The Great Wall at Badaling (Yanqing County, 10/6912-1737, www.badaling.gov.cn , Apr. 1-Oct. 31 daily 6 a.m.-8 p.m., Nov. 1-Mar. 31 daily 7 a.m.-6 p.m., ¥45 Apr. 1-Oct. 31 ¥40 Nov. 1-Mar. 31) attracts hoards of tourists thanks to its proximity to Beijing (70 km./43 mi. northwest of the city) and its well-preserved towers and ramparts.
Open to the public since 1957, it has received hundreds of foreign dignitaries over the years, including Richard Nixon in 1972. Chairman Mao was also fond of Badaling (claiming, “If you haven’t been to Badaling, you are not truly a man”), which served to raise its profile.
This section of the Wall became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1988, four years after Deng Xiaoping launched a renovation effort. It was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.
The name Badaling means “reaching eight ridges” and refers to the peaks and points that it traverses. The section of the Wall that is open to the public runs for 3.7 kilometers (2.3 mi) and features 19 towers. Its highest point is Beibalou at 1,015 meters (3,330 ft.).
The Wall at Badaling was constructed in 1505 during the reign of Ming emperor Hongzhi to protect the Juyongguan Pass and the city of Beijing beyond. The site was built on walls from the earlier Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.). The Jiajing emperor continued the project, but it wasn’t until the era of Emperor Wanli (A.D. 1563-1620) that a large-scale project was undertaken to shore up the Wall between Shanhaiguan on the coast to Juyongguan, north of Beijing.
Thanks to the renovations of the early 1980s, the Wall at Badaling is now visitor-friendly and easily walkable. Cable cars (one-way ¥40, round-trip ¥60) and funicular-style pulleys (one-way ¥30, round-trip ¥60) are available to take you up to the Wall and back. The cable cars terminate at the North 8th Watchtower, while the pulleys drop visitors at the North 4th. The North 4th is closer to the ticket office, so the hike back is shorter.
Hiking the full length of the Badaling section takes 3-4 hours. The terrain on the Wall is easy on the feet, thanks to extensive renovation. The scenery on either side of the parapets is stunning, with forest-clad crags and peaks undulating into the distance. In winter, the view over the snowy hills is breathtaking.
Badaling’s proximity to the capital is both a blessing and a curse: While it’s close enough to visit in a morning or an afternoon, it is almost always crowded and dotted with the sort of Western chain restaurants and cafés you’d probably rather not see at a site of such historical significance. Go on a weekday in low season, if you can, and you’ll miss most of the crowds. Holidays are to be avoided at all costs, as you will traverse the Wall literally shoulder to shoulder with other people, if you can get onto it at all.
This well-laid-out museum (10/6912-1890, Apr. 1-Oct. 31 Tues.-Sun. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Nov. 1-Mar. 31 Tues.-Sun. 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m., admission included with price of Wall ticket) at the base of Badaling gives a good overview of the history of the Great Wall and is well worth a look. Opened in 1994, it traces the history of the Wall from the fortifications of the Spring and Autumn Period (one of the final eras before China was unified in 221 B.C.) and the early Qin Dynasty to the Ming period when much of the structure was built.
The exhibition is laid out across seven different sections, including the Wall of the early dynasties, the Ming Wall, construction equipment, warfare on the Wall, and repair and reconstruction. Relics found on and around the Wall are also on display. The museum’s layout echoes the winding nature of the Wall itself, with a zigzag path leading between the exhibition rooms.
The on-site spa facility of Commune at the Great Wall, Anantara Spa (Badaling Expwy., Shuiguan exit, 10/8118-1888, www.spa.anantara.com ) is a luxurious venue offering massages and spa treatments in beautiful surroundings. Take the weight off your feet after a day on the Great Wall with their signature treatment: 2.5 hours of foot and body massage, a body scrub, aromatic flower bath, and hydrating lotion rub. Massage styles include acupressure, hot stones, and ayurveda; there’s a range of facial and body treatments to choose from as well.
The spa covers a huge 1,000 square meters (10,764 sq. ft.) across three levels, with six suites and nine rooms for couples, as well as a hair and beauty area. The decor is luxury minimalist, with all the dim lighting, neutral colors, and relaxing atmosphere you would expect from a 5-star hotel spa.
If you want to spend a night at the Great Wall, one of the most attractive (and expensive) options is Commune by the Great Wall (Badaling Expwy., Shuiguan exit, 10/8118-1888 ext. 5706, www.communebythegreatwall.com , ¥2,500 d, ¥12,500-23,000 villas). Its 42 villas were designed by 12 of Asia’s best and most innovative architects. Eleven of the villas can be rented only as a unit, but the others contain 190 individual rooms and suites. The exterior of the hotel is box-like and modern, with the villas arranged on the mountainside like futuristic pods. The interior is equally contemporary and the clientele are those that don’t mind paying top dollar.
The hotel is surrounded by stunning mountain scenery and is close to some of the most hike-able stretches of the Great Wall. Refuel at one of the four on-site restaurants or recharge in the spa after a day of walking. If you’re travelling with children, you can book them into the kids’ club while you explore the surrounding area.
A more affordable choice is the Great Wall Box House (Jia 18A, Xidui Main St., Gubeikou Village, Miyun County, 10/8105-1123, www.boxhotel.com , ¥750 private, ¥150 mixed dorm). An outpost of a popular downtown Beijing hostel, the Great Wall Box House is a cozy courtyard lodging with friendly staff, good facilities, and a pick-up service from the city center.
Another option is the Great Wall Courtyard (5 Chadaogucheng, Badaling Village, Yanqing, 10/6912-1156, www.courtyard.cc , ¥480), a Ming-style courtyard hotel at the base of the Wall. With its traditional red and black decor, lanterns, and wall-hangings, the atmosphere is welcoming. Amenities include a choice of Western breakfasts and Chinese food, free Wi-Fi, a travel desk, and a lending service for books and DVDs.
Bus line 919 has three routes: The quickest gets you to the Great Wall in an hour and leaves from the parking lot to the north of Deshengmen Tower (30 Huayan Beilijia, Deshengmenwai Ave., 10/8284-6760 or 10/6336/0283, ¥12 one-way). This bus is comfortable and air-conditioned. If you have a Beijing Transport Card, the journey will cost just ¥4.8. Buses run to Badaling 6 a.m.-noon; the last return bus leaves the Wall at 4 p.m.
A tourist train line (10/6563-6733, ¥7 hard seat, ¥14 soft seat) runs from Beijing North Railway Station to Badaling: Train 6427 departs at 8:29 a.m. and arrives at Badaling at 11:07 a.m. Two regular train lines go from Beijing North Railway Station to Badaling: the Y567 (leaves at 9:33 a.m. and arrives at 10:42 a.m.) and the Y575 (leaves at 1:19 p.m. and arrives at 2:28 p.m.). Badaling Station is about a 25-minute walk from the entrance to the Wall and is clearly signposted.
Taking a taxi from downtown Beijing to Badaling will cost in the region of ¥500 round-trip, with the driver waiting for you while you’re on the Wall. Taxis can be hailed from downtown, but it’s a good idea to ask your hotel to book one for you and explain to the driver that you want him or her to wait and bring you back to Beijing.