Probably China’s most famous landmark, as well as one of its most impressive feats of architecture, the Great Wall stands over 21,000km long – including all of its various branches. The easiest way to see the wall is on a day trip from Beijing, and many visitors choose to take a tour to one location and hike along the wall to another – though some are also worth visiting in their own right. Here are six of the best places to visit the wall from the capital, from west to east.
The most developed and most extensively renovated section of the wall at Badaling, is also the closest to Beijing, just 70km away and the best connected to the city by public transport with a direct bus service. It has an extensive tourist infrastructure, including a dedicated museum and a cable car to take visitors from the main road up the mountain to the wall itself. Visiting the wall at Badaling is a great option if you don’t want to walk far and want to be able to visit without taking a tour.
Simultaneously one of the most dangerous and most photographed sections of the wall – this part was constructed some two hundred years earlier than that at Badaling and has received little to no attention in terms of restoration. The landscape surrounding the part of the wall is very striking, with jagged peaks and sheer drops making it so often photographed. It’s possible to take transport here and hike along the wall for approximately four hours to the next major stop, Mutianyu, though due to its dilapidated state, this is not the easiest route and requires some skill in climbing.
One of the best preserved sections of the wall near Beijing, the wall at Mutianyu is surrounded by dense forest amidst gently rolling hills, allowing for picturesque panoramic views. This section is noteworthy as this was one of the main defence points along the route, as it was the northern barrier that defended the capital and the imperial tombs from the empire’s enemies to the north. As such it is dense with watchtowers: there are more than twenty in little more than a 2km stretch here.
The site of many battles with the Mongols, the wall at Gubeikou is a 2 hour drive from Beijing – but does not offer any direct transportation links to the capital meaning it is only really accessible by tour. Entirely unrestored, this section of the wall offers a wild and rugged view of the wall’s route, and from here, it’s roughly a five-hour hike to the next section at Jinshanling.
Another well preserved section of the wall, this part offers an easier terrain for hiking than many other sections of the wall and is accessible independently by taking a bus directly from Wangjing West Subway Station in Beijing. There is also a cable car that takes visitors directly to the highest point on the wall to take in the views of the surrounding landscape. If you wish to hike from here to the next section at Simatai, a trip of about three hours, note that there is a small fee to cross the bridge over the Xiaotang river.
The furthest section of the wall from Beijing that is accessible to tourists, Simatai lies approximately 140 km northeast of the capital. It is known for having some of the steepest ascents along the wall’s route and offers spectacular views of the wall snaking away into the distance, with its many and variously shaped watchtowers dotted along its course. It is here that the wall maintains its most unaltered appearance and if pay close attention, you may even notice the code numbers designating the army that build that section on the bricks making up the wall.