There aren't any sections of the Great Wall near Shanghai, so most travelers combine a visit to the Great Wall with a trip to Beijing. There are plenty of itineraries to inspire your travels, from an 8-day China Golden Triangle tour to an 11-day China Highlights tour to a 13-day Best of China tour.
There are many sections within driving distance of Beijing, but three that are most popular due to proximity: the heavily restored Badaling, the hilly Mutianyu section which 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.
To get to the Great Wall, travelers must first go from Shanghai to Beijing and then travel another 90 minutes or more to the Great Wall. Once in Beijing, 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. Learn more about How to Get from Beijing to the Great Wall of China
Duration: 2 hours and 30 minutes (flight) + 90 minutes to 2 hours (car transfer to the Great Wall)
Flying affords the quickest travel time between Shanghai and Beijing, but by the time you factor in security screening and travel time to and from each airport (the airports in both cities are outside the city center) and potential flight delays, it's easier and more reliable to take the train.
Each city offers two airport options: In Shanghai, Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport is closest, just 8 miles (13 km) west of the city center, and there is the busier Shanghai Pudong International Airport, which is 18 miles (30 km) to the east, and in Beijing, there is Beijing Capital International Airport, the world's second busiest airport, which is 18 miles (30 km) northeast of Tian'anmen Square, and the new starfish-shaped Beijing Daxing International Airport—set to be the world's largest airport when it officially opens at the end of September 2019—which is 30 miles (50 km) south of Tian'anmen Square.
There are approximately 20 flights daily between the two cities. From the airport, a private driver can drive you to the Great Wall. (see below)
Duration: 4 hours and 18 minutes to 15 hours and 28 minutes + 90 minutes to 2 hours (transfer to the Great Wall)
The high-speed train is the most efficient option between Shanghai and Beijing even though the travel time can be twice as long. Both high-speed and regular trains make the journey daily from Shanghai to Beijing. Second-class and first-class seats are options on all routes, and some also offer Business Class. Long-haul local trains also offer soft and hard seats along with hard and soft bed options.
Shanghai has four train stations, but only three of them offer travel between Shanghai and Beijing. More than 40 trains run daily from Shanghai Hongqiao Station, 11 miles (18 km) west of Shanghai's city center, to Beijing South Railway Station; three trains that make many local stops operate between Shanghai Railway Station and Beijing Railway Station, and the longest local train journey goes from Shanghai South Railway Station to Beijing Railway Station. There is no Shanghai to Beijing train departing from Shanghai West Railway Station.
If you're looking to travel on the fastest high-speed trains, book the "G" category trains. Most trains have a food counter with simple fare like xīhóngshì chǎo jīdàn (scrambled eggs with tomatoes) and there are hot water dispensers to use for making instant noodles, coffee, and tea. Most of the local trains have snack carts that are pushed through each train car. The carts have similar items that can be found at convenience stores in and around the train stations: instant noodles, potato chips, crackers, cookies, bottled soft drinks, beer, and water.
If you decide to take the night train and book a hard bed option, don't be surprised if you wander off to the restroom or dining car and return to your door-less cabin to find other passengers sitting on the foot of your bed or even curled up in your lower berth bed Booking a soft sleeper (there are four beds in each cabin) is more comfortable and secure as there is a door that locks. In the morning, music is played to wake travelers up and welcome them to Beijing.
Once in Beijing, there are several options for touring the Great Wall, all within a few hours' drive of the capital (see below).
By Private Transfer from Beijing
Duration: 60 minutes to 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 to take you to the Great Wall. Before heading out of town, consider spending a day or two in the capital to explore the Forbidden City, which was home to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties and has 9,999 rooms, stroll through Tian'anmen Square, try Peking duck, and shop for souvenirs at the Silk Street Market.
If you have mobility issues or wish 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.