Western Xia Tombs

Top choice in Ningxia

Like giant beehives scattered on the arid eastern slope of the Helan mountains, the Xixia imperial tombs are Ningxia’s most celebrated sight. The earliest tombs were built a millennium ago by Li Yuanhao, founder of the kingdom. There are nine tombs, plus 250 lesser tombs, in an area of 50 sq km. The one you’ll see (Tomb No.3) belongs to Li – constructed as a 23m-tall wooden pagoda, now weathered to its earthen core. The tomb site is fashioned like a miniature city with towers, city walls and temple.

Permits, usually organised through local tour operators, are required to see the other tombs, but you will pass them if you opt to get to Li Yuanhao's burial place by van.

The examples of Buddhist art in the good site museum (8am to 5.30pm) offer a rare glimpse into the ephemeral Western Xia (or Xixia) culture, and point to clear artistic influences from neighbouring Tibet and Central Asia. There are also many fascinating artefacts excavated from Li Yuanhao’s tomb.

The Xixia Tombs have applied for inclusion in the Unesco World Heritage List for 2020.

The tombs are 33km west of Yinchuan. A return taxi costs from around ¥200 (including waiting time). Regular buses (¥15, every 30 minutes, 7am to 7pm) run past the tombs from the bus station next to the Nánguān Mosque, not far from South Gate Square (南门广场, Nánmén Guǎngchǎng); you will need to tell the driver you want to get off at the tombs. From the South Gate, you could also take bus 2 or 4 to its terminus in Xixia Qu and then take a van (around ¥50 each way) from there. As the site is on the road towards Bayanhot, you can get off any bus heading that way.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Ningxia attractions

1. Western Film Studios

13.8 MILES

This wacky film studio is where famed Chinese movies like Red Sorghum and many Hong Kong classics by Stephen Chow, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Tsui Hark…

2. Chengtiansi Pagoda

14.74 MILES

Climb the 11 storeys of steep, narrow stairs of this brick pagoda topped with a green spire for 360-degree views of Yinchuan. The octagonal pagoda is also…

3. Ningxia Museum

14.88 MILES

This cavernous museum contains an extensive collection of rock art and Silk Road artefacts. The highlights are relics from the imperial tombs of the Xixia…

4. Nanguan Mosque

15.22 MILES

This modern Middle Eastern–style mosque is a 1981 rebuild of the Ming dynasty mosque that was entirely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. It's a…

5. Yinchuan Drum Tower

15.32 MILES

The town's good-looking Drum Tower – any historic Chinese city with any self-worth should have one – presides over the confluence of Jiefang Lu and Gulou…

6. Nánxūn Mén

15.43 MILES

The sole surviving gate of the old town wall, Nánxūn Mén looks south out onto Nanmen Sq (南门广场, Nánmén Guǎngchǎng) from its position east of Nanxun Dongjie…

7. Jade Emperor Pavilion

15.47 MILES

This imposing structure was created as a bell and drum tower in the Ming dynasty; after it suffered damage in an earthquake during the Qing dynasty, it…

8. Xinyi Market

15.69 MILES

At this busy market with lanes flanked by mounds of local produce, the assortment of chilli peppers is astounding – all shapes, sizes and hotness levels:…