The Great Wall of China can be visited at many places along its length of several thousand km

When China opened its borders to foreign merchants and visitors after its defeat in the First and Second Opium Wars, the Great Wall became a main attraction for tourists. The travelogues of the later 19th century further enhanced the reputation and the mythology of the Great Wall, such that in the 20th century, a persistent misconception exists about the Great Wall of China being visible from the Moon.

The Great Wall of China is a series of fortifications made of stone, brick, tamped earth, wood, and other materials, generally built along an east-to-west line across the historical northern borders of China in part to protect the Chinese Empire against intrusions by various nomadic groups or various warlike peoples. Several walls were being built as early as the 7th century BC; these, later joined together and made bigger and stronger, are now collectively referred to as the Great Wall. Especially famous is the wall built between 220–206 BC by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. Little of that wall remains. Since then, the Great Wall has on and off been rebuilt, maintained, and enhanced; the majority of the existing wall is from the Ming Dynasty.

The most popular sites can be seen in one day from Beijing

The geography of Northern China ranges from mountainous in northeast Liaoning and Hebei Provinces, through the grasslands of Ningxia, semi-arid desert of China’s loess plateau, and borders the sand dunes of the Tengger desert of Inner Mongolia. It is the area around Hebei and Beijing that most people associate with the Great Wall, but most of the Great Wall lies in the desert regions of the country. It’s condition ranges from excellent to ruined and access from straightforward to difficult.

The main Great Wall line stretches from Shanhaiguan in the east, to Lop Lake in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. A comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has concluded that the Ming walls measure 8,850 km (5,500 mi). This is made up of 6,259 km (3,889 mi) sections of actual wall, 359 km (223 mi) of trenches and 2,232 km (1,387 mi) of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers. Another archaeological survey found that the entire wall with all of its branches measure out to be 21,196 km (13,171 mi).

The collection of walls known today as the Great Wall of China was referred by a number of different names. The current English name evolved from enthusiastic accounts of “the Chinese wall” from early European travelers; by the end of the 19th century “the Great Wall of China” became the name of the walls. In Chinese, they are most commonly known as changcheng (長城), meaning “long wall”. Only in modern times did changcheng become the catch-all term to refer to the long border walls regardless of location or dynastic origin, equivalent to the Western term “Great Wall”.

Early Arabs had heard about China’s Great Wall during earlier periods of China’s history as early as the 14th century. Soon after Europeans reached the Ming China in the early 16th century, accounts of the Great Wall started to circulate in Europe, even though no European was to see it with his own eyes for another century. Perhaps the first recorded instance of a European actually entering China via the Great Wall came in 1605, when the Portuguese Jesuit brother Bento de Góis reached the northwestern Jiayu Pass from India. Early European accounts were mostly modest and empirical, closely mirroring contemporary Chinese understanding of the Wall; although later they slid into hyperbole, including the erroneous but ubiquitous claim that the Ming Walls were the same ones that were built by Qin Shi Huang in the 3rd century BC.

The Great Wall, as we know it, is actually a series of several walls built at different times by different emperors

• First Great wall – built by the Qin Dynasty 221-207 BC
• Second Great Wall – built by the Han Dynasty 205-127 BC
• Third Great Wall – built by the Jin Dynasty 1200 AD
• Fourth Great Wall – built by the Ming Dynasty 1367-1644

Note that different sections also each have their own admission fees, e.g. if you want to hike from Jinshaling to Simatai then you probably have to pay twice.

Below are links to more travel information such as locations, what to see and do, activities, how to get there, and a history of the myth and legend. Use custom search engine to find your bookings.


The Great Wall of China  •   Locations & Activities


To See & Do

History