Cycling the ancient city walls of Xi’an, to the tunes of Lady Gaga, alongside dozens of professional cyclists in a race? Yes, this actually happened. Only in China of course!
Xi’an is an incredible city of history – with the majority of its premiere sights and attractions located within it’s ancient city walls. The walls are one of the oldest, largest and best preserved city walls in all of China. A stroll along the walls – or perhaps a bike ride – is a favourite activity of many visitors to the area. Our cycle along the ancient city walls of Xi’an – and incidentally, our participation in a race – was easy some of the best fun we had in China!
The ancient city walls of Xi’an enclose an area of 36 square kilometres, the wall totalling a length of 14 kilometres. The walls stands 12 metres in height, and are built in the typical Chinese architecture style – featuring watchtowers on all four corners. Built as a defence against the enemies, the wall features many fortifications – a moat, drawbridges, corner towers, parapets and gate towers.
We took Line 2 on the subway to Yongning Gate station, which arrives just below the entrance to the South Gate – a fantastic starting point for a cycle or leisurely stroll along the wall. The area surrounding the gate is incredibly scenic, with traditional music playing out of the public sound system, manicured lawns and cultural performances occurring periodically – we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one ourselves.
An entrance fee is required to enter the gated section of the wall, which is well worth it even if you don’t fancy a long stroll along the walls. Atop the wall itself are a number of diagrams and notices with information regarding the defence mechanisms that were in place as well as the strategies that were used to fend off enemies. The view from atop the wall overlooking the old city is spectacular – traditional houses and buildings are everywhere, set against the modern skyscrapers and quaint gardens.
Bicycles can be hired from offices located on all four stretches of the wall. Both singular and tandem bicycles are available for hire. Never having had a go on a tandem bicycle, I begged Mike for us to give it a go. He wasn’t exactly keen, but relented. The standard bike hire period is two hours – the suggested time it takes to cycle the walls at a leisurely pace. We paid our fee and deposit, grabbed a tandem bicycle and took off.
Perhaps I should have listened to Mike – to be honest, the bicycle was a lot more difficult to ride than I had imagined! Not only is there the typical conversation of ‘Are you pedalling? Because I feel like I’m doing all the work!’, but sitting in the back – well, you can’t see an awful lot! Regardless, it was an opportunity to demonstrate patience and we both admitted in the end that it was so much fun!
The race I mentioned above? Well it just so happens that the day we ventured out to explore the ancient city walls of Xi’an, a professional bicycle race was taking place! The wall had been sectioned off by tape – tourists and pedestrians were to remain on one side whilst the cyclists roared down the left. It appears the cyclists came in waves – there were times when we had the wall all to ourselves. We may or may not have spied the inflatable ‘FINISH’ gate up ahead, broke across the barrier and cycled madly through the finishing point! I even managed to catch it on the GoPro!
The race added a whole other element to the experience, as we had to wait patiently on corners after being madly whistled at by the race officials as partakers cycled through, tried to catchup with the pros as they cycled madly by, and stopped to view the official proceedings, laughing at the soundtrack of choice – Lady Gaga!
We made it back just as our allotted two hours were up. We’d taken our time along the first two sections of the wall, taking footage and photos and cycling at a slower pace, before we realised we weren’t even at the halfway point with less than an hour to go. We began madly cycling along the last few stretches – we wouldn’t have made it in time if it weren’t for the fact that the last half of the southern section of the wall was downhill – we cycled faster than ever on the approach so that we coasted in right as the clock ticked two hours!
We may not have been able to walk the day after, had sore bottoms and terrible sun burn, but cycling along the ancient city walls of Xi’an was incredible fun! If you ever pay a visit to the city, be sure to keep aside a half day to take in the ancient city by bicycle – the view along the walls is an incredible insight into life in China!
- How much does it cost to visit the Ancient City Walls of Xi’an?
Entry into the gated section of the walls is 52 RMB per person (as of May 2016). We entered at the south gate where there is a large ticket office at the base. If you wish to hire a bicycle to ride a long the walls, the cost is 90 RMB for a single bicycle or 90 RMB each for a tandem bicycle for a two hour hire. If you exceed the two hours, there are additional charges.
- Where should I stay in Xi’an?
We highly recommend staying within the city walls – here you’ll be closest to all the action! We stayed at the Lohas Dream Hostel – despite an initial debacle over the room we booked not being available, the stay was comfortable and well priced and close to the Muslim Quarter for delicious food! You can book here through Hostelworld.