A trip to Beijing basically demands an excursion to the Great Wall. There are dozens of tour companies to choose from, and most focus on day visits to one of the two most popular sections: Mutianyu and Badaling. So, how do you know which to choose?
Choosing a Tour of the Great Wall
Most tour itineraries are roughly the same: For $20-$45, you’re picked up at your downtown city hotel. Then you’re taken to the Ming Tombs. If you choose the Mutianyu tour, the tour companies usually stop at the Dingling tomb, which is the excavated tomb that requires walking down stairs into the underground tomb.
Tours going to Badaling also stop at the Ming Tombs, but typically visit the Changling Tomb, which involves climbing up stairs for magnificent views of the distant mountains on clear days.
From there, you’re taken to the Jade Factory no matter which tour you take. Obviously, the tour companies get a kickback from this. The stop itself isn’t bad. Your hostess proudly tells you about the importance of jade in China and demonstrates how to tell real jade from fake. Then the sales force descends on you and you’re tailed throughout the showroom. It’s not quite the high-pressure sales approach that the silk factory involves, but they’re definitely ready to help you pick out some jade.
After that, both tours include lunch. Then, finally – The Great Wall of China!
Badaling is the best preserved and the most crowded section of the Wall. And by crowded, I mean CROWDED. The line for the cable car was long going up and down. Once you go up the cable car, you can walk up the very steep part of the wall, or descend slightly and wind around. But either way, there are crowds.
Here’s why I didn’t especially like the Badaling section: I’m afraid of steep inclines and want to hold onto the handrail. But with these crowds and people stopping to take pictures, or pull their children along, or catch their breath — it was difficult to get to the handrail and I desperately needed it.
My husband and daughter went without me one day. (That should tell you something; I chose not to go to the Wall and endure the crowds there again.) Their tour company didn’t turn straight into the parking lot lined with tour buses and vans. Instead, they veered off to the right and went to a less populated area. They still took a cable car, but didn’t suffer the crowds. I should have gone!
I much prefer this section. It’s a little further out and both times I’ve gone, there has been either fog or haze. But somehow that adds to the allure for me. It’s easier to have space on the Wall to yourself at Mutianyu. My husband and daughter went ahead of me and conquered the very steep climb to the 23rd watch tower. I sat and waited for them to return and had the Wall all to myself for about 30 minutes! There are still very steep climbs like at Badaling, but I was always able to grab a handrail if I needed it.
Plus, I liked all the shopping you can do at the bottom. There are a lot more vendors at Mutianyu than Badaling, selling mostly the same stuff: Wall souvenirs, which is just want I wanted.
There’s also the Juyongguan section which we saw from the bus as we passed on the way to Badaling. It was less crowded, and seemed to be a straight climb of stairs. It didn’t appeal to me as much, but some tour companies do go there.
So which section should you visit while you’re in Beijing? Honestly, I’d try to see both. Both if you can only do one day there, I’d choose Mutianyu.
Have you been to the Great Wall? What do you think?
Mutiyanyu is my preference too.. We hired a private guide and insisted we did not want to stop at any other place enroute and spent all morning on the wall, with hardly any people. Going up by cable car and returning by the taboggan meant we walked mostly downhill on the wall.
Smart choice. Next time, we’ll get a private guide, too, so we can spend more time on the Wall – which is really where we wanted to be.
I second the suggestion for a private guide. Though I haven’t (yet!) been to the Great Wall, I’ve heard a lot of people who have went make the same suggestion. It’s easier to do that than brave the Wall yourself and also let them know your personal preferences. Judging from your photo, my friends were definitely NOT kidding about the crowds they also encountered there!
A private guide is a great idea. Though I liked getting to know all the people on our tour group, too. We were the only Americans on both tours. I always enjoy that part of group tours.
Awesome! I’ve had a couple of dreams about the Great Wall, and I feel compelled to visit one day. I love the foggy pic…amazing!
Yes. The fog leans an air of loneliness and mystery. Unfortunately, if it’s too bad, you don’t have views of the Wall reaching as far as you can see. That’s why my husband and daughter went back a second time.
Hopping? Shopping? 🙂 Not for me I’m afraid but clearly if you make it as far as Beijing then you probably ought to. Give me a deserted old drystone wall on the Yorkshire moors, mist swirling, no one about to sell you stuff.
Oops! I meant to fix that typo. Thanks for the reminder.
Great advice here, Juliann, for when we eventually make it to the Great Wall. What a fun adventure for you and your family to have embarked on! 🙂
Thanks! I hope everyone has the chance to stand on the Great Wall of China at least once in their lifetime.
This was awesome! We’re hopefully going to get to Beijing and the Great Wall, some time soon! I’ve always wondered how the tours go, and this was super informative!!
Makes me want to bump this further to the top our travel list!! 🙂
🙂 I’m so glad you found this helpful. I was scheduling Great Wall excursions for my family and separately for my co-workers and tried to convey the differences to them so they could choose which section to see. I feel very privileged to have seen both and for $20 a pop, my family went to each section, too.
This is a good read and for me to be able to have an idea on what to do there. Hope to visit this soon! 🙂
Thanks! I hope you get to, too. Everyone should have the chance to walk on the Wall.
My pleasure! 🙂
Great photos, thanks for sharing. Mutianyu Great Wall is a good alternative for Badaling, often quiet, with less tour buses and stops. Badaling gets more tourists than Mutianyu. If you could visit only one, and want to enjoy a better views with less crowds, Mutianyu is right for you. http://www.wildgreatwall.com/mutianyu-toboggan-ride/
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