Seeing the Great Wall of China, one of the seven wonders of the world, should be on any travelers list. It’s more impressive in person than you can imagine. The wall winds up and over mountains as far as the eye can see. And once you get there, if you hike 15 minutes on the wall in either direction from a main entrance, you’ll likely have the place to yourself. It feels as if you are a rugged explorer finding this amazing place.
There are several sections of the wall that are very close to Beijing and open to the public. Four main areas are the best to visit and most well known – each very distinct – but very close on the scale of effort to reward ratio. Here’s a summary of the four locations and a summary of the place.
1. Badaling – close, but crowded.
2. Mutianyu – medium distance, medium crowded, and a toboggan slide.
3. Jinshanling – farthest, least crowded, and peaceful & beautiful, but don’t miss the bus back.
4. Huanghuacheng – medium distance, most picturesque, and a lake.
Option 1: Catch the 877 Bus from Deshengmen station – a 10 minute walk from Jishuitan subway station – dark blue line 2 to Badaling. It costs 12 CNY and takes 1.5 hours. Hours are 06:00-12:30 going there, 10:30-17:00 for the return trip – from April 1-Nov 15. From November 15-March 31 hours are 06:30-12:30 going there, and 11:00-16:30 on the return. Make sure to not get off too early. Follow the rest of the tourists when they leave the bus.
Option 2: Bus Line 1 from Qianmen to Badaling. Take the subway dark blue line 2 to Qianmen and use Exit C. Walk 30 meters to take the bus, which leaves every 30 minutes from 7:30-11:00 for $20 CNY.
Further directions, if needed.
To get to Mutianyu, you will go to the Dongzhimen Station on the metro via dark blue line 2 or the yellow line 13. From there you will transfer to the 916 express bus. The Bus Station (officially called the Bus Transfer Hall) can be found using Exit C of the metro. The fare is $12 CNY and will go 15 stops (20 total stops on this line) to the Huai Rou Bei Da Jie in Huairou District about an hour away. From here, you can either wait for the public bus H23 for $5 yuan- but will have to cross the street to another stop, or many taxis will offer you a ride. You can find official taxis outside the government building at the stop – these run for $50 yuan and take half-an-hour to the Mutianyu entrance. If you take an unofficial taxi, be sure to negociate and not pay the $20 yuan parking fee. Aim for $50 yuan.
To get back, you will catch a taxi back to the Huai Rou Bei area. The taxi drivers know where and when to stop if you want the 916 bus back to Beijing. It costs $50 yuan as well. Then hop on the 916 for $12 yuan back to Dongzhimen station.
Same as Mutianyu, you will take the subway dark blue line 2 and yellow line 13 to Dongzhimen. Then you can hop on the 980 Jinshanling Tourist Bus, which leaves at 7:40am and returns at 4:00pm. The journey can take two hours or more, depending on Beijing traffic. It only runs between April 1 and November 15.
You will have to make sure you catch the return bus which runs every 40 minutes. The last bus leaves at 15:30 and 16:00. However, I did miss the last bus, and if you do miss this bus, then you can navigate your way back to Beijing, which will consist of a short taxi ride (20 mins) to a small town – which I don’t know the name. Then a transfer to a small minivan and then the driver takes you to a bus station. The bus station has a direct ride back to Dongzhimen station, for a two and a half hour extra adventure in China.
Same as Mutianyu, you will take the subway dark blue line 2 and yellow line 13 to Dongzhimen. Then you can hop on the 916 or 916 Express buses that come every 15 minutes. Then you will go to the Huairou Bus Station and transfer to the local bus H21. It’s a 40 minute ride to the wall.
Why Go to Badaling:
If you are only in Beijing for a day or two, this is the closest section and most well preserved. You might have to contend with large crowds but if you walk farther away from the main center, you can find some open areas.
It costs 40 CNY from April 1-October 31st. and 35 CNY from Nov. 1-March 31st.
Why Go to Mutianyu:
If you have slightly more time and want somewhere less crowded, then Mutianyu is the place to go. A huge upgrade from Badaling, without a huge amount of effort extra effort getting there. If you walk 20 minutes to the left as you reach the wall, you’ll find the non-restored area and can see how it has held up through the centuries.
Why Go to Jinshanling:
This area has the largest fortresses and is the least touristy. In either direction, walking five minutes or so, you’ll be on the wall by yourself. It’s quite amazing. The only difficulty is getting there and back, which takes your whole day. You might want to arrange a taxi to pick you up or take you back to Beijing so you have way more time to explore the wall.
Why Go to Huanghuacheng:
This is the most scenic of all the paths, which overlooks a lake. You can even rent a boat to paddle once you finish looking at the wall. It’s not too touristy and distance-wise it is not to far.
So Which Section is Best:
Having only been to Mutianyu and Jinshanling, and skipping out on Badaling, I would say the top place to go is Mutianyu, but if you like adventure then go all the way to Jinshanling. I enjoyed exploring Mutianyu and how easy it was to get there. The views are superb and you can find some remote spots hiking along the way in either direction. Each area is so different, but you’ll like them all.
Final Helpful Tips:
If you look like a foreigner, you’ll likely be the subject to a few scams on the Great Wall. The most important part is not getting off the bus too early. There might be someone who gets on the bus about an hour later, who tries to persuade you that this is the stop for the great wall. This is a scam to try to get you off before the correct stop, in which case you have to catch an expensive taxi afterwards. So make sure to stay on the bus till the correct stop.
To maximize your time on the wall, you have to wake up early. The subway opens at 5:00am and you’ll have to include this travel time within your schedule.
If you come to China prepared, you can hike the region between Simatai and Jinshanling, which is 10.5km, and should take 5 hours total. You could even camp between the two.