Tips on Visiting the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is pretty epic, only in part because it’s the largest man made structure in the world. But standing atop it, as it zig zags through majestic mountains, is even more impressive than we anticipated. And it’s even more straight forward to visit this ancient wonder than you might think. Since 2013, China has implemented a 72 hour transit visa to encourage increased tourism from abroad. This means that so long as you’re flying on to a third country, you don’t even have to prearrange a tourist visa to Beijing, which is the easiest starting point to visit the Great Wall of China. Under the rules of the 72 hour transit visa, you cannot visit Shanghai if you flew into Beijing, but you can visit the magnificent Great Wall.

Great Wall of China Jump

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.

Walk up to the cable car

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.

Wild Great Wall Adventure Private Driver to Great Wall of China

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.

Entrance to Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall of China

Cable car ride Mutianyu, Tips on Visiting the Great Wall of China

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.

Alex at the Great Wall

 

GreatWallofChina

 

The Great Wall of China, Mutianyu section

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.

Tips on Visiting the Great Wall of China, Mutianyu

The Great Wall of China, Mutianyu section

A romantic moment on the Great Wall of China

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. 

27 thoughts on “Tips on Visiting the Great Wall of China

  1. Beautiful pictures and thanks for sharing the best section of the Great Wall to visit to avoid crowds – if there’s one thing I hate most during my travels… it’s crowds (that’s why I only go to places that are in the offseason)

    1. Thanks, Hung Thai! Glad you’ve been and enjoyed this section of the wall as well!…We generally don’t like big crowds either so we also like to travel during offseason. It’s cheaper and people need the business more then so really it’s a win win for everyone!

  2. Good to know about the 72 hour window where you don’t need a visa and that you can visit the Great Wall as a day trip. So cool that there were’t many crowds, your pictures are great!

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Brianna! And yeah, we’re trying to get the word out there about the 72 hour transit visa to China so people can consider a similar stop on their way to another country. It could also even save people on their plane tickets, or not cost much more!

  3. This post is very timely for me, since I’ll be visiting China (including the Great Wall) next month! I’ve been leaning towards visiting the Jinshanling section, but after seeing the photos in this post, I’ll give some consideration to the Mutianyu section. 🙂 By the way, getting a Chinese visa, as I’ve done since I’ll be spending much more than 3 days in the country, isn’t a big deal, at least for Americans; the questionnaire on the application isn’t very long, and it only takes a few days after you submit your application. It was easier than the process for some other countries that require visas like Russia and India.

    1. Hey H-Bomb. Glad our post has inspired you to consider visiting the Mutianyu section of the Wall over Jinshanling 🙂

      Thanks as well for your advice on arranging the Chinese tourist visa. For us, that wasn’t an option because the primary purpose of our 3 week trip from Boston was to visit family and friends in Melbourne, Australia. We learned of the free 72 hour Chinese transit visa and found $600 roundtrip plane tickets from Boston-Beijing and reasonably priced roundtrip tickets from Beijing to Melbourne, making the stop an excellent deal. Especially since we also saved money on organizing two Chinese tourist visas, which I believe would have cost us close to $300 for both. But we’d certainly love to return to China with more time and be free to explore the country as we wished! Have a wonderful time in beautiful China!

        1. Either one will be beautiful! If you’re torn, one tie breaker might be that Mutianyu is just 70km from Beijing, while Jinshaling is 125 km from Beijing. If you just go for a day trip, it would be nice to have the extra time to hike along the wall. If you’re keen, you could hike from Mutianyu to Jiankou, which is around 10km and meant to be amazing as well!

          1. Awesome! You’ll love it. Have an amazing time and we look forward to reading your thoughts on it!

  4. Very thorough and informative post on how to visit the Great Wall. I’ve wanted to do this for some time, and it’s great to have a resource that cuts through all the fluff and tells me quickly how to get here and which part is the best to visit. I’ll keep the Mutianyu section in mind, your photographs are stunning!

    -Greig

    1. Thank you for the compliment! We’re really glad you found the article helpful and the Mutianyu photos inspiring! We try our best to give just the right amount of useful tips and some alternative ideas, with a few good resources for further reading. Happy travels and thanks for reading!

  5. Looks great! My parents went to China just after Americans were allowed to go and their photos of the wall are crawling with people. I’m not sure that I will ever get to China or Asia, but the wall is something that I would like to visit definitely.

    1. That’s a really interesting time that your parents went to China. They must have great stories and photos to share with you! If you want to visit the Great Wall, you will someday. Beijing also has some amazing food- better than the Chinese food we’re used to in the States!

  6. Wow I’m so impressed that you guys had the Great Wall all to yourself! I visited the Great Wall back in 2001 and my goodness, you almost couldn’t move with the amount of people. And I’ve also been seeing those funny memes going around the internet about “expectation vs reality” in tourist spots and with the Great Wall the expectation looked like the photos you guys have with the reality a crowded one..so your visit looks really amazing, makes me want to go see it again 🙂

    1. Thanks Jean! And lol, we’ve seen that meme going around! We visited last month but I’m still seeing photos on Instagram where people have sections of the wall to themselves, or with just a few other people. But someone also just tagged us in a short Facebook video showing a section of the wall during an overcrowded long weekend.

      It certainly can be hit and miss with crowds so as a general rule if people can avoid it, visit during the week, not on a holiday, and during the offseason. That’s so cool that you went 15 years ago and you’re inspired to return! We’d love to return ourselves someday, also to see more of China as we only experienced a small slice of the country.

  7. Wow! What a pleasant and surprising bit to find out you CAN see the wall without 800 billion people with you!!?? All the photos I’ve seen are really FULL of people.

    1. Yes, we were pleasantly surprised ourselves! If you plan your trip to the Great Wall of China right, you can actually experience it with very few fellow tourists and no big hassle, like our photos show 🙂

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