Mutianyu or Badaling– Which Section Should You Choose?

Which trail to choose on Great Wall of China Mutianyu or Badaling
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.

Bad English on Chinese sign at Ming Tombs

Frankly, the signs were the most interesting part of the Ming Tombs to me.

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.

Great Wall of China tour jade shop stop Badaling Mutianyu

Jade sculpture on our Great Wall of China Tour

After that, both tours include lunch. Then, finally – The Great Wall of China!

Badaling

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.

Badaling section of Great Wall of China crowds tour

Badaling section of Great Wall of China

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.

Badaling section of Great Wall of China crowd

Crowds at the Badaling section of Great Wall of China

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!

Mutianyu

Mutianyu section of Great Wall of China-less-crowded-steep

Mutianyu section of Great Wall of China

 

Badaling section of Great Wall of China Mutianyu fog

Fog obscures the Great Wall of China

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.

Steep stairs at Mutianyu section of Great Wall China tour

Steep stairs at Mutianyu section

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.

Souvenir stands at the Great Wall of China Badaling Mutianyu items for sale booths

Souvenir stands at the Great Wall of China

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.
Which tour should you choose? Badaling or Mutianyu

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?

19 responses to “Mutianyu or Badaling– Which Section Should You Choose?

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    • 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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