Xi’an is a city divided. The old city is cordoned off by the ancient city wall, and there’s no doubt that the inner and outer boroughs have their own character. Inside the walls, life is laid back, but still moves with electric energy – a place where families have been rooted firmly in the original capital for generations and cruise around with a prideful sense of their deep Shaanxi roots. Modern buildings are touched with traditional architecture to underscore the city’s claim as the cradle of Chinese civilization, and it is within these walls that 12th generation seniors rub elbows with Gucci clad socialites and clubbing hipsters, while next door the Muslim population continues their 1,000-year tradition of roast mutton and diverse noodle dishes.
Outside the walls, modern Xi’an rises up like a gleaming steel forest. Posh apartments hold their share of big city bustle, but the further you go from the walls the more the ancient character fades. Whereas within the walls the clamor of buses, street vendors and buzzing rickshaws echoes throughout pinched alleyways, outside, the energy has more room to disperse. Hitting the sights here is more leisurely, but it loses a bit of the breakneck excitement of the old inner city.