As a world-renowned ancient city, Xi'an is home to thousands of years of culture and some of China's best-preserved archeological attractions. Having been the capital city for some of the most influential dynasties - the Zhou, Qin, Han, Sui, and Tang Dynasties, the Chinese regard it as the "birthplace of Chinese civilization", and named it "Chang On" historically, which means "everlasting peace". While Xi'an is famous for its Terracotta Warriors, there are plenty of other ancient wonders to be discovered. These offbeat places are usually less crowded, so they are perfect if you'd prefer a more relaxed itinerary.
1. Huaqing Chi
People usually visit Huaqing Chi (Huaqing Hot Spring) on the way to or back from the Terracotta Army since this site is located under the Lishan Mountain, just 8 km east of the Terracotta Museum. Do not be confused by its name, this scenic garden is not a public hot spring, but the imperial pools for the Tang Dynasty in 618 - 907 A.D. Here you can learn more about the history and culture of the Tang Dynasty, a golden age of ancient China, and enjoy the musical performance of "Everlasting Song of Sorrow", featuring the story of Tang Emperor Xuanzong and his concubine, Huaqing Chi resident Yang Yuhuan (also known as Yang Guifei), whom the Chinese regard as one of the most beautiful ladies in history. Even if you had completed your tour during the day, be sure to come back in the evening to enjoy the show. Its beautiful music and choreography will surely leave you with an "everlasting" impression!
2. Tang Paradise
Within walking distance from the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is Tang Paradise, one of the biggest culture-themed gardens in the northwest region of China. Checking out both attractions in one day is a perfect itinerary plan.
Modeled after the royal gardens of the Tang Dynasty, this culture park is surely one of the most beautiful places in all of Xi'an. There are altogether 12 scenic areas, where the designer laboured to give a grand display of almost everything representative of this Chinese renaissance period: poetry, music and dance, architecture, marketplace, food, fashion, the whole gamut. So take a relaxing stroll here in Tang Paradise and bask in the Tang Dynasty's prosperity and rich culture.
3. A Day trip to Mount Huashan
As one of the five most sacred mountains in China, Mount Huashan is renowned for its sheer cliffs, magnificent scenery, and ancient history. Having been part of numerous folklore for thousands of years, this mountain has caught the fancy of generations of Chinese. Many pilgrims trek across this arduous mountain to get a glimpse of the famous Taoist temples and teahouses adorned on its ridges and peaks. Fortunately, Mount Huashan is just an hour away from Xi'an, making it a perfect day trip option. For those who wish to challenge what the Chinese regard as the "most precipitous mountain under heaven", Mount Huashan offers plenty of venturesome hikes. Not a climber? No worries. The cable cars there will take you to the summit, but be prepared to line up. To beat the crowd on public transit or cable car, joining a private day tour may be a good option for families with young children and the elderly. Regardless of your physical condition, there are plenty of options to explore and enjoy the breathtaking scenery at Mount Huashan.
4. Gao Grand Courtyard
Do not miss this hidden gem in Xi'an's Muslim Quarter! This grand 400 years old siheyuan (四合院) or "Chinese quadrangle courtyard" is hidden on one of the smaller and less crowded streets within the Muslim Quarter. Once you step inside this classically decorated family mansion, you would literally walk back in time and experience ancient Shaanxi culture. The architecture has been beautifully preserved and sheltered from the chaotic city outside. You could easily spend an hour wandering the beautifully furnished rooms of the courtyard itself and admiring the level of detail that has gone into its preservation.
Besides strolling around the courtyard complex, there are cultural activities here for your whole family to enjoy. There is a Silk Museum inside where you can see beautiful handcrafted embroidery and antiqued clothing. Kids can participate in a frottage workshop where they make traditional Chinese paintings by rubbing from antique molds. The courtyard also hosts several folk music and shadow puppet performances during the day.
5. Great Mosque of Xi'an
Located in the Muslim Quarter is another piece of ancient heritage - the Great Mosque of Xi'an. It was originally built in 742 A.D., but its current design was refined during the Ming Dynasty in the 1400s. In classic Xi'an style, the mosque fuses traditional Chinese architectural design with Islamic essence. The orientation of this mosque aligns with the direction of Mecca, instead of following the principles of Chinese Feng Shui. This complex houses five beautiful courtyards and well-landscaped gateways leading to the Great Mosque, as well as more than twelve buildings. Its picturesque courtyards and buildings make it a popular tourist attraction. Today, the Great Mosque is not only a place of worship for Xi'an's Muslim community but also an attestation of its ethnic diversity during the Silk Road Era.