The Great Wall:
How to plan your trip to this iconic Chinese monument
Long thought to be visible from space (though NASA have refuted this, insisting that it isn’t without the right equipment), the Great Wall of China was constructed over 2,000 years ago by Qin Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of China during the Qin Dynasty. Soon, it will star on the silver screen, as Matt Damon fights for the Chinese people in a fantasy adventure against a mythical monster army. Was this legend the reason the wall was built in the first place?
The history of the wall
We hate to break it to you, but it’s highly unlikely the Great Wall was built to ward off ominous beasts. It was actually constructed to protect the empire against nomadic horse people – and also boasts a series of towers and walkways. The wall is not a continuous structure but consists of individual sections that were built in different eras with different designs.
The most famous section of the wall is also the newest part, dating from the time of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and spans a whopping 5,500 miles. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987 and attracts over 10 million visitors from around the world each year.
Which sections should you visit?
Instead of just seeing it from the comfort of a cinema seat, why not book a trip to experience the Great Wall for yourself? Plenty of travel operators offer different packages, and the most popular parts of the wall are near Beijing.
Badaling, 43 miles from the capital, is home to the section of the Wall that remains best preserved. Though be warned, this is also the part that features the most tourists.
Mutianyu is just 1.5 hours away from Beijing, and this is also popular with sightseers of all ages. Here, you’ll find impressive architecture as well some wonderful nature.
Some areas, like Jinshanling and Simatai, remain hidden gems. In Jinshanling, the Wall meanders through mountains and boasts many watchtowers in different variations – considered by many the most scenic part of the wall. It’s best to start your hike there from Simatai and it will take you between three to four hours.
If you fancy a challenge, then Jiankou is the place to go. This is the section where the wall has been best preserved to resemble how it originally looked. This isn’t for the faint-hearted - hikers will spend between four and five hours walking across a rough and steep route. Also, there are no toilets along the wall, so make sure you pop to the loo before embarking on this lengthy journey.
Where should you set up base camp?
Beijing is the perfect starting point for your trip to the Great Wall, as it’s easily accessible from there with local hire car or travel companies. It’s best to visit the Wall early in the morning or later at night, and you can stay on site in one of the hotels. Although camping is forbidden on the Walls, several operators offer tents in some of the watchtowers.
When is the best time to book your trip?
The best time to visit the Great Wall is spring and autumn. In spring, the weather tends to be brilliant and you’ll also encounter fewer tourists, so it’s win-win. In the autumn, you’ll be treated to colourful and lush vegetation, as well as spectacular views. Summer tends to be very hot, and peak season for holidaymakers, and it usually rains a lot in July and August. If you don’t mind the cold, in winter the snow and frost transform the Wall into a picturesque scene – and better still, there’s virtually no crowds.