You simply can’t even think about visiting Beijing without making the trek out to the Great Wall. Now, there’s several different areas of the Great Wall that you can visit from Beijing. The most well known spots are Badaling (most well known and most grand; also the most busy), Huanghuacheng (on the water), Mutianyu (mountain scenery, less crowded), Jiankou (known for dangerousness and steepness), Gubeikou (most places are deserted and unrestored), Jinshanling (very primitive and majestic; only recommended to experienced hikers), and Simatai (very well intact but very difficult hike; known for Wanjing Tower and Stairway to Heaven). If you are planning on going, I would look at each, check the distance from Beijing and choose accordingly since each area offers something uniquely different from the next. The first, Badaling, is by far the most popular, the most grand and therefore the most crowded. The next choice on our list was the Mutianyu area of the Great Wall which was highly recommended by both guides and friends who had been there previously. It’s not as large but the Mutianyu area of the Great Wall is the less crowded and slightly more destitute area of the wall we were looking for.
I’m not sure if it was the time of year, the early 5am wake up call (which put us out the door by 6 and at the wall at 8:30 am; a two hour trip by bus, subway and taxi) or the Mutianyu area that we picked but we could only see about a dozen people on the entire wall when we arrived. By the time we left however, around 10:30, the wall was a bit more busy with maybe 100 people or so. Regardless, we felt as if we had the entire wall to ourselves, not ever having to push through crowds, wait in line or worry about swarms of people in our photos. We were able to take our time, strolling along large portions of the wall, mesmerized by the vast size of it, sprawling as far as the eye could see. I’ll be honest though. While it was an amazing site, it was one of those that you show up and think ‘yup, it’s exactly how I thought it would be’. That doesn’t mean it was any less fantastic, just one of those sites that is more or less how you pictured it to be. Regardless, there are certain things that you just simply can’t go your lifetime without seeing and the Great Wall is one of them.