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Although Beijing is now China's capital, its history and prestige are nothing compared to the old capital of Xi'an, where emperors ruled China for thousands of years. At the eastern end of the ancient Silk Road, bordering the Qinling Mountains and the banks of the Wei River, Xi'an has been the capital of some of the most important dynasties in China. Today, like many Chinese cities, Xi’an is a vast, sprawling metropolis, yet within its old city walls it retains sizeable historical elements that will charm any visitor.

When one hears the name Xi'An, it is difficult not to think of the Terracotta Army. Created during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) visiting is certainly a highlight of any tour to Xi’an. You will be amazed firstly by the sheer scale of the buildings they are housed in, and then blown away when studying the intricately and individually carved life-sized figures, in enormous numbers, standing guard in the excavation pits.

Xi'an is a city filled with history and culture. Between the famous jiaozi (dumpling) feasts, and history that stretches longer than the Great Wall, Xi'an epitomises traditional Chinese culture. Xi'an has one of the world's oldest Muslim communities, founded some 1,300 years ago by traders of Persian and Arab origin who travelled along the Silk Road and settled in the then capital of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). Spend time wandering Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter with its incredible spread of mouthwatering street-food, incorporating spices such as cumin that were brought along the Silk Road and introduced into Chinese cuisine all those years ago.

Another highlight of Xi’an is its city walls. Whereas Beijing’s city walls were unfortunately demolished during the Cultural Revolution, Xi’an’s remain intact and spending some time walking or cycling along the walls is a wonderful way to see the city from a vantage point. The Drum and Bells towers also offers perfect views as well as an insight into their historical usage.

A first visit to northern China should ideally incorporate a visit to Xi’an, and a tailor-made tour certainly allows the flexibility. The best time of year to visit is during spring or autumn when the weather will neither be too hot or cold, and the sky should be pleasant. From Beijing, it’s just a short flight south-west, or a six-hour ride on China's ultra-efficient bullet train network. From Xi’an, Chengdu is the perfect onward destination.

>> Read our blog: A Complete Visitors Guide to the Terracotta Warriors

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