The Great Wall of China

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No matter what you think it'll be like the Great Wall will still blow you away. You can't prepare yourself for the awe, but you can prepare for experiencing this ultimate historical hotspot. Here's how:

When to visit

  • The best departure point for main sections is Beijing.
  • Go early morning or late afternoon to avoid crowds and have great light for photos.
  • Avoid weekends, especially in summer.

Places to visit the wall Badaling

  • The most touristed section of the Great Wall. Lots of hawkers.
  • While not as ‘pristine' as other parts, it's best for older travelers, families with small children, those who don't love sheer drops and those short on time.
  • Leave Beijing early and do it as a half-day trip.
  • If you take the Tourism Bus (tel 8353 1111) – direct to and from, but no guided tour attached – you'll have about two hours to visit.
  • This is often coupled with a visit to the Ming Tombs, making a full-day trip.

Simatai

  • One o f the wall's steepest and most beautiful points.
  • Best for fit folks with sturdy, good-grip shoes and a penchant for stunning views – and the requisite steep climbs.
  • Bring a day pack (you need your arms free for the climb).
  • Drinks are very pricey and food is scarce, so bring your own.
  • Unless you really want a souvenir, avoid eye contact with the aggressive vendors.

Jinshanling

  • Remains relatively undeveloped.
  • It's the starting point of a 10km steep, stony hike to Simatai.  Arriving  at Simatai, you may have to buy another ticket.
  • You can do the walk in the opposite direction, but getting a ride back to Beijing from Simatai is easier than from Jinshanling. Make arrangements with your driver to pick you up.

Tours

  • When choosing a tour, check that the tour goes to where you want. If you don't want to go to the Ming Tombs, don't pick a tour that combines Badaling with the Ming Tombs.
  • Some tours make detours to jade factories, gem exhibition halls and Chinese medicine centres (where tourists are diagnosed with bogus ailments that can be cured only with high-priced Chinese remedies, supplied there and then). When booking a tour, check that such scams and unnecessary diversions are not on the itinerary.

If you want to spend some significant time at the wall our recommended partners have three or ten day hikes.