“Shall we head to Mutianyu or Badaling?” Initially, the question meant little. I just wanted to walk the wall, to stand on the Great Wall of China and entangle my thoughts on its history, mystery, and beauty. Being there was surreal, a moment I fantasised about for years.
Some say the wall reminds them of a massive dragon, as it travels across the mountains stretching nearly 8,900 kilometres (5,500 miles) from the east to the west of China. Built in sections through the Qin, Han and Ming dynasties, its history spans more than 2,000 years. Improvements have been made to some sections, while others sit in ruins or have disappeared.
The two most commonly visited sections are Mutianyu or Badaling, as both are well preserved and easily accessible from Beijing. If you can’t get there on your own, or just prefer a tour, we recommend any of the local Viator options. Viator is a Trip Advisor company.
Here’s why we chose the Mutianyu section.
What to expect at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China
- Impressive surrounding forest views, even on a cloudy day. Arriving in April, we just missed the snow covered walkways and were ahead of the colourful spring flowers (although there were plenty of white blooms).
- Substantially fewer visitors than Badaling (this was a selling point for us).
- A five-metre walkable path along the top of the wall that runs 5.4k m (3.4miles), with 23 watchtowers. Take time to notice three towers: No. 1 for its large size; No. 6 as it has three hollow towers; and, No. 11 as it is on the branch wall (side wall).
- Some areas are steep, especially the stairs at the end of the section.
- One can walk or take a cable car up to the wall, while there is a luge option for the way down.
- The Mutianyu section is open in summer from 8 am to 5 pm, and in winter from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.
What to expect at the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China
- Badaling is the best preserved, most complete, and most popular section to walk the wall.
- It is nearly always crowded.
- The portion of Badaling section open to tourists is 3.7 km (2.3 miles) long with 19 restored watchtowers. (The total length of Badaling is 12 km (7.5 miles).
- It is easier to manage than Mutianyu. Both the path and steps at Badaling are less steep. Plus, handrails have been added to stairs at Badaling.
- At 6 metres wide, this section of the wall accommodates five horses abreast.
- It also has a cable car.
- If you are an early bird or prefer a slightly later visit, Badaling is your choice as it is open in summer from 6:30 am to 7 pm and in winter from 7 am to 6 pm.
- Viator is one of several tour companies bringing people here.
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- The Great Wall of China is one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages: Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa (Egypt), Colosseum (Italy), Great Wall of China, Hagia Sophia (Turkey), Leaning Tower of Pisa (Italy), Porcelain Tower of Nanjing (China) and Stonehenge (England). To date, we have been to five of these. How many have you visited?
- This post is a continuation of my throwback series encouraged by moving and reviewing 40,000 photos on Lightroom. Our original China articles had few and small images as we had limited bandwidth while in China. We also had limited access to social media (VPN needed for Facebook), so the photos seen here are previously unpublished.
- Some of our other once-in-a-lifetime-experiences in China included standing in front of the Army of the Terracotta Warriors, watching as mama panda helps baby panda climb a tree, riding the world’s fastest train, entering the Forbidden City, walking around Shanghai, and observing everyday life in Suzhou.
Things you might want whether you are Mutianyu or Badaling ↓
Compact Lightweight Binoculars
Olympus OM-D eM5
(This is my camera)
Fodor's China Travel Guide
The Great Wall of China