He who has never been to the Great Wall is not a true man. –Chinese saying
That phrase may be a little strong, visiting the Great Wall will neither increase your manliness nor prove anything, but visiting Beijing and not visiting the Great Wall does mean you are not a true tourist. For centuries the wall withstood the aggressions of nomadic groups, but that day is long gone, now it stands to represent China’s history, love for huge civil engineering projects, and is a key part of the tourist circuit. The “wall” is actually a non-continuous wall, with many sections that you can easily visit in a single morning from Beijing; here are some tips to get you there.
Picture The Great Wall of China. Is this what you think of?
This is the quintessential Great Wall, it is viewed at Badaling, by far the most beautiful section of brick wall. This is because it has been recently “restored” which in China probably means “improved”. This is the easiest section of the wall to visit, being served by public buses and trains from Beijing for less than $10 USD round-trip. Visiting Badaling does not require a tour-guide or anything really, there are plenty of vendors there to help feed and take care of you. With ease of access and beautifully restored stonework it is also the most visited section of the wall. Weekends and holidays brings thousands upon thousands of visitors, so if you want the Great Wall to yourself, you should probably visit another section.
Look at our photos though, there were thousands of tourists visiting while we were, but notice how few people there were near us?
Make all the thinkCHUA ran out of deodorant jokes you want, but we’ll let you in on a secret. The vast majority of tourists turn right immediately after having their tickets checked. The ones that do go left (maybe 10%), walk up to the cable car, then ride that down. The wall continues in this direction for almost another kilometer, which is mostly tourist free. If you don’t mind a little walk you can have the beauty and ease of access to Badaling all to yourself.
To see and enjoy Badaling, don’t take a tour, tours spend most of the day visiting stores and provide 30-60 minutes on the wall itself. Here are two methods to get to Badaling on your own:
Train: From Beijing North Station take a S2xx (odd numbers 1-27 depending on departure time) to Badaling Station for about $2 USD. For more detailed information see Seat61.com.
Bus: From Central Beijing the easiest, from 6AM-12PM, is to take Bus 919. It departs near Jishuitan Station on the subway’s Line 2. Leave the station through Exit A and follow the signs for Badaling. You will need to walk 500m, which is much farther than you would expect, to Deshengmen Tower (see photo below). Ignore uniformed men who claim that there is no 919 bus to Badaling. They are trying to get you to take their much more expensive mini-van. There are many 919 buses, going to different places, so make sure you get the one to Badaling, each 919 has Chinese characters after the numbers, which I am sure say something important… For more information see this site.
Badaling is not the only place you can visit the Great Wall near Beijing. There are several others, in various states of restoration that are open to tourists. These include:
Juyongguan: Climb steep hills and passes with fewer tourists than Badaling, but just as easy to access on the same bus (919) and train as Badaling.
Mutianyu: The best scenery around the wall, with lush forests. Accessible via bus 916 from Dongzhimen. See this for more information on this section of the wall.
Hike along the Great Wall from Jinshanling to Simatai: A highly recommended 4-5 hour hike along less restored and touristed sections of the wall. It is accessible from the Dongzhimen Long Distance Bus Station, Bus 980.
As soon as you are in Beijing you will hear about other, untouristed, closed sections of the wall that one can sneak onto. Adventurous tourists seek these sections out for bragging rights, knowing they have gone where other tourists don’t and make bold proclamations such as seeing “the original wall”. While the other sections are rebuilt to varying degrees, no matter what, these is little chance to see the original wall. The Great Wall has been significantly rebuilt four times, and maintained, restored and changed in it’s two-thousand year history. Visiting a section meant for tourists, which is being actively maintained for the impact of people, is actually helping protect the wall. Tromping over the parts that are closed or not maintained causes destruction of the wall…there is no bragging rights in destroying part of the Great Wall.
Visiting the Great Wall is a must, it is one of the most iconic structures in the world and longest lasting large structures. It is a testament to China’s history and easily accessible from Beijing.