7 days Beijing to Xi’an – Hands on History

7 Days Being-Xian .

Day 1, 2, and 3 - Beijing

Day 4 and 5 - Pingyao

Day 6, and 7 - Xian

 

Trip Highlights:

 

  • Hike the unrestored Great Wall at Jinshanling (Beijing)
  • Explore the Forbidden City (Beijing)
  • See the modern art district of 798 (Beijing)
  • Witness the impossible at the Chaoyang Acrobatic Theater - (Beijing)
  • Travel back in time exploring the largest and best preserved ancient city in China (Pingyao)
  • The Wang family compound / Zhang bi underground fortress (Pingyao)
  • Bike around Xi'an's old city wall (Xi'an)
  • Tara-cotta warriors (Xi'an)

Overview:

This trip is ideal for travelers that are interested in China's authentic history destinations and would like to break up the train ride from Beijing to Xi'an stopping in one of the more interesting historic destinations in China. Be prepared to be overloaded with history, impressive structures, authentic cuisine, light to moderate physical activity, and lots of train rides!

 

 

 

Day 1, 2, and 3 -Beijing - 北京

 

Jinshanling Great Wall

Beijing is one of those cities where you could spend any amount of time wandering the streets exploring. If you have the time to spare, I recommend touring the city extensively. If your time is limited however, the best of Beijing can be seen in just three days. The vibe in Beijing is hard to describe because its truly unique. A fusion of ancient and modern, Beijing has something for everyone. With one of the largest expat populations in China, there is much to do here.

 

Accommodations in Beijing -

Beijing has tons of hotels and hostels to choose from. Beijing is EXPENSIVE compared to other cities in China, however if you know where to look you can find affordable accommodations. Like any destination in China you should make sure to book ahead if traveling during peak traveling seasons (Summer, Chinese New Year, and Spring Festival holidays). Here is a list of my favorite hostels in Beijing:

 

  • Couchsurfing.org - Have you ever tried couch surfing? Beijing has a fairly large couch surfing community and what better way to explore a city like Beijing than staying with an expat who knows the ins and outs of the city.
  • Fly By Night Hostel -  If staying in a comfortable and clean environment is a priority, than Fly By Night is a fantastic choice. Fly by night is a renovated hutong courtyard home located in the center of Dongcheng district not too far from Dongsi on line 5. However the downside is the cost. A private room can cost between 350-500RMB per night. Dorms from 120RMB.
  • Qianmen Hostel - +86 10 63132369 - This is my personal recommendation for Beijing. Ive stayed all over the city and I haven't found a better value hostel. The location is fantastic; just Southwest of Tiananmen square. Dorms from 60RMB per night. The hutong just south of Qianmen has about 3 or 4 other hostels (Leo's hostel, 365 inn, and Three Legged Frog) you can check with if Qianmen is full. 365 is also very nice, but again can be a little pricy.

Entrance to Qianmen Hostel

Suggested Itinerary -

Having lived in Beijing for close to two years, I had the opportunity explore the city completely. The following itinerary is the absolute best of what Beijing has to offer:

Day 1 -
  • Forbidden City / Tiananmen Square / National Museum - This will take you almost until the evening to see these three destinations. You can definitely skip the Museum if you your attention span is short for history. (Walking distance from Qianmen hostel)
  • Chaoyang Acrobatics Theater - You can purchase discount tickets online on their website here. This is a must see, and to this day is still one of my favorite shows in all of China.
Day 2 -
  • Hike the great wall from Jinshanling to Simatai - This can be arranged through most hostels in Beijing. This hike is challenging, takes about 4 hours to complete, and offers amazing panoramic views of the wall and surrounding areas. Bring water and some little snacks for the hike. You can usually purchase water along the way from locals on the wall. Skip the commonly suggested Badaling wall. Its overcrowded to the point of ridiculousness. If you want a section that involves much less hiking, and is still fairly senic, I suggest Mutianyu.
  • Sanlitun bar district - 三里屯 - Explore part of the nightlife scene in Beijing. Sanlitun has pubs, bars, and clubs. Friday and Saturday nights are the best nights here.
Day 3 -
  • Beihai Park Sunrise - If you are lucky enough to have a day with nice weather, wake up early and head over to Beihai park on the North side of the Forbidden City. From the temple on the hill you can watch the sun come up over Eastern Beijing, and then explore the park while its still cool outside. You can expect to find tons of exciting cultural activities happening early in the morning such as traditional opera, dancing, tai qi, er hu (traditional instrument) playing, live music, kite flying, chinese chess, amongst others. You can partake as much as you like. Don't think about it, just go!
  • 798 Art district - 七九八艺术区 -this district offers a glimpse into the emerging contemporary art scene in China. Home to many former factories turned into galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, and knick-knack shops, this artist landscape of Beijing is a nice place to spend a morning strolling around taking photographs, expanding your knowledge of modern Chinese culture. These is no subway stop for 798. You will have to take a taxi to get here and its a little far from Qianmen; about 25 minutes without traffic.

Chaoyang Acrobatics Theater

 

798 Art District

Optional Beijing Activities Depending on Time -
  • Drum and Bell Towers
  • Summer Palace
  • Underground tunnel tour (Might be out of business now)
  • Fragrant Hills Park (Near summer palace)
  • Olympic park
  • Panjiayuan dirt market - Highly recommended for souvenirs and random history artifacts. (Keep in mind most if not all are counterfeit no matter what the vendors tell you)

Warnings -

When touring famous areas such as Tiananmen or Wangfujing be careful of friendly Chinese girls who will approach single men and befriend you. They will eventually take you to a tea house where you will be charged 1000's of RMB for tea. People fall for this scam all day long; don't be one of them!!!

Also the same thing goes for anyone approaching you for art exhibits. Also be careful riding tuk-tuk's in Beijing some of them will try to charge you 300 RMB for a five minute ride. I recommend not taking them, but if you do it should only cost around 20RMB for a 5-10 minute ride.

 

Getting from Beijing to Pingyao -

You can purchase your tickets at any train station or train ticket window around Beijing. Theres one not far from Qianmen hostel and you can see it walking back to Qianmen subway station on line 2. I suggest an overnight train departing Beijing at night and arriving in Pingyao early in the morning. Purchase this ticket when you arrive in Beijing to ensure availability. The train takes about 12.5 hours.

 

Day and 5 - Pingyao - 平遥

 

 

The Center of Pingyao

 

 

Pingyao is considered to be the largest and best preserved ancient city in all of China. At approximately 1 by 1 mile, its scale is absolutely massive. Spend some time exploring the city, and surrounding areas for a true taste of Chinese ancient history.

 

Accommodations in Pingyao -

Pingyao has several YHA approved hostels. You can't go wrong with any of them however I recommend:

Yamen Guest House - They offer free train station pickup (Which actually is only about 5 minutes by car). But none the less very convenient coming off a 13 hour overnight train ride. Remember to purchase your train tickets coming off of the train for Xi'an. You won't need too much time in Pingyao; one or two days will do.

 

Yamen Hostel Interior

 

Yamen Hostel Exterior

Suggested itinerary for Pingyao -

 

Pingyao ancient city itself is really cool. Spend any extra time you have wandering the streets, making sure to turn down narrow back allies for extra adventure factor.

  • An entrance ticket can be purchased to enter all of the historical buildings. If you have the time and money purchase a ticket. If not, just skip it because its kind of pricy at 100+ RMB. Also you have to purchase a pass in order to climb the city wall. You can go all around the whole city for a nice morning hike. However there is one spot on the wall where you can walk up for free for the view, you just can't enter the wall. This spot is located on the East-central side of the city wall.
  • I recommend renting bicycles and exploring the city.
  • Some of the best parts of Pingyao actually are outside of the city by car. Do not miss The Wang family compound (王家大院). The compound has been completely restored and is magnificent on a clear day. Its hard to imagine how one family occupied this compound. Also make sure to see the Zhangbi underground fortress. You can arrange day-trips to these two locations from your hostel in Pingyao city.
  • If you would like to hire a private guide I recommend calling Peyton Hou (Actually I lost his number) but ill post it here when I find it :-D . You can find him on Couchsurf; he is from Pingyao.

Pingyao City Wall

Free Part of City Wall Along East Side

Pingyao to Xian -

Purchase your tickets when you arrive in Pingyao because evening tickets to Xian can be hard to get. Sometimes its better to just go to the train station and ask if the hotel tells you tickets are not available. Take the overnight train and it should take you about 8.5 hours.

 

Day 6 and 7 - Xian

 

Terra Cotta Warriors

 

I was surprised to learn that although Xian is home to 14 Dynasties, the historical sites in Xian can be seen in about 2 days. While the center part of Xian contains several impressive historical structures, most of the "old town" has been replaced with modern apartments and office buildings. However Xian still is home to a large part of historical sites.

 

Suggested Accommodations in Xian -

Hostels are cheap and great in Xian.

  • Han Tang Inn / Han Tang House - 029-87389765 - Both of these hostels are located a stones throw away from each other. They are top notch, and I highly recommend them both. Dorms from about 50 RMB.
  • There are many top notch hostels all over Xian

Han Tang House in Xian

Suggested Itinerary for Xian -

  • Rent bikes or walk around the city wall
  • Arrange a trip to see the terra-cotta warriors. This attraction is about an hour by public bus from the Han Tang house. You can also pay to join an organized trip from the hostel but its a little pricy.
  • See the muslim quarter and try some of the very different culinary styles of China.
  • Try Biang Biang Mian (A local noodle delicacy)
  • I have heard that the Shanxi history museum is great in Xian. Han Tang has free tour guides in training that can accommodate you to the museum.
  • Theres also a bar district along the southern part of the city wall.

Muslim Quarter

 

Continuing on from Xian -

There are many options to continue on from Xian.

Xian to Chengdu - The relaxation capital of China. Chengdu is one of my favorite cities in all of China. Loaded with culture, bars, tea houses, amazing food, and everything in-between. About 16 hours by overnight train

Xian to Lanzhou - not much in Lanzhou, but a great starting point to tour the silk road heading out West towards Xinjiang. About 8 hours by overnight train.

Xian to Kaifeng - Skip Henan's capital city of Zhengzhou and head strait for Kaifeng. Kaifeng is a smaller city loaded with more dynasty history. About 8 to 9 hours by overnight train.

 

Train from Xian to Chengdu

Back to Beijing -

Reserve a train ticket or catch a cheap flight from elong.com or ctrip.com.

 

If you have any questions about this itinerary you can always contact me directly at matt@backpackinchina.com. Please remember to spread the word about backpackinchina.com if you found this to be useful.

 

 

 

Written by Matt

Matt

Matt founded Backpack In China in 2010 to help travelers make the best of their trips to China. Since that time he has been living and working in Florida, USA. Each summer he for vacations in China for several weeks.

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