This Great Wall Guide is not flashy (read: no pictures). It is a thorough guide (read: many maps) on how to get into Beijing, see the great wall like a local, avoid the tourist traps, and do it as cheaply and efficiently as possible. Since I already wrote a review on the great wall, this is strictly a guide, and not an opinion or evaluation. I wrote the bulk of this article two years ago, using my own personal experience traveling with a Chinese person, and referencing many expats and locals. The biggest contribution came from the great wall forum, the single best resource for people who would like to see the wall without the crowds.
I) Before going to China (visas):
China is one of the few countries that require visas for everyone ahead of time as it is the most visited country in the world (believe it or not). This means that you must plan for China earlier than most other countries. Getting a visa is relatively simple, but not cheap if you’re American.
1) If you live in the US: You must go to the Chinese Embassy nearest you, and follow the instructions on this website: Chinese Embassy. [Cost: ~$150 for US citizens, otherwise ~$30] The prices continuously go up, so you might have to pay a little more than this. The prices quoted are for single entry visas.
2) If you live in Korea like me, you MUST have 6 months left of validity on your Alien Registration Card (if you’re a foreigner). Also, the embassy no longer accepts individual visa requests thus, you must go through a travel agent (which is easier anyways). I recommend Soho Travel in Seoul as they speak English, and provide great service. I have used them for flights as well as visas.
Single entry visas are valid for 3 months after issuing, and double entry visas are valid for 6 months. There are multi-entry visas (valid for 12 months) available if you plan on entering and exiting a lot. Going to Hong Kong or Macau is considered exiting China (go figure).
II) Getting to Beijing:
Beijing is probably the best entry point to the great wall because of its highly developed public transportation routes. It is the biggest metropolis within a day trip of the great wall.
There are about 16 entry points (that I know of) from Beijing, China to the Great Wall. You can decide depending on what you’re looking for. If you want just the simple, most straight forward way to get there, it will be crowded and more commercialized. If you want a raw, undisturbed section of the wall, it will be a bit more difficult to get to (there’s always a catch) and in many cases, not very taken care of. Hopefully, this guide will make all sections accessible to you.
a) To Badaling (八达岭) section of the Great Wall (长城) [Entrance: 40-45 Yuan depending on the season]:
Route 1–>Find your way to the Blue #2 line of the subway and get off on Jishuitan Station (积水潭站). Take Exit A at the subway station, and follow the map below, along the main road heading East towards the Deshengmen Watchtower (德胜门). It is a tower in the center of a big loop street you will see in the distance. Go around the loopy street and you will see many buses marked 919 in a bus depot. Be careful as there are 3 different #919 buses (stupid I know) and only one goes to “Badaling Great Wall”. The bus will be the 919 Express (Kuai) (12 Yuan 90-120 mins). To get back, just wait for the bus in the same spot it dropped you off, and you might want to have a sign that says Deshengmen Watchtower (德胜门) to point at to make sure (unless you speak Chinese). Its another 12 Yuan to get back. This is the easiest to get to but also the most popular section of the wall thus prepare to see huge crowds.
Route 2–>Find your way to the Red #1 line Tian’anmen West (天安门西站) or Tian’anmen East (天安门东站) subway exit. From here, take the #5 bus to Deshengmen (德胜门). You will be dropped off right at the bus depot, then same instructions as Way 1 from Deshengmen. [You dont need the map below with Route 2.]
Tip #1: Most of my pictures are of the Badaling section. Don’t be fooled and think “its not that crowded”. This was in February, during -10F/-25C weather, so prepare to see a lot more if you go in the summer.
Tip #2: You should print out the Chinese characters for Badaling (八达岭) and Great Wall (长城) to point at to make sure the this particular 919 bus goes to the right place. This goes for getting on any bus heading to any section of the wall.
Tip #3: If someone tries to tell you they are the same as the 919 bus and convince you that they go to the great wall, they are most likely private buses that charge much more. The public bus doesn’t try to convince you to take them.
Tip #4: For most people, this is the section for you because of its ease in public transportation accessibility. Most people that go in tour groups, can only be there for 30-60 minutes, so even the “crowded” sections of the wall, like this one, are not very crowded a few kilometers from the entrance. You have the freedom to hike way farther if you come on your own, and not as part of a group. Arrive as early as humanly possible.
b) Juyongguan (居庸关) section of the Great Wall (长城) [Entrance: 40-45 Yuan]
Route 1–>Follow the same instructions as if going to the Badaling section. However, in Deshengmen, get on the 919 “shuttle”, NOT the “kuai” (express) bus (6 Yuan, 80 mins). Get off on Nankou Dongjie Station. From here take the #68 bus and tell them you want to go to Juyongguan Great Wall (居庸关 长城) (0.50 Yuan, 20 mins). This section tends to also be very crowded. Like Badaling, it is also a very well preserved section of the wall.
Route 2–>Same as Route 1, but in in Deshengmen take the bus #345 (fast line, a bit more expensive) to Shane. Get off in Shane (Shane is right next to Nankou, basically the same spot) and take the #68 bus to Juyongguan (居庸关) (0.50 Yuan, 20 mins).
Route 3–>Take the Subway Yellow #13 line and get off on Longze Station (龙泽站). Go across the street and take the #20 bus to Nankou (until the end of the line, 5 Yuan, 80 mins). From here take the #68 bus to Juyongguan (居庸关). Note: To return, you must retrace the steps of Route 1 or 2.
c) Huanghuachangcheng (黄花长城) section of the Great Wall (长城) [Entrance: 35 Yuan]
Find your way to the Blue #2 line of the subway and get off on Dongzhimen Station (东直门站). This is a bus depot, get on the 916 bus and ask to make sure it goes to Huairou (怀柔区) (11 or 6 Yuan[A/C or no A/C] it’s really hot in the summer, but your choice). Get off in Huairou Dishui and you can take a minibus (60 Yuan one way), take a taxi (80 Yuan round trip and he will wait for you for hours at the wall) or find the more economical bus (9 Yuan) that says Huairou-Shuichangcheng (怀柔-水长城). Make sure to tell them where you are going [Huanghuachangcheng (黄花长城)] so the driver tells you when to get off. Follow the map below to find this bus. Its the GREEN ARROW. This section is far less touristy, but recently becoming more popular.
Tip: Since many of these sections are hard to get to, its a good idea to bring either a compass (old school) to figure out which direction you are walking, or a GPS (preferred). If you have a compass, you can follow the google map below with more ease. If you have a GPS, google maps can give you EXACT coordinates of the spots I point out. I try to be as exact as possible, but google maps is not as reliable in foreign countries as in the US.
d) Jinshanling (金山岭) section of the Great Wall (长城) [Entrance: 40-50 Yuan]
Route 1–>Find your way to the Blue #2 line of the subway and get off on Dongzhimen Station (东直门站) OR the Teal #4 line and get off on Xizhimen Station (西直门站). Take the 970 or 980 [if from Dongzhimen] (or any other bus) that goes to Miyun (密云) (15 Yuan). From here, take a bus that goes to Bakeshiying (巴克什营). Point at a sign that says Jinshanling (金山岭) and Great Wall (长城) when asking the bus driver to make sure and so he tells you when to get off. You wont see too many tourists here as it is far more difficult to reach.
Route 2–>Same as route 1 to get to Miyun. However, you can take a local tour bus in Miyun. Since it’s close, it wont be too expensive. Ask around the bus stop and they will point to where the buses are. Again… point at a sign that says Jinshanling (金山岭) and Great Wall (长城) before getting on the bus.
Tip: While both Dongzhimen and Xizhimen stations have buses that go to Miyun, the route from Dongzhimen is more straight forward. Just save yourself the headache (common in China) and take the 970 or 980 from Dongzhimen. But, if you know Chinese or have been in China for a while, by all means.
e) Gubeikou (古北口) section of the Great Wall (长城) [Entrance: 20 Yuan]
This section is very rough and hasn’t been renovated. Because of this, few tourists go here. There is also a temple you can visit nearby.
Route 1–>Follow the same instructions as if going to Jinshanling but tell the bus driver of the 970/980 bus that you want to get off on Gulou (鼓楼) in Miyun. From here, follow the map below to find the state owned minibus north of Miyun Hospital (3 Yuan, 15 mins).
A = 970 bus stop, B = 980 bus stop, C = Miyun Hospital/bus stop to Gubeikou (古北口).
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Route 2–>Follow the same instructions as if going to Jinshanling and get off in Miyun bus station, get a private minibus to Gubeikou (古北口) Great Wall (长城) (10 minutes, shouldn’t be too expensive).
Route 3–>Find your way to the Red #1 line Sihui Station(四惠站). This is the Sihui Long Distance Bus Station. Take a bus from there to Chengde City or Luanping County (leaves every 30 mins). Get off at Gubeikou Tunnel and the wall will be in sight.
Tip: Route 3 is the easiest, but most expensive way. Route 2 is average difficulty, but economical. Route 1 is the cheapest and hardest (of course).
f) Bailingguan (白玲关) section of the Great Wall (长城) [Entrance: Unknown but probably Free or 20 Yuan]
Route–>Follow the same instructions as if going to Jinshanling but in Miyun bus depot, get a minibus to Bailingguan (白玲关) Great Wall (长城). This section is heavily destroyed and totally unkempt. There is also almost no information online on how to get here, so it is probably the most deserted of all sections.
Tip: Since this is probably one of the least known parts of the wall, you might have to take a taxi or private bus from Miyun. As such, take the map below, as they might not know exactly where it is.
The dot in the middle that says “白岭关长城 ” is it.
g) Simatai (司马台) section of the Great Wall (长城) [Entrance: 30 Yuan] CLOSED – Reopens Oct 1, 2013
June 17, 2010 notice: This section of the wall, arguably the most beautiful will be closed for approximately 3 years due to renovation.
Route –>Follow the instructions as if going to Jinshanling and get to Miyun bus depot. Then transfer to a local minibus to Simatai (司马台) Great Wall (长城). Some visitors claim it is quite the hassle to find this ‘transfer bus.’ You can also take a taxi from Miyun. Simatai has some huge cliff drops which make for amazing views, but is not that crowded because of the difficulty to get there. If you have ever seen amazing pictures of the great wall, chances are, you saw this section or Jiankou (箭扣) (letter ‘i’ keep reading).
h) Mutianyu (慕田峪) section of the Great Wall (长城) [Entrance: 40 Yuan]
Route 1–>Find your way to the Blue #2 line of the subway and get off on Dongzhimen Station (东直门站). Take bus #916 or #936 (the correct bus says “through.” There are buses so be careful) and get off at Mingzhu Square (Huairou International Conference Center). Take a private minibus to Mutianyu Great Wall.
Route 2–>Go to Dongzhimen Station like in “Route 1”. Go to the section that says Dongzhimen Outer and take tour bus #936. Again there are many 936 buses. Ask the bus driver to make sure this is the one that takes you directly to Mutianyu (慕田峪) Great Wall (长城).
This section is less crowded than Badaling, but as its easy to get to and well preserved, does get its fair share of tourists. Nonetheless, its a very beautiful section (which part isn’t) of the wall.
i) Jiankou (箭扣) section of the Great Wall (长城) [Entrance: Free]
Route 1–>Similar to Mutianyu, take the #916 at Dongzhimen, get off at Huairou Fangshan. Look for a bus there that takes you to Jiankou (箭扣) Great Wall (长城) ( Only runs 10AM to 3PM).
Route 2–>Take Bus #936 (支) at Dongzhimen and get off at Yanxi Huandao in Huairou District. Here, there are buses to Jiankou (箭扣) Great Wall (长城) (also run 10AM-3PM).
Most current pictures in books on the Great Wall are pictures of this section. It is very picturesque due to its huge cliff drops.
j) Shuiguan (水官) section of the Great Wall (长城) [Entrance: 20 Yuan]
Follow the same directions as if going to the Badaling section. Get on the #919 bus that goes to Shuiguan (水官) Great Wall (长城). Get off at the Stone Buddha Temple. It should be the same 919 bus (express) as to Badaling. Shuiguan means water pass and is the most complete section of the wall, thus very well traveled. Expect to see many tourists. While its very close to Badaling, it is not very easy to walk from one to the other, but you can try!
k/l/m) Lianyunling (连云岭), Dazhenyu(大榛峪) and Xiangshuihu (响水湖) sections of the Great Wall (长城)
Follow the same directions as if going to Huanghuachangcheng or Jiankou and get to Huairou. Once in Huairou county, get off almost anywhere, as there are no known buses that go to any of these sections. You must get there by private bus or taxi. These however will be the most empty, but the least impressive of all sections as they are largely destroyed.
There are more than these 13 sections I just mapped, including the Datong, Heituoshan, and Jiuyanlou. For more information, go to the great wall forum (link below), a site for Great Wall enthusiasts.
Great Wall Map (Shows which sections can be hiked from one section to the other, Scroll down on the link’s page)
Travel China (Detailed info on some of the sections)
Great Wall Forum (Plan hikes amongst people who live in China)
Beijing Made Easy (More info on sections of the wall)
Subway Map of Beijing:
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