A Visitor's Guide to the Terracotta Warriors Museum in Xi'an

Terracotta Army Warriors, Xian, China
••• Billy Hustace/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Emperor Qin's Army

It has been said that going to China and missing seeing the Terracotta Army is like going to Egypt and missing the Pyramids. Viewing Emperor Qin Shi Huang's terracotta army guarding his burial site and protecting his entry to the afterlife from the earthen side of a continuing archeological project is certainly one of the most memorable parts of any trip to China. The site was made a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1987.

Location of the Terracotta Army

A visit to the terracotta army is made from Xi'An (pronounced She-ahn), the capital of Shaanxi province. Xi'An lies to the southwest of Beijing. It is approximately a one-hour flight, or an overnight train ride from Beijing, and is easy to add on if you are already visiting Beijing.  Xi'An is China's first historic capital, made a primary city by the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang.

The Qin Shi Huang Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum is located about thirty to forty-five minutes outside Xi'an by car.

History of the Terracotta Army

The story goes that the terracotta army itself was discovered in 1974 when some farmers were digging a well. Their shoveling began the unearthing of a huge burial pit belonging to the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the founding Qin Dynasty emperor who unified China into a central state and also laid the foundation for the Great Wall.

It is estimated that the tomb took 38 years to build, between 247 BC and 208 BC, and utilized the labor of over 700,000 conscripts. The emperor died in 210 BC.

Features

The museum site is divided into three parts where one can view the three pits where ongoing reconstruction of the army is taking place.

  • After paying entrance, you will watch a 360-degree movie about the site and how the army was discovered.
  • You'll then visit the sheds that house Pits 1-3 (named in order of discovery). Pit 1 is the largest and has had the most restoration done. It is here you can see the columns of soldiers followed by war chariots. Carry on to Pits 2 and 3.
  • There will also be plenty of shopping opportunities built in. If you missed picking up your replica of the terracotta warriors in any of the markets you saw them in from Shanghai to Kashgar, then now's your chance to get them from their original location.

Getting to the Warriors Museum

  • Most visitors go on group or private tours. Group tours can be booked out of your hotel or even made from other cities, such as Beijing, or in your home country. Private Tours can be booked in the same way but will cost more. However, private tours will give you the luxury of taking your time.
  • On your own, you can take Bus #306 from the parking lot just east of the Xi'An train station. Ask your hotel for directions.

Essentials

  • Opening hours: 8:00am to 6:00pm
  • Recommended time for visit: three hours
  • Guide or Self-Guide?: if you're visiting on your own, you can hire a guide outside the gates of the museum. You'll be approached by English-speaking guides and asked if you want their services. Negotiate and agree on the price up-front. The nice thing about having a guide is that they are good at navigating the crowds and always know the best spot for a photo. But hiring is really up to you. You can visit the museum without a guide very easily.

    Tips for Visiting the Warriors Museum

    • Don't buy your copies of the terracotta warriors on the way in! You'll have to lug them around, so buy them on the way out. There will be hawkers willing to make you a good deal.
    • You can buy books about history and discovery of the terracotta army in the museum bookstore. Usually one of the "farmers" who was digging the well on that fateful day in 1974 is there signing books. (He's probably not really one of the original farmers. Maybe a cousin? Maybe from the same village?)
    • Websites quote it is not possible to take photos but we had no trouble during our visit. Just remember not to use the flash.