Since I’ve lived in Beijing for almost a decade, I’ve had a lot of time to explore China.
I’ve been to more than 100 cities and 31 provinces on the mainland, as well as countless villages and towns.
Looking back, I’ve realized that my desire to explore the rest of the country and the numerous Great Wall sections outside the capital’s borders was fueled by my frequent visits to various sections of the wall in Beijing.
The Great Wall’s construction began more than 2,500 years ago, during China’s Spring and Autumn Period, which lasted from about 770 BCE to 476 BCE. As competing dynasties and factions sought to exert their control, a number of sections were added in subsequent eras.
The 17th century saw the end of work.
The wall stretches over 21,000 kilometers and passes through 15 provinces, 97 prefectures, and 404 counties, but it is not a single, unbroken structure. And while some areas have attracted a lot of tourists, others have faded into obscurity, disrepair, and sometimes even oblivion.
The following locations are certain to make your trip to China even more worthwhile, whether this is your first time seeing the Great Wall or your 50th. Dramatic aerial footage of some of these amazing locations can be seen in the video above.
Yongtai Turtle City
The Great Wall is more than just a physical wall; in specific spots, towers on spiked mountain tops, post towns or even wide streams consider segments of “wall.”
The Turtle City was constructed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) as part of the “Yellow River Defense Line” of the Great Wall. When it was finished in 1608, it was home to approximately 2,000 infantrymen and 500 cavalry units.
Today, this fortification city is situated in the Sitan Municipality of Jingtai District in north focal Gansu region.
The garrison town in the “Turtle City” got its name because of its unusual shape, even though there aren’t many real turtles there.
The head is the south gate, and the flippers are the west and east gates. The north gate serves as its tail, while the town’s oval wall serves as its body. It is definitely worth your time because it is one of the most authentic and well-preserved walled cities in China that still exists today.
It’s best to stay at the center in Jingtai County. You can visit the ancient city whenever the light is best for photos because it is only a 30-minute taxi ride from your lodgings.
When in Jingtai, attempt nearby claims to fame like the five Buddha tofu and the Jingtai cold blended noodles – both are zesty vegan dishes. Adventuresome foodies should also take a stroll through the sprawling night market in Jingtai County People’s Square, which has more than 50 snack stalls.
How to get there: The Gansu province capital of Lanzhou has a major international airport and high-speed train connections to numerous Chinese cities. The drive to Yongtai Turtle City from downtown Lanzhou requires around 2.5 hours (195 kilometers). From Lanzhou Zhongchuan Air terminal, it’s just 90 minutes (125 kilometers).
Mutianyu and Jiankou are two parts of the same Stone Dragon, which is the Great Wall’s contiguous section that runs along Beijing’s mountaintops for about 25 kilometers.
Verifiable records show that large number of men went through hundreds of years developing the Incomparable Wall. If you stand atop the wall at either Jiankou or Mutianyu, you’ll start to see how serious this statement is.
Climbing either of these sections, which are arguably the two most enduring examples of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall, is certain to be life-altering.
The best section of the “tourist wall” is Mutianyu. Reestablished during the 1980s, it’s actual business yet additionally wonderfully gorgeous. A cable car takes visitors who aren’t up for the hike to the peak.
Toward the west of Mutianyu, Jiankou is casually known as the “wild wall” – no ticket required and not popularized. Having said that, due to safety concerns, hiking at Jiankou has become somewhat frowned upon by the local government as of 2020.
Mutianyu and Jiankou are less than a 90-minute drive from downtown Beijing, but if you have time, you should definitely spend the night in the countryside.
Xizhazi village is the way to get to Jiankou; You might even be able to spend a few days with William Lindesay, a world-renowned historian of the Great Wall, and his wonderful family at their wall-side courtyard home, The Barracks, if the dates work out.
The Brickyard is a superbly comfortable option for Mutianyu lodging.
The wall’s gray brick contrasts with the vibrant colors of nature in the fall and spring. Beautiful photo props include peak autumn foliage and spring cherry blossoms.
For winter sports fans, there’s skiing and skating close to the Wall at areas not a long way from Mutianyu.
How to Reach Mutianyu: Limitations on applying for impermanent driving licenses in China were loosened up in September 2019, so leasing a vehicle as an unfamiliar vacationer is not difficult to imagine. ( China does not accept driving licenses from other countries.)
From the Dongzhimen Wai Bus Station, you can also take the Mutianyu Special Tourism Bus or rent a car with a driver for the day.
How to get to Jiankou: It’s best to book a car rental or private transportation. Because Xizhazi is a small village and there aren’t many buses, getting there by public transportation can take up to five hours, whereas driving takes 90 minutes.
The ruins of a Gothic church that was built in 1876 under the direction of a German missionary can be found in Bataizi village, which is located just inside the Motianling section of the Great Wall.
In its nearly 150-year history, the church has been damaged and repaired numerous times; Only the bell tower is still standing.
Bataizi is a one-of-a-kind spot to spend a morning or afternoon due to the juxtaposition of its ruins with the rammed-earth Great Wall.
Stop by the village’s “new” church to say hello to Father Pan after finishing your hike along the wall and seeing the church ruins; assuming you speak Chinese, he can address any inquiries concerning the town’s long association with Catholicism.
Datong, in addition to Bataizi, ought to be on your travel itinerary; Your trip will be even more memorable if you visit the Hengshan Hanging Temple and the Yungang Grottoes, both of which are UNESCO world heritage sites.
Pre-fall is an optimal chance to visit Bataizi, as you’ll see a magnificent difference between the Incomparable Wall and the lavish green slopes.
How to get there: Datong, one of the largest and most well-known cities in Shanxi province, is 80 kilometers west of Bataizi village. Bataizi is only 22 kilometers away in Zuoyun County, which is about 35 minutes away by car.
From other Chinese cities, Datong is easily accessible by plane or high-speed train; From downtown Datong to Bataizi, a taxi should cost around $300 (or $43).
You could also take the bus to Zuoyun County and then take a taxi there.
The Yunzhong Traditional Courtyard Hotel, which has five stars, is a great option for those seeking opulence in Datong. One hotel in Zuoyun County can accommodate foreigners: The International Hotel Zuoyun Jinshan Both can be found on well-known websites for booking hotels.
Laoniuwan (aka the Old Ox Bend Great Wall)
Laoniuwan is known as the place where the Great Wall and the mighty Yellow River shake hands, according to locals.
The Laoniuwan Fortress was built in 1467, and the Wanghe Tower, which literally translates to “river-watching tower,” is the most well-known Great Wall tower in this area.
The village of Laoniuwan is in Pianguan County, which is part of the Shanxi province city of Xinzhou. It is just across the river from Inner Mongolia.
Pre-fall or late-summer is an extraordinary chance to visit, as you’ll stay away from the possibly perilous mountain streets during spring rainstorms, or being awkwardly chilly in a spot without extraordinary framework.
There are only a few points along the Great Wall where it meets water bodies; This is the most stunning of all of them.
It is highly recommended to take a boat ride along the river. While marveling at the steadfast resolve of these ancient architects, you can take in the natural splendor of the Yellow River Gorge.
How to get there: Public transportation is difficult to use to reach Laoniuwan. Renting or booking a car to take you from Datong to Laoniuwan via Bataizi is the best option because you can see two amazing places along the Great Wall in one trip.
Pianguan is the closest city, around one hour away. There is neither an airport nor a train station in Pianguan. The bus is the only way to get there. The airport in Shuozhou, 140 kilometers from Laoniuwan, will open later this year.
1373 marked the beginning of Simatai’s Great Wall construction. Throughout the Ming Dynasty, it underwent periodic expansions and reinforcements.
One of Simatai’s most well-known wall towers, the Fairy Tower is also one of the least visited due to its difficult access.
Instead, try to see the Fairy Tower from Wangjing Tower, which is only a few hundred meters away. It is a journey that can be completed without ropes, ladders, or any other necessary safety equipment, satisfying even the most adventurous hikers.
This section of the wall, like a trip to Mutianyu or Jiankou, will always provide stunning views at any time of year. The only thing I can suggest is to wait for a clear day because the view from Wangjing Tower is unobstructed in every direction. Typically, visibility is excellent the day after it rains or snows.
You’ll be amazed by the Northern Barbarians’ alleged determination to reach the capital on the hike to the Fairy Tower; Due to the sheer cliff faces on either side, the mountains are nearly impassable on foot or by horse.
It’s world-class hiking and a fascinating history lesson all in one.
Hobo Farm offers five-star accommodations; In addition, they have a fantastic restaurant that serves delicious Chinese and Western cuisine. Yatou’s Homestay offers accommodations with a 4.5-star rating at a lower cost. Both can be found on major booking websites for hotels.
Arriving: The Tangjiazhai village in Beijing’s Miyun district is the best route to take to reach both the Fairy Tower and the Wangjing Tower.
Depending on your route, Tangjiazhai village is 140 kilometers from Beijing’s center. The most time-efficient way to get there is probably to book a private car from the city.
From Beijing Station, you can also take a high-speed train to the Miyun district, where you can take a bus or a taxi.
This single-wall section, built between the years 1507 and 1567 by Emperor Jiajing, is seven meters tall in some places, which is impressive considering that it was built with piling stones.
It is in Chicheng, a town in the province of Hebei, across the road from Dushikou.
Dushikou’s piled-stone wall is unique because many other sections of the Great Wall near Beijing were built with bricks that had been kiln-fired.
During the summer months of July and August, when the surrounding grasslands are at their most lush, Dushikou is the best place to visit. The perfect temperature for an outdoor bonfire or barbecue is a cool evening.
In Dushikou town, you can stay in a farmhouse that is clean and comfortable; alternatively, there are a number of hotels to choose from in Chicheng, which is 45 minutes away.
Because this region of Hebei is so close to the border with Inner Mongolia, it is known for its lamb skewers and roast leg of lamb. The delicious local oat noodles are another option for those who enjoy noodles.
Arriving: The drive to Dushikou has been cut by nearly two hours as a result of all of the infrastructure that was built for the 2022 Winter Olympics. If you prefer not to drive, you can take a 45-minute taxi ride to Dushikou from the Beijing Liuliqiao Transport Hub to Chicheng.
Keep in mind that taking public transportation will take one or two extra hours than driving your own car.