If it weren’t for the Great Wall, I’m not entirely sure Beijing would be the tourist mecca that it is today. The Great wall is a Chinese icon, a UNESCO World Heritage site and has earned a place as one of The New Seven Wonders of the World.
Over the years, the Great Wall has been built, rebuilt, restored, eroded and improved, which is understandable considering the earliest known parts of the wall were constructed during the 7th century. The first Emperor of China contributed to the construction sometime around 200 B.C., but the majority of the wall that still exists is from the Ming dynasty (1300-1600’s).
Today, there are several parts of the wall that have been restored so that the many tourists who flock to Beijing can walk its length, the majority of which end up at the section of Badaling. It’s a 45-minute drive outside of Beijing, is the most well-preserved part of the wall, the most accessible (with tourist buses coming to and fro) and therefore, the most crowded.
However, to get an entirely different experience of the Great Wall—head about an hour and a half outside Beijing to Mutianyu.
Here are 5 reasons you should venture out further to see it:
1. You get to have your own private driver for the day.
Without the convenience (and uncomfortable nature) of the tourist buses, your only option to get to Mutianyu is to hire a driver for the day. You agree on a set price for the day, are taken directly to the entrance and helped to get your tickets, then are free to explore at your leisure. After a long morning and afternoon of walking, you walk directly back to your car and are taken home. No crowds. No waiting. And you are dropped off at the door of your hotel. Definitely worth the money.
2. If you get there early, you are essentially the only ones there.
My mom, my sister and I arrived in the morning around 9 or so and there was no one there. There were several options to get up to the wall and we finally decided that, no, we absolutely did not want to do anymore hiking than we would already have to and paid for the cable car up to the higher part of the wall (Mind you, we had already hiked Mount Huashan at this point). Well, it seems the majority of people decide to hike up the wall and not down, which meant that there was no one in sight for most of the morning.
If you want to try and get great photos with no one in them, go to Mutianyu. And go when the grass doesn’t look like a drought has hit.
3. Plenty of restored and unrestored wall to explore at your heart’s content.
Though Badaling has the most restoration done, there is no shortage at Mutianyu. We walked and explored for several hours and nearly all of it was restored. There were a few parts that hadn’t been restored yet and that actually gave it more authenticity.
4. The scenery is more dramatic.
The further away you get from Beijing, the higher the mountains and the more dramatic the landscape gets. Though I would recommend potentially going towards the later part of the day when the sun is setting so you aren’t shooting straight into the sun (though you might risk more of a crowd then).
5. There is a slide going down from the Great Wall!
Instead of hiking back down or taking a cable car, there is an option to take a slide down to the parking lot. This was a lot of fun but definitely try to wait for the person in front of you to get a decent head start (and hope you don’t get behind someone who rides the brake!). Video coming soon!