese architecture and Middle Eastern design. It was so unique!
Bike on Xi’an City Wall
This may have been my favorite thing we did in Xi’an honestly. How unique is it to get to ride a bike on an ancient city wall?! The wall started being built 1200 years ago and was built to 40 feet high by the Ming Dynasty 800 years ago when they made Xi’an the capital of China. We rented bikes for $8 each and rode all the way around the city wall. It took about 1 1/2 – 2 hours to get all the way around. It was such a unique way to see the city and pagodas surrounding the city wall.
Pro-tip: When booking a tour, use multiple sites to figure out if you will like what the tour offers. I use sites like TripAdvisor, Viator, and the company’s website itself to check all info on a tour before booking.
I do feel like we saw Xi’an fully in a day. If have just one day in Xi’an, get a tour. We were able to do so much because we were with a tour that drove us from place to place and our guide was really helpful. Don’t forget to check out my full 8 day itinerary for how we traveled in China!