As an “Eighth Wonder of the Ancient World”, the Great Wall of China is a must-see attraction. While it can’t actually be seen from space, it’s most definitely a great man-made wonder best seen in person
Originally constructed by Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the unified China, in the third century B.C., in order to prevent incursions from barbarian nomads into the Chinese Empire and to protect the Silk Road.
In the construction of the wall they used huge numbers of soldiers and convicts. It is said that as many as 400,000 people died during the wall’s construction; many of these workers were buried within the wall itself.
But the Great Wall held little importance for the Mongols led by the Genghis Khan, they just passed through the wall and conquer all of China, parts of Asia and sections of Europe.
The best-known and best-preserved section of the Great Wall was built in the 14th through 17th centuries A.D., during the Ming Dynasty. Though the Great Wall never effectively prevented invaders from entering China, it came to function more as a psychological barrier between Chinese civilization and the world, and remains a powerful symbol of the country’s enduring strength.
However, the Great Wall of China is one of the greatest sights in the world — the longest wall in the world, a long history of 2,300 years, an inspiring ancient defensive architecture. Its winding path over rugged country and steep mountains takes in some great scenery.
But there’s just a little problem facing those wanting to see this epic site. With a national population of 1.350 billion people and millions of tourists each ear, how can you see the Great Wall crowd-free?
A few simple factors affect the busyness of the Wall: Season, weekends, holidays and especially which section of the wall you choose.
There are at least 5 major sections of the Great Wall of China near Beijing and each section of the wall is different in every aspect.
For example, you have Badaling which is easily accessible, immaculately restored and extremely crowded and then you have sections like Gubiekou that are hard to reach, largely in ruins and isolated.
We wanted something more authentic and not to crowed and such things are in generally isolated and difficult to be reached by your own.
So we decided for this time to book a trip with a local travel agency to get it simple. With the tour came also many other stops like a Jade Craving Factory, The Ming Tombs and Chinese traditional Tea Ceremony.
The guide picked us up from our hotel at about 7:00 am and shortly we stopped to visit a Jade Carving Factory. The jade carving is very famous and it is a special local product, it was not only the excellent skill on carving, but also mixes many Chinese traditional cultures in the jade carving.
We entered in a huge hall with maybe millions of jade pieces, all of them amazing, but I saw people more interested to buy coffee from the bar in the corner, than actually buy Jade. This is what you get when you add mandatory shopping stops or factory stores on an important tour. People don’t like to be told what to buy and especially from places with high prices.
Then we arrived at our second stop on our tour, Ming Tombs, the largest and best-preserved burial site for Ming emperors. We explored the Dingling Tomb, the tomb of the thirteenth emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Wanli, and his two empresses. The tomb is the only Ming Dynasty Tomb that has been excavated. This underground palace is 27 meters deep and has an area of 1,195 square meters. The tomb held over 3,000 relics and treasures that have been excavated.
After that at about 11.30 am, we arrived close to our final destination, the Great Wall of China, but first we stopped for an authentic traditional Chinese lunch with a local family, which will give us energy for our adventures (the tour was sold with this particularly pieces of information). Actually it was a normal restaurant and it was a normal meal that they served.
Ok! Let’s forget for a moment about details of the tour and to come to the best part: The Great Wall of China.
We visited Mutianyu part of the Wall which is located in Huairou district, about 80 km north from downtown Beijing. This part is less crowded than Badaling with picturesque views and it once worked as the northern barrier defending the capital and the imperial tombs. It is a green section of the great wall with vegetation, green pines and cypresses covering 90 per cent of the section.
We walk along an accessible stone path (600 meters long ) leading up to the ticketing office. From here there are 2 ways up and 3 ways down.
- Walk the way up to the wall. (I don’t recommend this option unless you are seriously into fitness)
- Cable car with two seats offers great views from above and great fun and it was included in the price of the tour
- Walking down
- Cable car with two seats again will offer a great view
- Toboggan slide down. Of course, all of us choose this option and we had lots of fun. For this option it was and extra cost of 120 RMB which is about 15 Euros but it worth it.
Our way up to the Wall
We choose the cable car with two seats on our way up. It was a perfect view of the nature surrounding the wall. The scenery is wonderful with crumbling outposts seen on the hills in the back ground.
It was late summer and we get to see the summer colors of the trees in the surrounding countryside. It is a perfect way to go up to the Great Wall.
When you are atop the Wall it’s time to pick a direction to go. Go left and you will face a surprisingly tough hike up some brutal staircases. Go right and you will face a less brutal series of staircases, either way prepaid to walk a bit. We went right and we were amazed with the beautiful landscape, so amazed that we took photos non-stop.
There were few people on that section of the Wall (or the Wall in general) and the weather was warm and pretty good. We were very lucky.
When hike the wall, be sure to be careful, most of the stairs are of unequal height and length.
Once in the watchtower, I just loved looking out of the windows and imagining what it must have been like to serve on watch at the Great Wall.
We spend here about two hours and it wasn’t enough. We wished we could stayed more, but “c’est la vie”.
There are three classical hikes on the Great Wall:
1.The Gubeikou – Jinshanling – Simatai Great Wall Hike
The Wall at Gubeikou is steep. What makes Gubeikou so attractive is that there are a number of ancient villages and relics around where local culture is well-preserved. The way to Jinshanling, is less-visited and one of the most recommended Great Wall hiking paths, with beautiful natural scenery. Hiking on the Great Wall at Jinshanling, you can see 15 towers and two forts.
Simatai’s part of the Wall is a fabulous part of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall, which was uniquely designed and diversely constructed. You can hike along the rugged zigzag wall on steep mountain ridges.
Hiking time: 5 hours from Gubeikou to Jinshanling, and another 3 hours to Simatai Hiking level:
Intermediate – advanced
Location of Gubeikou: Miyun County, northeast of Beijing (about 150km from the city center).
2.The Jiankou – Mutianyu Great Wall Hike
You start your hike by ascending to Zhenbeilou Watchtower at Jiankou, and proceed to the cableway at Mutianyu to descend from the Great Wall. Stunning views of natural scenery and the ruined wall, many stone statues, and tablets carved with Chinese calligraphy, can be seen along the way. Mutianyu’s Great Wall is a complete contrast to wild Jiankou. The ancient watchtowers are completely restored to their former glory.
You will notice a big difference in walking conditions as you walk eastward to Mutianyu: the path at Jiankou is really steep and rough, whereas Mutianyu is less steep and paved.
Hiking time: 4–5 hours Hiking level:
Intermediate – advanced
Location of Jiankou Great Wall: Huairou County, north of Beijing (about 82km from the city center).
3.The Huanghuacheng Great Wall Hike
Huanghuacheng’s Great Wall is a little different from other parts of the Great Wall. You can not only see fabulous mountain views, but also a quiet lake and reservoir. Along the route you will pass six fortified passes, 12 beacon towers, and 32 guard towers. The Great Wall at Huanghuacheng is not very risky and challenging as the paths are smoother than at other wild parts of the Great Wall.
Hiking time: 2 hours
Hiking level: Intermediate
Attractions nearby: Chinese Chestnut Garden, Black Dragon Pool
Location: Huairou County, north of Beijing (about 77km from the city center)
Our way down the Great Wall
The Great Wall was built on mountain ridges. So you will also need to hike down. Luckily, some sections offer cable cars so you don’t have to do the hiking up and down. At Mutianyu there is another fun way to get down from the wall: roller coaster carts. You too can sit on a cart and roll safely down to the valley. We had so much fun! It would have been better if we hadn’t had a slow person in front.
It’s amazing that Wall has been around for so many years and it very much belongs on your list of places to visit. It really is one of the touristy places that you absolutely have to visit.
Back to the bus and on our way back to your hotel, we stopped to visit a tea shop to enjoy the Chinese traditional Tea Ceremony (for 45 minutes). This was a must of the Tour.
So, we really did visit the Great Wall of China. I think we did check one point of our bucket list.