Great Wall of China


Overview

Great Wall of China travel guide, including map of China, top Great Wall of China experiences, tips for Great Wall of China travel, when to visit the Great Wall

The Great Wall of China is truly great, stretching for 6,400km along the northern reaches of the country from the Yellow Sea coast to the forbidding depths of the Chinese interior.

On its way, the Great Wall of China crosses mountains, deserts and sprawling grasslands; it passes by the modern urban madness of Beijing and dissects areas where local farmers are living lives unchanged for centuries.

The idea for the Great Wall of China came from third-century emperor Qin Shihuang, who wanted to keep the northern barbarians from his fertile land further south. Wall building then fell out of fashion until the 15th century, when the Ming Dynasty erected a great, crenellated, stone fortification to keep out the ne’er-do-wells – the Wall as we now know it.

It didn’t work, of course. But it has resulted in the most astonishing relic of despotic over-ambition. Today the Great Wall of China is not a continuous, well-preserved barrier. Much of it has fallen into disrepair; over the centuries locals have pinched stones to build houses. But there are still some magnificent sections to visit.

The super-keen could hike the entire length – a feat that would probably take around 18 months – but it’s not necessary. Daytrips from Beijing will allow you see some of the neatest sections; the Badaling stretch is over-touristy so head instead for Simatai or Mutianyu.

 The Great Wall of China is also a springboard to other regions of the country – for example, from the western end at Jiayuguan you could strike out into little-visited Xinjiang for wild landscapes and Uyghur culture.

The Great Wall of China, once considered an expensive folly, is now a symbol of great pride for the Chinese people. New sections are being restored all the time, so head to China and find your own Great Wall adventure. 

Further Reading

Great Wall of China Top 5

  1. Head out to Jiayuguan, at the extreme west of the Great Wall of China, to see where ancient civilisation ended and the wilderness began. This is Silk Road territory; strike out to Dunhuang, for the Mogao Caves, and to Turpan, for Uyghur culture and ancient ruins, ultimately aiming for the bazaar at Kashgar.
  2. See the Great Wall of China meet its end at Shanhaiguan, on the Yellow Sea. Easily accessible by train (its just 300km east of Beijing), the pass here is one of the Great Wall's best preserved.
  3. Take your camera to Simatai, north-east of Beijing, one of the Great Wall’s most photogenic sections. The section of Wall here is very steep, clinging precariously to Yanshan Mountain, so wear sturdy shoes and be prepared for a decent hike.
  4. Walk the scenic 11km stretch of the Great Wall between Jinshanling and Simatai, a great way to get a real feel for the Wall's scope and length. The walk will take you past crumbly ramparts, stone watchtowers and steep mountain ridges.
  5. Allow time to explore Beijing – don’t miss the highlights of the Chinese capital, which sits just south of the Great Wall. Must-sees include Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, a performance at the Beijing Opera and a stroll along the few remaining hutongs (historic alleyways).