Who doesn’t have the Great Wall on their China list? Here’s our practical guide to visiting the Great Wall at Mutianyu, one of the easiest accessible sections from Beijing that is not swamped with tourists. 

The History of the Great Wall

Who doesn’t dream of visiting the Great Wall? It’s hard to even talk about it without using superlatives. The biggest man-made structure on Earth, the world’s longest wall, the only visible structure from space (actually, I don’t even know if that’s true).

Great Wall of China Down and Up

View of the Great Wall over the hills

Construction of the Great Wall of China began in the 7th century BC, when Athens and Rome were just villages. China was already a wealthy empire, and suffered frequent raids from Central Asian nomadic tribes. The Wall was built to defend the Chinese Empire; first, sections of wall were built individually over the weakest sections of the border, over the course of centuries they were joined together creating the Great Wall.

Dynasties continued building, restoring, manning and expanding the Wall for over two thousand years, first with mud and earth, then with bricks and mortar. From one end to the other, it measures 13,000 km.

Great Wall at Mutianyu Forest

The mountains around Mutianyu, with the Wall in the distance

Getting to the Great Wall at Mutianyu

The Great Wall of China is a popular day trip from Beijing. Several well-preserved stretches of the Wall are near the capital, such as the very popular (and incredibly crowded) Badaling.

Great Wall Mutianyu window

The Wall through a watchtower arch

Mutianyu is the second-easiest section to access from Beijing; it’s fairly touristy, but most of the crowds leave by midday. To get to Mutianyu from Beijing, catch bus 867 from Dongzhimen bus station (about 2.5 hours each way). For a quicker alternative, choose bus 916 from Dongzhimen to Huairou (1 hour 40) then hop on a taxi for the remaining 15 min journey. Taxi should cost about RMB 30 per person.

Great Wall at Mutianyu straight

Climbing steep

Entrance tickets cost RMB 45 for adults and RMB 25 for children and students.

If you don’t fancy climbing over 400 steps to the Wall from the entrance, it’s possible to get a chairlift up and a toboggan down for an extra RMB 60.

Visiting the Great Wall at Mutianyu

Whatever you’ve heard about it, whatever your expectations, the Great Wall cannot disappoint. Mutianyu is an incredibly scenic location; the Wall follows the ridges of mountains, rising and falling steeply. From afar, it looks like a giant stone snake, edging his way towards the horizon.

China Great Wall curve

The Wall climbing over a hill

I strongly recommend visiting the Great Wall independently, as group tours from Beijing only allow just over an hour to visit the wall. As the majority of people visit as part of a tour, the morning hours tend to be crowded. If you spend the whole day at the Wall, you’re likely to have the place to yourself in the late afternoon.

The Mutianyu stretch of the Wall is 2.5 km long, including 22 watchtowers. The Wall climbs and descends steeply, so strong legs and good walking shoes are a must. The most crowded sections are the ones nearest to the entrance staircase. If you walk away from it, in either directions, you’ll encounter fewer and fewer people.

Great Wall Guard Post

One of Mutianyu’s watchtowers

Once you’re away from the crowds, just climb to a watchtower and just take it all in. Green mountains, the sky, and the Wall. Once, that’s all there was to protect the Celestial Empire. You’re standing on something that is as old as time, born out of the necessity to protect one’s homeland. Thousands of sentinels walked these walls, thousands of braziers were lit to warn fellow sentinels of incoming invaders.

Capitals have come and gone. Dynasties have dissolved into the dust. Priceless relics and millennia of history are lost.

The Wall is still there.

Great Wall Mutianyu long

The Great Wall in the early afternoon

A view of Mutianyu's surrounds

A view of Mutianyu’s surrounds

Great Wall at mutianyu stairs

Climbing upwards

Great Wall at Mutianyu curve

The Wall and the mountains

Great Wall at Mutianyu end

Disappearing into the forest

15 Responses

  1. Claudia

    A friend of mine has recently been to Mongolia and terminated his travels spending 4 days in Beijing. I wish I had read this post earlier because I remember he told me that it would be too hard to go to the less touristic parts of the wall from the capital. I am not sure he’s gone there in the end – I mean to the part you describe. But your advice would have been handy for him – he is a solo, indipendent traveller too.

    Reply
  2. Sam

    I can’t remember whether it was this place or not, but this looks a lot like the part of the wall I visited back in 2009. It is really one of those rare places that is rely hyped up, but unlike many others, it actually lives up to the hype. I visited in April, so there was a lot less greenery, but still such gorgeous scenery! I would definitely go back.
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  3. Chris Boothman

    I would love to explore the Great Wall of China so thank you for sharing your experiences as it really brings it more to life when you read a post like this. I have to agree with others that sometimes the tourist destinations takes away from the authentic, traditional feel but this spot looks like a great place to really experience the Great Wall.
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  4. Chuck Rose

    I visited the great wall at Mutianyu last year. A couple of tips I wish were better explained: we hired a private tour-english speaking guide and private car with driver, half day for less than 25 USD pp. Well worth it. The walking is very steep and quite strenuous-save your energy and pay the extra for cable car ride to and from the wall. The wall itself is 100 % reco

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    • Margherita

      Thanks for your feedback! I guess when it comes to ‘strenuous’ it depends on the person. I didn’t find the walk strenuous at all and I didn’t mind walking up. having said that, I’m sure others would agree with you, which is why I really value your comment. thanks so much!

      Reply
  5. Chuck Rose

    I visited the great wall at Mutianyu last year. A couple of tips I wish were better explained: we hired a private tour-english speaking guide and private car with driver, half day for less than 25 USD pp. Well worth it. The walking is very steep and quite strenuous-save your energy and pay the extra for cable car ride to and from the wall. The wall itself is 100 % reconstructed. None of what you are allowed to walk on is original. This part of the wall was built over the old ruins in the last 20 years. You can see portions of the original wall, but they are not accessible. Still, well worth a visit. Wait for good weather, book a private tour, and be prepared for some serious stairclimbing.o

    Reply
    • Margherita

      Thanks for your feedback! I guess when it comes to ‘strenuous’ it depends on the person. I didn’t find the walk strenuous at all and I didn’t mind walking up (I’m in my early thirties, my husband is in his mid thirties). Having said that, I’m sure others would agree with you, which is why I really value your comment. Thanks so much!

      Reply
  6. Paul (The Travelling Boomer)

    Good look at Mutianyu. I was there last September and enjoyed it a lot — the toboggan ride and all. In fact, your photos look just like the ones I posted on my blog. I took a group tour to the wall and while it did give us about two hours at the site, it wasted way too much time at a jade factory and a silk outlet. Next time I’d do what you did and hire a taxi. One fun fact: while they did eventually join up the sections of the wall, they didn’t do it in time — the Mongols just rode around the wall till they found the gaps and conquered China. Lesson learned: it’s the details that count …
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    • Margherita

      Wow Paul, I didn’t know that. thanks for the insight!

      Reply

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