The Great Wall is the grandest military project in Ancient China. It was firstly built in the Spring and Autumn Periods by the king of Yan Country (燕国). Recorded by the National Heritage Board in 2012, the total length of the Great Wall is 21196.18km (13170.7 miles). It has a long history of more than 2,000 years and became a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1987.
Initially built as a defensive system, now the Great Wall is the symbol of China. The wall runs from the east to the west, covering 15 provinces and cities including: Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei Province, Henan Province, Shanxi Province, Inner Mongolia, Liaoning Province, Jilin Province, Heilongjiang Province, Shandong Province, Henan Province, Shaanxi Province, Gansu Province and Qinghai Province.
The visitable Great Wall today is the part built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), thus it is also called Ming Great Wall. There are 101 sections in different provinces; they are of different construction time, history, style and perseveration. Only 10-some sections of the 101 are open to tourists.
Sections of the Great Wall
The Great Wall starts from Jiayuguan Pass in Gansu Province and meets the ocean in Hushan Mountain in Liaoning Province. There are over 101 sections remaining in 15 provinces and cities. Below are the detailed information.
Beijing (9 sections): Badaling, Mutianyu, Juyongguan Pass, Jiankou, Gubeikou, Simatai, Jinshanling, Huanghuacheng and Shuiguan.
Gansu Province (7 sections): Dunhuang (the Han Great Wall), Jiayuguan Pass, Juyan Fortress, Yangguan Pass, Yumenguan Pass, Overhanging Great Wall and Shandan.
Shanxi Province (5 sections): Guguan Pass, Niangziguan Pass, Ningwuguan Pass, Pianguan & Pingxingguan and Yanmenguan Pass. Hebei Province has 4 sections: Shanhaiguan Pass, Xifengkou and Sandaoguan, Zijingguan Pass and the Great Wall in Zhangjiakou City.
Shaanxi Province (3 sections): The Great Wall in Yulin, Great Wall of Wei Dynasty and Zhenbeitai.
Liaoning Province ( 2 sections): Hushan and Jiumenkou.
Tianjin City (2 sections): Huangyaguan Pass andTaipingzhai.
Ningxia Province has one section: Sanguankou.
Popular Sections of the Great Wall
Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall (慕田峪长城) is in better restored shape yet with fewer tourists compared to the Badaling Section and Juyongguan Pass. It was built in the Northern Qi Dynasty (550 - 557) and reinforced in the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644).
The section runs for 2.25km (1.4mi) and overlooks the valley of Jundu Mountain (军都山). Watchtowers are built every 500 meters; such a small interval is a unique structure style. Parapets are built on the inner and outer sides as a way to defend invaders coming from both sides.
- Best Time: Autumn and winter
- Location: Huairou County, Beijing
- Distance from Downtown Beijing: 72.4km (45mi),car drive takes about 2 hours
Entrance Fee: 45RMB/Adults
25RMB/Kid (1.2-1.5m tall)
Free for Children less than 1.2m tall
Cable Car: Adults: 45RMB/One-Way, 65RMB/Round-Trip
Children (1.2-1.3m tall): 25RMB/One-Way, 35RMB/Round-Trip
Free for children less than 1.2m tall
Toboggan: Adults: 50RMB/One-Way, 65RMB/Round-Trip (Cable car up and toboggan down)
Children: 40RMB/Round-Trip (Cable car up and toboggan down)
Getting There: Get to Dongzhimen Bus Station and take Bus No. 916 and 936 to Huairou County, then change to mini bus to the site entrance.
Badaling Section of the Great Wall (八达岭长城) is the best-preserved section, certainly, as well as the most-visited one. It is located in Yanqing County, 72km (45mi) northwest to Beijing. The mountain that the wall snakes is the main peak of Jundu Mountain Range.
Badaling Section is the essential part of the Ming Great Wall and outpost of Junyongguan Pass It offers a rich learning chance of military defensive project of the ancient China. Inner side of the walls is wide enough for 5 horses to ride abreast. To ensure its defensive potential, wall rocks are drilled out some holes for arrow shooting; moats are built inside and outside the wall; 43 watchtowers stand up on the mountain ridgeline.
- Best Time: Year-round
- Location: Yanqing County, Beijing
- Distance from Downtown Beijing: 72.4km (45mi), car drive takes about 2 hours
45RMB/Person (1st April to 31st October)
40RMB/Person (1st November to 31st March)
Cable Car: 60RMB/One-Way, 80RMB/Round-Trip
Free for children less than 1.2m tall
Getting There:1. Tourist Bus from Qianmen Lou (前门楼), 90RMB/Round-Trip (1 hour)
2. Dengshengmen (德胜门) take Bus No. 919 and 877 (1 hour and 40
3. Beijing North Train Station (北京北站) take Train S213, S215, S219,
S221 and S221 (1 hour and 15 minutes)
Widely known for its rugged beauty, Jiankou Section (箭扣长城) is the most photographic spot of the Great Wall. The wall winds 30km (19 mi) on Heituo Mountain, to the north of Beijing. Firstly built in the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), most part of the wall is now discarded and the rest makes a heart-pumping trip for world-wild adventurers.
The section owes its prominence to the location of great strategic value. It meets Mutianyu Section at the east and Huanghuacheng Section in the west. The section’s average altitude is 950m (3,117ft) and it is tough to climb up the steep peaks. The wall zigzags up and down, just like a full-pulled bow, thus its name Jiankou (literally meaning Arrow Knot).
Ox Horn Edge Wall (牛犄角边), General Watchtower (将军守关), Beijing Knot (北京结) and Nine-Eyed Tower (九眼楼) are the most famous attractions of Jiankou Section.
- Best Time: Summer and autumn
- Location: Xizhazi Village (西栅子村), Huairou County
- Distance from Downtown Beijing: 98km (60.9mi), car drive takes about 2 hours and a half
- Entrance Fee: 20 RMB/Person
Take Bus No.916 and 936 to Huairou County and then take mini bus to Xizhazi Village.
Note: 1. Camping is forbidden at the Great Wall but you can stay overnight at farmhouses
or hostels in Xizhazi Village
2. No cable car or other transfer up the section, climbing is the only way to get up.
Closed for a long time until its reopening in 2014, Simatai Section of the Great Wall (司马台) has been a favorite Great Wall section for hikers and photographers. This section was firstly constructed in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and still stands in the way it used to look like.
With total length up to 5km (3mi), Simatai boasts for steepness with precipitous steps. Most part of the Great Wall is destroyed. Its remarkable intactness brings travelers back to the Ming Dynasty.
Construction of a resort at this section is under way since January, 2014. Anyone who is not the guest in the resort is required to make a reservation for visiting the section.
- Best Time: Year-round
- Location: Miyun County, Beijing
- Distance from Downtown Beijing: 120km (75mi), car drive takes about 2 hours
- Entrance Fee: 40RMB/Person
- Cable Car: 80 RMB/One-Way, 120 RMB/Round-Trip
- Trolley to the Peak: 20RMB
- Getting There: Take Bus No.916 and 936 to Huairou County and then take mini bus to Xizhazi Village.
- Getting there: Qianmenlou or Dongzhimen Bus Station tourist bus to Miyun County and change to mini bus to Simatai (2 hours on the way)
Great Wall Travel Tips
Tips for Great Wall Hiking
Arranging a Great Wall hiking trip for pros requires much time and expertise. These professional hikers or enthusiasts wouldn’t mind spending one week at the wall, let alone the planning time.
For most common travelers, the best choice is less than 5 days, mostly 2 days and 3 days. The best hiker-friendly Great Wall sections are Gubeikou, Jinshanling, Jiankou, Simatai and Huanghuacheng.
Suggested Itinerary for or 2-day Great Wall hiking: Day-1 Beijing-Gubeikou-Jinshanling; Day-2Jiankou-Mutianyu-Beijing on Day Two is a popular choice. This route covers four respectively wild sections and one restored one: Mutianyu Section.
For 3-day Great Wall hiking, suggested itinerary: Day-1 Beijing-Gubeikou-Jinshanling, Day-2 Jiankou-Mutianyu; Day-3 Huanghuacheng-Xishuiyu Lakeside Great Wall-Beijing. Trekking up the mountain side and eventually down to the ground and visit the part of Great Wall immersed underwater.
However you plan your hiking trip, safety, physical condition and weather adaptability are the top factors. A guided hike meets the standards better than a self-oriented one. At some dangerous part, such as Jiankou and Simatai, you need guidance and help to walk your way through the collapsed walls.
As weather-wise, the best hiking time at the Great Wall will be late summer and autumn. At this time of year, the weather is dry and hot, you will have clear views and safer walking trails. Furthermore, starry night outside the big city is just irresistible. Whenever you go, check the weather 3 days beforehand.
Accommodation choice at the Great Wall is limited, basically farmhouses, hostels and guesthouses. Camping at the Great Wall is possible at some certain sections but requires agency arrangement. If you hike with a professional hiking guide, you don’t need to bring your own camping tent.
Gearing up for the hike, you should pack up sunglasses, sun block (for hike starts at noon), hat, good hiking shoes, coat, hiking cane, compass, map, flash light (for overnight in the village or camping at the Great Wall), bottles of water and some snacks that provide quick energy.
Tips for Great Wall Photography
The Great Wall seems like an all-time favorite for professional cameramen. A successful photography tour is all about choosing the right section at a right time.
Attracting numerous photographers, the most photographic Great Wall sections include Mutianyu, Jiankou, Jinshanling and Simatai. Expect for Mutianyu Section, other sections with varied gradients offer jaw-dropping views and rich experience that is going to level up your photography skills.
The best time for photography differs per section, yet the general best time would be summer and autumn.
The above mentioned sections can be done within one day. Nevertheless, if you are going for the sunset, sunrise or night sky photos, you will need to spend one night camping at the wall or home-stay in a village.
Photographer expertise is important for your trip. In another word, your tour guide should also be photographer himself/herself. Leading you to the unique locates for unique shots, sharing his/her own experiences and knowledge, such a tour guide is a part of your successful photography tour. You can hire professional photography guides at local travel agencies or join a photography tour arranged by related association or photo club.
Besides common supplies, essential gears for your trip include a wide-angle lens, lens hood, tripod, flash light, endurable camera pack, teleconverter, lens cleanser clothes and at least 2 extra batteries.
Great Wall Trip in One Day
If you only have one day for the Great Wall, you better make it count: avoid the crowds, take in best vista of the Great Wall and don’t wear yourself out. Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall is an excellent choice.
Comparatively, Mutianyu Section meets less tourists and its proximity to Beijing makes it a worthwhile day trip. For an easy visit, take a cable car up to the peak and enjoy an exciting toboggan ride downhill (not suitable for kids under 4 and elders above 70). After a couple of hours at the Great Wall, stretch your visit to the Royal Ming Tombs, just one hour on the way.
Local travel agencies or online travel websites offer bunch of Great Wall one-day trips. It is easier to book one of them than arranging the whole trip by yourself. Details of travel time and transportation can be big head-scratchers.
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