Have you been wondering things to know before visiting Muslim Street Xi’an China? I’ve got you covered!
As an avid traveller who has explored the captivating sights of Beijing and elsewhere in China, I was thrilled to recently visit the famed Muslim Quarter on Xi’an’s Muslim Street. However, as a first timer in this bustling neighbourhood.
I quickly discovered that – despite all my China travel experience – this vibrant district still held some surprises. Navigating narrow alleys while dodging motorbikes, communicating the language barrier in food stalls, and preserving bargaining sanity in packed souvenir shops all posed unexpected challenges.
By trip’s end, my inherent love of dive-in cultural immersion survived thanks only to some hard-learned lessons.
The good news? You can now leverage my first-time faux pas for a much smoother, safer Muslim Street adventure. Having walked in naive foreign shoes myself initially, I can provide to must know before visiting Xi’an China and fun facts about Xi’an for your Xi’an travels.
Things To Know Before Travelling To Xi’an China
1. Muslim Street Has a Fascinating History
Muslim Street, also known as Huimin Jie, is located right in the centre of Xi’an, China. The street dates back over 1,300 years to the ancient Tang Dynasty when Xi’an was known as Chang’an and served as the start of the famous Silk Road trading route.
As traders, missionaries, and envoys travelled the Silk Road from Central Asia and the Middle East, many Muslims settled in Chang’an.
They were granted land near the imperial mosque established by the government to allow for their religious practices. Over the centuries, the neighbourhood around the mosque developed into a thriving Muslim quarter in Xi’an China.
Today, Muslim Street serves as the vibrant heart of the Muslim Hui community in Xi’an. As you walk the street, beautiful Chinese-style mosques with striking blended architecture stand alongside bustling halal restaurants and food stalls, Arabic signage, and men in traditional Chinese caps and women in colourful headscarves.
The neighbourhood provides an eye-opening glimpse into the incredible ethnic diversity along the Silk Road trade routes and the long history of Islam in China.
2. Sample Delicious and Unique Halal Cuisine
One of the top attractions luring tourists to Muslim Street is the delicious halal cuisine. The Hui Muslims who have lived and cooked in the area for centuries have developed a mouth-watering blend of Chinese and Arabic flavours unique to Xi’an. As you explore the street, shops overflow with steaming pots, sizzling grills, and tantalising sweets.
Signature dishes not to miss include the spicy lamb skewers, flavourful cold noodles tossed in sesame and chilli oil, rich lamb and bread soup, crispy pancakes stuffed with beef and carrot, Chinese burgers stuffed with meat and veggies between griddled flatbreads, and fragrant rice pilaf dotted with fruits and nuts.
Be sure to save room for the array of Arabic-style pastries and cakes stuffed with red bean paste or dates and coated in sticky syrup.
The evening food tour along Muslim Street may be the best deal in town. For less than $10 USD, you can sample several signature Muslim dishes at different food stalls and really get a taste of the local fare.
3. Practice Your Bargaining Skills
If you’re hoping to pick up some unique souvenirs, Muslim Street houses over 100 bustling shops and stalls selling quality goods. You’ll find stunning teapots, ceramic bowls, carved wood furnishings, embroidered slippers, colourful silk scarves, lanterns, jewellery, incense, dried fruits and nuts, and fragrant spices.
Most of the shops expect you to bargain, so be prepared to flex your haggling muscles. Start with an offer of about 30 percent of the asking price and negotiate from there. It actually becomes a fun game once you get the hang of it.
To avoid getting ripped off, take time to browse and compare prices between several shops selling similar items. Quality and detail tend to reflect in the price, but don’t pay more than the going rate.
4. Dress Appropriately
What to know before travelling to Xi’an China, while Muslim Street welcomes visitors of all backgrounds, be aware that Central Mosque and most vendors cater to conservative Muslims. Men and women alike should cover their arms and legs and avoid showing too much skin when visiting shops or religious sites.
Some key tips and rules for visiting Xi’an China include:
- Women should bring scarves or wraps to cover bare shoulders and cleavage. Skirts or shorts should hit at or below the knee.
- Men should wear at least short sleeves and long pants or knee-length shorts.
- Remove hats and sunglasses when entering sacred spaces like mosques and mausoleums.
- You need not dress fully in traditional garb. Simply wearing modest attire helps show respect for local values and prevents getting turned away from entering certain sites along the street.
5. Watch Your Wallet
In such a dense tourist area, petty theft unfortunately occurs. Crowds and shops with merchandise spilling onto the streets provide ample distraction and opportunity for pickpockets.
Several travellers have reported having cash or mobile phones swiped by swift hands while browsing shops or buying street food.
To avoid becoming a target, heed the following tips:
- Carry your wallet or valuables in front pockets or a belt pouch tucked under your clothes rather than a backpack or rear pocket.
- Don’t carry large amounts of cash. Pay with WeChat or with credit cards when possible.
- Keep an eye on your belongings in restaurants and don’t leave smartphones on tables.
- If staying at local hotels, utilise the safety boxes to secure valuables and cash.
- Remaining vigilant goes a long way toward preventing theft. Simply using common sense helps ensure Muslim Street stays purely enjoyable.
6. Watch Where You Step
The allure of fascinating sights often has tourists craning their heads up rather than looking down. Unfortunately, the narrow streets of Muslim Quarter still lack much pavement. It’s easy to trip on uneven stones and potholes. Motorbikes and bicycles also come whizzing by off the main drags.
To avoid losing your footing, heed these tips:
- Wear proper footwear with good traction and support. Leave flimsy flats or heels at home.
- Walk slowly and carefully, watching each step, especially when pulling luggage.
- Don’t step backward for pictures without looking first.
- Cross streets at intersections with signals rather than mid-block.
- Stay alert to passing bikes and wait for vehicles to pass before crossing smaller streets.
- Taking care beneath your feet will let you keep your eyes aimed more safely at the fascinating sights around you.
7. Quality Souvenirs Get Pricey
With so many trinket stalls and shops, Muslim Street tempts tourists with cheap souvenirs. And who doesn’t love a good bargain? However, many items sold at rock-bottom prices reflect their poor craftsmanship up close.
From fuzzy embroidery, to chipped dishware, to garish decor, these cheap goods simply become clutter back home.
Instead of buying on impulse, set a budget for higher quality keepsakes you’ll actually use or display with pride for years to come. Beautiful tea sets, hand-carved furnishings, delicate silks, and fine jewellery make much more meaningful mementos. Limit cheaper purchases to non-fragile items like spices and dried fruits to share with friends and family.
Seeking out shops selling government accredited handicrafts ensures the global standards and states clear pricing.
Listen when haggling to determine if the shopkeeper will come down to a fair price that still reflects quality workmanship. Though pricier up front, these methodical purchases make the best long-term investments.
8. Explore the Great Mosque and Nearby Muslim Sites
No trip to Muslim Street is complete without visiting the Great Mosque, the centre of the neighbourhood’s Islamic history and culture. Constructed in the traditional Chinese palace architectural style, the striking mosque is over 1,300 years old, with expansive courtyards, grand pavilions, and intricate stone, wood, and plasterwork.
Visitors can go inside to view incredible examples of ancient Islamic calligraphy and Chinese motifs. Just behind the mosque lies a more sombre site—the ancient Muslim cemetery dating back eight centuries with over 10,000 old tombs standing amid gnarled trees.
Take time as well to visit the historic Xiguan Mosque with its signature eleven-pointed pagoda-style minarets constructed during the Ming Dynasty. The nearby Drum Tower also proves an easy add-on to view spectacular panoramas of Muslim Street from its balcony.
9. Don’t Miss the Muslim Quarter Night Market
As the sun sets, the Muslim Quarter transforms into a bustling open-air night bazaar stretching along the pedestrian roads of Beiyuanmen. Vendors start setting up colourful stalls filled with snacks, trinkets and street food as locals head out for evening promenades.
The market offers great people watching and shopping under glowing red lanterns. Try tantalising Muslim snacks or bargain for quirky souvenirs. Soak in the lively atmosphere at packed restaurants. The bazaar lasts from around 6:30 pm to midnight when vendors begin packing up.
If you are planning on visiting Xi’an then read this handy Xi’an itinerary, it covers what to do and where to stay in the bustling city.
10. English Is Hit or Miss
The long history of the Silk Road through Xi’an means it sees plenty of tourism along with a good deal of English spoken in hotspots. However, once you wander off main city drags, English communication gets more inconsistent.
Muslim Street provides a very authentic experience, meaning language barriers remain common.
Most restaurant menus and signs at least offer some English, but many shops and food stalls have little translation. Shopkeepers and patrons usually know a few words for basic transactions, but complex questions or instructions easily get lost crossing the language gap.
To aid communication:
- Download a good offline Chinese translation app
- Have your destination written in Chinese to show taxi drivers
- Learn a few key Mandarin phrases
- Carry a Chinese phrasebook
- Pack patience and a sense of humour
- Be Prepared to Get Lost
Between the winding side alleys, lack of street signs, late night darkness, and dizzying crowds, visitors often lose their bearings on Muslim Street.
For such a small area, it amazes how utterly disorienting the neighbourhood can become even on a short walk. Don’t be shocked if you take a few wrong turns down dead ends or struggle to locate sites thought to be nearby.
When navigating, try the following tricks:
- Before heading out, study a map thoroughly so you understand the general layout and location of key sites like your hotel, restaurants, or the Great Mosque for getting re-oriented.
- Take a walking tour on your first day for an in-depth lay of the land before trying solo excursions.
- If aiming for a particular shop or eatery with no luck, ask around as sometimes signed get obscured in the chaos.
- Don’t panic if turned around at night. Large groups of locals likely walk near you. Stop into an open shop to request help pointing your way.
Getting lost a time or two ends up being part of the adventure!
11. Brace for Intense Crowds
As one of the top tourist attractions within Xi’an city, over 20,000 visitors pack themselves into the tiny half-mile long Muslim Street each day. The narrow road and alleys simply cannot handle this volume of people.
Going from shop to shop often requires shuffling shoulder to shoulder amidst the crowds. Lines also get long quickly at food stalls and popular sites during peak times.
If tight spaces or mass humanity easily aggravate you, visiting Muslim Street will require extra patience. Arm yourself with the following coping strategies:
- Visit on weekday mornings when crowds are lighter and vendors eagerly welcome customers
- Dine at off-peak times, either early lunch around 11 am or later dinners around 8:30 pm
- Skip crowded shops with items you can likely find elsewhere along the street
- Practice breathing exercises and self-talk when throngs threaten to overwhelm
- Viewing the sea of people as part of the area’s charm makes navigating the crowds much less stressful.
12. Be Wary of Fake Antiques
As you browse ornate lamps, screens, carved furniture and other Chinese antiques, don’t take “ancient relic” claims at face value. Creative sellers have been known to artificially age items to fool tourist, allowing them to drive up the price tenfold or more. Wary buyers, however, can spot two main signs of fake antiques:
Genuine antiques match the artistic styles and methods of their period. For example, antique porcelain often has subtle brush stroke designs rather than modern stamped patterns. Real ivory, bone and jade carvings display exquisite detail a common craftsperson couldn’t replicate. Study real examples of various periods in museums before shopping to gain an eye for quality.
Sellers often over-dramatise wear to feign aging, like pounding brass to add excessive dents or staining wood grey with bleach rather than letting true patina slowly develop. Gently test pieces to feel for inconsistencies that contradict the visible aging. Also watch for tell-tale signs like modern nails hiding under faked wear and tear.
Seeking out vetted state-approved antique vendors helps avoid wasting big money on convincing fakes. Having an eye for spotting deceitful aging also assists bargaining down outrageous prices on common wares disguised as rare relics.
13. Don’t Miss Seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors
No first-time visit to Xi’an is complete without viewing China’s most famous archaeological treasures: the Terra Cotta Warriors. Discovered in the 1970s, thousands of WARRIORS line massive underground vaults near Emperor Qin’s tomb, each with unique expressions crafted over 2,200 years ago.
Many Muslim Street tours and lodgings offer quick day trip shuttles out to view the spellbinding army. Just 25 miles outside the city, the cheap convenient bus transport makes fitting the Terra Cotta WARRIORS into your Xi’an itinerary simple.
With three huge vaults and ongoing excavation spanning almost 200 acres though, truly soaking in warrior magic often requires overnighting nearby instead of just a rushed few hours.
If time allows budget for immersing yourself in history at this phenomenal site that often gets bucket listed right alongside the Great Wall when planning the China experience.
14. Enjoy Side Trips to Nearby Attractions
Beyond the renowned Terra Cotta Warriors, Xi’an offers many more incredible attractions perfect for day trips to round out your travels. High-speed and overnight trains make several sites within a few hours journey quite accessible.
Top picks worth adding on include:
- Hua Shan Mountain – Ride a cable car up this 5,000-foot sacred Taoist peak to enjoy breath-taking alpine scenery and heart-racing hike along narrow cliffside planks.
- Hukou Waterfall – Gaze in awe at the unrivalled power where China’s 2nd longest Yellow River thunders over a 160-foot limestone cliff.
- Famen Temple – This 1,300-year-old Buddhist temple houses exquisite relics like an intricately carved finger bone of Buddha himself
- Banpo Neolithic Village – Explore fascinating ruins of a 6,000-year-old matriarchal clan village with recreated houses, workshops and burials sites laying a day in the life of ancient people.
Time and budget allowing, tacking a few extra days in Xi’an on to your stay gives you the flexibility to enjoy these incredible additional attractions that enrich understanding of China’s history and breath-taking landscapes.