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GREAT WALL OF CHINA

The Great Wall of China snakes over deserts, hills, and plains for several thousand miles. At its closest point it is less than 40 miles (65 km) from Beijing. Created after the unification of China under Qin Shi Huangdi (221–210 BC), it ultimately proved ineffective; it was breached in the 13th century by the Mongols and again, in the 17th century, by the Manchus. There are four main sites accessible from Beijing: Badaling, Mutianyu, Huanghua Cheng, and Simatai.

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Great Wall of China snaking through lush hills

NEED TO KNOW

prac_info Badaling: 44 miles (70 km) NW of Beijing; 6912 1383; bus 879 from Badaling; open 6:30am–7pm daily (Nov–Mar: 7am–6pm daily); adm ¥45

prac_info Xizhazi (Jiankou): 60 miles (96 km) N of Beijing; bus 936 from Dong Zhi Men bus station, to Yujiayuan station, then bus H25 to Xizhazi station

prac_info Mutianyu: 56 miles (90 km) N of Beijing; 6162 6505; bus 916 from Dong Zhi Men station, change at Huairou; open 7:30am–6pm Mon–Fri, 7:30am–6:30pm Sat & Sun (Nov–Mar: 8am–5pm daily); adm ¥40

prac_info Huanghua Cheng: 37 miles (60 km) N of Beijing; 6165 1044; bus 916 to Huairou station, then bus H21 to Small West Lake station; open 8.30am–5pm Mon–Fri, 8am–6pm Sat & Sun (Nov–Mar: 8:30am–4:30pm daily); adm ¥45

prac_info Juyong Guan: open 8am–5pm daily (Nov–Mar: 8.30am–4pm daily); adm ¥45 (Nov–Mar: ¥40)

Google Map

1. Badaling

Google Map

The restored Ming fortification at Badaling is the closest section of the wall to Beijing. Its accessibility means it is perpetually busy, but it is possible to escape the crowds by walking along the wall. Opt for a cable-car ride and enjoy the spectacular views.

2. Great Wall Museum

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Housed in an imitation Qing dynasty building at Badaling, this museum presents the entire history of the region from Neolithic times, as well as details about the construction of the wall.

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Exhibit at the Great Wall Museum

3. Commune by the Great Wall

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Near the wall at Badaling, the Commune consists of 12 villas, each designed by a different Asian architect. The complex operates as a hotel, but non-guests can drop by for lunch, or take a tour.

4. Juyong Guan

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This pass is on the way to Badaling. With unscalable mountains on either side it is easy to see why the spot was chosen for defence. Early cannons remain on the ramparts. Also worth seeing are Buddhist carvings on a stone platform, or “cloud terrace,” in the middle of the pass.

5. Gubeikou

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Once called Simatai village, this area has been redeveloped as Gubeikou, or “Water Town.” It is a 7-mile (12-km) walk to Jinshanling, taking around five hours.

6. Jinshanling

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This is the starting point for a steep and stony hike to Gubeikou. However, the path may be blocked due to restoration work. The views as the wall winds over the sharp peaks are fantastic.

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Subliminal views from the peak of Jinshanling

7. Xizhazi

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This village in the less-developed Jiankou area affords spectacular views and accessible hikes. Xizhazi’s local guesthouses offer fresh, country-style dining and a night on a traditional kang (heated bed).

8. Shanhaiguan

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The wall ends (or begins) at the sea. East of town, the “First Pass Under Heaven” is a formidable section of wall attached to a gatehouse. A good destination if you want to do an overnight trip.

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The end of the Great Wall at Shanhaiguan

9. Mutianyu

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In a dramatic hilly setting, and with a series of watchtowers along its restored length, the wall here dates from 1368. Local village buildings have now been converted into both holiday homes and restaurants.

10. Huanghua Cheng

Google Map

On the same stretch of wall as Mutianyu, Huanghua Cheng is an exhilarating section of Ming fortifications that is far less developed and crowded than most other parts. The great barrier is split into two by a large reservoir. The crumbling masonry can be uneven and fairly treacherous, so you need to take care.

VISITING THE WALL

Most hotels are able to organize a trip to the wall, usually combined with a visit to the Ming Tombs. Try to find out whether there are any unwanted diversions to jade factories, cloisonné workshops, or Chinese medicine clinics. Small groups can see more remote parts of the wall, by hiring a taxi for the day from Beijing. Hiking clubs in Beijing offer day trips to lesser-known parts of the wall.

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