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Great Wall near Beijing, China
Fast Facts
Historic Interest

Jinshanling, The Great Wall of China


Photo by Alfredo De Simone

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Mention China to most children and the first thing that comes to mind is the Great Wall. It's really long, really old and really cool, even if it can't be seen from the moon. It snakes across much of northern China and traverses deserts, prairies and mountains. It was built in different times and by different dynasties. It was a colossal undertaking and, at the same time, a futile enterprise. And most importantly for many kids, clambering up the sloping carriageways of China's most recognizable landmark is a truly awesome adventure. Yet families that journey to this World Heritage Site without doing a bit of research risk returning home disappointed as each section of the Great Wall near Beijing offers a very different experience. Badaling is the best preserved and best known section of the Great Wall as well as the easiest to reach from Beijing and the easiest to climb. It's also the most crowded and most packaged. Mutianyu, less commercial and less crowded than Badaling, boasts spectacular views and more than twenty watchtowers. It has a cable car and toboggan run. What's more, it's accessible by public transport and walkable for 2.5 km. Juyongguan, also known as Juyong, is one of three great passes on the Great Wall of China. It's the closest section to Beijing and, with roughly 1,600 stairs, one of the steepest. Simatai is steep, stunning and strenuous and is currently closed for restoration. Remote Jinshanling offers fit families some of the finest hiking anywhere on the wall. Moreover, the scenery is amazing. The one drawback? It's increasingly popular due to the closure of nearby Simatai. The section of the Great Wall known as Jiankou is not just hard to reach, it's difficult and dangerous to climb and, in theory, closed to hikers.
Getting There
Some sections of the Great Wall near Beijing can be reached by public transport, others require a car and driver. Some areas are reachable within an hour whereas getting to others can take several hours. Badaling is the only section that can be reached directly by train. All sections can be reached by bus. Buses for Badaling and Juyongguan from Beijing's Deshengmen bus station but those for Mutianyu, Simatai, and Jinshanling depart from Dongzhimen Long Distance Bus Station and a change is required to reached the last two. A car and driver can be arranged through most local hotels. In addition, a variety of tour companies and many hostels organize guided hikes and tours.
When to Travel
While there is no right or wrong time of year to visit the Great Wall there are few things to keep in mind when traveling with children. The sections of the Great Wall near Beijing are cooler and wetter than the neighboring capital. Evening temperatures are significantly lower than the daytime high throughout the year. May and October are cited as the two best months to hike the wall. July and August are hot, humid and wet. Cold winds blow in March and November. It's downright frigid and snow is possible from December through February. All sections of the Great Wall are open year around but are best avoided on public holidays and summer weekends. Pack sunglasses, sunscreen, hat and thin waterproof jacket if traveling from May through September and heavy jacket, hat, gloves and scarf if traveling from November to March. Plan to dress in layers no matter when you travel and carry plenty of water.
Things to Keep in Mind
Visiting the Great Wall as part of a multi-day tour of Beijing? Plan to hike the wall in the middle of your stay; it's a great a break from monuments and museums.
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