The easiest way to see the sights around Xi’an is to get up early and take one of the many tours on offer. There are two routes: the popular eastern route covers the Huaqing Pool and the Lintong Museum, the Terracotta Army, the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang and the Banpo Museum; the western route, going to the Imperial Tombs and the Famen Temple, is less popular as more travel time is involved, and it’s more expensive (it’s also harder to find anyone running it off season). The best tours leave by 8am.
Most hotels, and all hostels, can arrange such tours, sometimes even with no advance notice; the hostels are usually both the cheapest and most reliable, though you should still ask about exactly what you’re getting, and expect to be taken to some shops on the way. Prices for the eastern route are around ¥260 for the Terracotta Army plus the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang, or ¥350 including the Banpo Museum; a day-trip to Hua Shan will be around ¥450 including the cable car. A tour of the western route will cost from ¥340 – some operators tempt customers by knocking the price down, then also knock Famen Temple off the itinerary, so clarify its inclusion beforehand.
One unusual option offered by the hostels is a full day-trip southwest to a panda reserve at Foping in the Qingling mountains (¥200–300), where you can see captive animals and tour the research centre.