Many argue the Great Wall of China is the greatest of the 7 Wonder’s of the New World and after standing on this 2000 year old wall I can understand why.
Snaking 13,170 miles or 21,196 kilometres across China’s deserts, mountains and plateaus, the current wall was built during the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century, although sections were built as early as 7th century BC.
The wall was originally built as a defensive fortification of three states; Yan, Zhao and Qin. The independent walls were eventually joined under the Ming Dynasties to become the wall we recognise today.
The wall’s defences enabled control and regulation of the travellers moving along the Silk Road which wove its way from China through to Central Asia trading silk, tea, ivory, jade, livestock, language, culture and much more.
The Great Wall of China remains a national symbol of pride in the Chinese culture and the centre of many myths and legends passed down through generations.
WHERE IN CHINA IS THE GREAT WALL?
As the Great Wall stretches from the Mongolian Border across 15 provinces of China, there is no particular city you have to visit to see this UNESCO sight.
WHICH SECTION SHOULD I VISIT?
Most travellers make the trip from the country’s capital, Beijing and the three most visited sections of the wall close to Beijing are Badaling, Mutianyu and Jinshangling.
I chose to visit the Jinshangling section of the Wall in the mountainous area of Luanping Country as it remains as it was built in 1570 AD, with only a handful of repairs made using the original stones where it was unsafe to walk.
It is a 2.5 to three hour drive from Beijing and not as heavily visited as those closer and more heavily renovated. It is a long day trip – we left at 4am to be at the gates when they opened but we had the wall to ourselves as the sun attempted to warm the grey smog.
If you prefer to get pictures of the wall without a million tourists in them, make the effort to get out early and to the less-visited spots along the wall.
For more information on sections of the Great Wall, this website has in-depth and helpful information.
HOW DO I TRAVEL TO THE GREAT WALL?
The closest part of the Wall to visit is the Mutianyu Section, 1.5 hours away from Beijing.
There are trains to towns nearby but I would only recommend this if you are doing a thorough trip through China and are moving through the country slowly and methodically.
If you are visiting from Beijing the easiest way is to book on an organised car/bus tour so you can sleep on the way to and from while someone else tackles the Beijing traffic.
I am not a tour bus person, it isn’t how I like to travel. However, I was in Beijing as my last stop on my Trans-Siberian Railway tour with VodkaTrain and we had an incredible local honcho who took care of us.
There are certainly smaller groups you can join to make the trip – you don’t need to be one of 50 packed into a bus and chaperoned.
WHEN SHOULD I VISIT?
Year round, China is a great place to visit. Most tourists travel to China and the Great Wall in the summer months, from April – September.
October to March brings cold weather as winter sets in but this means you have less tourists blocking the paths in an already jam-packed country.
I visited the Great Wall at the end of February and had no rain and just needed a few layers of clothes… Although we had just come from Mongolia where it was -37°C degrees, so the +10°C felt hot in comparison!
SHOULD I TAKE A GUIDED TOUR?
Whichever section of the wall you choose to visit, you will want to meander along at your own pace and stop when you choose to.
I wouldn’t suggest booking yourself into a tour that takes you along the wall. All the information about the wall can be told or read on your journey to and from.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
WHAT ARE THE HOURS?
The costs depend on your choice of transport. Some tours will cover entry costs, transport and sometimes entry into museums or shopping venues. You will need to do some research to find out which trip is for you.
If you pay for the transport only, the entry into sections like Badaling is 40-45 RMB, Mutianyu is 45 RMB and Jinshanling is 55-60 RMB
Opening hours for these sections are:
Badaling (70km from Beijing) 6am – 10pm in Summer / 7am – 6pm in Winter.
Mutianyu (90km from Beijing) 6:30am – 6pm in Summer / 7:30am – 6pm in Winter.
Jinshanling (120km from Beijing) 8am – 5pm year round.
WHAT DO I BRING/PACK?
- Several layers of clothing. The temperatures can drop quickly in the mountains.
- Sunscreen and sunglasses in the popular summer months.
- A full water bottle. There isn’t a shop at each watchtower, though the more popular sections do have a lot of facilities nearby for tourists.
- Lunch and a snack but be sure to take all your rubbish away with you!
- Some bandaids just in case – nothing worse than a blister ruining your time on the Wall.
WALKING THE WALL?
Walking the wall’s entire length has been accomplished by around 15 Westerners, sadly, I am not among them to give you the advice you would need.