In China, there’s a few amazing sights on every traveller’s bucket list: the karst scenery of Yunnan, the stunning national parks of Sichuan (and pandas!), the Potala Palace and views of Mount Everest in Tibet, and – one of my personal favourites – the “floating mountains” of Zhangjiajie in Hunan Province. Some people also include the Great Wall of China in that list – and what fools they are!
It needs to be known that when you visit the Great Wall, it is 95% likely that it will be teeming with tourists (surprisingly, most of them are from mainland China). There are some parts of the Great Wall such as Jinshanling, that are not as touristy, but in most places – especially in summer months – you will not get a good photo of the Great Wall, as your photos will be ruined by everybody else getting in the way!
From Beijing, the nearest section of the Great Wall is at Badaling. Yet the relative ease to get there from Beijing means that this is also the most popular section, as some people even come here on a daytrip during a stop over between flights at the airport (Visa permitting, of course). Parts of this section of the Wall are beginning to show signs of wear and tear. The journey to Badaling from downtown Beijing should take no more than an hour and cost around 400 Yuan. Arriving earlier in the morning is paramount, otherwise it’s hardly worth coming at all!
Aside from the incredible natural wonders around you whilst walking the Wall, you will also notice a cornucopia of signs with ill-advised English translations. I also found many of these in other tourist attractions in Beijing, such as the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City. They are almost just as much fun to photograph as the Great Wall itself!
They say the Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure visible from space. I do not know if that is true or not (I suspect not). However, what I do know is that from ground level, the Great Wall looks nothing like what you will see in most pictures online. It’s true that it is highly touristy nowadays, and this is inevitably leading to a little pollution and minor decay, but I was surprised at just how much the wall was crumbling. That said, if you happen to be in Beijing during a snowstorm on a cold winter’s day, then just head straight for the Badaling section of the wall as quickly as possible, as the experience in the snow will be like no other you have had!
But which part of the Great Wall of China should you visit the rest of the time, I hear you ask? Well, Badaling is only a 60-90 minute drive north of Beijing, however, based on my own experience, I’d to try to get as far away from the crowds as possible in order to fully maximise your enjoyment. The wall at Jiangjunguan was a real highlight for me.
I hope my post gives you an idea of what to expect when visiting the Great Wall of China. Not everybody finds it disappointing, but I am not sure it is something that absolutely needs to be crossed off the bucket list!