Xi'an is at the end of the historic trading route the Silk Road and has a rich culture combining Middle Eastern influences with those of the Han Chinese. You'll see this as you wander through the labyrinthine streets of the Muslim Quarter, where vendors sell spicy northwestern-style noodles alongside kebab-like meat sandwiches. Xi'an is best known for its iconic Terracotta Army, a striking archaeological site where thousands of life-sized warriors are lined up in rows, defending the tomb of the first Emperor of China.
Some hostels in Xi'an are inside historic courtyard houses, with plants hanging from the ceilings or a rooftop garden with views of the ancient city walls. You'll also find boutique-style spaces, including a hostel whose bar is decorated with chandeliers. To learn a little about Chinese culture, choose a Xi'an hostel with free calligraphy and mahjong lessons. You can also opt for Xi'an hostels with free pickups from the train station so you can easily go from carriage to dorm.
Xi'an was formerly known as Chang'an, meaning 'Eternal Peace', but nowadays its vibe is more buzzing metropolis than serene. Its older neighbourhood is nestled inside the city walls. The Muslim Quarter, around the stately Drum Tower, is the most traditional part of the city. Outside the walls, you'll find modern shopping centres like Kaiyuan and Century Ginwa. The Lintong District, 40 minutes' drive away from the downtown area, is home to the Huaqing hot springs and the Terracotta Warriors. The life-size warriors and horses are an awesome sight: the scale of the find has to be seen to be believed.
To get your bearings, head out for a walk or cycle along the impressive Ming-era walls. You can also explore the imposing, seven-storey Giant Wild Goose Pagoda and catch the music and light fountain show in the north square below it. For a slice of adventure, you could take a day trip to Huashan, a 2,155m-high mountain to the east of Xi'an. If you have a good head for heights, hike up to the adrenaline-spiking Changkong Plank Road – a 50cm-wide wooden trail skirting a cliff over 1,000m above the ground.
Xi'an Xianyang International Airport is a 30-minute drive from the city. You can easily get an airport bus into the centre, as these line up with arriving flights. Xi'an has three train stations; for high-speed rail services, you'll need Xi'an North Railway Station. The city has a small subway system, but the best way to get around is by bus or taxi.