Image by Nateethep Ratanavipanon 500PX
Xī'ān is one of the few cities in China where the imposing old city walls still stand. Built in 1370 during the Ming dynasty, the magnificent 12m-high walls are surrounded by a dry moat and form a rectangle with a perimeter of 14km. Most sections have been restored or rebuilt, and it is possible to walk the walls in their entirety in a leisurely four hours (or around two hours by bike, or at a slow jog).
Cycling from the South Gate costs ¥40 for 100 minutes (¥200 deposit), while the truly lazy can be whisked around in a golf cart for ¥200. Access ramps are located inside the major gates, with the exception of the South Gate, where the entrance is outside the walls; there's another entrance inside the walls beside the Forest of Stelae Museum. En route, you get to look out over modern-day Xī'ān. From this vantage point it's clear that the city is a hodgepodge of old and new, with the new vastly in the ascendancy. Every now and then a slice of old Xī'ān, such as Guǎngrén Temple, appears and you are rewarded with a bird's-eye view.
To get an idea of Xī'ān's former grandeur, consider this: the Tang city walls originally enclosed 83 sq km, an area seven times larger than today's city centre.