Spanning over 21,000km long, and with an intriguing history full of labour, battles and trade, the Great Wall of China is a must-see attraction when visiting Beijing.
You can’t see it from space, but there is plenty of wall to see when you’re on the ground, so you need to plan your trip wisely!
There are tens of different sections of the Wall, all varied in climb difficulty, scenery, cost and ease of access.
You could visit Badaling, which is highly restored and very much geared towards tourists. There are usually thousands of people here, which means that it’s difficult to get awesome pictures plus you’ll be jostling everyone else the whole day which is never fun or comfortable! We don’t recommend going to Badaling at all!
Mutianyu is another popular spot but again, it’s always full of tourists and there are prettier places to go. One highlight of this section is the toboggan—if you don’t want to walk back down then you can choose to slide down which is actually a lot of fun. However, I wouldn’t say it is worth visiting this section just to be able to get back down easily!
The section that we have chosen as the best part to visit is called Jinshanling. You don’t need a tour guide to take you there, the views are absolutely stunning and there is hardly ever anyone there spoiling your tranquil climb!
When To Visit the Great Wall of China
High Season: April to October
Currency: 10RMB = $1.43 or £1.11 as of November 2019
Seasons in the north of China can be quite severe—whether that’s sweltering hot or blisteringly cold! Time your trip perfectly so that you can avoid unnecessary discomfort when climbing the Wall!
The best times to visit the Great Wall of China (and indeed Beijing as a whole) are spring and early autumn.
During these times, the temperatures balance out in the mid-70s Fahrenheit (low- to mid-20s Celsius). This should mean that you will be able to pleasantly hike along the section without being in danger of heat stroke or exhaustion.
Beijing’s summers can reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius), so I would avoid visiting then if you can.
There are also usually intense thunderstorms in July and August which can not only put a dampener on your trip, but can make hiking quite dangerous.
From around March to May, and late September to October, it’s much less likely to rain.
Despite the beautiful wintry photos of the Great Wall that are floating about, I don’t recommend visiting in winter either. You might experience a temperature of -4 Fahrenheit (-20 Celsius), along with a bitter wind and extremely dry air. The pollution in and around the city is much more likely to be higher too, so it’s not a great time to be in Beijing. It’s unlikely to snow and even if it does, the stones might be too slippery for a safe hike so you might find that the Wall is closed when you want to go!
However, another time to avoid visiting Beijing is every single national holiday. The two main ones are the Spring Festival (or Chinese New Year, which occurs in January or February) and Golden Week which runs from October 1st to the 7th.
National holidays are a busy affair in China, so the main tourist attractions are absolutely heaving with people! Some parts of the Wall are busy all the time, but with the influx of domestic tourists who have a week off work, anywhere can become super busy.
Make sure you book your trip around these dates!
How To Get To Jinshanling
There are a few ways to reach the Great Wall, depending on your budget and time you have available.
If you have the whole day to spare then I would recommend taking the public bus. It might seem scary but it’s actually really easy, even if you don’t speak Chinese!
You’ll need to make your way to Wangjing West railway station. Taking the subway is easy—get onto Line 13 or 15. The subway can get very busy early in the mornings so make sure you give yourself enough time for this journey. Download the free Beijing Metro app to work out how to get to the right station.
Once at the railway station, you’ll need to take Exit B or D and walk across to the bus station. There are clear signs directing you to bus 980 travelling to Jinshanling, so just queue up and buy your ticket at the front of the line. There will be a member of staff waiting to take your money—so make sure you bring cash. It costs 50RMB for a single ticket.
The bus arrives at 8.20 a.m. and it doesn’t wait around for long so make sure you’re there on time! The journey will take around two hours including a quick stop at a service station.
One problem with getting the bus though is that the last bus back to Beijing leaves at 4 p.m. It restricts you in how far you can walk because you need to be back and ready to leave when the bus does, but there is plenty of time to have a good day out.
Another option of getting to Jinshanling is to hire a driver. It’s common here for the friendly locals to pick you up from your hotel, drive you to the entrance, wait for you all day and then drive you back. This will usually set you back around 800RMB so it’s great if you can split the cost. It’s also very good value considering the fuel and time it takes. Ask your hotel to organise this for you. If you aren’t happy with the price then consider booking a driver yourself. Places like TripAdvisor have some helpful forums for good websites where you can find reviewed drivers. Remember than tipping is not customary in China either, so don’t feel like you need to give more than you are quoted for.
However, if you’re a single traveller then hiring a driver for one day does eat away at your trip budget.
The last way to visit the Great Wall is obviously a guided tour. If you’re worried about making your own way there—maybe you have children with you or you’re not quite confident enough to do it—then a tour is not a bad option. Most companies will have an English speaking guide, an air-conditioned minibus and they might even take you to a good place for lunch. This is the most expensive option but it’s also by far the easiest—just pay your money and go!
How Much Does It Cost To Visit The Great Wall?
A trip to the Great Wall can actually be quite inexpensive for a whole day trip out. There are a couple of small fees to pay once you’re there which can add up but making your own way there compared to a tour is much cheaper.
You need to pay to enter the ‘scenic area’ and this costs 65RMB (or 55RMB in low season). You also have the choice of taking the five minute shuttle bus for 10RMB which takes you from the ticket area to the actual bottom of the Wall area.
Once you’re there, you can then hike up to the actual wall, or you can take the cable car. I would advise getting the cable car (especially if you took the bus so are short on time!) which costs 40RMB each way or 60RMB for a return. It’s worth noting that the cable car only runs from April to November, from 8.30am until 4.30pm.
There are restaurants at the base of the Wall but it’s unlikely that you’ll eat there because you won’t want lunch at 10.30 a.m. when you arrive, and you’ll want to have eaten by 3 p.m. before you leave. I would recommend taking lunch with you (and plenty of water!) so this is a cost you can factor in yourself.
Where to Stay Near Jinshanling
If you have a few days to spare, then you can actually stay at the base of Jinshanling. It cuts out all of the timing problems as you can begin climbing as soon as the Wall opens (6 a.m. or 7 a.m. in low season) and you don’t have to leave until it closes (6 p.m. or 5 p.m. in low season).
There is a gorgeous hotel called Dhawa right by the ticket entrance, and if you want to treat yourself to a bit of luxury then this is the place to stay.
What to Bring to the Great Wall
As you’ll be walking for a fair few hours, it’s a good idea to limit what you are carrying on your back. Apart from lunch and water, you’ll only really need your camera, sunglasses and sunscreen if it’s still hot. Make sure you bring your passport too though because foreigners are required to carry it or at least have a copy of it everywhere they go in China. It’s unlikely you’ll be asked for it, but better to be safe than sorry.
Wear a decent pair of walking trainers or hiking shoes with good grip because some of the steps are quite narrow and would be difficult to climb with flat soles.
There are people selling snacks, coffee and water in the guard towers—they even have cold beer too so if you want to treat yourself after a hard day’s climb then you can just buy something here. The prices are inflated but not too badly (you can buy a large local beer for 20RMB which is still cheap by Western standards!).
There are toilets dotted along the Wall (prepare to squat!) and they are surprisingly well maintained. However, bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitiser just in case!
The Great Wall of China should definitely be on your list of where to visit in Beijing. It’s an easy day trip that can be done on a budget, and definitely one you won’t forget in a hurry!
Jade and Kev have been travelling the world since 2015 and have no plans to stop any time soon! They spent a year enjoying the van life in Australia, and are currently in their third year teaching English in Beijing! Follow their adventures on their blog at Two Tall Travellers, and see more on Facebook and Instagram.