Our epic countdown of the Top 10 places in China’s capital city of Beijing is finally down to three. With so many awesome spots in this Chinese mega-city, it’s hard narrowing them down to ten; it’s even harder choosing the best of the best. When talking about the highlights of Beijing, of course the Great Wall is bound to come up at some point. Although it is truly a great wall, it doesn’t top our countdown:
#3 – The Great Wall (长城 – cháng chéng)
The Great Wall is without a doubt the most famous symbol of China. It’s also the main reason why many tourists visit Beijing – people come from all over the world to admire one of the seven wonders of the medieval world. If you’ve ever heard that the wall can be seen from the moon, we hate to burst your bubble, but that’s just a myth. Regardless, it’s still an awe-inspiring structure and hiking along to its many watchtowers is an experience that should be high on everyone’s bucket list.
While the “long wall” as it’s known in Chinese actually stretches all the way from Shanhaiguan in the east to Lop Lake in the west, many famous sections can be visited from the capital on a day trip. You won’t find any Mongolian invaders trying to scale the wall these days, but you will find hordes of camera wielding tourists at a few sections in particular. Here’s a brief rundown of some of your options for visiting the wall from Beijing:
- Badaling (八达岭 – bā dá lǐng) - Apparently, this is the section Chairman Mao was talking about when he said, “You aren’t a real man until you’ve climbed the Great Wall” (不到长城非好汉 – bù dào cháng chéng fēi hǎo hàn). It’s also the easiest to visit from the city center. As such, expect massive crowds of matching-hat wearing, selfie-taking Chinese tourists here. Unless you’re on a real time crunch, you are advised to skip out on this one.
The Badaling section of the wall got lit up for NYE 2013.
- Mutianyu (慕田峪 – mù tián yù) – A little bit further from the smog-choked city, Mutianyu provides incredible views on a clear day. For the lazy ones out there, you can take a cable car up and a toboggan down. If you do this, please don’t buy an “I climbed the Great Wall” t-shirt, because you didn’t. For those who may have some extra time or money at their disposal, a stay in the nearby Brickyard Eco Lodge comes highly recommended.
- Jiankou (箭扣 – jiàn kòu) – Just past Mutianyu and the signs warning tourists not to continue, you’ll find the Jiankou section. By the way, it’s totally fine to hike on; just be aware that this section is not restored or developed and can be quite a difficult trek. If you’re looking for a good workout and some of the best views along the wall, this one is a good choice.
- Gubeikou (古北口 – gǔ běi kǒu) – This section takes some work to get out to. If you don’t have your own wheels, it’ll involve two bus rides and a mini-van to the bottom of the wall. The panoramic views from the top make it worth your while, and you can even bring along a tent and sleeping bag and camp out for a night under the stars.
Come camping on the Great Wall of China!
- Jinshaling (金山岭 – jīn shān lǐng) – Camping was allowed here as well, but on a recent visit we saw some signs forbidding it. One option would be hiking from Jinshanling to Gubeikou, where you can definitely set up camp. Either way, the hike across the Jinshanling section and the stunning landscape make it a worthy choice.
As you can see, there are plenty of choices for a Great Wall adventure based out of Beijing. In fact, those are only a few of the more notable and famous spots. With so many options, multiple trips out to the wall are a favorite activity amongst Beijingers, both Chinese and foreign. You can do much more than just hike along this famous structure – from an annual marathon, to an all-night electronic music rave, the Great Wall is also a versatile one.
Check out my highlight video from the Great Wall Music Festival in 2013.
Our countdown is just about finished, so stay tuned to the blog for the final two places. In the meantime, don’t forget to learn a new Chinese word every day with us.