Visiting the Chinese Wall: how do I get there from Beijing?

Comment visiter la Grande Muraille de Chine depuis Pékin ?

Travelling to Beijing soon? Don’t miss a visit to the Great Wall of China: we’ll show you how!

If you’re heading to Beijing, a visit to the Great Wall of China is a must. A gigantic stone cordon of Chinese military fortifications erected between the 3rd century BC and the 17th century AD, the Great Wall of China is one of the world’s greatest ancient relics. It is also the largest architectural structure ever built by man. Last but not least, it is said to be the world’s largest cemetery, where 10 million workers and peasants forcibly enlisted for its construction lost their lives. Over 6,000 kilometers long in total, the Great Wall was built from the Qin dynasty onwards to protect China’s northern border, stretching from the city of Qinhuangdao on the China Sea to Jiayuguan in the Gobi Desert. At 6 times the distance between Lille and Marseille, D. Trump’s plans to seal off his border with Mexico are no match for the Qin of antiquity! It’s the eastern part of the wall that you’ll be visiting from Beijing.

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, you can visit the Chinese Wall with a number of aims in mind: a grandiose panorama, a sightseeing tour, a wilderness hike off the beaten track… To find pleasant weather, we recommend that you visit this part of China in May or June. To help you decide which section of the fortification to visit, we’ve put together this short guide to visiting the Chinese Wall from Beijing.

Jiankou

Grande Muraille de Chine, Jiankou

Photo credit: Flickr – La Priz

If you’re looking for hiking on steep ridges with dizzying staircases, on mountain peaks, you’ve come to the right place, 80 kilometers north of Beijing. Very seldom visited, this is a wild site on the Great Wall of China, abandoned for several centuries. Constructed from dolomite and brick, it gives a whitish appearance unlike any other section. A paradise for photo safaris, but you need to be in good physical condition to hike it, as some parts are more climbing than hiking.

Gubeikou

Grande Muraille de Chine, Gubeikou

Photo credit: Flickr – Kyle Taylor

To find yourself truly cut off from the world, Gubeikou is the place to go to visit the Chinese Wall. Located 130 kilometers northeast of Beijing, the section is unrenovated and very steep. It is therefore difficult to access. Under the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Gubeikou was a strategic defense against Mongol invasions. The section is 40 kilometers long, culminates at an altitude of 665 meters, and offers 300 meters of ascent! We recommend it for experienced hikers, as the section is not maintained.

Simatai and Jinshanling

Grande Muraille de Chine, Simatai

Photo credit: Flickr – Glenn Strong

A hilltop village northeast of Beijing, Simatai has the double advantage of being connected to the Great Wall without being overrun by tourists. With its connection to the Jinshanling section, you can hike ten kilometers along the wall, passing from one section to the next. So, while you can imagine yourself assaulting the ramparts like a medieval barbarian, your photos won’t be spoiled by the presence of hundreds of tourists to be erased on image-editing software… This part of the Great Wall is built on the crest of mountains, and some of the slopes – though fitted with staircases – can be steep to climb. On the other hand, these are the least renovated sections of the Great Wall, some of which have never been restored since their initial construction. You’ll need to pass 43 watchtowers, during a 4-5 hour walk.

Badaling

Grande Muraille de Chine, Badaling

Photo credit: Flickr – Vin Crosbie

Located 70 kilometers from Beijing, this gateway to the Great Wall is the building’s most popular tourist area. Foreign tourists and Chinese visitors alike flock here by the millions all year round: every day, this section sees the footsteps of 55,000 visitors! The site has been renovated and fitted out to accommodate the public, so in addition to its proximity to Beijing, it is also subject to mass tourism, for all ages. Choose another place to visit the Great Wall of China if you don’t like hiking along a human highway, as the site can be very noisy and « jammed ». Even at the watchtowers, you’ll find vendors offering drinks, postcards, T-shirts… This section is easy to get to, easy to walk around, and even has access for people with reduced mobility.

Juyongguan

Grande Muraille de Chine, Juyongguan

Photo credit: Flickr – Sanjay P. K.

Closer to Beijing than Badaling, yet less frequented, the Juyongguan section is located in a 20-kilometre-long valley, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mountains surround the wall on all sides, giving the site a majestic appearance. It’s easy to imagine how difficult it would be for the enemy to lay siege. If you want to avoid the crowds without straying too far from Beijing, Juyongguan is perfect for you. The walk lasts about two hours, so you can enjoy the fortresses.

Mutianyu

Grande Muraille de Chine, Mutianyu

Photo credit: Flickr – Michael McDonough

Mutianyu lies just 70 kilometers northwest of Beijing, and is connected to the Jinshanling section. It was once used as a northern defense barrier and imperial cemetery. Older than the Badaling section, Mutianyu dates back to the 6th century and is in an incredible state of preservation. Its particularity is that, with 22 watchtowers for a length of 2.25 kilometers, there is a watchtower every 100 meters. Less touristy and more authentic, this part of the wall is accessible without being overrun by hordes of tourists. It’s the perfect place to visit the Great Wall of China in peace and quiet, and enjoy a hike in the heart of nature.

Huang Hua Cheng

Grande Muraille de Chine, Huang Hua Cheng

Photo credit: Flickr – Yohan Creemers

From organized excursions to self-guided hikes, from the most touristy to the most natural, from restored sites to those left untouched, from the section far from Beijing to the one closest to the Chinese capital, there are plenty of choices for visiting the Great Wall of China. The Huang Hua Cheng section is located north of Beijing and is not frequented by tourists, as it includes entire sections that have not been restored. It offers ten kilometers of hiking in the middle of nature, between lush vegetation, mountains and a lake. The best time to visit is in spring or autumn, as temperatures can drop to -20° in winter, and climb to 40°C in midsummer, without shade. The Huang Hua Cheng lake below can also be a great place for a stroll.

Practical questions for visiting the Great Wall of China

When to visit the Great Wall of China? Spring (April-May) and autumn (September-November) are the best times to visit the Great Wall (around Beijing). You’ll avoid the uncomfortable heat, the influx of tourists in summer and the freezing conditions of winter.

How much does it cost to visit the Chinese Wall? Excursions departing from Beijing cost between €30 and €100. The price depends on the section visited, as well as the services included. But almost all tours include return transport from your hotel in Beijing, entrance tickets to the Chinese Wall, an English-speaking guide and lunch.

How long does it take to visit the Chinese Wall? You should allow a full day from Beijing. Don’t plan any other excursions or visits when you visit the Great Wall.

Can I visit the Chinese Wall without a guide? Absolutely, you can visit the Chinese Wall on your own and pay for access to the section you choose. You won’t have your guide’s commentary, but you’ll have the freedom to stay longer and enjoy the sights. Note that you can also stay overnight in Badaling, Simatai, Huanghuacheng or Mutianyu.

Can you visit the Chinese Wall without a visa?

Since 2013, it has been possible to visit Beijing without a visa when transiting through one of the country’s major cities. Covering 45 countries, including most of Europe, this new short-stay measure enables travelers to enjoy a stopover without having to pay for visa formalities. For a period of 72 hours, foreign nationals can explore the city, its monuments and historic sites, before taking off again on a connecting flight to a third country.

The Chinese Wall belongs to Beijing, so you can visit it even if you don’t have a visa. Please note, however, that with a maximum time limit of 72 hours, and taking into account the time spent in transport/travel, stopovers of less than 8 hours are not recommended for visits.

Main photo credit: Flickr – David Almeida