When my travel buddy suggested going cycling on our trip to China, the day after visiting the Terracotta Warriors and the Shaanxi History Museum, I thought she’d lost the plot! I wasn’t looking forward to mega cities with lunatic traffic, hazardous fumes, heat, humidity and unreadable road signs. Plus we’re distinctly middle-aged and unfit! Then she told me that we weren’t going to ride around the streets, we were going cycling on the ancient city wall in Xi’an. So we packed our padded pants and had a go. Here’s my report on cycling in Xi’an.
All About the Wall
Construction of the Xi’an city wall began in 1370, during the Ming Dynasty, and was completed during the Tang Dynasty. The wall is 14 km long, 12 metres high, 15 to 18 metres wide and it was fully restored in the 80s. It surrounds the old city of Xi’an and it’s possible to cycle all the way round it. There are very strict building regulations within the walls, with no building higher than the wall. Outside the wall, skyscrapers are everywhere!
The wall has a wide moat and watchtowers every 120 metres, built to accommodate the ancient city defenders. There are North, South, East and West gates, each with three towers which provide access to the thriving old Xi’an city.
Cycling the Wall
The South Gate is the most attractive and it’s where you’ll be able to hire a bike from. There’s a good supply of clean, well-maintained bikes and tandems to choose from (with proper suspension and padded seats, for which you’ll be very grateful). It costs CNY 45 to hire a bike for 2 hours with a deposit of CNY 200 (or CNY 90 to hire tandem). You’ll easily get around the wall in 1 1/2 to 2 hours! The staff at the rental shop are super helpful and will adjust your seat up/down if needed too. Then you’re off!
The Views From the Wall are Spectacular
We had an amazing view of the city from our lofty position on the wall. Setting off from the South gatehouse, we cycled anti-clockwise round the wall, with the fascinating twists and turns of the old city on our left, and the vast sprawl of city skyscrapers on our right.
We could see the towering financial district, traditional Chinese shops, a Buddhist temple with a golden roof and the lush greenery of Huancheng Park. The reward from the West gate is a good view of the Drum and Bell Towers which mark the centre of the old city.
It’s worth stopping at the watchtowers too (give your legs a rest) as they all have little tidbits of information. One has a little exhibition about the history of the bicycle.
We made it round the wall in just over an hour, much to the astonishment of our guide who clearly thought we were fat old women likely to have a coronary!
My Xi’an report wouldn’t be complete without saying:
- The wall is very easy to cycle and mostly flat, but there are some slopes and the path is quite bumpy. Do take cycling short or padded pants, or risk walking like John Wayne when you get off your bike.
- It can get very hot up there – make sure you have a bottle of water in your bag
- Toilets on the wall are few and far between – there’s one at the start and one at the end! You have been warned…
Have you tried cycling the Xian city wall? Do share your story and photos in the comments below.
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