Spice up your trip with some of the lesser known attractions X’ian hasto offer especially for families
Two words: Terracotta Army. If you and your adventure-loving brood are heading to Xi’An, China, you’re going to be hearing an awful lot about these world-famous soldiers. But while it would be a crying shame not to take the kids to see the awe-inspiring army during your family visit to Xi’An, there’s a lot more to do in this ancient city besides this near-obligatory port of call. Happily for families who like to avoid the hordes and soak up some real local flavor on their travels, Xi’An is still under-explored among foreign visitors, and chances of seeing big lines anywhere other than at the Terracotta Warriors exhibit is pretty minimal. While many visitors make a brief stop here as part of a quick-fire sightseeing tour of China, families who linger longer will find a whole host of kid-pleasing activities that don’t feel like they’ve been designed for the benefit of tourists. Steeped in thousands of years of history and a former capital with a key location on the Silk Road, Xi’An has museums and ancient buildings galore, but if that’s unlikely to stir up much enthusiasm among the kids, read on for some alternative things to do in Xi’an.
Peek at Excavation Efforts in a Mammoth Mausoleum
The crowds that flock to see the life-size soldiers of the Terracotta Army are conspicuous by their absence at Hanyang Tomb , Xi’An’s ‘other’ underground museum, but it’s a mini-kingdom unto itself, filled with clay animals and human figures and arguably made all the more appealing by the tiny numbers of people that visit. Located in a somewhat out-of-town location around 20 km from the city proper (it’s served by infrequent local buses, take a fixed-price cab if time is of the essence), it’s a little off-track for most tourists, but certainly worth taking the time to visit.
Occupying almost 5 hectares, the mausoleum serves as the joint tomb of Western Han Dynasty emperor Liu Qi and his beloved Empress Wang, and was built in the year 153 – a mere couple of millennia later, it opened as a museum in 2006.
Visitors to the underground museum can walk on glass floors to peek into pits and see what the extensive ongoing excavation works have uncovered over the years – all manner of tools, religious artefacts and artworks among them. Signs in English explain what’s going on in each of the pits, which takes the guesswork out of things for parents of kids with plenty of questions.
Eat Your Way Around the Muslim Quarter
There’s no shortage of places to eat delicious Chinese food in Xi’An, but for the most weird and wonderful concoctions in town, head to the Muslim Quarter. You’ll feel like you’ve briefly left China as you wander through this busy (keep a tight hold on belongings and, indeed, offspring) network of streets. While the main drag is packed with tourists and vendors yelling about their wonderful wares, taking the time to properly explore pays kid-pleasing dividends in the form of shadow puppet shows, a vast, fragrant flower market, and all manner of edible goodies, from candied ginger, intricate sugar creations and fruit leather to cuttlefish on a stick. Visitors can pay a minimal entrance fee to enter the area’s grand mosque, too.
Visit a Cave Village (and even stay in a cave!)
Shaanxi Province is home to any number of simple cave dwellings, known as yaodongs. These simple earth structures keep things cool in summer and warm in winter, and can often be found grouped together in small villages, offering an insight into traditional forms of housing in this central region of China. Heading out on the main highway from central Xi’An to the Terracotta Army site, families visiting Xi’An can take a detour to visit these ‘farmers’ caves’ – it’s easy enough to do this independently, but going with a recommended local guide may provide more insight for those that aren’t proficient in the local lingo. Should that pique your kids’ curiosity, it’s even possible to spend the night in a Yaodong.
🍦 Get an Unusual Ice Cream Fix
There are times when only an ice cream is going to revive kids’ flagging travel spirit, and luckily Xi’An has a whole lot of them. One of the best spots for kids to get a sugar rush with local flavour is Shaanxi 13, by the bell tower at 270 Bei Yuan Men, where flavors such as Hanzhoung Peanut and Fresh Tofu are surprisingly moreish (no need to tell the kids you’re sneaking a bit of protein into their sweet treats)