The Great Wall at Mutianyu (Huairou County, 10/6162-6873, www.mutianyugreatwall.com , daily 8 a.m.-4 p.m., ¥45 adults, ¥25 children under 1.5m/4’11” tall, free for children under 1.2m/3’11” tall) connects the Juyongguan Pass in the west with the Gubeikou section of the Wall in the east.
Slightly less populated by tourists but no less popular than Badaling , Mutianyu is easily accessible from downtown Beijing. Famous for its scenic beauty and dense forests, it is located 85 kilometers (53 mi) from the center of the capital.
After evaluating the popularity of the Badaling Wall, the government decided to restore Mutianyu and open it to the public in 1987. It is well preserved and easy to navigate, with cable cars (¥45-65 adults, ¥25-35 children) available to take you up to the Wall and a fun 1,500-meter (0.9 mi) luge slide (¥55 adults, ¥40 children) to get back down, once you’ve finished walking the Wall.
The Great Wall at Mutianyu was begun during the Northern Qi Dynasty (A.D. 550-557) and runs for 22 kilometers (14 mi), making it the longest stretch of Wall that’s open to the public. Generals Tan Lun and Qi Jiguang strengthened the Wall during the middle Ming Dynasty with 22 watchtowers and granite fortifications.
Aside from being made of granite, what sets Mutianyu apart from the other sections of the Great Wall is its double crenellations. On most other sections of the Wall, only the side facing enemy territory has merlons (the gaps between crenellations), but at Mutianyu, they appear on both parapets for extra security. In total, the Wall is around seven meters (23 ft.) high and five meters (16 ft.) wide at the top.
Each of the four seasons brings a different color to the surrounding pine-covered landscape: the white of winter snow; vibrant red and orange in fall; green from the summer grass; and purple with wildflowers in springtime.
For those choosing to stay overnight, Mutianyu has the best and most interesting options near the Wall. Accommodations here are courtesy of The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu, a complex featuring a collection of properties that caters to many different tastes.
Converted from an old village elementary school, The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu (Mutianyu Village, Huairou County, 10/6162-6506, www.theschoolhouseatmutianyu.com , office open daily 7-10 a.m., 3-5 p.m.) is a restaurant, art center, and hub that will fix you up with accommodations in one of 11 private guesthouses and small hotels around Mutianyu. If privacy is your priority, the guesthouses in the Schoolhouse complex may be up your alley—guesthouses must be rented in full; individual rooms are not available for rent. All prices include breakfast at the Schoolhouse restaurant.
Depending on your preferences for number of rooms and bathrooms, there are some great options. Grandma’s Place (www.grandmasplaceatmutianyu.com , ¥2,000) is located in the former courtyard of a Qing Dynasty official; the current building was constructed by a Western expatriate for his mother. Rustic but comfortable, this private guesthouse has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a spacious living room, all with wood-beam ceilings and stone walls. The courtyard is dotted with fruit tress and inside the villa, funky ornaments contrast with the rural decor.
Also part of the Schoolhouse is the secluded Pavilion (www.thepavilionatmutianyu.com , ¥3,000), with two large bedrooms, an open fire, modern conservatory, and rustic interiors. A spacious patio looks out onto the surrounding scenery.
A good choice for larger groups is The Red Door (www.thereddooratmutianyu.com , ¥4,200). Formerly the ancestral temple of the village farm, it contains four bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms (one of which is en suite), as well as a terrace and an open fire in the living room.
The beautiful Brickyard Inn & Eco-Retreat (Yingbeigou Cun, Huairou County, 10/6162-6506, www.brickyardatmutianyu.com , Mar.-Dec., ¥1,300) is also under Schoolhouse management and offers individual rooms, rather than a guesthouse. The building used to be a glazed tile factory, the remnants of which can be seen decorating the outer walls and indoor murals. Staying at the Brickyard is a tranquil experience, with no televisions or telephones provided (there’s Internet access though). The hotel’s common room is in the old kiln room and the main lodge has a lovely fireplace and café. The French managers provide free soft drinks and homemade cookies in the lodge and a country-style breakfast is available every morning. Each of the 16 guest rooms has a floor-to-ceiling window and a private terrace. The vibe is simple yet comfortable and there’s a spa, whirlpool tub, and outdoor pool.
You can take bus 936 at Dongzhimen Outer (10/6467-1346, ¥16 one-way) to Mutianyu Great Wall, which runs every hour on the hour, 7 a.m.-3 p.m. The last bus back from Mutianyu leaves at 5:30 p.m. Make sure you check with the driver that the bus is going to Mutianyu; there are several branches of the line. Get off at the Mingzhu Square bus station by the Huairou International Conference Center. From here, minibuses ferry visitors to the Wall for ¥25.
On weekends and public holidays, a special Line A bus (10/6467-1346) runs to Mutianyu 6:30-8:30 a.m. It leaves from outside the South Cathedral at Xuanwumen (141 Qianmen Xi Ave.) and the Beijing Sightseeing Bus Centre (10/8353-1111) at Qianmen.
During the Golden Week national holiday at the start of October, a tourist train (10/5186-6223) leaves Beijing North Railway Station (A1 Beibinhe Rd., Xizhimenwai) at 7:10 a.m. for Beizhai Station, after which a minibus ferries visitors up to Mutianyu. The Beijing-bound return train leaves Beizhai at 4 p.m.
If you want to take a taxi, expect to pay around ¥250 from downtown Beijing to Mutianyu.