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Top ten Xi'an sights

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The famous warriors may be the main draw, but Xi'an (starting city for Silk Road tour) is brimming with other star attractions.

1 Banpo Village
Excavations at Banpo, on the edge of Xi'an, offer proof of an agricultural community that flourished nearly 6,000 years ago. It is one of China's earliest known examples of Neolithic culture, and inside the museum is earthenware that shows the progression from plain, utilitarian vessels to feasting bowls decorated with abstract fish patterns.

2 Medicine Market
Not a typical tourist attraction but fascinating none the less, and worth a visit en route to the Terracotta Army. There is a pungent smell of herbs, dried roots and fungi, and the market is stocked with sacks of dried creatures, including seahorses, millipedes, lizards and scorpions.

3 Shaanxi History Museum
Before Xi'an Museum opened, this was arguably the country's best museum, hosting nearly half a million artefacts. It is still a showcase for some of the region's finest treasures, including jade seals, frescoes and an exquisite gold stag-shaped ornament from the Han dynasty.

4 Big Goose Pagoda
Built to house Buddhist holy texts from India, this is one of China's oldest pagodas and one of must-see Xian tourist attractions. You can still climb to the top, but many people come here today to see Asia's biggest fountain and the music-and-light show that takes place alongside it.

Fountains spurt and spray in a co-ordinated frenzy to the backdrop of classic melodies and bright lights. It is a huge draw for locals, who arrive in droves to watch the extravaganza (8pm in winter, 9pm in summer).

5 Forest of Stelae
This museum houses hundreds of remarkable stone tablets etched with Chinese inscriptions ranging from advice on the Buddhist way of life to calling the brave to the rigour of battle.

Afterwards, wander the neighbouring streets where Xi'an's artists come to buy the tools of their trade - from brushes to ink wells, sheaves of rice paper to blotters - as well as sell their finished products, from classical Chinese paintings to calligraphy scrolls.

6 Lianhu Park
One of the loveliest green spaces left in Xi'an, and a popular place for locals to stroll, practise tai chi and exchange hand massages. Visit the teahouse on the edge of the park, which overlooks a pond dense with pink and white lotus flowers, and order a pot of fragrant Longjing tea.

7 City walls
There are few cities left in China that are walled in on all four sides, and Xi'an's fortress-like perimeter does not disappoint. Built in the 14th century during the Ming dynasty, the walls have since been entirely restored, so that you can stroll the full nine-mile circumference in a few hours, or pedal around more speedily by bicycle (hire shop at the South Gate).

8 Muslim Quarter
Islam arrived in China during Mohammad's lifetime, nearly 1,500 years ago, with Arab merchants travelling on the Silk Road from Persia and Afghanistan. Xi'an's Muslim neighbourhood where you should roam around for your Xian tour still retains the atmosphere of those trading days with bustling markets selling dried kiwi fruit, dates and an array of souvenirs, including mini terracotta warriors.

The cobbled backstreets are stocked with teashops and eateries serving steaming bowls of yang rou pao mo, a spicy mutton soup with pitta bread croutons, followed by sesame seed cakes. For a respite from the crowds, head to the serene courtyards of the Great Mosque, dating back to 742 AD.

9 Temple of the Eight Immortals
China's largest Taoist temple, on the eastern edge of the city, is still an active place of worship where locals come to light incense sticks and worship their ancestors. On Sundays and Wednesdays, there is one of the best antique markets in town - but be warned, only an expert can judge what is real and what is not.

10 South Gate
After dark, the South Gate of the City Wall (must-see for your Xian travel) becomes a buzz of activity. You can buy a kite for £1 from a street vendor and join the skilled kite-flyers, or watch toddlers practise writing complex Chinese characters. Elderly men set up impromptu mahjong games, couples ballroom dance to crackly radios and everyone watches everyone else pass the time.

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