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The Ultimate Great Wall of China Tour Guide

The Ultimate Great Wall of China Tour Guide

Most sites offering a Great Wall of China Tour fail to tell you anything how about how to get on or off the wall. It’s all about the wall itself, nothing about the journey. This wasn’t something we’d even thought about before we visited, but there is one exciting option you won’t want to miss!

The important thing is to make sure you’re heading for the right part of the wall!

Great Wall of China Tour Highlights

Here’s everything you need to know to have a memorable tour:

The Best Section to Visit for Your Great Wall of China Tour:

Mutianyu Section

We recommend visiting the easily walked section of the Great Wall at Mutianyu. Fully renovated, it’s one of the best to visit, with 5 stars on Tripadvisor. It’s 47 miles (76km) from the city centre, a little further away from Beijing than some of the other areas offered by tour operators, but that’s a bonus. As it’s further away, it’s less crowded and you get MUCH better photo opportunities!

How to Get to The Great Wall of China

There are three ways to get to the Great Wall at Mutianyu from Beijing:

  1. Public transport
  2. Private cars
  3. Private tours.

Public transport

Pros: public transport is the best option if you’re on a budget. There are plentiful buses to Mutianyu from Beijing

Cons: Most bus stops are only signposted in Chinese, so it can be rather nerve-wracking wondering whether you’ve reached the right stop. If you choose to travel by bus, it’s useful to print your destination (and return destination) off, so you can show the driver.

You’ll also need to change buses, as there’s no direct bus from Beijing to Mutianyu!

See How to Get to Mutianyu from Downtown

Private Driver

Pros: The comfortable drive from downtown Beijing to Mutianyu takes about one and a half hours and you should expect to pay around CNY 800-1,000.

Cons: A driver (without a guide) might not speak English or might have very limited English. Be very clear about your pick-up time and location, and about how long you want to spend on the wall, so they can be ready to pick you up again afterwards. (The car park at the Great Wall of China is huge and you don’t want to be wandering around searching for your driver and car).

Private day tour

Pros: Hiring both a tour guide and a driver will make your trip safer and easier, plus you’ll learn all about the wall from a knowledgeable, state-licensed, English-speaking guide. We think this is the best choice for first-time visitors – especially if you hate being herded through shops as part of each tour you’re offered!.

Seriously – would you rather be picked up from your hotel and swept off in a swanky air-conditioned car or trek across Beijing to the bus station then take two hot, sweaty buses to the Great Wall? Here are 8 reasons for hiring a private tour guide in China.

Our private guide and driver made our trip to the Great Wall a real treat.  #china #privateguide #greatwall
Our private guide and driver made our trip to the Great Wall a real treat.

Cons: Naturally, it’s a little more expensive to hire a private guide than to choose one of the DIY options, but it’s worth the extra money and it’s a safer way to visit the wall if you don’t speak any Chinese. If you’re travelling in the summer, it’s a no-brainer for the aircon alone!

We think the best of the privately guided trips is this Full-Day Private Tour to the Great Wall at Mutianyu. Unlike other tours, this includes pick up and drop off from your own hotel, a dedicated private driver, English speaking guide, and in-vehicle Wi-Fi.

Note: Most tours to the Great Wall of China depart early in the morning (around 7.30) so if you don’t go with a private guide, be sure to factor in enough time to cross Beijing in the horrendous early morning traffic!!

Accessibility

While the Mutianyu section of the wall has parts that are easy to walk, other parts are very steep with high steps. You’ll get fantastic views of the wall from the moment you step onto it, so you don’t actually have to tackle the steep parts (unless you want to) and you’ll still have plenty of photo opportunities.

If you have elderly/disabled folk in your party, look out for the disabled lifts from the car park. Other routes are quite physically challenging and uneven.

When to Take a Great Wall of China Tour

All of the sections of the wall that are easily accessed from Beijing get very crowded during the high season (April to June) and in early October. This is when local people travel during their holidays and celebrate China’s National Day (1 October).

  • Aim to visit on a weekday, as weekends are much busier
  • Arrive early to beat the queues for tickets, for the shuttle bus and for the cablecar or chairlift. You’ll capture the best photos when the wall is less busy.

After you/your guide collects your entry tickets, get the shuttle bus to the departure point but be prepared for this to be very busy too.

On arrival at the departure area, it’s time for you to choose how you want to get up and off the wall!

How to Get Onto the Wall

1. Walk/Hike

Are you kidding me? If you’re fit AND have lots of time to spare, this may be the option for you. It’s a long walk, followed by a seriously steep climb up 400 steps! The steps are old and uneven, plus they’re rather daunting if it’s misty, and downright dangerous if it’s wet. It’s much harder to descend the steps than ascend.

If this sounds like your thing, go and grab your boots. Take plenty of water and sturdy walking shoes.

2. Cable Car

If you fancy being whisked up the 725-metre hill in a cable car (capacity 6 people) in a safe, efficient, and quick cable car, this is for you. The cable car takes you to a spectacular section of the wall, but be warned – it’s very steep. You will need to be fit to manage the multiple, uneven steps if you want to walk any distance.

The photo opportunities here are fabulous though, so you can just take a short stroll, shoot lots of pictures and then descend again – returning in the cable car. This is the recommended option for visitors with accessibility needs. 100 CNY each way per person.

3. Chair Lift

This is the fun option (and the ONLY way to get to the toboggan run). The chair lift takes you up over the toboggan run and onto an easily walked section of the wall. It’s 120 CNY for the round trip on the chairlift, or 100 CNY one way, plus 60 CNY for the toboggan (per person).

chairlift up to the great wall of China
The chairlift ride up the Great Wall of China – travelling high above the toboggan run

Views From the Wall

Turn right when you ascend the wall (via the chairlift) and you’re very close to one of the steep stepped sections. Don’t worry about those steps though, you can get all the photos you want without breaking a sweat. Position yourself at the top of the steps to enjoy the view of the ancient wall that took so many centuries to build. As the wall snakes away over the hills into the distance you’ll fall under the spell of this ancient landmark.

The stunning, fabulous Great Wall of China

Pause awhile and imagine what life was like for the labourers who built the wall. If you visit during the winter, it’s hard not to think about the soldiers who lived on the wall in all weathers, guarding against invaders.

A very steep stepped section of the Great Wall at Mutianyu. Lovely to look at but a beast to walk up in the heat!
A very steep stepped section of the Great Wall at Mutianyu. Lovely to look at but a beast to walk up in the heat!

Turn left from the arrival point to reach one of the gatehouses on the wall, where the soldiers lived. Don’t miss the chance to explore inside them, as the views from here are some of the best. You can even climb up onto the roof.

Note: There is one flight of steep steps up to the gatehouse (and no handrails!)

One of the gatehouses on the Great Wall off China - see them on a Great Wall of China tour

The gatehouses are bleak and must have been freezing in the high, exposed mountains during winter months!

Things to watch out for

Time to explore

Some Great Wall of China tour companies only allow about two hours for you to explore the wall. If you only want to take a short walk and some photos, this will work well for you. If you prefer to walk further, maybe to more than one gatehouse, you’ll be very pressed for time.

We met people who were disappointed that they didn’t have enough time to explore as far as they wanted on the wall.

Check how long you’ll have to explore before you buy tickets or book your tour with a private guide.

The high cost of refreshments on the wall

Once you’ve seen enough of the wall, you can have a sneaky celebratory beer in the little beer garden just by the chairlift station. Be warned though – the beer is not cheap!! (We paid about £12 per bottle and thought it was worth it for a celebratory 50th birthday photo with the Great Wall in the background).

The Grey Globetrotters - Lovers of Midlife Travel Adventures
It would have been rude not to stop for a beer in the little beer garden hanging perilously off the side of the Great Wall of China! But it was expensive!

Local scams

Beware of the local scammers who will try to sell you their own Great Wall of China packages or encourage you to take photos with them. They will want you to pay for the privilege.

Look out too for people dressed as ancient warriors and guards. They will want payment for photos you take too.

Tourist Traps on the Way

You’ll run the gauntlet of a long strip of tacky tourist shops and fast food outlets on your way from the car park to the queue for the shuttle bus. You’ll also have to walk past them again on your way back.

How to End Your Great Wall of China Tour

Cable Car

If you’ve gone up to the wall by cable car, the only way down is to return by cable car. If you went up by chairlift, you have two choices:

Chair Lift

Simply ride back down the same way you arrived. Nice and easy. It’s a sensible and relaxing option. It’s the option our guide expected us to take.

Cableway (aerial ropeway) on the rise on the Great Wall. Section "Mutianyu".
Cableway (aerial ropeway) on the rise on the Great Wall. Section “Mutianyu”.

Toboggan Run!!

Are you up for an exhilarating 20-minute slide down the world’s longest toboggan run? (1,580 metres) This is the ultimate thrill! You’ll reach speeds of up to 30 kph on your way down the twisting, turning route (provided you don’t get stuck with a “slowcoach” in front of you).

Pro Tip: While you’re in the queue for the ride, check out the ride instructions. Some of the translations are hilarious!

Look up and smile on the way down, as you’ll get your photo snapped. The camera captures the wall in the photo, making a nice keepsake of your Great Wall of China tour. It’s about £5 for the photo which comes in a folder with information about the Mutianyu section of the wall.

The charge for the toboggan run is not usually covered if you’re on a tour, but it’s well worth the extra cost (60 CNY).

Pro Tip: If you want a good, fast run, leave a long gap between yourself and the rider in front of you. (You don’t want to get snarled up in a toboggan jam, or to end up tailing a slow rider) It’s so much more exciting to really whizz down! If you think you’re setting off too close to the rider in front, just pretend you need to ask how the brakes work.

Toboggan down fron the Great Wall of China

The toboggan run was the unexpected highlight of our Great Wall of China tour, finishing our visit with a real adrenalin rush. Visiting the Great Wall of China was well worth waiting 25 years for and it was the most memorable part of our visit to China.

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Pin for Later – The Ultimate Great Wall of China Tour Guide

Have you been to the Great Wall of China? Which section did you visit? Did I miss anything important? Let me know in the comments if you’ve got more recommendations! I’d love to hear what you think x

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Thursday 21st of November 2019

Great article! Very well structured and with much valuable information! I can hardly wait to try the toboggan run! I did not know about it before! We are planning to visit the Great Wall next year and I will note down some tips from this article! Thank you!

Coralie

Thursday 21st of November 2019

Hi Alex I'm thrilled that you enjoyed the post and that it's going to help you plan your own trip to the Great Wall for next year. We loved the toboggan and I'm sure you will too.

Coralie x

Sarah

Tuesday 25th of June 2019

Hi!

Great post but I feel I should let you know that your prices are way above what things should actually cost - it should only cost around 600RMB for a private driver, maybe a little more if you want picked up from the airport. The website "The Beijinger" has a classified section where drivers advertise and is a very easy way to find out prices.

You can also get group tours from as cheap as 300RMB (lunch and entrance tickets included) - most tours advertised on Western sites are going to be much more expensive than ones booked once you're in China.

The ways to get up to the wall are 100RMB, however a return ticket is 120RMB (cable car up and toboggan down counts as a return ticket)

One other tip I'd give is that if you're not that fit - the "easiest" route is to take the cable car up then walk to the chairlift/toboggan as that's mostly downhill so much less strenuous. It's more expensive as you can't get return tickets, but if you have plenty of time then it's definitely the easier walk.

Coralie

Monday 1st of July 2019

Hey Sarah Thanks for such a comprehensive response! We based the price quoted on what we actually paid for a private driver and state certified guide - both of whom were awesome. Colleagues in China mentioned that we could get cheper through the Beijinger, but while the price difference is small, the difference in quality can range hugely, and these "guids" are not state registered. We're updating the post, so visitors can make the choice that's right for them :) Great tips too on the cable car - thanks for your knowledgeable input. Best Coralie

Sarah

Tuesday 25th of June 2019

I made a typo there - it should be "chairlift up and toboggan down" as a return, not cable car.

Jenny

Sunday 23rd of June 2019

Really comprehensive post! It looks like you had a great time. I really like that you discussed accessibility.

Coralie

Tuesday 25th of June 2019

Thanks Jenny, we had a wonderful time. We don't think there is enough information out there about accessibility and it's an important topic to address.

Ruth Murdoch

Sunday 23rd of June 2019

Happy 50th Birthday. Great photo of The Great Wall viewed from inside the guard house. I like the idea of experiencing the world’s longest toboggan run. Thanks for sharing.

Coralie

Sunday 23rd of June 2019

Hi Ruth. I'm glad you enjoyed this post - the Great Wall was such a treat and the toboggan run was the perfect end to our visit there. It was also simply the best way to celebrate the big 50! Have a great day!

Faith Coates

Sunday 23rd of June 2019

Now this is exactly the kind of article I love. Tons of valuable information and in particular the getting to and from, especially for those of us with some mobility issues. Thanks for writing it.

Coralie

Sunday 23rd of June 2019

Hi Faith, thanks for taking time to let us know you loved the post. We think it's important to know in advance if a site/attraction is suitable for those who are less mobile, so we're delighted that this has been helpful for you. Best Coralie

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