Zigzagging more than 3,852 miles (6,200 km) through deserts, plains, hills, and oceans, the Great Wall is a breathtaking wonder. There are six sections of the wall that are within a short drive from Beijing, each offering a unique visit.
Three sections are most popular due to their proximity: the heavily restored Badaling, which was built in 1505, the hilly Mutianyu section which dates to the Ming Dynasty and features a series of watchtowers, and the rustic Jinshanling, which offers panoramic views of the countryside. Many visitors combine a day trip to the Great Wall with a visit to the Ming Tombs.
While there are many bus routes to the Great Wall, it's best to book a day tour or hire a driver and guide so you can go at your own pace. Expect a full-day adventure, from early morning to late afternoon/early evening, however, it is possible to visit the Great Wall in half a day if you are pressed for time.
Multi-city tours like the 8-day China Golden Triangle Tour, 12-day Beijing to Hong Kong Grand Tour, and 14-day Beijing to Shanghai Winter Tour include visits to the Great Wall and other amazing destinations.
By Private Transfer or Private Tour
Duration: 1- 2 hours
It is possible to take tourist buses to different sections of the Great Wall, but for a stress-free and quicker route that doesn't include testing your Chinese skills, hire a private driver for the day. Beijing's traffic is unpredictable, so driving times are approximate.
For the least strenuous visit to the Great Wall, head to Badaling, which has a cable car to take you to the wall. Depending on traffic, the drive takes an hour or more along the Badaling Expressway to Yanqing County. The Ming tombs, where 13 of the 16 Ming emperors are buried, is a short drive away and worth a visit if you have the time.
Less crowded than Badaling, which is arguably the most touristy part of the Great Wall, is the Juyongguan section of the wall, which is also off the Badaling Expressway. The stairs to climb up are steep, but its close proximity to Beijing makes for a quick visit to the wall.
Some 90 minutes from Beijing is Mutianyu, which is another restored part of the wall that boasts majestic views of the Chinese countryside. Visitors can take a cable car or chair lift up to the wall and take the chair lift or an adrenaline-fueled toboggan ride down from the wall.
Another option in Huairou district about 90 minutes from Beijing is Huanghuacheng, a refurbished section of the wall that is punctuated with watchtowers. Also within a few hours' drive from Beijing is Simatai, a quieter section of the wall that affords weary hikers the option of ziplining off the wall after a challenging hike, and Jinshanling, an often-hiked part of the wall that has dozens of watchtowers and unbeatable scenery.
It's best to set out early in the morning to avoid rush hour traffic and enjoy some peace along the wall before the charter tour buses arrive. Options for food are limited in some parts of the wall, so pack extra water and snacks. If you buy snacks along the way, be sure to bring bottled water to stay hydrated during your trek as there aren't concessions on the wall. Wear comfortable shoes and be ready for a workout.