The Great Wall of China is one of the most iconic structures in the world. Try slipping away from the crowds to see a different side of this spectacular landmark.
For anyone exploring the riches of Chinese history, architecture and geography, the Great Wall is a must-see attraction. Unfortunately, this Wonder of the World draws such enormous crowds, it can be difficult to see anything at all. Here's our guide to rediscovering the serenity of this legendary spot.
The wonder of the wall
Construction of the Great Wall of China began in 7th century BCE, and at over 21,000 kilometres in length, it stands as one of the crowning achievements of ancient industry. It was originally built from the most rudimentary materials - earth, stone and wood - and with the simplest tools. The Wall we see today is a patchwork of materials. Throughout the ages, it has been continually extended, rebuilt and repaired, with modifications still being added. You'll want to bear this in mind when deciding where to visit - some spots are more "authentic" than others.
Dodging the crowds
The main purpose of the Wall was to defend China from outside invaders. Anyone who's visited the site during tourist season can sympathise... Unless you know where to go, the sheer volume of people clamouring for space along the more popular segments of the Wall can be overwhelming. Standing almost eight metres high, the Badaling and Juyongguan sections of the Wall are closest to Beijing and therefore easiest to reach by public transport. These might be considered the "theme park" zone - garishly restored, ostentatiously commercial and constantly crammed with tourists. Unless you want to spend your day avoiding other people's photographs, go elsewhere.
Plan your route
It's easiest to situate yourself in the city centre, where spots like our Radisson Blu Hotel Beijing can help you plan your route. There's a convenient cable car to help you ascend and descend the challenging mountainous landscape beyond Badaling, but more adventurous types can toboggan down instead. The crags conceal the Mutianyu portion of the Wall, which tends to attract smaller crowds.
Take a risk
You might have to wake up early to reach them, but the Jinshanling and Simatai sections of the Wall are generally deserted - probably because of the steep incline - and boast the most authentic architecture. The hike from Jinshanling to Simatai is roughly 10 kilometres, but you'll be rewarded by dramatic views of the Wall winding its way through plunging valleys and along the edge of towering cliff tops. Since this segment is entirely unrestored and original, you'll truly be following in the footsteps of the ancients. Bear in mind the rocky terrain and heed the age-old proverb: wear sensible shoes.