Travel Icons… by the Back Door

The Great Wall of China – Beijing Section, China

Visitors per year: Around 10.7 million – (Badaling & Mutianyu sections)

It may not be visible from space (yes, it is a myth), but the Great Wall of China is no less enthralling. It stretches around 21,000km, from the Gobi Desert in the west through Beijing to where it plunges into the Yellow Sea at Qinhuangdao in the east. But finding a quiet spot can be tough…

Front door: Most visitors base themselves in Beijing, hiring drivers for day trips out to the more popular sections of the wall, such as Badaling, which is one hour away, and a little further out to the 2.5km-long Mutianyu.

Bear in mind, ‘close by’ also means crowded, with Badaling receiving up to 25,000 reported visitors a day during Chinese national holidays.

Back door: The further from Beijing you get, the sparser the crowds. Away from the main sites, you will find unrestored stretches known as ‘wild wall’. Skip the newly reopened Simatai – it has been heavily gentrified – for wilder sections such as Jiankou (2.5hr from Beijing) and Gubeikou (2hr). These offer great hiking, but can be perilous in places so care is needed.
Elsewhere, Panjiakou reservoir, where the wall slips beneath the cold waters, has become an unlikely divesite in recent years and is very quiet.

Panjiakou reservoir – China

“Badaling is swamped with tourists from May to October, but can be empty and magical very early – around 6am – or late on. Mutianyu is relatively quiet by comparison but, again, go early or late.

“An equally close alternative is Huanghuacheng (1.5 hours), but if you have a whole day free, you should visit Jinshanling. It’s a good combination of awesome views, accessibility, and it is manageable without much Mandarin.

“Leave early, get out of Beijing quickly and enjoy both wild and rebuilt Wall at Jinshanling. You’ll pay up to 1,000RMB (£107) for a car to drive you there and back (4 hours). The famous walk to Simatai is blocked as the sites squabble over tickets, but a quiet alternative is the stretch of wall between Gubeikou and Jinshanling, awalk of six-to-seven kilometres (3 hours).

“Please do not camp on the Wall – it is a protected UNESCO site. You can stay nearby, though. Near Badaling, Commune by the Great Wall (commune.sohochina.com) at Shuiguan has award-winning villas set in a valley beneath the Wall itself, while Shambhala at the Great Wall (+86 10 8961 7100) at Shentangyu gives access to a unique wild section.”

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