Majestic and mysterious, the Great Wall of China is one of the icons of the world. Visible from space, it stretches for over 21,000 kilometres across northern China and was built over a period of almost 2,000 years. Parts of the Great Wall of China have been magnificently restored, showcasing the imposing barrier that was used to repel the advancing Mongol Empire. The most accessible of these are found north of Beijing, connected by regular trains and tour buses from the capital. Others parts lie in a redolent state of ruin, the crumbling brick and stone revealing the age of this legend.
It’s the sections north of Beijing that attract most visitors. Badaling and Juyongguan are the most popular and are now connected by the Beijing Suburban Railway. Although these get crowded with visitors, their towering steps and rising walls provide a wonderful showcase of the monuments scale. It’s well worth walking for a few kilometres away from the entrance. The Mutianyu and Jinshanling sections are quieter and even more impressive, winding along forested mountain slopes and enveloped by green wilderness. They’re harder to reach on public transport although many tour companies take visitors along this route. For half or full-day hikes along the wall, both these sections are an excellent choice, notably the 10-kilometre hike from Jinshanling to Simatai on an unrestored part of the wall.
130 kilometres north-east of Beijing, the Simatai section is the most accessible of the original wall, with disintegrating walls rising many metres above the forest. Jiankou is another good choice for escaping the crowds and seeing the Great Wall at its most authentic. However, there are 20,000 kilometres of the wall either side of these segments. Three hours east of the capital city, Old Dragon’s Head at Shanhaiguan is where the wall juts out into the ocean. In Liaoning province, there are sections to visit in the towns of Dandong and Xingcheng. Heading further west, the Great Wall of China passes through Shanxi, Shaanxi, Ningxia, then onwards to Gansu province, where the Jiayu Pass and Lanzhou showcase small yet enchanting pieces of the original wall.
The majority of visitors see the Great Wall of China on day trips from Beijing, either on tours or by taking the Suburban Railway to the most popular sections. Parts further from the capital city are visited from the number of old garrison towns that were protected by the Wall.