When I was younger, I would spend my days devouring old battered copies of National Geographic magazines. It was during those times where I first saw a photo of the Great Wall of China. While its length was beyond what my young mind could fathom at that time, I vaguely remember sitting down and being absolutely in awe at this impressive architectural feature. Noted as one of the top wonders of the world, a visit to the Great Wall of China is a must when in the region. Sprawling over 21,196 kilometers across barren deserts, mountains, plateaus, and grasslands, this ancient wonder of the world is nothing short of impressive.

Due to its popularity, it is very easy to pay a visit to the Great Wall of China and find yourself shuffling along with a million other people (no exaggeration here!) trying to snap a great photo. While the entire wall stretches along multiple provinces, Beijing is considered as the main gateway to the Great Wall of China. Due to this reason, the parts of the wall closest to the city like Badaling is often really crowded as it usually the first stop of most large tour groups. To help you make the most out of your visit to the Great Wall of China, here’s a bit more information on which section you should visit, when to go, as well as popular tours around the Great Wall.

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Great Wall of China: When to Go

Generally speaking, whatever you do, I would avoid visiting the Great Wall during weekends, or long holidays. Avoiding this time is generally a good way to make sure you don’t find yourself completely squished alongside heavy crowds. Weather-wise, October and November are the best times to visit due to the slightly cooler weather and autumn colored leaves. While Winters can be terribly cold, seeing the snowcapped peaks of the wall snake before you is nothing short of spectacular. February is also a month that we recommend avoiding due to the popular Chinese New Year celebration which usually brings about a new level of frenzy. Now before I really get started, take a look at the photo below. Would you really want to see The Great Wall with that many people? Ummm…I doubt it. If you want to find out which parts to avoid and which sections to visit, keep on reading!china-guide-crowded-wall

Great Wall of China Sections: Which Ones to Visit

Planning your trip and which deciding which section of the wall to visit can make or break your trip. To help break things down, here are the most popular sections of the wall and our recommendations on each one.

Badaling Great Wall

Features:

  • Most Accessible from Beijing
  • Has a Cable Car
  • Has a Great Wall Museum
  • Well Restored
  • Popular amongst Chinese Tourists
  • Wheel Chair Access
  • Hiking Options: Has a 4-hour hike from Badaling North to Watch Tower 1

Mutianyu Great Wall

Features:

  • Second Most Accessible from Beijing
  • Well Restored Wall
  • Easily Accessible by Public Transport
  • Has a Cable car and Toboggan ride
  • Hiking Options: 3-4 hours from Mutianyu to Jiankou

While these parts of the Wall are the most frequented, we recommend avoiding Badaling due to the crowds. If you only have a day, head to Mutianyu instead. On the bright side, due to its accessibility, these two sections of the wall are also the most well restored.

china-guide-mutianyu

Huanghuacheng Great Wall

Features:

  • Quite remote
  • Hardly any tourists
  • Lake Views
  • Hiking Option: Challenging Hiking to Zhuangdaokou

 Jinshanling Great Wall

Features:

  • Semi-Restored Walls
  • Beautiful hilly landscapes
  • 150km Northeast of Downtown Beijing
  • Hiking Option: Great Hiking Route (Steep climbs to Simatai)

china-guide-jingshaling-wall

Jiankou Great Wall

Features: 

  • Unrestored Crumbly Wall
  • Great Place for Adventure Hikers & Photographers
  • Remote Mountainous Views
  • Full of challenging hikes (which are very steep)

Gubeikou Great Wall

Features:

  • Wild Wall (only partially restored)
  • Site of loads of historical battles
  • Hiking Options:  West End of Panlongshan Great Wall and ends at the famous 24-eye Watchtower

If you only have one full day to explore the Great Wall of China, Jinshanling is a good option as it is still rather accessible. Huanghuacheng, on the other hand, is renowned for its incredible lakeside views, offering another point of view. Similarly, Gubeiko is one of the best sections of the Great Wall of China where you can experience wild walls, hiking, and even camping (weather permitted). More on camping in the Great Wall of China later on this article.

Read: Best Places to Visit in Chinacamping great wall of china

Popular Great Wall of China Tours

Naturally, being that visiting the Great Wall of China is such a popular activity, there are million tour options out there. While we generally like to explore a place on our own, we’ve found the private and personalized tours of The China Guide to be fantastic. Whether it’s a one-day tour or an overnight camping expedition on the Gubeikou Wall, these guides organize seamlessly run tours which are customizable to suit your needs. Here are a few Great Wall China Tours that we recommend.

Jinshanling Great Wall Hike

The Jinshanling to Simatai route is said to be one of the most epic treks along the Great Wall of China taking you through both restored and unrestored sections of the wall. While the hike is relatively easy, there are a few challenging steep climbs along the way.china-Jinshanling_Great_Wall

Camping on the Great Wall

Out of all the Tours that China Guide offers, this particular one has to be our top favorite. I mean, how many people can really say that they pitched a tent and camped alongside the Great Wall of China? You will have the option of either camping by the Gubeikou Great Wall or sleep in the local village of Jinshanling. The tour includes all camping equipment (tents, sleeping bags, fresh coffee, and a hearty breakfast) Now all you have to do is imagine the view you’ll have as you watch the sun rise over the Great Wall.

Experience Beijing and the Great Wall in One Day

During this tour, you can experience and see the Great Wall of China in the Mutianyu section where you can take photos, walk, toboggan, or even ride the cable car. After that, you will be taken to a traditional Chinese restaurant for lunch where you can enjoy some local delicacies before exploring the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.

Great Wall Helicopter and Photography Tour

Last but not least, I’ve saved the coolest for last. For avid photographers, they have a special tour taking you to the most photogenic spots of the Wall. You will be visiting sections in Jiankou, Mutianyu, and Gubeikou. The helicopter ride will also allow you to shoot bird’s eye view photos of the wall. You can choose between 15-minute to 30-minute flights.

china-guide-aerial-tour

If you opt to do it yourself rather than book a customized tour, make sure you figure out your transportation first as this is the hardest part. While there are bus routes available in most places, they are rather complicated. If you are traveling in a group, another option would be hiring a taxi or a private driver. As mentioned, while we prefer DIY trips, when it comes to seeing something which has a large cultural and historic importance, sometimes getting a guide who can explain things to you is worth the extra costs. Hopefully, this article has given you a few ideas on how to plan your trip to The Great Wall of China.

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  • Amanda Kendle

    Wow, the helicopter ride looks amazing! What doesn’t look amazing is the crowds in the popular parts – I will definitely avoid them. I once had a guest on my podcast tell the story of how he went to a pretty isolated part of the wall with a friend, and nobody else was there except some bored guards, who started taking pot shots at them – they ran! So I think I need a mix of not-too-popular, not-too-isolated 😉

  • Victoria J. Yore

    This is such a good read! I’ve never been to China but my dad did and did the Great Wall! I appreciate this article!

  • Aleney de Winter

    Doing this by helicopter would be incredible. I’m so keen to explore the wall and it’s number one on my son’s bucket list too.

    • Right? I can only imagine the aerial views from the top of the wall would be equally as impressive!

  • Even though Australia has the longest man made structure in the world, the Dingo Fence isn’t nearly so impressive as the Great Wall of China! I shouldn’t be surprised that there are so many tour options on a wall this long, but I AM surprised by the Camping tour, and that would be my choice as I’d already picked out the Gubeikou section as being the most interesting to me!

    • I’ve never even heard of the Dingo Fence…definitely need to look into that! haha

  • That is a very detailed break up of how to tour the Great Wall.
    So many tours! Have been planning to get there for several years now.

  • megan_claire

    Thanks for your guide, this has actually changed my mind somewhat about wanting to visit – I had previously thought I wouldn’t ever go – because the version of the Great Wall in my head is magical, and authentic, however I know that the reality would ruin this magic and I don’t want to be fighting against millions of crowds.

    But if you can avoid certain sections to get away from the crowds perhaps the experience may still be a special one. Huanghuacheng Great Wall sounds like it’s a good section for this. Though I love that there are hiking options and crumbling ruins of the wall at Jiankou Great Wall.

    Thanks for the tip on taking a tour with The China Guide; private and personalized is my style. I really appreciate this post!

    • Tom went to see it and luckily, chanced upon it on a good day despite going to one of the busier sides! Definitely still consider visiting Meg 🙂

  • It’s so great to know that we can even camp by alongside the Great of Wall of China! Just wow. Now I have one more added on my bucket list. That photo above, throngs of tourists flock in one place, looks unbelievable. I’ve seen a similar photo somewhere on the internet and I thought it was photoshopped. ( haha) Just couldn’t believe it. But the most fantastic thing here is you could by helicopter, I wish I could do it too!

  • What a fantastic guide! Good to know that there are options to go to areas of the wall with less people. I shudder at the thought of only seeing it with flocks of other tourists with me. Makes it so much harder to enjoy.

  • I’m really looking forward to revisiting the Great Wall one of these days. I lost all my photos 10 years ago due to my hard drive + backup drive catching a crazy virus so I need to go back and re-take the Beijing photos. I went through Badaling the last time. Luckily it was nowhere as crowded as that pic you showed but still, I need to go through another route just to see it from another angle. Your detailed guide is very useful!

  • Bang on ! This post is what I am looking for as I do hope to make a trip to the Great wall. However, the information is so scattered that I ceased looking and kept putting it off till the time I am ready to go there. Your post has precisely what I need – which trail to pick and why. I am so bookmarking this for my reference and will be sharing it around too. Thanks

    • Yeah! Awesome. So glad you’ve found it useful Ami! Enjoy your trip.