Visiting the Great Wall

We recommend that you visit the Great Wall at Mutianyu which is fairly close to the city and has some splendid views.

If you walk a few towers from the cable car drop-off you should have few visitors, especially if you visit mid-week. Simatai or Huang Hua are also great options and further enough from Beijing to avoid most of the crowds.

The 19km section at Simatai is comparatively un-spoilt, although redevelopment in 2013 may have changed this. Parts of the Wall here are extremely steep. Badaling on the other hand is the closest section to Beijing and so popular with large groups of flag waving tourist – best to avoid that one.

Many central hostels offer trips to Huang Hua which takes around 2 hrs by minibus with an English speaking Chinese driver. Time at the Wall (about 4 hrs) to explore on your own and have some lunch at a food stall. Return to the hostel about 5pm. Check they are not going to take you shopping as well.

Tips before visiting the Great Wall

  • Although not always offering trip to the Wall itself Beijing Hikers arranges hiking trips in the mountains to the north and west of Beijing. Trips start at 200 RMB per adult, 100RMB per child under 12 and run weekly. The fee includes round trip transport, snacks and beverages, detailed map of the hike and professional guidance. Check schedules on their web site at www.beijinghikers. com.
  • Make sure you wear good shoes.
  • Take a daypack so you can keep your hands free.
  • Also take a few snacks and water for the wall itself. There are small cafes at the bottom, but once at the top you are at the mercy of terrifyingly agile old women with their stock of overpriced drinks and postcards.

Doing it by public transport

It is possible to get to the Great Wall by public transport, although not directly. Start early from Dongzhimen Long Distance Bus Station, the large building NE of Dongzhimen Subway and above the Airport Express stop.

The buses start at around 05:30. For Simatai take bus #916 (RMB 8) or #961 (air-con and only 2 daily) to Huairou County. You then need to get a Miandi (private minibus) from here to the base of the Wall, which will cost around RMB 80 for the return trip.

Or travel to Mù tián yù (45kms from Beijing) during the summer on bus No.867 direct to Mutianyu, around 2.5 hours. The bus departs at 07:00 and 08:30 and comes back from Mutianyu to Dongzhimen at 14:00 and 16:00. If you miss the direct bus you will need to change in Huáiróu.

Doing it yourself can be very rewarding but will often end up costing more (and will take much longer), unless you are proficient in Mandarin and can bargain hard.

Some warnings

If visiting remote sections of the wall local people may want to charge you ‘entrance’ fees.

These fees aren’t official but seem to be a combination of the local people’s developing entrepreneurial skills and a form of compensation for the damage done by tourists crossing their farmland.

If you eat or drink at the wall make sure you agree on the price of the meal when ordering. Prices shouldn’t be much more than they are in equivalent places in the City.