XIAN TRAVEL GUIDE FOR FOODIES
FOOD & DRINK YOU MUST TRY IN XIAN
Rou-jia-mo (肉夹馍) was the world’s first burger and it’s still one of the best things to eat in Xian. You won’t have a hard time finding these around town, but keep an eye out for handmade bread and meat that is stewed over a flame. Fresh Bread + Stewed Pork (or beef in the Muslim quarter) equals the best thing ever! See our guide to the best roujiamo in Xian here.
Xian is the noodle capital of China, and there is no shortage of varieties here. Classics include Cold Noodles (liáng-pí, 凉皮), thick belt-like noodles served with chili and veggies (biáng-biáng-miàn & jiū-miàn-piàn 揪面片), and noodles topped with dried chilies and then hot oil (yóu-pō-miàn, 油泼面). Try some of the best (and most unique!) noodles in Xian during our Morning & Evening Tours.
Ice Peak Soda
Bīng-fēng (冰峰) is an orange soda that can only be found in Xian. You’ll find it served in a chilled bottle at nearly every shop, cart and restaurant in town. This is most commonly enjoyed with a Chinese burger and bowl of cold noodles, so grab a straw and slurp up this orangey goodness just like the locals do!
Meat On Sticks
One stroll down any street and you’ll realize that Xian locals are obsessed with grilled meat. Characterized by a strong cumin and chili flavor, nothing washes down some spicy shāo-kǎo (烧烤) better than local pickled vegetables and a cold beer! Check out a local family that’s been grilling in Xian’s oldest alley on our Evening Tour.
Xianese love soups and stews, but yángròu-pào-mó (羊肉泡馍) is by far our favorite. Start by tearing your own pita bread into an empty bowl before it is taken to the kitchen and returned full of rich broth, rice noodles and chunks of lamb meat. This hearty dish is excellent all year round, but we enjoy it best when warming us up on a cold winter day.
This chicken is to die for and is a must-order at any proper restaurant in Xian. Húlu-jī (葫芦鸡) is chicken that is first stewed and then fried. The bird is served whole with crispy skin and juicy meat, presented in a hallowed gourd with a 5-spice dip. Check out some of our favorite places to try this delicious bird.
This seasonal shì-zi (柿子) is popular in Xian because the area offers the perfect climate for growing these sweet yet tangy fruits that resemble a bright yellow tomato. Since the short harvest season is in autumn, their most common form is dried so they can be preserved all year round. It’s also common for street vendors to freeze blended fruit and then add flour to form a moist dough before throwing it into a deep fryer. The result? Super tasty persimmon donuts!
Sour Plum Juice
This traditional drink has been popular in China for over 1000 years. Although it is commonly found mass produced in cans & bottles, Xian still has a few vendors who make this by hand in the Muslim quarter. Plums are soaked with other ingredients and herbs before sugar is added, so the result is a sour, sweet and slightly salty taste! Our Evening Tour offers an excellent cup of locally made suān-méi-tāng (酸梅汤).
No trip to China is complete without eating some dumplings (hopefully more than once)! Xian offers a few varieties that are incredibly delicious and unique to China. Try the Muslim quarter’s beef dumplings influenced with Silk Road seasonings. Sour soup dumplings and bright green spinach dumplings are also popular. Our Morning & Evening Tours stop at dumpling shops that will blow your mind (aka, they are the best in China).
OUR FAVORITE RESTAURANTS IN XIAN
This spot is hidden in a traditional courtyard on Xian’s art street, just east of the small pagoda situated inside the main south gate of the city wall. Snag one of their limited outdoor tables and relax while enjoying some legit Shaanxi dishes that you can’t get on the street. Learn more about our favourite Xian restaurants, their best dishes, and whereabouts!
If you want meat on sticks but are hesitant to take it from the street, this is the place to go. A solid assortment of quality BBQ options are offered along with an array of other local dishes. The location is in an updated shopping area called the Big West Market where locals dance the night away in the main square. Learn more about our favourite Xian restaurants, their best dishes, and whereabouts!
This Xian-only chain has 10 locations in Xian, but don’t let that fact deter you. This is a great story of a man who focused on serving great food to the local community and was able to expand due to his success. Today, quality food and atmosphere are a priority, all while serving great renditions of local Xian staples. Learn more about our favourite Xian restaurants, their best dishes, and whereabouts!
THINGS YOU MUST DO IN XIAN
Join a Lost Plate Tour!
Obviously! Seriously though, take our guest’s word for it and join the best food tour in China. It’s not just a food tour, it’s an adventure through Xian’s Muslim area and ancient city center. Eat the best local food and get off the beaten path in your own tuktuk, all while sinking back a few cold ones. #sogood
Terracotta Warriors & the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi
Everyone comes to Xian for the Warriors, but few visit the tomb of Emperor Jingdi (Han Yang Ling Mausoleum) which we find just as fascinating. The tomb holds an estimated 50,000 mini terracotta figurines which include soldiers and an array of animals. The best part? You won’t find many crowds here which give you plenty of breathing space while walking underground on the glass floors for close-up views of the excavation pits.
Cycle the City Wall at Sunset
Xian is the last big city to have a complete city wall around its ancient center. You’ll notice that most buildings within the city wall don’t beat its height due to city ordinance, which allows for some great views. We recommend starting at the south gate (it’s open the latest) shortly before sunset and make the 14km loop while the light changes. By the time you get to the north wall at twilight, the lanterns will be lit and the views down the long main road to the Bell Tower are incredible. Bikes can be rented on the wall at any of the main gates.
Visit the Great Mosque & Muslim Street
While the Muslim Street is the center of tourism in the city, Xian’s Great Mosque has kept its charm by being tucked away from the crowds. Situated in a beautiful temple complex for the local Muslim population, this is one of our favorite places in the city to escape the tourists and feel some zen. A stroll down Muslim Street that begins at the Drum Tower is a great way to get introduced to Xian’s street food scene and the place to pick up souvenirs and gifts for back home. However, mediocre quality and high prices mean that you should just save the eating for our food tours which explore the backstreets you can’t find on your own.
See the Bell & Drum Towers at Night
The Bell Tower sits perfectly in the geographic center of the city and the Drum Tower sits 100 meters west. Both allow visitors to climb the upper levels during limited hours, but keep in mind the Bell Tower is only accessible via an underground walkway (don’t try to cross the swirling traffic). While these are magnificent structures at all times of day, we especially like the views at night as they are completely lit up in a beautiful, colorful display, as the night traffic circles nearby.
Explore the Shaanxi History Museum
If the Terracotta Warriors are any sign, Shaanxi province is full of amazing history and artifacts. After all, it did serve as the country’s capital for multiple dynasties. The museum displays over 370,000 artifacts and items that were collected within the province, many of which have been shared with some of the world’s greatest museums. If you’re a history buff, you don’t want to miss this!
Climb the Big Wild Goose Pagoda
This modernized touristy area can easily become a turn-off for travelers, but this storied pagoda has been expanded and collapsed multiple times during its 1400 year history. What most people don’t realize is the views from the top are worth the price and climb. You’ll notice there was a plan when building the city as you peer down long broadways and observe the nearby parks and lakes. Don’t forget your camera!
Go to the Mountains
Mount Hua (Huàshān / 华山) claims a section of trail often referred to as the most dangerous in the world. This means you can literally dangle off the edge of a cliff a couple thousand feet high. Don’t worry, the rest of the mountain is built for tourists with paved paths, 2 cable cars and lots of stairs. Don’t expect to escape the crowds, but the landscape here is out of this world and the hike is fairly demanding even when taking the cablecars. If you’re looking for something more off the beaten path, Mount Cui Hua (Cuì-huà-shān / 翠华山) takes you on a 20km loop up to an alpine field with stunning views of the nearby mountain ranges and valleys.
Visit a Farmers Market
Xian locals still shop for their meat and produce on the street. Local farmers bring their fruit and vegetables into town by the truckload (literally) and whats on offer depends on the season. Daily early morning markets pop-up inside the main East Gate and small south gate (west of the main south gate) of the city wall. The Muslim quarter also hosts China’s oldest and largest market every Thursday and Sunday, which we visit during our Morning Food Tour.
WHERE TO STAY IN XIAN
For higher-end travelers, this is the most popular place and recommended by our guests. The location inside the city wall is very convenient for exploring the nearby neighborhoods and street food, and puts you within decent walking distance of the Muslim Quarter and Bell Tower. There are two hotels on the premises, including the historic Sofitel Legend building that was Xian’s first luxury hotel and offers some great restaurants on-site, including Dolce Vita which serves legit Italian fare with ingredients (and a chef) straight from Italy. Click Here for more info.
This is our favorite mid-range option, mostly because of its amazing location literally steps from the Bell and Drum Towers along with Muslim Street. The other nice part? All rooms have a kitchen so you can try cooking some fresh produce and hand-made noodles from a street vendor outside. Click Here for more info.
Traveling With Hotel
Excellent prices, well-designed Chinese-inspired rooms, and a beautiful location along the city’s south wall all make this a great choice for the budget traveler. This is far nicer than any of the standard hostels in town and popular with young Chinese travelers. Oh, and did we mention the rooftop bar that looks down on the city wall? Click Here for more info.
TIPS FOR XIAN
Prep for your Food Tour
Plan for the basics: arrive hungry, dress for the weather, and don’t bring any large bags to ensure a comfortable ride with less hassle. Read our full FAQ Page for more insider info and tips!
Download our iPhone App
That’s right, we’ve built an iPhone app to make your visit to Xian full of amazing food. Of course our tour is the best way to enjoy the best local food in the city, but this app will round out your trip nicely by featuring the best food from the streets to fine dining and everything in between. Check it out!
China Travel Tips
Our co-founder is a foreigner in China, and over the years he has learned a lot about what makes traveling in China different than anywhere else. Click Here to read our complete guide and tips for traveling in China.
Questions? Ask Us!
LAY OF THE LAND
We’re sure you have already read all about Xian, but we’re pretty proud of this city which has one of the longest histories in the world. Its location at the end of the silk road makes this place special, both in food and in culture. Xian was also the first capital city of China! Many people only come for one thing: the Terracotta Warriors; but there is so much more to see and experience in this city. See how the locals live by joining one of our food tours.
Xian lies in the middle of Shaanxi province, which borders the desert to its north and Qinling Mountains to its south. Considered part of northern China, with large influences from the Silk Road, the food here is heavy in dough-based dishes like noodles and breads. The flavors are also quite strong, often seasoned with cumin and/or chili. The countryside around Xian grows some of the best apples, grapes, watermelon, jujubee (dates), and kiwi in the entire country!
Climate & Weather
The weather in Xian can be summed up quite simply: very dry with cold winters and hot summers. In July and August, expect temperatures near or over 40 degrees celcius every day. In winter months temperatures will range from -15 to 5 degrees celcius. A few days of snow will occur in winter with minor accumulation, and serious summer thunderstorms also occur a handful of times. Spring winds occasionally cause short dust storms, but spring and autumn are the most pleasant time to visit. Winter is by far the least busy.