Great Wall of China with a blue sky and green trees

The Great Wall of China – Tips & Travel Guide

This post was last updated on April 24th, 2020 at 08:35 am


If there’s any attraction in China that appeals to the imagination, it is the Great Wall of China. Everyone has heard of the 21,196 kilometer-long wall that the Chinese built to keep out all kinds of wild tribes. Also, almost everyone has seen a picture of this defensive wall, built in a typical Chinese style, disappearing over the steep, rocky mountains of a rugged landscape on the horizon.

 

It must be said that the Great Wall of China has never been one complete wall, but rather several separate walls built over more than two thousand years. However, together they are known as the Great Wall of China. Fortunately, for those vacationing in Beijing, there are several well-preserved, less-well-preserved, and also fully restored parts of this wall just a short journey from the Chinese capital.

 

In total, there are at least fifty locations within the city province where you can clamber over the wall. However, not all parts are equally suitable for a day out. Often they are difficult to reach, or there is so little left that it is not worth it for many people. In addition, the inaccessible and rugged mountain landscape also plays a role. In some locations, you are busier with intensive mountain-climbing than you are walking on the Great Wall as a tourist.

 

Autumn colored trees and plants next to the Great Wall in China

Nature around the wall has great colors in autumn

 

History of the Great Wall of China

Although many people believe that the Great Wall of China is one long structure, built to keep out hostile nations, its true history is somewhat more complex. In the distant past, nearly three thousand years ago when present-day China was made up of several warring states, it was not uncommon to build defensive walls at its borders.

 

After China was first united during the Qin Dynasty (221 BC – 206 BC) in the third century before the beginning of our era, parts of these walls were combined and expanded into a defensive work of art in the north of the Empire.

 

The nomadic peoples who lived there thought it necessary to invade and plunder China from time to time. These walls ran from what is now North Korea to the mountains of Tibet and were very unlike the Chinese walls you can visit today north of Beijing. Instead, they were often primitive walls of rammed earth or stacked stones, depending on the materials available in the area.

 

During the succeeding dynasties, the peoples of the north, such as the Huns, Mongols, and Manchus, continued to attack China occasionally with varying degrees of success. Parts of the wall were sometimes demolished, rebuilt, or even expanded. However, it was during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that the wall, as we know it today, was built. After years of intensive wars in the north with the Manchus and the Mongols, it was decided to leave the north to build new walls to protect China.

 

Green trees and mountains behind the great wall in the distance
If you’re lucky you can take a picture without anyone else walking on the wall 😉

 

In many locations, the wall was built over the existing remnants of earlier walls, but completely new parts were also built, especially over the high mountain peaks where defending was easier than in the valley. There are even stories that the bones of deceased workers have been used as a building material. This Ming wall was higher and stronger than the previous walls and also had the high watchtowers that you can now find everywhere on the Great Wall of China.

 

In addition to these watchtowers that were part of the wall itself, in total about 25,000, there were also separate watchtowers behind the wall where information could be passed on about enemy attacks by means of smoke signals. This system made it possible to quickly notify Beijing of an attack in, for example, the west of the empire. During periods of war, hundreds of thousands of soldiers stood on various parts of the wall throughout China to defend the empire.

 

Despite the Great Wall, the Ming were ultimately unable to keep out the tribes of the north. Naturally, China’s internal problems and the opening of the gates at Shanhaiguan by a defecting general also contributed to this, and in 1644 the Manchus from the northeast managed to take power in China. After this, the Manchus also managed to conquer the Mongols. The Chinese empire stretched on both sides of the wall and it was no longer necessary to use the wall as a defense.

 

In the following centuries, the wall fell into disrepair and its stones were often used by the locals to build houses and roads. Other parts were taken over by nature and ended up under the sand of the desert, for example. It is only since the last half-century that much attention has been paid to the Great Wall of China again, but apart from some well-preserved parts high up in the mountains and restored sites, today most of the wall is little more than a pile of stones.

 

The wall was chosen in 2007 as one of the seven new wonders of the world.

 

Akisoto’s Tips

Are you visiting the Great Wall? Then we have a number of tips for a pleasant day!

  • Wear good shoes – you will walk (and climb) a lot.
  • Go (very) early – not only is it faster to go there from Beijing, but you also avoid large groups of tourists.
  • Juyongguan is not that busy – there is no cable car here so this part is only accessible to fit people. It’s nice and quiet!
  • Research – check in advance to see which part of the wall you want to/will go to. Organized tours often go to the same point which means it will be busier there.

 

Best Sections/Parts of the Great Wall to Visit

Not all sections of the Great Wall of China can be visited. Due to wars or looting, some sections have been damaged or demolished. Most tourists visit the Great Wall of China from Beijing. There are several points where you can go to.

 

TIP – A ticket to the Great Wall of China (incl. Bus trip) can be purchased at any hostel or hotel. If not, check one of the many travel agencies in Beijing.

 

The official starting and ending points of the wall are the large gates in the east and west. Be careful when searching for inaccessible sections of the wall. If you decide to climb one of the inaccessible sections you will be fined if they see you. If you are in Beijing, you can view the Great Wall of China at the following places;

 

1. Badaling

Badaling, about 75 kilometers northeast of Beijing, is the most visited and best-known section of the Great Wall of China. It is here where famous pictures are taken of the Great Wall with rugged mountains on the horizon and where the large defense towers on the mountain tops protrude high above the surroundings.

 

This section of the Great Wall of China has been completely restored more than half a century ago so it looks exactly like when it was built just after the year 1500.

 

The disadvantage of Badaling is that it can be busy at times, so busy that you have to shuffle over the wall surrounded by crowds of Chinese people. This part of the wall is also surrounded by many hotels, restaurants, and many souvenir shops, but fortunately, they fall out of sight through the mountains once you are on the wall itself.

 

In addition, if you avoid the weekends, holidays and the already too hot summer, it is actually very easy to do. Especially since most tourists go to the highest point of the wall and then return. If you go up to the highest point and keep going you go through a much nicer and quieter part of the wall. If you want you can go even further and you will almost be alone on the wall. The fact that many tourists visit the wall at Badaling also has the advantage that it is by far the fastest and easiest to reach from all places.

 

Great wall with a blue sky and green nature around it
You will get quite the exercise walking on the wall

 

Although we say that the wall at Badaling is the most accessible, this does not mean that it is a very easy walk. The wall is steep in this mountainous area, while some pieces that come after the highest point of the wall are even considered very steep.

 

In addition to the wall itself, there are a number of attractions at Badaling that you can consider visiting. For example, there is a cinema with a screen that goes 360 degrees around you where you can watch a fifteen-minute film with the most spectacular images of the Great Wall of China.

 

Next to the cinema is a museum about the Great Wall of China, where you can learn everything about its history and construction. Admission to both the cinema and the museum is included in the ticket for the wall itself, so you don’t have to pay extra for it. Furthermore, there is a small zoo with bears and camels that you will pass when you walk all the way down the wall. It’s not really impressive but it’s good, and it is included as well.

 

Opening Hours – Badaling

In high season (April 1 – October 31), the wall at Badaling is open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and in the low season (November 1 – March 31) it is open from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

 

Entrance Fee

Entry to the wall at Badaling costs 45 Chinese Yuan (about US$6.35) in the high season (April 1 – October 31) and 40 Chinese Yuan (US$5.65) in the low season (November 1 – March 31). Admission to the cinema and museum is included. The cable car costs 40 Chinese Yuan if you only want to go up or down and 60 Chinese Yuan for a return trip. Finally, the roller coaster is 30 yuan for a one-way trip and 60 Chinese Yuan for a round trip.

 

Walking Time

It takes about two hours to walk this section of the wall. If you also want to spend some time in the museum, the cinema and the zoo, add an extra hour. If you leave Beijing in time in the morning, you can even be back around noon or, if you eat in one of the restaurants around the wall at Badaling, a little after noon.

 

Accessibility of the Great Wall at Badaling

Badaling is accessible from all parts of the wall. Of course, there are also many tours going there from Beijing. By taxi, which is best arranged through your hotel, you should think of a price of about 200 Chinese Yuan (about US$28) excluding the highway toll, and more than double if you want the taxi to pick you up again later. Depending on where your hotel is in Beijing, you should allow about an hour and a half to get there, outside of rush hour.

 

Great wall with many steps and tourists walking up
It can get quite busy on the wall, like here in Badaling

 

To Badaling by Train

A cheaper but less efficient alternative is the train. Take the metro to Xizhimen station, where lines 2, 4, and 13 meet. At the subway station, follow the signs to the adjacent Beijing North Railway Station. Several trains leave from this station to Badaling every day, each taking about an hour. Here is the train schedule:

 

To Badaling:

  • Y563 at 7:26 a.m.
  • Y565 at 8:00 a.m.
  • Y567 at 9:33 a.m.
  • Y571 at 11:08 a.m.
  • Y573 at 11:52 a.m.
  • Y575 at 1:19 p.m.
  • Y579 at 3:01 p.m.
  • Y581 at 3:54 p.m.

 

For the way back to Beijing:

  • Y568 at 9:25 a.m.
  • Y570 at 10:13 a.m.
  • Y572 at 11:42 a.m.
  • Y576 at 13:10 a.m.
  • Y578 at 13:57 a.m.
  • Y580 at 3:22 p.m.
  • Y584 at 5:08 p.m.
  • Y586 at 6:40 p.m.
  • Y588 at 7:40 p.m.

 

On the way back, the trains take longer, about 1 hour and 20 minutes. You can write down these numbers and departure times, possibly together with 八达岭 长城 (Badaling Great Wall), so that you can make clear where you want to go at the counter.

 

The prices for a one-way ticket are 14 Chinese Yuan (US$2) for the second class and 17 Chinese Yuan (US$2.40) for first class. In Badaling, you will then have to buy another ticket for the trip back to Beijing. If you want to be sure of a seat, it is advisable to buy the return tickets when you arrive, but be aware that you can only buy tickets for a specific train. If you miss the train, you cannot use your ticket for the next train.

 

To Badaling by Bus

Finally, you can also take the bus, which is by far the cheapest option. First, take the subway to Jishuitan station on line 2 and take exit A. Then walk along the ring road towards the bus stops, but make sure you continue all the way to the big old watchtower called Deshengmen (德胜门), which is also the name of the bus station.

 

Line 919 to Badaling leaves immediately to the left of the watchtower or, when viewed from the ring road, behind it. These are always green with white buses. Make sure you have the direct bus that says 919 è·¯ ç›´è¾¾ 快车, it doesn’t stop en route and will take you straight to the wall in Badaling in about an hour. This bus departs from Deshengmen between 6:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. every ten minutes and back to Beijing, the last one leaves at 4:00 p.m.

 

On the way back, make sure that your bus goes to Deshengmen (德胜门) and that it is a fast bus (快车). The other buses also arrive in Badaling, but take half an hour longer and stop at other places along the way. However, they also leave in the afternoon, from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and return to Beijing until 7:00 p.m. You only pay when you are on the bus when a Chinese person in a uniform comes by to sell tickets for 12 Chinese Yuan (US$1.70).

 

TIP – If you have a Yikatong card (check our Beijing article for more info) you can use it too. If you use it a ride only costs 4.80 Chinese Yuan (about US$0.70).

 

Juyongguan

At a distance of approximately 55 kilometers, Juyongguan is the part of the Great Wall of China closest to Beijing. This part of the wall protects the same mountain pass as Badaling described above, but the southern end of it. On the way from Badaling, you will also be able to see the wall at Juyongguan as both the toll road and the train track pass through this part of the wall.

 

Although there have been defensive structures on this site much earlier, the now restored wall dates from the time of Emperor Hongwu (1368-1398). The special thing about Juyongguan is that it is actually a wall in a circle with a total length of more than six kilometers, which is built at the point where the mountain pass gives way to the wider valley in the south.

 

Although the wall in Juyongguan is not as high and wide as at Badaling, it does have two fairly large entrance gates at the northern and southern entrances, both with defenses in the shape of a horseshoe and some ancient cannons. There’s also a part of the wall that goes through the water here.

 

Great Wall of China at the Juyongguan pass
Juyongguan section of the Great Wall of China

 

Difference Between Juyongguan & Badaling

It is usually less crowded here than in Badaling, so you are less likely to have to walk between whole crowds of Chinese people. In terms of difficulty, it is easier to walk in Badaling because there are more stairs on the wall, but the environment is less spectacular. Furthermore, there are fewer facilities here, there’s no cable car or museum, but if you are in Beijing during a busy holiday period or would like to see something other than Badaling where almost everyone goes, Juyongguan is a great alternative.

 

Sightseeing in Juyongguan

Besides the wall itself, there are some other interesting sights here. In the middle of the walled area there is a large marble platform of almost ten meters high, also called the Cloud Platform (云台 / Yúntái). This is from the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) and is older than the wall itself. Originally three towers stood on it, but during the succeeding Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) this gave way to a Buddhist temple that was destroyed several centuries later.

 

There are still some remains to be seen and also worth a look are the images carved in the hallway by the marble platform itself. In the walled part, there is also a park with a few pavilions and some souvenir shops and restaurants. As a final point of interest, you can find some replicas of the famous Terracotta Army on the wall itself. This might be of interest to those who would like to see these stone soldiers and do not have the opportunity to travel all the way to Xi’an.

 

Opening Hours at Juyongguan

You can visit the Great Wall at Juyongguan from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

 

Entrance Fee

The entry fee at Juyongguan is 45 Chinese Yuan (US$6.35) in the high season (April 1 – October 31) and 40 Chinese Yuan (US$5.65) in the low season (November 1 – March 31).

 

Walking Time

If you want to walk around the entire wall, you will spend about an hour and a half. Allow an additional half an hour for viewing the Cloud Platform.

 

Accessibility of the Great Wall of China at Juyongguan

Although Juyongguan is less crowded than Badaling, that is also a disadvantage: it is much more difficult to reach. With a travel time of about an hour, the fastest option, in this case, is a taxi. Taking a taxi here will come at a price of about 150 Chinese Yuan (about US$21) and more than double if you want the taxi to pick you up again after you are finished. It is best to arrange transport through your hotel.

 

To Juyongguan by Bus

Taking the bus to Juyongguan is another option, but there is no fast, direct bus so it will take you longer. If you want to transfer as little as possible, you can take the metro to Longze station on line 13. Then take exit A, the only exit, cross the street and take bus 68 (昌 68 è·¯). This is the starting point of line 68, so you don’t have to worry about heading in the right direction. The end station of this line is Juyongguan, so you can just sit on this bus until the end.

 

The bus leaves from the metro station about every ten minutes between 6:40 a.m. and 7:10 p.m. From Juyongguan back to the metro station they leave between 5:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. It is a bus that you can just board and buy a ticket from a Chinese man in uniform inside the bus. Make it clear that you want to go to Juyongguan or 居庸关 and on the way back to the Longze subway station, or 城铁 龙 泽 站. You can write this down so you can show it.

 

A one-way ticket costs 8 Chinese Yuan (US$1.15) and the journey takes approximately two hours.

 

Mutianyu

Mutianyu is a much-visited section of the Great Wall of China, about 70 kilometers north of Beijing. Unlike Badaling and Juyongguan, the open part is a fairly straight stretch through a forested valley that overflows at both ends into less accessible parts that go high up into the mountains. The passable part is just over two kilometers in length and has, in addition to 22 watchtowers in the middle at the lowest point, an entrance gate.

 

Unlike Badaling and Juyongguan, for example, after you have bought your ticket you can’t immediately access the wall, but you will first have to climb to the relatively low mountain peaks on which the wall is built.

 

There are several trails and a walk will take about half an hour. For people who have trouble with the hike, there is a cable car up and you can go back with a toboggan. Once you get to the wall, you can turn left or right to the point where you can’t go further and then back again. As for the crowds, Mutianyu falls between Badaling and Juyongguan.

 

Some of the reasons why you would choose Mutianyu is the very beautiful surroundings and the fact that the restaurants and shops are not immediately next to the wall itself, but at a distance at the foot of the mountains. However, the wall itself is the only attraction here, there are no museums or temples to be found.

 

Great Wall of China - Mutianyu Section
The gorgeous Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall

 

Opening hours

The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

 

Entrance Fees

The entrance fee for Mutianyu is 40 Chinese Yuan (US$5.65). If you want to use the cable car, it costs 45 Chinese Yuan for a one-way ticket and 65 Chinese Yuan (about US$9.20) for a roundtrip. If you want to take the slide back down, you will have to pay 55 Chinese Yuan for this.

 

Walking Time

How much time you spend in Mutianyu depends on how much you want to see, but if you take the hike to the peaks, walk to both ends of the wall and walk back down again, you will spend about three hours.

 

A map is not necessary for Mutianyu, because the path is quite simple. Immediately where you arrive with the bus or taxi, you can buy a ticket. Then you can walk up three different paths or take the cable car.

 

Accessibility of the Great Wall of China at Mutianyu

Although Mutianyu is also busy, this part of the wall is not as easy to reach as Badaling. The fastest option is taking a taxi that is best arranged through your hotel. Expect to pay around 200 Chinese Yuan (around US$28) for a one-way trip with a taxi and more than 500 Chinese Yuan (around US$70) if you want to go there and back with the same taxi. The travel time is approximately one and a half hours.

 

Traveling by bus is fairly easy from April 15th to November 15th. You can then first take the subway to Dongzhimen station on line 2, where you then take exit B and then walk 400 meters past Dongzhimen Waidajie (东直门 外 大街) until you can turn left into Dongzhimen Waiziejie (东直门 外 斜街). After 300 meters you will find the bus station where bus 936 departs. Bus 936 goes directly to Mutianyu.

 

This bus leaves daily at 7:00 a.m, 8:00 a.m and 9:00 a.m and the travel time is just over 2 hours. On the way back, you can take the same bus back to Dongzhimen at 2:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m., and 4:00 p.m. If you buy a ticket on the bus, it costs 16 Chinese Yuan (US$2.25) for a one-way ticket.

 

If you have a Yikatong card you can use it and pay 6.40 Chinese Yuan. Make sure you take the bus going to Mutianyu (慕田峪), it will be displayed on the bus. There are other buses called 936 that do not go to Mutianyu.

 

If you want to visit the Great Wall at Mutianyu between November 15th and April 15th, you can take bus 916 to Huairou (怀柔), a city north of Beijing, at Dongzhimen Subway Station. Please note that this is not from the same station as the bus 936 above, but inside the complex where the metro station is located.

 

Follow the signs to the bus station inside the building. Once you are at the buses look for the direct bus to Huairou, indicated as 916 快. After about two hours you will enter Huairou, where you will have to get off at 富乐北 大街 站. If necessary, write this down so that you can make this clear to the conductor. It is the ninth stop within Huairou and, perhaps easier to remember, the first stop immediately after a large roundabout.

 

After that, you will have to take line 936 across the road which will then take you to the Mutianyu parking lot in about 50 minutes. The first 916 快 bus from Dongzhimen leaves at 6:50 a.m. On the way back, the last 936 支 bus goes back to Huairou at 5 p.m., where you get off after the big roundabout. Cross the road again and now bus 916 快 takes you back to Beijing. The last bus from Huairou to Beijing leaves at 7:00 p.m.

 

Jinshanling

Jinshanling is at an acceptable travel distance from Beijing, has good connections, has both restored and rough pieces of the wall, and perhaps most importantly, there are relatively few tourists.

 

As soon as you arrive in Jinshanling, you notice that the infrastructure here is already fully equipped for the masses: large parking spaces, shuttle buses, a cable car, and various hotels under construction. However, the crowds remain small in this village, for the time being, making it the perfect place to see an impressive stretch of the Great Wall of China.

 

Snowy landscape at the Jinshanling Great Wall section
In the winter the snowy landscape at Jinshanling looks beautiful!

 

Great Hiking Trail at Jinshanling

To avoid seeing the same part twice, it is wise to hike from one entrance to the other. We can heartily recommend the route that we took because it avoids the crowds and you don’t have to walk down the steepest parts. Allow approximately 4 hours for this route.

 

  1. From the Main Gate, follow the path to Taochunku (the west side). This is a fairly easy climb of about 15-30 minutes, depending on your fitness.
  2. From Taochunku, walk west to the Six-Window Tower for the view. After this point, the wall is closed due to a military base.
  3. Follow the wall to the east. You pass about 30 towers (3 km) and go up and down hills. Some degree of fitness is required.
  4. At East Five-Window Tower you can descend to the East Gate in about 20-30 minutes, or walk a little further until the wall is closed off.

 

The entire area is well marked for Chinese standards, making it practically impossible to get lost. At most towers, you will find a map with the descents to the exits. Distances are not marked on this map, so keep an eye on them yourself to get down in time. Also, note that north and south on this map are usually reversed.

 

Jinshanling Entrance Fee

Jinshanling has an East, West, and Main Gate which are connected by a shuttle bus. For 10 Chinese Yuan (US$1.40), the shuttle bus takes you from the bus parking lot to the Main Gate.

 

All entrances have a parking space, toilets, and a small supermarket or café. Entry for Jinshanling is 65 Chinese Yuan (US$9.20) in the high season and 55 Chinese Yuan (US$7.80) in the low season. The cable car from the Main Gate costs 40 Chinese Yuan (US$5.65) for a one-way trip. This money is easily saved by simply walking uphill (unless you are really immobile).

 

Bus From Beijing to Jinshanling

From Beijing, you can travel to Jinshanling with public transport. We took the bus from Dongzhimen; a route that only started in early 2018. This bus leaves daily at 7:40 a.m. (in practice at 8:00 a.m.), then returns to Beijing at 4:00 p.m. The ride, including traffic jams, takes 2.5 hours and costs 50 Chinese Yuan (single). Tickets are only for sale on the bus.

 

The bus station from where the bus to Jinshanling departs is called Dongzhimenwai and is less than a kilometer northeast of Dongzhimen subway station. This station can be reached via line 2, line 13, or Airport Express. Below you will find directions from Dongzhimen:

 

  1. Take Exit B of Dongzhimen Subway Station and walk east past a (covered) bus station.
  2. After 300 meters, turn left on the main road (Dongzhimenwaixiejie).
  3. Follow this road for 500 meters, passing several other bus stops.
  4. You will find Dongzhimenwai, a large uncovered bus station, on your left.
  5. The bus stop to Jinshanling is directly in front.

 

Buses to Jinshanling also reportedly depart from Wangjing West Subway Station every hour. Unfortunately, we have no experience with this bus, so it is best to ask about it at your accommodation or you can ask the locals.

 

Tips for Jinshanling

  • If you don’t have that much time or want to walk less, you can take the cable car back halfway or follow the path to the Main Gate at Houchuankou.
  • Some parts of the wall are extremely steep and have no steps. So make sure you have decent (walking) shoes with a good grip.
  • Stalls with water, snacks, and souvenirs can be found in a number of towers. These have high prices, so if you are on a budget you better take as much as possible from the supermarket at the Main Gate.
  • The bus from Dongzhimen to Beijing departs from the East Gate at 3:40 p.m. and then waits at the bus parking lot until 4:00 p.m. So when you end up at the East Gate, you can hop on here and you don’t have to go back to the Main Gate first.

Jiankou

Jiankou is a section of the Great Wall of China where nothing has been restored at all. Officially, this part of the wall is not accessible to the public at all. An advantage is that you can visit the wall for free, a disadvantage is that the walk is really tough. Pieces of the wall seem to crumble and sometimes you really have to look for a path where you can just walk.

 

Many people who go to Jiankou walk towards Mutianyu. It is highly recommended to go out with a guide, for your own safety. The walk from Jiankou to Mutianyu is about 10 kilometers long, so it’s very tough!

 

We have not visited this part ourselves, but the easiest way is to go by taxi or tour, especially because this part is difficult to walk. Do you want to use public transport? This is also possible with the bus. Which buses to take changes a lot, so the best thing to do is just ask your ho(s)tel, they can also write in Chinese how to travel, which makes it a lot easier. This way you have the most recent information.

 

The Jiankou Great Wall Section in the snow
Jiankou section in the snow

 

From Beijing to Jiankou

The route to Jiankou is long. Take bus 936 from Dongzhimen Wai Station (outside the Dongzhimen Station) to Yujiayuan Station. From there, take bus H25 to Xizhazi Village (Xizhazi Station) or bus H36 to Wofo Mountain Villa (Xinying Station). One way cost – US$4 p.p.

 

Gubeikou

Gubeikou is a fairly unknown section of the Great Wall of China. We didn’t know what to expect when our hotel recommended this as an alternative to Jinshanling. We really hadn’t heard or read anything about it. It turned out to be really great! We took a walk of more than 7 kilometers near Gubeikou and met about five tourists over the entire day.

 

We had the wall completely to ourselves and saw some great views. The wall has not yet been restored, so you really only see old pieces of the wall. You will not find a cable car up there either, so the climb up is an extra activity. The walk itself is also quite tough, so keep this in mind!

 

It’s not easy to get to Gubeikou by yourself. We went on a tour arranged by our hotel, for which we paid 300 Chinese Yuan (about US$42) per person. The bus ride took 3 hours, but was totally worth it! Our group consisted of about 8 people, so that was also doable.

 

We got a local as a guide, but we could walk on the wall at our own pace. The Great Wall at Gubeikou is highly recommended for travelers looking for an authentic piece of wall, with beautiful views, which you also have all to yourself.

 

Simatai

In the city of Simatai, the wall runs over the mountains. The locals call it the “jumping dragon.” This part is known as the highest (at about 1,000 meters) and the steepest part (sometimes up to 70 percent). The eastern part is the most famous and contains many special places, such as the Stairway to Heaven (a particularly steep staircase). The wall here dates from the Ming Dynasty (about 600 years ago). Building this part must have been a real challenge for the construction workers.

 

The wall has been partly restored, but you can also see the unrestored and authentic parts.  The slopes where the wall winds over are steep and jagged, which is amazing to see, as is the blue-green Mandarin Duck Lake in the depth below. Unfortunately, a project developer recently opened the Gubei Water Town, an internationally established holiday paradise, which now surrounds this reservoir. And even when we were there there was already a cable car here.

 

However, we found the view to be mostly pristine and very cool. Just like the pieces of wall and the watchtowers, where some other tourists walked, but it wasn’t crowded anywhere. The further we climbed, the fewer people we encountered. All in all, it was a great experience.

 

Simatai lies about 120 kilometers outside of Beijing. From Dongzhimen bus station in Beijing, there are long-distance buses to Fengshan, which stop in Gubeikou, from where you can climb the Simatai wall section. Or you can take bus 980 from Dongzhimen to Miyun county, from where you can take a taxi to Simatai. A third option is a bus to Chengde, which you can get off at Simatai. In all cases, you should count on 2 to 3 hours of one-way travel. The cost is about US$3 per person.

 

TIP – The entrance fee at Simatai is 40 Chinese Yuan (US$5.65) per person.

 

Great Wall of China between Jinshanling and Simatai
The Great Wall of China between Jinshanling and Simatai

 

The Decline of the Great Wall of China

Although the wall was built as a line of defense, it was never really that effective. As Genghis Khan nicely said at the time, “The power of a wall depends on the courage of those who defend it.” It was possible to bribe the lookouts and watchmen on the wall. The Great Wall was, therefore, often used as a kind of road because it turned out to function well as a paved road for transporting goods and people.

 

With the money from the tourist industry, the Great Wall of China has been saved from a downfall. Only downside; more than 10,000,000 (!) tourists come to the wall every year!

 

As time went on, the Great Wall of China became increasingly less important. The wall was seriously decayed, parts broke down, and materials were looted for the construction of entire villages. It turned out to be a very popular structure (rightly so), and parts of the wall were quickly restored.

 

Staying the Night on the Great Wall

Yes, you read that right! You can sleep on or next to the Great Wall! If you want to do something unforgettable, then you should definitely give it a try because how many people can say that they slept on the Great Wall? It is a unique experience and certainly fun to do!

 

Where to Stay

You have the opportunity to camp at Gubeikou or in the local village of Jinshanling. The tour includes all camping equipment (tents, sleeping bags, fresh coffee, and a hearty breakfast). All you have to do is enjoy the view and wake up in the morning to watch the sunrise over the Great Wall.

 

TIP – An overnight stay on the wall starts at around US$200 per person (2-day tour).

 

Sunset at the great wall of China
We recommend watching a sunset or sunrise on the wall, it’s very impressive!

 

Best Time to Visit the Great Wall of China

The best time to visit the Great Wall of China is in the mild spring (April and May) or autumn (September, October, November). In the spring, nature awakens and shows its most beautiful side. In the fall, the green foliage around the Great Wall turns into a beautiful color palette. In summer it is very busy around China’s most famous landmark. In addition, the summer months bring a lot of rain and it can be very hot. In winter it is freezing cold, although that has the advantage that you have the wall to yourself.

 

In the table below you can find the monthly averages of temperature (Celcius) and rainfall (millimeter) at the Great Wall of China.

 

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
7°C8°C12°C18°C24°C26°C31°C31°C27°C22°C16°C10°C
40
mm
60
mm
80
mm
100
mm
115
mm
150
mm
130
mm
135
mm
155
mm
60
mm
50
mm
35
mm

 

TIP – We took the gamble in August and had great weather. When it rains it is often only for an hour or less.

 

Whatever you do; try to avoid the weekend because many Chinese people will come to the wall, which makes it extremely busy. The same applies to the Chinese New Year.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

How long is the Great Wall of China?

The Great Wall of China is much longer than expected. The well-known wall is 21,196.18 kilometers long, instead of the previously stated 8,850 kilometers. A significant difference. This was reported by the BBC after a Chinese press release from The State Administration of Cultural Heritage in China. The result is based on an archaeological inspection in 2007. The length stated earlier was mainly based on historical documents.

Can the Great Wall of China be seen from space?

It is not possible to see the Great Wall of China from space. Astronaut Alan Bean walked the moon in late 1969 and saw Earth as a mostly white globe, interspersed with some blue and yellow. And every now and then you see some green vegetation. But the Great Wall of China? No sight of it. You can see some structures from the ISS space station.

Unlike the moon, it is possible to see things from the space station ISS (International Space Station). But can you also see the Great Wall from there with your naked eye? Unfortunately. No. However, on November 24, 2004, part of the wall was captured from the ISS. The fact that the photo worked so well was mainly because the weather conditions were very favorable. It was sunny and it had just snowed, making the contours of the wall relatively clear.

What is the Great Wall of China made of?

The builders of the Great Wall of China left nothing to chance and used a very special cement to ensure that the wall would still stand proudly hundreds of years later: rice. Scientists conclude that.

The builders who worked on the wall during the Ming Dynasty (about 600 years ago) mixed a paste of glutinous rice with lime. The rice binds the stones together so tightly that in some places for weeds it is still impossible to grow between the stones.

“The old cement is a special mix of organic and inorganic substances,” says researcher Zhang Bingjin. “The organic component consists of amylopectin, which comes from the porridge of the sticky rice that was added to the cement. The inorganic component is calcium carbonate.”

According to Zhang, the amylopectin made the microstructure of the grout more compact, making the wall more stable and stronger. The discovery that sticky rice pudding could be so applicable has been of great significance to the Ming Dynasty, Zhang believes. It helped the emperors build tombs, pagodas and walls. All these structures survived – even during earthquakes and other disasters – thanks to the rice.

Why was the Great Wall of China built?

The Chinese started building the Great Wall of China from about 200 BC and it is made up of earth, mud stones, and rice. The dynasty then in power was the Qin Dynasty, and they constructed the wall as a defense against nomadic armies from the north.

For centuries, the Wall was guarded by millions of Chinese from over 1,000 fortresses and watchtowers. You will also see towers and beacons along the way. The towers were “two arrows” apart so that no area would be unprotected. The beacons were used to warn of an attack. They did this by burning manure. During the Tang Dynasty, the Great Wall fell into disrepair and was not looked after.

Then came the Ming Dynasty and they fortified the wall. Loose pieces were connected to form the wall as we know it today. Despite its impressive length, it was to no avail. In the 13th century, the wall was broken by Mongol nomads and again in the 17th century by the Manchus.

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