A circuit around an ancient city wall in the city near the Terracotta Warriors

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Terrain: Paved paths and side walk
  • Length: 16km loop
  • Flow: Regular interruptions to cross city streets
  • Scenery: Ancient city wall, moat and gates, city parks with city views
  • Safety Issues: Crossing the streets!
  • Bathrooms: Yes (free!)
  • Drinking water: There was bottle water for sale at street stands for a reasonable price.
  • Transit Access: Yes
  • Parking: No
  • Night Access: Yes
  • Special Features: Following an ancient city wall and watching locals exercise in the city parks that line it!
  • Nearby Attractions: Don’t miss out on the local noodle dish Biang Biang. Also the South Gate has amazing ceremonies at different times throughout the day, look locally for a current schedule.

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Xi’an is a popular stop on most tours of China, since it is the city near the very famous exhibit of the Terracotta Army. Like many tourists to China, we were excited about visiting the Terracotta Army but hadn’t given a lot of thought to the city of Xi’an itself. Finding a fun and historic run was a bonus of our visit to this remarkable city!

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We arrived by train, and the immense city wall was the first thing that greeted us as we exited the train station. Xi’an was a capital city in ancient China and its wall is one of the largest, oldest and best-preserved city walls in China. It dates from the 14th century but has undergone restorations at various times. We were quickly swept up in the hustle and bustle of Xi’an: a vibrant city and well worth the visit in it’s own right. After stopping at our hotel, we went out to explore the colourful Muslim quarter, exploring local foods and the shops. As we returned to our hotel, passing through the south gate of the city wall, I decided I needed to look into running the wall.

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Some research online indicated that it is possible to run on top of the wall itself. However, it is a pay access area and it’s only open certain hours. As we were there in the middle of summer when days are long and very hot, I didn’t think it would be enjoyable to start running at 8am, in fact, that when I like to end runs on hot days. I find by heading out early I catch the last coolness of the night before the sun gets to high in the sky. I also enjoy watching cities wake up as I run around them. I did figure out that there is a series of parks circling the wall, making a 16km circuit, so I figured I would run this perimeter and that way I could start early.

When I started out my first obstacle was crossing the large and busy road to get across the moat and access to the parks along the wall. Our hotel was near the South Gate and this is a busy area. I walked along until I found some traffic lights to get me across. I don’t recommend jaywalking the busy roads that run parallel to and through the wall – you will be taking your life in your own hands!

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As I entered the first park, I knew it was going to be a great run! I was greeted by groups of people exercising in various ways. By this point in my trip this seemed normal, as early morning exercise in city parks seems commonplace in China, however, in Xi’an they took it to the next level! There were rows of ping pong tables, various types of manual exercise equipment, large exercise classes, as well as the usual walkers, runners and people practicing tai chi. There was a nice cement path that ran through the park and along the city wall, so I stuck to that, enjoying the views. I could see various parts of Xi’an city itself, there was awesome people watching, and of course the ever-present city wall loomed beside me, a constant stoic reminder of the distant past. It was easy to lose myself watching the vibrant modern people against the backdrop of historic architecture.

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It was easy to find my way. How can you get lost when following along a giant city wall?! However, the series of parks were interrupted by roads, which had to be crossed properly. Some of the roads were smaller, and it was possibly to dash across at the right moment, but some were huge and required waiting at a traffic light and even then crossing required focus as scooter drivers don’t seem to obey the traffic laws and my appear in your path at any moment! This definitely took some patience, as some of the traffic lights were long. The roads separate the parks along the wall at intervals of 1 or 2km, so this is something you encounter frequently on a run around the wall and is really the one drawback of this otherwise lovely run.

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There are cement paths through all the parks that make an easy route and the whole route is completely flat. I don’t recall seeing water fountains although there was water for sale at random street vendors along the way. I did notice there were several toilets along the route. The toilets are free and they were open early. They are clean squat style bathroom stalls and you must bring your own tp!

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Hotels are plentiful in Xi’an, as it’s a major tourist destination. We stayed right beside the city wall, which made running the wall circuit easy! It was easy to get around the city by Uber and didn’t take more than 10 minutes to reach the Drum Tower and Muslim Quarter. Staying near the South Gate was a bonus, because we got to see some of the amazing ceremonies carried out there regularly; I am not sure we would have seen these otherwise.

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The two hot tips for Xi’an are to find and eat authentic Biang Biang, the famous local noodle dish. We tried it in a few places and our favourite was actually a busy eatery in the Muslim Quarter, sorry I don’t recall the name. There some other unique foods in Xi’an worth exploring too, here is an interesting food guide we found. The other things worth mentioning is the ceremonies held at the South Gate. Look online for a current schedule. These free colourful outdoor spectacles are definitely worth checking out!

The run around the city wall in Xi’an was overall really good and worth doing. The only drawback was crossing the roads along the way. However, I think it was definitely worth it, the scenery and people watching made it worthwhile! I don’t think I would come to Xi’an to do this run, but if you are here, it’s definitely worth doing!

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