Family Travels: Xi'an: An Ancient Imperial Capital

Friday, 20 March 2009

As the ancient capital of 13 Chinese dynasties, Xi’an is a city rich with history, and with numerous attractions that draw tourists, it is easy to navigate with a family. The thousands-strong Terracotta Army is a major tourist draw, and a sight sure to enthrall adults and children alike (the largest pit holds around 6,000 warriors and horses). But the city also boasts early imperial tombs, a thriving Muslim Quarter and a nearby Neolithic village, in addition to the majestic cliffs of Huashan Mountain.

The Travelers: Americans Jim and Sue Serstad, and their three children: Garrett (11), Jenna (10) and Ian (5).

Where to Stay: Jim and Sue highly recommend the four-star Bell Tower Hotel (29 8760 0000). Their room overlooked the Bell Tower – the exact geographical center of Xi’an. Markets, shops, the fascinating Muslim quarter and the ancient city walls were all within walking distance.

What to Eat: Loud and bustling Huimin Jie in the Muslim quarter behind the Drum Tower is packed with restaurants and stalls serving local specialties like lamb skewers. The Serstads were also grateful for child-friendly Western options, such as the ubiquitous McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut.

Off the Wall: The kids voted the bike ride around the City Wall (29 8208 2218, http://www.xa-cq.com/) the best part of their entire holiday. The ride is nice and flat and takes about an hour, though it can get hot and dusty.

Best Splurge: On their return train trip, the standard soft sleepers were booked up, and the whole family was forced to upgrade to deluxe class. Sue raves about the spotless Western-style toilet and washbasin ensuite, the comfortable easy chair and adjustable climate and sound system. The buffet car can get smoky, however, so the Serstads suggest bringing your own food.

First published, in part, in beijingkids magazine and on the beijingkids website. Opening words by Caitlin Manicom. Interviews by Tania McCartney.

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