I wasn’t going to write a post about the Great Wall of China, because duh, everyone already knows about it, so it almost goes without saying that it’s a worthy sight to see. But, what many travelers might not know, is that there are many ways to do the Great Wall, and several different sections worth considering. For a more comprehensive list, check out this link, but for now, let me talk about the highlights, and also more unique ways to see this Wonder of the World.
I have to mention this, because in the words of Admiral Ackbar: “It’s a trap!” True, it’s the closest section to Beijing City, and there’s even a convenient train that will take you there, so you can even skip over a tour group (and thus skip over some pointless trips to souvenir shops). However, it is basically Disneyland Great Wall, by which I mean it’s so renovated, it doesn’t even look real. To add to this, there are swarms of crowds, making it nigh impossible to get a good panoramic photo of the wall without tons of people in the background.
Only go here if you’re in a time crunch, want to see the Great Wall, and basically only want a selfie of you on the wall to prove you were there.
This is probably the best compromise between accessibility, natural beauty, and being family friendly. It’s a couple of hours out of Beijing, so you would need to either buddy up with a tour group (hostels offer this service), or get a bus. Mutianyu is much flatter than, say, Jinshanling, less overtly renovated than Badaling, less wild than Jiankou, but still has gorgeous mountain scenery. What makes it stand out: you have the option of riding a toboggan down the Great Wall.
Come here if you want to see nature, but also don’t want to literally scale a wall to find it.
Jinshanling-Simatai is much more rugged than Mutianyu, but is also not death-defyingly steep like Jiankou. Same as Mutianyu, it’s a couple of hours out ot Beijing, so you’d need to get some sort of transportation. The perk of this area is that it feels wilder, and so it’s easier to imagine what it must have been like in ancient times. When I went there, I liked that it felt more remote because of how it got slightly less traffic than other more renovated places.
Come here if you want a wilder, but still solid, wall.
Here’s where it starts to get really wild. This part of the wall gets very little traffic, and that’s becuase it requires a lot more work to enjoy. Loose rocks, crumbling steps, steep cliffs, and trecherous climbs make this a truly adventurous trek. I was lucky enough to go with two boys who a) really liked to climb, and b) had no qualms about hoisting me up over the edges because I have weak noodle arms. To get here, you’ll have to get a small van to take you to the wall (and pick you up afterward!) Bargain liberally.
Come here if you want to really CLIMB the Great Wall, and like adventures.
Scuba Diving the Great Wall
I had to include this one because it’s so cool. Due to the construction of Panjiakou Resevoir, part of the Great Wall is now underwater. While it’s not technically in Beijing, but rather in Chengde, Hebei Province, Beijing-based organizations lead underwater expeditions to see the Submerged Great Wall. You can’t go here with only an Open Water diving certificate, though. It’s 30 meters deep, meaning you have to know what you’re doing. Still, this would probably be the most unusual way to experience the Great Wall.
Come here to channel your inner mermaid/merman.
As I said, this is just an overview of the Great Wall coming out of Beijing, and even only the main culprits. The Great Wall is HUGE, so consider seeing it in other provinces like: Hebei, Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, Ningxia, Shaanxi, Shanxi, and even Tianjin to get even more unique experiences. Just, for my sake, PLEASE don’t just give up and go to Badaling. For me?