Know Your Options:The Great Wall Of China From Beijing

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This guide is intended to help visitors to Beijing decide which section of the Great Wall of China is most suitable. We look at factors such as ease/cost of getting there as well as the experience upon arrival.

The Main Options

The Great Wall of China extends from Shanhaiguan on the Bo Hai, a gulf inside the Yellow Sea, to Jiayuguan in Gansu Province. There are actually several 'layers' of wall along some sections and, in some other places, the wall is missing or barely discernible. The wall incorporates difficult ground as much as possible to add to its strength but actually its main weakness was the human nature of its defenders.

Visitors to Beijing can choose from a number of sections that are open to the public, some with reconstruction work for safety and to give a better impression of the Great Wall as a defensive structure. Foreign visitors should remember that the Great Wall is a huge attraction for domestic tourists and that can mean unbelievably big crowds at peak times. For a special experience try to choose a quieter section at a quieter time. The quieter sections are the ones further from Beijing; peak times are closely associated with public holidays.

Most tour packages include a visit to at least one section of Great Wall. Independent travellers are free to choose their own but must then make their own travel arrangements. A guide and driver can be relatively expensive and so many opt to use public transport (outline information below). A good compromise is to hire a taxi for the day and pay the meter rate. This includes rates for distance and waiting time and is therefore fair to both parties.

Jinshanling Great Wall

This is one of the best preserved sections of the Great Wall and offers great views, especially those out over the ridge at Simatai. The towers are particularly impressive. It would be far more popular if transport were easier to arrange. Of course, that makes it all the more worthwhile for those that do make the effort.

Entrance: 50 CNY.
Cable car: 30 one way or 50 CNY return.
Get there: Public bus to Miyun then local transport to the wall.

Mutianyu Great Wall

Mutianyu is fast becoming a favourite section as it combines many of the key features that make a visit special for a wide range of visitors. It is an attractive section of wall located along high ridges and has a cable car for easy access. Those with an interest in military matters will appreciate the many innovations in the Mutianyu defenses. Those less inclined will still notice unusual features that add interest and photo opportunities.

Entrance: 45 CNY.
Cable car: 45 one way or 65 CNY return.
Get there: Public bus 916 or Tourist bus 867 from Dongzhimen.

Simatai Great Wall

Please note: The Great Wall at Simatai is now closed for renovations and is not open to the public. No firm date has been set for it to re-open.

Badaling Great Wall

Badaling is the nearest section to downtown Beijing and therefore gets the most traffic, especially as it is also close to the Ming Tombs, another popular site. The wall here guards one of the most vital passes into Beijing from the north. Much of the wall was reconstructed before the section opened to the public back in 1957. A tyical visit to Badaling lasts about 2 hours. Those who wish to stay longer may visit the Museum or Theater nearby.

Entrance: Summer 45, winter 40 CNY.
Cable car: 40 one way or 60 CNY return.
Get there: Public bus 919 or Tourist buses 1 (from Qianmen), 2 (from Beijing Train Station), 3 (from East Bridge) or 4 (from Xizhimen Gate).

Lesser Known Options

Apart from these main, official sites it is possible to visit the Great Wall at other sections which just happen to be close to transport options. The pick of these are listed below but with warnings ... so do take heed.

Gubeikou Great Wall

Lying north of the Yan mountains this section of Great Wall is one of the least visited, probably because of the effort involved in reaching it and because it lacks the wow! factor of the more mountainous sections. That said, it is better for those wanting more of a wilderness experience. The hiking options are good though you would have to leave the city early to make best use of one day. The two main options here are Wohushan and Panlongshan.

Entrance: 25 CNY.
Get there: Public bus 980 to Minyu Bus Station then local transport to the wall.

Jiankou Great Wall

This is one of the more mountainous sections of the wall near to Beijing and is definitely photogenic; it just requires a little more effort. Do take great care as the wall here has not been restored and is in very poor condition in several critical places. If in doubt, look to see what the locals do, or play it safe and retreat.

There are many fish farms in this area earning it the nickname 'The Trout Channel'. If you like fresh fish then you may want to include a stop at one of the many local restaurants for lunch (or dinner).

Entrance: Currently no charge.
Get there: Public bus 916 to Huairou then local transport to the wall.

Huanghuacheng Great Wall

We advise against a visit to this section as recent reports suggest that guards are preventing tourists from approaching the wall for safety reasons. You might get a view from afar but are unlikely to enjoy the freedom to walk along the actual structure that is possible elsewhere.
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