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Great Wall

The Great Wall of China is one of the greatest sights in the world. A Great Wall tour is a must for most first China trips. Along this super-long wall, Beijing is the top destination for seeing well-maintained and abundant Great Wall relics of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). There are eight sections close to Beijing: Badaling, Mutianyu, Jinshanling, Jiankou, Simatai...

the Great Wall should be on every traveler’s bucket list. This China’s greatest engineering triumph, made from brick, stone, tamped earth and wood, is a direct link with legendary dynasties of China’s past as there were continuous ancient dynasties invested unquantifiable labour and material resources to construct and reconstruct the Great Wall. Nowadays, you can still see there are more than 5,500 miles of the Great Wall snaking its way over the perched mountainsides from the gobi desert in northwestern China to the sea coast of far eastern China. Beijing, the capital city, possesses about 573km (356 miles) of the Great Wall including the world famous Badaling, Mutianyu, Jiankou, etc., stretching alone the steep peaks and hills at its remote northern districts. You can easily plan a satisfied day trip to the closer sections of the Great Wall from Beijing. But for those who want to explore, it’s available to hike, bike even camp on some sections.

Great Wall History and Culture

Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of the Ming Dynasty

The Great Wall of China existing today was mainly (re-)built during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).

The Great Wall of the Ming Dynasty starts from Jiayuguan in western China's Gansu Province, following the mountains bordering Inner Mongolia and the North China Plain, to the Bohai Gulf at Shanhai Pass, and then looping around the Bohai Gulf to terminate at the Hushan Great Wall section on the North Korean border.

Quick Facts About the Ming Dynasty Great Wall

Built: 1368–1644
Length: 8,850 km (5,500 miles) including inner, outer, and side walls, and natural obstacles like mountains and rivers
Location: North China
Built to: defend China against attack from Mongolians and Manchurianss.
Built by: millions of soldiers and forced laborers, supervised by famous generals such as Xu Da and Qi Jiguang
Forts and garrisons: Over 1,000

How the Great Wall Was Built — Materials and Methods

The Great Wall easily required the greatest human effort of any ancient construction! 100 million tonnes of bricks, stone, and soil were transported and assembled by millions of soldiers, peasants, prisoners, and animals using basic rope, wood, and basket systems on remote terrain ranging from parched desert to steep mountain ridges.

Read on and find out more about the labor force, terrain, materials, and technology used — answers you may never have thought of…

Where the Great Wall Was Built — 2 terrains

Over the Great Wall's thousands of miles the terrain changes from desert to riverside, from mountains to plains. The Great Wall designers took advantage of the terrain and built at strategic places to repel invaders most effectively.

From the Great Wall relics, we can see that the wall is either built along mountain ridges, across mountain passes, or across key transportation areas on flat land.

Watchtowers and beacon towers were built high for observation and communication by signal fire.

On the plains and deserts, designers made use of rivers (and their cliffs) as natural barriers. This not only controlled strategic places, but also saved labor and materials.

Great Wall Building Materials — stone, soil, sand, brick

Most of the (restored) Great Wall sections we see today were built with bricks and cut stone blocks/slabs. Where bricks and blocks weren't available, tamped earth, uncut stones, wood, and even reeds were used as local materials.

Wood was used for forts and as an auxiliary material. Where local timber wasn't enough, they had it delivered in.

Stone Great Wall Sections

In mountain areas, workers quarried stone to build the Great Wall. Using the mountains themselves as footings, the outer layer of the Great Wall was built with stone blocks (and bricks), and filled with uncut stone and anything else available (like earth and dead workers).

Soil Great Wall Sections

On the plains Great Wall workers made use of local soil (sand, loess, etc.) and rammed it into compact layers. Jiayuguan's Great Wall section in west China was mainly built with dusty loess soil — "the most erodible soil on the planet". It's amazing that sections 2,000 years old still remain mostly intact!

Best Times to Visit the Great Wall

The Great Wall of China has spectacular views at all times of the year, but the best time to visit is in the fall (September–November), with less rain, comfortable temperatures, and more clear days for you to enjoy hiking and photography.

The best times for pleasant weather: September and October

The best times for avoiding crowds: early September (when school is just started), December to March

The best times for snow-capped Great Wall views: mid-November to March

The best times at different Great Wall sections:

Mutianyu or Badaling: visit in the afternoon to miss the large Chinese groups.

Simatai: visit in the evening when the Wall is lit up.

Jinshanling or Gubeikou: depart for the Wall in the early morning to ensure enough time for hiking or more great photos on the Wall.

Famous Great Wall Sections

The Great Wall is always at the top of the China travelers' must-visit list, and the Badaling and Mutianyu sections of the Great Wall are always the top two choices. Many people ask which one is the best to visit.

Mutianyu Great Wall – Chinese Longest Great Wall

Mutianyu Great Wall (慕田峪长城), built in 5400 m long, is regarded as the “Essence of Great Wall in Ming Dynasty”. This great wall, linking Gubeikou (古北口) in the east and Juyongguan (居庸关) in the west, was served as the vital military strategic point from the ancient time. Moreover, the Mutianyu section is the “longest great wall in China” so far and since protection work is well done here, tourists can now see its original appearance and enjoy the real ancient culture of the great wall. Also, the spectacular natural scenery in Mutianyu Great Wall always impresses visitors here for its abundant vegetation.

Badaling Great Wall - Masterpiece among All Great Walls

As the highlighting section of the Great Wall also an important historical site in China, Badaling Great Wall (八达岭长城) has earned many brilliant reputations and favors from all over the world. Thousands of tourists swarm to Badaling Great Wall to witness its significance each month. Many famous politicians are also attracted to admire the Badaling Great Wall by its great reputation.

The Great Wall at Jiankou

Jiankou Great Wall is located in Badaohe, northwest of Huairou District, Beijing. It is 1141 meters above sea level. The terrain of the mountains is very complicated with both dangerous ridges and cliffs and magnificent scenery at the same time. Jiankou Great Wall, literally translated as "Arrow Nock", was named because its winding W-shaped shape is just like the bow of an arrow. It is one of the most famous dangerous sections of the Great Wall built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). However, it attracts lots of photographers here in recent years. It has always been a one of the most popular spots for photography among all the Great Walls. At present, Jiankou Great Wall is expected to get restored by 2022. After its completion, the whole length of Jiankou Great Wall will reach 2772 meters.

Jinshanling's Great Wall Section

Firstly established in 1368 and extended in 1567, Jinshanling Great Wall is one of typical and complete Great Wall of Ming Dynasty (1368~1644). It links Simatai Great Wall in the east and Gubeikou Great Wall in the west. Till now, it has been partially restored only, so you can get a wider variety of shots than some other sections of Great Wall. Located in the mountainous area in Chengde, about 130 km northeast of Beijing, it is much less crowded than any other sections of Great Wall near Beijing City.

Simatai Great Wall Section

Listed as one of the representative sections of Great Wall at World Heritage Site, Simatai is the only ancient architectural site in China that retains the original appearance of the Ming Dynasty. It was designated as the "Primitive Great Wall" by UNESCO. A famous architect, once commented that, "China's Great Wall is the world's most, but Simatai section of the Great Wall is reputed as the most of China's Great Wall."

In 2012, Simatai Great Wall was rated by the British Times as "the top 25 scenic spots in the world that can not be missed".

How to Get to & Around Great Wall of China

The location of each section of Great Wall varies greatly so is the available transportation. Some sections, which are closer to Beijing, can be reached easily, such as Badaling, Mutianyu, Juyongguan and Huanghuacheng. These sections of Great Wall provide flexible choices of transportation, including private car, train, tourist bus and public buses. Some sections of Great Wall are much further away from Chengdu, including Jinshanling, Simatai, Gubekou. Travellers can only get there by private car or public buses (usually takes much longer, and need to change bus for several times). To know more transportation information of Great Wall


How to Get to Mutianyu Great Wall

Location: Bohai Town, Huairou District, Beijing, China北京市怀柔区渤海镇慕田峪村, 75 kilometers (46 miles) from Beijing

By Private Car: taking a private car is the most recommended way to get to Mutianyu Great Wall. It takes only about 1.5 hours to get there. Your driver can pick up you from your hotel, airport, train station or other locations in Beijing.

By Bus: You can go to Beijing Tourist Distribution Center (北京旅游集散中心) or Dongzhimen Wai Bus Station (东直门外站) to take tourist buses to Mutianyu Great Wall. These buses only depart during 8:30am-9am, and return from the Great Wall at around 16:00. Beijing Tourist Distribution Center (北京旅游集散中心) is located near Tian’anmen Square, and connected by metro Line 2. Dongzhimen is about 7km away from Tianmen Square and you can get there by metro Line 2, metro Line 13 and several public buses.

How to Get to Jinshanling Great Wall

Location: Hualougou, Bakeshiyin Town, Luanping County, Heibei 河北省承德滦平县巴克什营镇花楼沟村160 kilometers (100 miles) from Beijing

By Private Car: using a private transfer service arranged by a travel agency can save you from the crowdedness of public buses. It takes only about 2.5 hours to get to the entrance of Jinshanling section of Great Wall.

By Bus: There are usually 4 daily tourist buses running from Dongzhimen Wai Bus Station (东直门外站) for Jinshanling Great Wall, but only operating during April ~ October. It takes about 3 hours to get to Jinshanling. You can get to Dongzhimen Wai Bus Station by metro Line 2 or 3.

How to Get to Simatai Great Wall

Location: Simatai, Gubei Ancient Town, Miyun District, Beijing北京市密云区古北水镇司马台村,150 kilometers (94 miles) from Beijing.

By Private Car: pick up you from your hotel, airport, train station or other locations in Beijing, and need only about 2.5 hours to get to Simatai.

By Bus: Simatai Great Wall belongs to the Gubei Water Town Scenic Area. You can take a tourist bus from Dongzhimen Wai Bus Station (东直门外汽车站) to Gubei Ancient Town first, then walk for several minutes to Simatai section of Great Wall. The morning bus departs at around 8am, and the afternoon bus departs at around 15:30.

How to Get Around Great Wall of China

Walking is the major way to get on and around the Great Wall. But usually one need to hike on some mountain paths to get on to the wall and towers from the entrance of the scenic zones. For those who are not in good physical condition or want to save energy and time, you can take cable cars up and down at Badaling, Mutianyu, Jinshanling and Simatai sections of Great Wall. The wild sections of Great Wall at Gubeikou, Jiankou, Huanghuacheng, Jinshanling (unrestored part), Simatai (unrestored part) have no cable cars. Taking toboggan down the Great Wall is also very popular among tourists. Currently only Badaling and Mutianyu have toboggans.

Great Wall of China Location and Map

Great Wall of China Map

The Great Wall stretches from west to east in northern China, and mainly covers 15 provincial-level areas: Beijing, Tianjin, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Hebei, Henan, Shandong, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Hubei, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai.

Who Built the Great Wall and When?

The Great Wall of China has a long history — more than 2,300 years. It was built in different areas by different states/dynasties to protect different territorial borders.

It's often said that the First Emperor of Qin built the Great Wall. Actually, he was not the first to build it.

Dynasty Great Wall History — Key Events
Zhou Dynasty: The (Pre-) Warring States Period (770–221 BC) State overlords built state border walls.
The Qin Dynasty (221–207 BC) The First Emperor of Qin linked the Great Wall sections on China's northern border.
The Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) Han Wudi extended the Great Wall west to Yumen Pass and beyond.
The Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) Hero General Qi Jiguang rebuilt the Great Wall around Beijing.

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