Xian, being an ancient capital of China, and having a long history, is home to the most intact city wall in all of China. Xian is also thought of as the beginning of the ancient Silk Road. The city boasts many attractions, most notably the Terra Cotta Warriors, but there is lots more to see and do in the city.
The main activity in Xian, and the top reason why people go there, is the Terracotta Warriors. Another activity that is well worth your time is renting a bicycle and circumnavigating Xian’s ancient city wall. Sadly, I never accomplished that during my first stay in Xian, mostly because it was such an unbelievably hot summer day. So when we decided to go back to Xian in springtime, after visiting Longmen Grottos, I decided to get on a bike and make my way around the wall.
A Little History
The wall has been around for a long time. Construction started in the Tang dynasty (618-907), but wasn’t completed until the reign of the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It is supposed to be the most complete city wall in all of China, and although you can see where the wall has had a face-lift since it was originally built, it still looks old.
Riding the Wall
The perimeter of the wall is 14 kilometers, or 8.7 miles. If you decided to walk instead of cycling the wall, allow yourself about 4 hours. As for cycling, I read that most say it takes 1.5-2 hours. A single person bicycle will cost 45 CNY (6.7USD) for 2 hours, and a tandem bicycle costs 90 CNY (13.4) for 2 hours. After those two hours you will be charged 5 CNY (.75USD) for every ten minutes. This can really add up so be careful, as it is easy to lose track of time while admiring the wall and the surrounding views.
In fact I found that you could only make that time if you were either consistently riding at a steady pace with no stops, or if you rode really fast then took small breaks at the four gates. To me, part of the fun of doing something like this is not only the exercise but also allowing yourself to really take in the experience. If you have to pedal hard just to make it back in time, it takes away from the enjoyment, at least for me. There is so much to take in from the views of the city to the informational signs located at various points along the wall giving facts and history.
At first my husband and I were leisurely pedaling, stopping for photos, and reading the signs. When we reached the first gate, signaling that we had only made it a quarter of the way around, I checked the clock. It had taken us 45 minutes to get that far! This meant that at that rate it would have taken us 3 hours, and we would have to pay an extra 30CNY per bicycle. For two people that’s 60 CNY (9USD), which on top of the cost of admission to the wall, 54 CNY (8CNY), starts to add up.
So we ended up pedaling pretty hard around the rest of the wall and only making quick stops for a drink here and there. Although it wasn’t super hot, there is no shade on the wall, so with cycling and being in the sun, you need to stay hydrated. So we didn’t really stop as often, or read as much as we would have wanted to, but aside from feeling a little rushed, it was still lots of fun, and now I can say that I have biked the length of China’s oldest and most complete city wall.
Guangren Lama Temple
If you are still feeling ambitious, I would highly suggest a visit to the Tibetan Lama Temple. You will probably see the colorful prayer flags and the white stupas as you are riding around the wall. It is situated in the northwest corner of the city right next to the wall. We stopped by after our ride and were delighted with all the Tibetan imagery. It created a colorful contrast to the gray of the ancient wall. It isn’t as crowded as other popular attractions in the city, so makes for a nice quiet outing. (Costs 20CNY)
- Make sure to wear a hat, or put sunscreen on, since there isn’t much in the way of shade. You are in direct sunlight the whole time.
- Wear comfortable clothes. I had a pair of harem pants on, which was the wrong choice for pants as I was worried the whole time that they would get stuck in the chain. Tighter fitting pants or shorts would be more ideal.
- Bring water or other liquids to keep hydrated. There are small little stores next to all the bicycle rental stalls around the wall. They sell drinks, snacks, and ice cream (which was much appreciated while biking on a hot day).
- You can get onto the wall at any of the gates, but the south gate near the bell tower is the most ornate and enjoyable.
Have you been to Xian? Did you cycle around the ancient city wall? I would love to hear about your experience in the comments below.