All areas of the Great Wall of China have their own unique characteristics based on the landscape they were built in. One of the most popular sections to visit from Beijing is the Mutianyu section. With shuttle buses, a cable car, a chairlift, and a toboggan ride to descend, it’s one of the more accessible and fun sections to visit. It also has impressive guard towers built in the Ming style and great views, and it’s a good introduction for those who want to experience the Great Wall on a short day trip from Beijing.
Simatai has some unique features, such as obstacle walls within the main walls, used to fend off enemies who made it over the battlements. It’s also one of the only stretches of wall you can visit after dark, with a shorter stretch illuminated so that visitors can explore safely. If you decide to visit at night then you’ll have to take the cable car up and down, which means the ticket is slightly more expensive. Simatai is also next to Gubei Water Town, a reconstructed historic town where you can experience traditional arts and culture. Some visitors feel that Gubei Water Town is an inauthentic tourist trap, but others find a visit to be informative and fun, especially if you visit outside of the peak tourist times.
Badaling is the busiest section of the Great Wall, and it is also the place where most politicians and official visitors to China are taken. Queen Elizabeth II, Richard Nixon, and Gorbachev all visited Badaling on their trips to China. It’s extremely busy, and the wall itself has been restored several times over the years, not often subtly, but you’ll get great views of the wall disappearing into the distant hills. There’s a daily visitor cap of 65,000 and in the high season, even that massive number of tickets can sell out! From 2020, the Badaling section will also be one of the easiest sections to reach, with a new high-speed train service leaving from Beijing Railway Station and going directly to Badaling.
Huanghuacheng was built to protect a mausoleum built by Emperor Yongle, today known as the Ming Tombs. It’s much less popular than other sections of the wall, and as a result, it’s the ideal spot to visit if you can’t stand crowds. It’s also close to a beautiful lake and really takes on the character of the season of your visit. However, it hasn’t been fully restored, so expect a hike when you visit, and to see some ruined areas. Some tour providers combine a visit to the Huanghuacheng wall with a trip to the Ming Tombs.
Jinshanling is another quiet section of wall since it’s quite a distance from Beijing. You can hike almost 4 miles (6 km) along this section, and it features a high density of interesting watchtowers and inscribed bricks. From April to the middle of November, you can take a direct bus from Dongzhimen Transport Hub, and it’s trickier to reach outside of the warm season.