As China's most famous attraction, the Great Wall of China is an essential stop on all China tours. 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, Mutianyu, Jinshanling, Juyongguan, Gubeikou, and Jiankou. 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 one. As a result, Badaling is the destination of choice for many large tour groups and is often very crowded. The nearby Juyongguan Great Wall features one of the three great mountain passes of the Great Wall but is almost as crowded as Badaling.
Mutianyu Great Wall is just as close as Badaling and offers wonderful views of the Great Wall and the surrounding hills with far fewer tourists. 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.
Due to their proximity, Badaling, Juyongguan, and Mutianyu are all doable as a half-day trip from downtown Beijing. We usually recommend Mutianyu over Badaling or Juyongguan, since the massive crowds at the latter two sections can ruin one's experience of this impressive structure.
Further away from Beijing, Jinshanling Great Wall is about 150 km northeast of downtown and 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 a tour to Jinshanling.
Gubeikou and Jiankou can also be visited within a day tour from Beijing. Both sections have not been restored since they were first built in the Ming Dynasty, making them ideal choices for those who want to hike and experience the wild Great Wall. Do be aware that the Jiankou section features very steep and dangerous climbs and is only suitable for experienced hikers.
There are also some other famous sections of the Great Wall within or outside Beijing, such as Huanghuacheng, Simatai, and Shanhaiguan, but we only recommend these if you are visiting the Great Wall for a second time or planning a multi-day, in-depth Great Wall tour.
Due to its original purpose as a military defense, almost all sections of Great Wall were built on mountain ranges and thus involve some challenging climbs and uneven stairs, including the well-restored sections. If you are visiting a restored section but hike to the end of the renovated part, you will be able to see the unrestored part of the Great Wall.
For most visitors, Mutianyu and Jinshanling offer good, medium difficulty hikes, while still being very safe. For those looking for a serious hike along wild, unrestored portions of the Wall, we suggest the Jinshanling to Jinshanling East, or Gubeikou to Jinshanling routes. All these routes boast both unrestored and picturesque renovated sections of the Wall. However, please be aware that hikes along wild, unrestored parts of the Great Wall involve many steep climbs and loose bricks, and can be very dangerous in some places. (People can no longer hike through from Jinshanling to Simatai since the route was closed years ago.)
Camping on the Great Wall is usually banned, especially on the renovated sections. If you want to spend a night sleeping on the Great Wall, we can take you to a watchtower on the Gubeikou section of the Great Wall to experience the life of an ancient soldier and catch amazing sunrise/sunset views over the Wall.
For all sections of the Great Wall near Beijing, the spring months (April to June) offer temperate weather and are great for climbing. In late April to early May, many trees begin to blossom, making this a particularly beautiful period to visit the Wall. Fall is also a nice time to visit, as temperatures are usually comfortable. October to early November are particularly picturesque, as the tree leaves on the mountains begin to change color. The winter months, from December to February, are cold and can be windy, but there are usually far fewer tourists on the Wall during these months. July and August are hot and humid, and thus not the best for long hikes. In addition, it's best to avoid hiking on the Wall after rain or snowfall because some parts can get very slippery.
You should also avoid visiting the popular sections, such as Badaling, Juyongguan, and Mutianyu, around National Day (the first week in October) and Spring Festival. August is also a busy time for the Badaling and Juyongguan sections, since students are on summer vacation and many families travel to these famous sections with their kids before the new school year starts. Learn more about how to avoid the crowds when traveling in China.