As the country’s most famous attraction, The Great Wall of China is an essential stop on any trip to China and an item on many travelers’ bucket lists. Commonly considered a wonder of the world, the Great Wall boasts a history of over 2,000 years and stretches more than 3,000 miles across several provinces of northern China, making it one of the most impressive ancient structures on the planet.
Beijing is usually considered the main gateway to the Great Wall, since there are several world-famous sections of the Wall in the suburbs of Beijing, including Badaling Great Wall, Mutianyu Great Wall, Jinshanling Great Wall, Simatai Great Wall, Gubeikou Great Wall and Jiankou Great Wall. These sections were built during the Ming dynasty between the 14th and 17th centuries and have been well preserved.
Of all the sections of the Great Wall near Beijing, Badaling is the most famous and the closest to downtown. As a result, Badaling is the destination of choice for many large tour groups and is often incredibly crowded. We never recommend that our clients visit Badaling Great Wall, as the massive crowds can ruin one’s experience of this impressive structure.
Mutianyu Great Wall, about 70 km or a one-and-a-half hour drive in normal traffic from downtown, is just as close as Badaling but offers a much more preferable experience. Mutianyu offers wonderful views of the Great Wall and the surrounding hills with far fewer tourists and makes a great choice for a half-day trip. This section of the wall also features a thrilling toboggan run that you can ride from the top of the wall down to the bottom of the hill.
Jinshanling Great Wall, located on the border between Beijing and Hebei Province, is about 150 km northeast of downtown. It usually takes about two and a half hours to drive there. Despite the longer drive, Jinshanling is among the most stunning sections of the Great Wall. If your itinerary allows for one full day seeing the Great Wall, then we highly recommend Jinshanling.
Gubeikou Great Wall, located about 130 kilometers northeast of downtown Beijing, is divided into two parts: Wohushan Great Wall and Panlongshan Great Wall. Neither section has been restored since it was first built in the Ming Dynasty, making Gubeikou a great choice for those who enjoy hiking and want to experience the wild Great Wall.
The Jiankou and Simatai sections are both famous for their steep climbs. If you are visiting these two sections, be prepared for a serious hike—you may even need to climb on your hands and knees at some points!
There are also some famous sections of the Great Wall outside Beijing, such as Shanhaiguan Great Wall in the city of Qinhuangdao. These sections can be considered if you are planning an in-depth Great Wall tour.
There are several fantastic Great Wall hiking routes on the outskirts of Beijing. You can do a half-day hike from Jinshanling to Jinshanling East, which doesn’t require too much effort but still affords panoramic views of the Great Wall as it stretches out across the mountains. You can also spend a whole day hiking from Gubeikou to Jinshanling, which will take you past older, unrestored sections of the Wall, along with lofty watchtowers. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and watch out for loose stones!
Camping on some sections of the Great Wall is banned, but we can arrange for you to spend a night on the ancient ramparts of this amazing structure at a safe and sanctioned location. If you want to spend a night camping on the Great Wall, we will take you to a watchtower at Gubeikou Great Wall to experience the life of an ancient soldier and catch amazing sunrise/sunset views over the Wall.
October and November are the best times to visit the Great Wall, since at that time the leaves are turning color, making for some incredible photo opportunities. Avoid traveling in China during the first week in October, which coincides with the national holiday, however, as all attractions will be swamped with crowds. The weather in April and May is temperate, making the spring months a great time to visit too. July and August are generally too hot for hiking. Winter in Beijing is very cold, but a visit to the Great Wall after it snows is a magical experience.
Even restored sections of the Wall can include steep climbs and uneven stairs with no handrails. Wear comfortable shoes and take care when walking.
Sections of the Great Wall are subject to closure due to construction projects and local government policies. Please always contact our agents for the latest travel information and advice.
July 19, 2018 – A new high-speed railway station will be opening at the Badaling section of the Great Wall in 2019, making this section more easily accessible from the city, but we recommend venturing to other sections like Mutianyu to avoid crowds.