Stretching over 6,000 kilometers, the Great Wall of China is undoubtedly one of the most impressive architectural and technical achievements of mankind. Over the centuries and millennia, various Chinese states and empires built sections of the wall to protect themselves from the wandering nomadic groups that threatened their territory from the north. Thus, some parts date back to the 7th century BC, while some of its more famous segments were not added until the 1500s and 1600s.
The Great Wall, which winds along mountain ridges and through valleys and hills, stretches from the Gobi Desert in the west to the Bohai Sea in the east and crosses 15 Chinese provinces.
While many of its best-preserved and impressive segments are located just outside of Beijing, other wilder and more remote, but equally scenic, parts are further away. As one of the world’s most famous and iconic landmarks, no visit to China can be complete without a walk along the Great Wall.
Despite its proximity to Beijing and excellent views, Mutianyu is much less crowded than Badaling. Therefore, it is one of the most popular sections among foreign tourists. Surrounded on both sides by lush greenery, Mutianyu is a sight that weaves its way through mountain ridges, with numerous watchtowers and fortresses dotted along the route.
To access the wall, visitors can walk or take the cable car up to its ramparts, and there’s even a fun sleigh ride that can be done back down. Although it is still quite touristy compared to other sections further away from the wall, it can be found occasionally walking along Mutianyu with barely another soul around. Mutianyu is the longest and fully restored stretch of the Great Wall of China, and it’s a good place to start exploring all that this magnificent monument has to offer.
Built in 1504, Badaling is one of the most restored parts of the Great Wall, and its proximity to Beijing makes it the most popular section to visit with tourists. As such, it gets very crowded and is by far the most touristic part of the wall, with plenty of shops, restaurants, and even cable cars.
However, Badaling still has its charm and has been visited over the years from President Nixon to Queen Elizabeth II. It is a very pleasant place to walk and its imposing walls offer a magnificent landscape, with steep slopes that collapse on both sides. For its ease of access and the wealth of its facilities and photographic possibilities, Badaling is worth a visit if you don’t have the time to venture further afield.
Known as one of the most beautiful stretches of the Wall, Jinshanling has long been a popular attraction with hikers, who flock to enjoy its pristine nature and breathtaking views. Located about 130 kilometers from Beijing in Hebei Province, the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall is wild in some places and restored in others; this strain is, in part, what makes her so brilliant to walk on.
Throughout its 10.5 kilometers there are 67 watchtowers that can be visited and that feature a wide variety of architectural styles. Normally it takes about seven hours to go from Jinshanling to Gubeikou or vice versa. The views of the Great Wall winding in the distance through mountain ridges, passes and valleys are simply mesmerizing.
Officially known as the “Great Wall of the Lakes”, Huanghuacheng is the only section built along a body of water, and part of it is submerged in the lake below. Haoming’s beautiful blue lake juts out delightfully from the forest-covered mountains that surround it, and the Great Wall winding through the landscape completes the perfect scene.
Due to the difficult terrain, this section of the wall lasted 180 years, and much of it has not been restored since 1592. Named for the pretty little yellow flowers that dot the surrounding mountains in summer, Huanghuacheng is a quiet part of the wall, with few visitors. Therefore, walking here in the middle of a beautiful landscape hardly seeing anyone else is an amazing experience, and taking a boat trip on the lake to see the wall from below is simply a must.
The Simatai section of the Great Wall, which runs along the crest of the Yan Mountains, is famous for the steep falls that occur on both sides. It is one of the only parts that can be seen illuminated at night. Walking along its summit is an exhilarating experience, as it feels like walking through the air. One part, the Sky Bridge, is only 40 centimeters wide.
Along the wall there is a series of watchtowers, some of them barely 50 meters apart. From them you can enjoy a simply magnificent view. In addition to walking along the wall, visitors can zipline and take a boat ride through the nearby reservoir to the east tower. One of the most memorable things to do in Simatai is take a nighttime walk and leisurely walk along the Great Wall of China, which lights up impressively against the night sky.
Located about a two-hour drive from Beijing, Gubeikou is one of the wildest and most rewarding parts of the Great Wall to explore. Most of it is unrestored, with decaying city walls and crumbling ruins wherever you look. Strategically located at the rear of the Yan Mountains, Gubeikou guarded an important passage to Beijing and, surprisingly, witnessed more than 130 battles along its wall.
It has a series of interesting monuments that can be visited, such as the General Tower and the 24 Eye Tower. It is impressive that there has been no renovation or construction since 1567. Although it is not as popular as other parts of the Great Wall, Gubeikou is ideal if you are looking for a quiet getaway; It offers many scenic excursions and interesting historical attractions.
Known as the “Dragon Head”, it is in Shanhaiguan that the Great Wall ends and plunges dramatically into the Bohai Sea. Although the original part has long since collapsed in the waves, the wall has been fantastically reconstructed and restored, so that photo after photo can be taken from the top of the sea crashing into it.
The ancient fortifications surrounding the city of Qinhuangdao, where Shanhaiguan is located, are also considered part of the Great Wall and are worth exploring if you have time. There are large unrestored segments, offering a perhaps more authentic experience than the somewhat touristy Dragon Head. Plus, the city has an awesome museum that will teach you everything there is to know about the Great Wall and the people who inhabited it.
Located just an hour and a half northeast of Beijing, Juyongguan has long played an important role in the defense of the country’s capital. At Juyong Pass Fort you will find one of the most impressive forts of the Great Wall. With marvelous architecture dating back to the Ming Dynasty, the fort occupies a prominent position in the Guangou Valley, one of the most important access points to Beijing.
Despite its appearance of impenetrability, the Juyongguan section of the wall was opened by Genghis Khan in 1211 and 1213. As the section of the wall closest to Beijing, Juyongguan is a very popular attraction among tourists, who flock to walk on it. its summit, visit its fabulous fort and take photos of the magnificent landscape.
A short drive away are the Dingling Tombs – the only Ming Dynasty imperial mausoleum to ever open – and its museum and underground palace are well worth a visit if you’re in the area.
The Huangyaguan section of the Great Wall stretches for about 40 kilometers and has many impressive towers and water gates. The latter are particularly interesting to visit, since the arcades – dating from the 14th century – could open and close depending on whether an enemy was approaching or not.
Although it is quite steep in many places, the wall allows for fabulous excursions. Every May, thousands of runners flock to Huangyaguan to attempt their famous marathon. Considered by many to be a miniature version of the Great Wall of China, Huangyaguan has many fascinating places to see and explore, only in a smaller, more manageable area. Visiting the Huangya Pass, for example, is simply a must-see, and the view from the top of the Stairway to Heaven section of Huangya is breathtaking.
Located about 70 kilometers north of Beijing, Jiankou is the wildest, most dangerous and therefore the most exhilarating part of the Great Wall to explore. Completed in 1368, the wall has not been restored since. Much of it is in disrepair, with plants, flowers and trees growing from its crumbling bricks.
In Jiankou, you’ll find some of the steeper parts of the wall, with “Flying Eagle Ascending” and “Heavenly Staircase” being particularly scary to walk through. The mountainous landscape you see is truly from another world. While traversing this part of the wall, wild but of a breathtaking beauty, many people choose to camp on its ramparts. Another featured attraction is the “Beijing Knot,” which is the meeting point of three different sections of the Great Wall of China.