As the Great Wall of China is rather on the long side, there are a large number of places to visit it

Badaling and Juyongguan are nearest to Beijing, and these two are among the most crowded sections of the Great Wall. On the weekdays, Badaling is not too crowded, and it is the easiest to reach affordable, ie without hiring a taxi. From the Southwest corner of Tiananmen Square, take the number 5 bus (¥1 public bus or 0.4 if you have IC card, ~10min from drum/bell tower or ~30min from Qianmen) to the last stop or the line 2 subway to Jishuitan station (2y). Walk east on the north side of the road to the bus station. Take bus number 877 (¥12 one way, ¥4.80 one way with pre-paid card, air conditioned coach bus) to Badaling. The last bus from Beijing to Badaling leaves at around 12:00, the last bus from Badaling to Beijing at around 16:00. For the ride back, better arrive half an hour early if you want to sit down during the 1-hour drive!

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Note: Bus 877 to Badaling is at the very rear (farthest east) of the station (exit A).You have to walk from Exit A around 5 minutes then you see the bus station where the Bus 919 and the 877 are departing. Just follow the crowd. Be very wary of men in blue jackets posing as transit workers. They will lie all the way up to the bus door (and in front of real transit workers) by saying there are no more buses, it is the wrong bus, or that they are overpriced, etc. and try to get unknowing passengers to take their overpriced taxi and/or shuttle. The real transit workers around the area will be of no help (as they may be taking a cut), so you must ask the ticket giver directly on the bus if it is the correct bus. It will be only ¥12.

Alternatively, take the train from Beijing North Station which has the subway station. The train costs ¥6 with the IC card one way for hard seat, and the seat is way nicer than most airplanes, with plenty of leg room. The train is a much better option than a bus since it takes less time, doesn’t get stuck in traffic, leaves from a relatively central subway station and the seating is much more comfortable. The train departs from Beijing North Station, the entrance to the waiting area is on the surface with the “Entrance” sign, and the train schedule is posted nearby. The train you need starts with S following by a 2xx number, such as S205. If you use the IC cards there are no tickets, you just touch your card and get in (you’ll have to touch the card on the exit again). The schedule posted on seat61.com seems to be pretty safe. This allows you time to visit the wall at your own leisure, bypassing the need to go to the Ming Tombs and random stores. The train has very large viewing windows, allowing you breathtaking views of the scenery and the great wall even before you arrive at Badaling. If you don’t have the IC card, tickets must be purchased the same day of travel but only after 10:00, and only from the Beijing North Station. There is no specific time printed on the ticket so you may use the ticket for any train that day. If you can’t find empty seats you can hang out in the nearly empty dining car, which has a couple of comfortable booths with tables. Upon arrival at Badaling station (the station will be announced in English with repeating “Great Wall” many times so you won’t miss it) you’ll need to make a left turn and walk 800m to the great wall entrance. Badaling entrance fee is ¥45. Audio tour service ¥15/40 for Chinese/English + ¥200 deposit.

The hike is still a challenge with plenty of very steep hills, so don’t get disappointed if you took the cable car up and see a huge crowd – once you get a bit into the wall the crowd thins quickly, and even on a weekend you can find yourself alone on a whole section of the wall. On weekdays, there are much less vendors chasing you on the wall; they stay in the little town area. In addition, there are Sun Bears that you can feed carrots to for ¥3 in the little town.

Make sure you wear the proper shoes such as tennis shoes or sneakers. The stones the wall is made of have been polished by millions of tourists like you, and are quite slippery. If you wear flip-flops, you’d be looking for a disaster. Walking barefoot or in a thin sole shoes would be very uncomfortable because the stones get very hot in the sunshine.

Don’t take the ¥100 tours that people offer you outside the Forbidden City or at Tiananmen Square – you only get 2 hours at the wall, and then you go to the Ming Tombs (read: big hill) and have to eat lunch; in addition, they can cancel the bus on you, they don’t leave until the bus is full, and you have to stay with your tour group (with the loud mega phone and all) in order to get back to the city.

The cable car before the entrance costs ¥85 one-way (they can also sell you the Great Wall entrance ticket at the booth). As well as taking out a good bit of uphill, it puts you right into a quiet area of the wall. Once you get off the cable car a left turn will lead you to the regular entrance. But a right turn will provide a pleasant walk along the wall for a while until the path becomes closed.

It takes 2-3h to do the whole wall depending on your fitness, weather or crowd

In winter, expect to lose 5°C between Beijing and the Wall. This plus the wind from the mountain, you will cherish every layer of clothes you can have. The vendors will be here to sell everything you may have forgotten, although the price is not reasonable. For the good part : the crowd is then much lighter, and almost nobody go after the first peak. The winter sun and, if you’re lucky, the snow will give you amazing views on the walls.

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