No trip to China would be complete without a visit to a section of The Great Wall. Before landing in Beijing, you’ll want to consider which section of the wall is right for your visit.
If you’re travelling from or staying in Beijing, you have 2 main options of areas to visit The Great Wall, which I will explain further below:
- Badaling – This section is the easiest to access independently using public transport, but is also the most crowded.
- Mutianyu – This section has breath-taking views across the hills and mountains surrounding the wall. It is well-preserved, and less crowded than Badaling. You can see my photos from Mutianyu in December here in my photo post.
You may also find tours available to Jinshanling. I am yet to visit this section of wall, but have heard many brilliant things about seeing the less-preserved areas. If you’re happy to head further from Beijing and visit an even quieter stretch of the wall, please let me know about your experiences!
You’ll also want to consider: 1) timing, 2) accessibility and 3) activity levels.
It is possible to visit either Badaling or Mutianyu in a day stopover if your flight lands in the morning and you have around 6 hours or so.
This is the easiest section of the wall to visit. You’ll find plenty of tours in Beijing offering cheap day-trips here, with hotel pick-up included. Be wary of organised tours and check you’re happy with the itinerary; many of these offer extra ‘shopping’ stops where you may feel compelled to purchase from local traders.
This section is also perfect if you’re looking for the challenge of exploring China on your own using public transport. The most efficient way is the S2 train linking Beijing and Badaling directly. The train departs from Huangtudian Station, which can be reached using the metro Line 8 or Line 13 – take the metro to Huoying Station; Huangtudian Station is just a few metres from the exit. The trains depart from the station at these times daily:
There are additional trains between these times on Mondays, Fridays and weekends. As always, I recommend using Seat61 to confirm timings.
A word of caution, however… Badaling is the busiest section of the Wall near Beijing. If you’re looking for a quick route to the Great Wall, it is perfect. However, if you have a full day available and want to take some stunning photographs, this might not be the option for you. It’s hard to find a space between the crowds to enjoy the beautiful wall. Personally, I find Mutianyu much more magical…
Mutianyu is my section of choice. I have visited Mutianyu twice; once in the heat of August, and once in the crisp air of December. Both visits were stunning. I was lucky to have clear skies on both occassions which led to great views and photographs.
Try to avoid Chinese school-holidays or the weekends, as all sections of the wall are heavily visited during this time. August was much busier than December; personally spending Boxing Day here felt like I was on the top of the world. I had huge sections of the wall to myself, but there were still enough people around to help take photos (always a challenge for the solo traveller!)
Mutianyu does require using a tour guide to travel to the wall. My go-to hostel in Beijing, Happy Dragon Saga, organise brilliant tours in mini-buses that do not feel like you’re a herded animal. When on the wall you are allowed to roam independently for about 3 hours, before making your own way back down to the bus stop and restaurant for a traditional chinese lunch. Three hours is the perfect amount of time to explore. I would recommend taking the cable car up to maximise your time on the wall. If you’re fit and healthy, definitely take the walk to the left when you reach the wall at Tower 14, and see how far you can go; it’s a steep climb to Tower 22, but the view is worth the walk. If you’re feeling brave, you can go onto Tower 23 and see the wall in its un-preserved, natural beauty. Even after reaching the end of the preserved wall to the left, I had time to travel back to Tower 14 and explore the right of the wall, where I had visited previously in the summer of 2017.
The Great Wall of China is somewhere I could return to a thousand times, and probably never get bored. It’s fascinating to imagine ancient civilisations creating and using this wall and we’re so lucky that sections of it are so well preserved that we can visit it. Next time (as I am sure there will be one!) I am definitely going to try and explore Jinshanling.