One of the Wonders of the World and one of the most extraordinary structures ever created, the Great Wall of China is truly a must-see for every traveller. Building walls to defend China from invasion was a strategy dating back to the 8th century BC, but it was under the first Emperor Qin Shi Huang from 220BC that the separate sections were restored and linked to form one structure stretching 5,000km from the Jiayuguan Pass in the Gobi Desert to Shanhaiguan on the east coast. Much of the original work on the Wall was completed during the Qin and Han dynasties up to 220AD but it was revived and extended during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) due to conflict with the Mongols. Over a million workers were involved in its construction and many died with the effort. Today the Wall, partially ruined, stretches across mountains, plateaus, grassland and desert over nine provinces, though only one-third of the original remains. There are several sections of the Wall that can be walked along, allowing you to appreciate the breathtaking nature of the construction and how it integrates into the surrounding landscape.
- Badaling is a renovated section of the Great Wall that is perhaps the most popular with visitors. You'll get a picture perfect Wall structure but may have to share it with many other visitors.
- 90km north of Beijing, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall has been restored and is popular with Chinese tourists. Here the Wall winds along high ridges and valleys for 3km, providing some sweeping views. This section is noted for its watchtowers, with 22 along its length including the famous Zheng Bei Tai castle complex, comprising three inner-connected watchtowers.
- West of Mutianyu, the section at Jiankou, built by the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century, is unpreserved and provides some of the most picturesque scenery of the Wall due to the very mountainous nature of the region.
- Gubeikou - Jinshanling
- The section from Gubeikou to Jinshanling is a 5-6 hour trek along unreconstructed wall characterised by crumbling sections and ruined watchtowers with overgrown vegetation. There are many steep climbs but the reward is some stunning scenery as the Wall undulates along mountain ridges. Rebuilt in 1378, this section was the location for many battles.
- Jinshanling - Simatai
- The 10km section of the Wall from Jinshanling to Simatai was rebuilt in the 16th century. Both ends have been restored but the section in between contains some partially ruined sections, adding to the picturesque quality. This is one of the most beautiful sections of the wall as it undulates over hills and down through valleys with many steep sections. There are 30 watchtowers along this section of the wall, providing shade and rest stops on the 5 hour trek. Between the 14th and 15th towers is a section known as the 'Stairway to Heaven' - a very narrow path along an 80 degree incline.
- South of the Gubeikou-Jinshanling-Simatai section and near the Imperial Qing tombs is the Huangyaguan section. Huangyaguan means ‘Yellow Cliff Pass’, named for the yellowish hills nearby. This section, 41km in length, is unreconstructed and is noted for its various different-shaped watchtowers, including the Phoenix Tower, the largest on the Great Wall. This area is relatively quiet except for once a year when it hosts a gruelling international marathon.
- The section at Luowenyou, northeast of Huangyaguan, is open to trek for about 10km. The Wall here is quite rugged and steep in parts but offers spectacular vistas of the Wall and surrounding area.
- Shanhaiguan - Jiaoshan
- This is the easternmost section of the Great Wall, where it meets the Bohai Sea at 'Old Dragon's Head' or Laolongtou, where there is the Great Wall Museum. The walk takes you to Jiaoshan Pass, where the Wall first heads into the mountains, and from where there are some spectacular views.
Travel to Great Wall of China
Organised group tours: The following tours for Great Wall of China are available:
Stretching from the Yellow Sea to the edge of the Gobi Desert, some 2700 miles, the magnificent ramparts and watch towers of the Great Wall were built to protect China's northern frontier from raiding Mongol horsemen. For over 2000 years it has zigzagged over the mountains and rivers of China like a fabulous dragon. Our walk concentrates on some of the most interesting and spectacular sections, and gives us an insight into China 'off the beaten track'.
Centuries after its construction, China’s Great Wall remains one of humankind’s engineering marvels. At over 21,000 km (13,048 mi) in length, the Wall is a trip in and of itself. You won’t tackle the whole thing on this ten-day trip, but you’ll return home with a deeper understanding of the life that goes on around and upon it. The Beijing-to-Beijing route will take you to small villages that have stood for centuries in the shadow of this massive tribute to human will and introduce you to the cuisine, culture, and history that make this one of China’s most captivating attractions. The Wall’s been standing for centuries. Isn’t it about time you turned up?