Photo tip: put your DSLR camera on the sports setting, select continuous shooting and hold down the button to capture images like these, and then delete the non-air shots!
Ways to Reach the Great Wall of China from Beijing
There are several ways to visit the Great Wall of China and if you visit the Forbidden City in Beijing (which you absolutely should), a few random tour proprietors on the street will offer to take you to the Great Wall, generally for around 500 Chinese yuan ($77 US). We don’t recommend going this route because they may not be a reputable company and there’s an excellent chance you’ll spend a fair bit of your day shopping, whether you want to shop or not.
You could catch a train from Beijing’s train station to a wild unmaintained section of the wall, which would certainly be interesting for some. Just know that if you choose this route, China can be a difficult country to travel around without speaking Chinese, so expect a couple added challenges along this journey. We contemplated going this route, but as our time was short and we didn’t want to deal with the stress, we decided to book a tour instead.
We booked the most basic package with Wild Great Wall Adventure Tours which offers a lot of options and advice for visiting different sections of the Great Wall on their blog.
Which Section of the Great Wall of China Should You Visit?
Certain sections of the Great Wall of China date back 2,700 years, but the majority of the staggering 13,170 mile (21,196 km) stretch was unified and built upon during the Ming Dynasty in the 1400’s. There’s a lot of picturesque sections to visit that vary in distance from 90 minutes to 2 & 1/2 hours drive from Beijing. Badaling in the most popular section of the Great Wall of China so Badaling is not the section to visit if you want to avoid massive crowds.
Based on our own research, we decided the Mutianyu section was perfect for us in terms of distance from Beijing, beauty, accessibility and fewer crowds. If you want to read more about the various sections of the Great Wall of China near Beijing, this is a straight forward and informative read.
Hotel Pickup to Mutianyu with Wild Great Wall Adventure Tours
Our driver picked us up from our hotel, the Prime Hotel Beijing in the centrally located Wangfujing district of Beijing. On a quick side note, we also stayed at the Inner Mongolia Grand Hotel in Beijing and we highly recommend that hotel for comfort, location, amenities and overall value. As mentioned earlier, we chose the cheapest option with Wild Great Wall Adventure Company, meaning we received a non-English speaking driver in the comfortable private black sedan shown below.
During the drive I needed to use the bathroom and while the driver didn’t speak English, he communicated in English via a translation app and we were able to arrange a special bathroom stop. If you’re not comfortable with this or want a fully guided tour in English, Wild Great Wall Adventure Tours offers a lot of upgraded options. For us, their cheapest option at 700 yuan ($107 US) for two people was perfect, very comfortable and less expensive than some bigger tour companies like Viator. A nice small touch was that there were even bottles of water for us in the back seat of the car and the driver handed us an additional 2 bottles before venturing up to the Great Wall.
Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China
When we arrived at Mutianyu our driver escorted us to the ticket office to purchase entrance, trolley and cable car tickets (not included in their basic rate). All could be purchased separately or bundled together. As time was limited, we purchased the bundle, including round trip on the cable car. While you could hike up, down or both ways to Mutianyu, it’s better to save your legs and hike along the Great Wall itself. The setting is stunning, so you probably shouldn’t waste your time and energy on anything outside the most epic part!
Our driver waited below for 3 and 1/2 hours as we toured the majestic Mutianyu section of the wall among very sparse crowds. Despite it being early March, and winters are generally very cold in northern China, we were lucky and temperatures were only moderately cold at around 50 Fahrenheit (10 celsius). And while it might have been nice to have paid extra for an English speaking guide, the advantage of not having one for couples is that the journey is more romantic.
Yes, these are our own photos from the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China. It was incredible to walk this historic site with so few other people. While China has a staggering 1.3 billion people, the wall is plenty big enough for everyone. Try and avoid visiting during holidays like Chinese New Year, when many Chinese people have the entire week off, weekends or during the height of tourist season and you too can experience the same intimate moments with the Great Wall that we did!
For more ideas, and additional inspiration to visit China, visit the Chinese tourism board’s official website.
Disclaimer: Wild Great Wall Adventure Tours charged us half their regular price for a private driver because of this website, but all our opinions are our own and they have a certificate of excellence from TripAdvisor.