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Beijing Travel Guide

The Great Wall

A symbol of China's historic detachment and sense of vulnerability, the Great Wall snakes through the countryside over deserts, hills, and plains for several thousand miles. Originally a series of disparate earthen ramparts built by individual states, the Great Wall was created only after the unification of China under Qin Shi Huangdi (221–210 BC). Despite impressive battlements, the wall ultimately proved ineffective; it was breached in the 13th century by the Mongols and then, in the 17th century, by the Manchu. Today, only select sections of its crumbling remains have been fully restored.

The Great Wall of China
       
Panoramic views Multi-function wall Watchtowers Cannons
Because the wall took advantage of the natural terrain for defensive purposes following the highest points and clinging to ridges, it now offers superb panoramic views. The wall enabled speedy communications via smoke, flares, drums, and bells, as well as allowing for the rapid transport of troops across the country. A Ming addition, these served as signal towers, forts, living quarters, and storerooms for provisions. Another Ming addition, cannons were used to defend the wall and summon help.

Tips for visitors

  • The wall is exposed to the elements so be prepared for all outcomes: wear layers of clothing and a waterproof top, but also bring some suncream.
  • Bring plenty of water.
  • The wall can be very steep in places, so make sure you have strong footwear with a good grip such as hiking boots or tough waterproof runners.

Star features

  • Panoramic views
  • Watchtowers

Reconstruction of the Great Wall This shows a section of the wall as built by the most prolific wall builders, the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). The section at Badaling, built around 1505, is similar to this and was restored in the 1950s and 1980s.

The Great Wall of China (Ming Dynasty) Most visitors travel to the wall from Beijing , but it is worth seeing the wall anywhere along its length. Also impressive are the restored forts at Juyong Guan, Jiayu Guan, and Shanhaiguan.

Places to visit

  • Jiayu Guan
  • Badaling & Juyong Guan
  • Mutianyu & Huanghua Cheng
  • Simatai
  • Shanhaiguan

Exploring the Great Wall of China
A trip to the wall is a must for any visitor to Beijing. Most hotels will be able to organize this for you, usually combined with a visit to the Ming Tombs. However, be sure to find out whether there are any unwanted diversions planned to cloisonné workshops, jade factories, or Chinese medicine clinics. Small groups can have a more personalized visit, and see the more remote parts of the wall, by hiring a taxi for the day from Beijing and sharing the cost.

Badaling

Stall selling tourist paraphernalia at the Great Wall, Badaling
Stall selling tourist paraphernalia
at the Great Wall, Badaling
  • 44 miles (70 km) northwest of Beijing
  • 010 6912 1268
  • 1 from Qian Men
  • 6:30am–6:30pm daily
The restored section of the wall at Badaling, northwest of Beijing
The restored section of the wall
at Badaling, northwest of Beijing

Equipped with guardrails, cable car, pristine watchtowers, and tourist facilities, the restored Ming fortification at Badaling is the most popular section of the Great Wall. The reward for coming to Badaling is the breathtaking view of the wall winding its way over the hills. To fully appreciate this, get away from the crowds by walking as far as you can along the wall either east or west of the entrance. The ticket includes admission to the Great Wall Museum. The pass at Juyong Guan is on the way to Badaling and although recently restored, it is often quieter than Badaling. With unscalable mountains on either side it is easy to see why this spot was chosen for defense. There are also some authentic Buddhist carvings on a stone platform, or “cloud terrace,” in the middle of the pass that date back to the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368).

Mutianyu

  • 56 miles (90 km) north of Beijing, Mutianyu Town, Huairou County
  • 6 from Xuanwu Men
  • 916 from Dongzhimen then taxi
  • 7:30am–6pm daily

Chair lifts
The appeal of Mutianyu lies in its dramatic hilly setting and slightly less intrusive tourist industry. With a series of watchtowers along its restored length, the wall you can see here dates from 1368 and was built upon the foundations of the wall built during the Northern Qi dynasty (AD 550–77).

Huanghua Cheng

Ruins at Huanghua Cheng clinging to the steep hillside
Ruins at Huanghua Cheng clinging
to the steephillside
  • 37 miles (60 km) north of Beijing, Huairou County
  • 916 from Dongzhimen then taxi
  • daily

Situated on the same stretch of wall as Mutianyu, Huanghua is an exhilarating section of Ming wall that is far less developed than other parts of the wall. The great barrier is split into two here by a large reservoir; most travelers take the right hand route on the other side of the reservoir, as the left-hand section is more difficult to reach. Devoid of guardrails, the crumbling masonry at Huanghua Cheng can be uneven and fairly treacherous, so be careful. Due to its crumbling state, access has been limited by the authorities. This is the best option for accommodation if you want to stay near the Great Wall.

Simatai

  • 68 miles (110 km) northeast of Beijing, Miyun County
  • 6 from Xuanwu Men
  • 6am–6pm daily

The wall at Simatai has only been partially repaired, affording a more genuine impression of the original wall. The steep and hazardous parts of the wall are also a lot riskier to navigate. Most visitors clamber along the eastern section of wall at Simatai, which leads to much steeper sections of wall, and later, impassable ruins. Despite the tourist trappings, the views are superb here. There is a four-hour trek from Simatai to Jingshanling that provides spectacular vistas, too.

Shanhaiguan

  • 218 miles (350 km) E of Beijing
  • to Qinhuangdao, 8 miles (13 km) SW of Shanhaiguan, then express bus

A short hop up along the coast from Beidaihe, Shanhaiguan (The Pass Between the Mountain and the Sea) is where the Great Wall meets the sea. Although less affluent than Beidaihe, the town is steeped in history and is fortified by a Ming-era wall. The charming area within the walls is segmented by hutong (historic alleys), and serviced by a few hotels.

Shanhaiguan promotes its Great Wall links. The First Pass Under Heaven in the east of town is a formidable section of wall attached to a huge gatehouse. The Manchus overcame half-hearted resistance here and headed for Beijing to establish the Qing dynasty. Visitors can climb up on the ramparts, or access its tower, which displays Qing weapons and costumes. To the south is the Great Wall Museum, worth visiting for its photographs and models of the wall. Also on display are tools that were used to build it, as well as the various weapons that were used in its defense. There are some English captions, and the exhibits are well displayed.

A more stirring section of the wall lies 2 miles (3 km) north of town at Jiao Shan, where bracing climbs can be made up its steep incline – or take a cable car. Lao Long Tou (Old Dragon Head) marks the end of the Great Wall at the sea, 3 miles (4 km) south of town. This part of the wall has been completely reconstructed and, despite the tour buses, is worth visiting. Visitors can head west along the beach to explore Haishen Miao (Temple of the Sea God).

Please click here to read more information about the Great Wall in Beijing, China.

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