This is part of a blog series called “Cool Things I’ve Done on Vacation“, an exploration of the greatest moments I’ve had while traveling the world. Other posts in this series will be added soon!
One of the coolest things I’ve done in my travels around the world is walking the Great Wall of China. Ever since I was little I’ve dreamed of walking the Great Wall of China. The wonderment of such a vast and incredible human construction tends to leave a lasting impression on a young mind. The Great Wall ranked up there among the Great Pyramid of Giza and Machu Pichu, both of which I’d already seen by the time I made the trek to China to see the Great Wall.
You know how things don’t always turn out to be how you built them up in your mind? I tend to create a version in my mind that just can’t be matched by reality and disappointment ensues. I was afraid that might happen with the The Great Wall of China – that over the years of yearning to go there, I had built it up in my mind too much. Well, in reality, it was not at all what I had imagined. It was so much more. In fact, I truly loved my entire visit to China and highly recommend it. See the reasons I loved it so much.
How much do you know about China? Learn a few interesting facts about it before you visit!
Walking the Great Wall of China
If you’re wondering can you walk the Great Wall of China, the answer is yes. We entered the Great Wall at the Badaling Section, which is both the easiest entrance to get to and the most frequented by tourists. It’s only about 45 miles from Beijing and can be reached by train and bus, if you’re on your own, or with any number of tour companies. The section of the wall at Badaling is the most well-preserved and stretches some 7.5 miles, though only about 4,000 yards of it are open to the public.
Read more about visiting the Great Wall of China.
There are other sections of the Great Wall throughout the country that you can reach by private means and enjoy in other ways, like hiking the Great Wall of China and camping out overnight or even running a marathon, but if you’re just wanting to see the wall in as close to original condition as possible, Badaling is the place to go. Other sections of the Great Wall of China are not as well preserved, or have even crumbled out of existence.
I went to the wall with my friend and long-time travel buddy, Sarah. We were there in March, and the “traffic” wasn’t at all bad. I’ve seen other traveler’s pictures where some parts of the walkway were so packed that it more resembled a crowded nightclub than the great wonder that it should be. Sharing the wall with all of those people can cheapen the experience and mar any pictures you might take. For that reason I would really suggest visiting the Great Wall of China at a more pleasing (less crowded) time for wall tourism.
The entrance at Badaling offers very little fanfare. There is a restaurant or two, a couple of souvenir shops, a museum and an exhibit on the Terracotta Warriors (in case you can’t make it all the way to Xian to see them in person). At the gate, you grab your ticket and decide which side of the wall you wish to walk. We chose the south side, which had less people on it, and I’m really glad we did. We were able to take our time walking up the exceptionally steep inclines, peer over the edges for as long as we wanted and snap some really nice pictures along the way.
The North route may be more famous or more scenic, but I thought it was nice to take pictures looking to the north rather than walk (or should I say hike) it with the ever-present fear of passing out from lack of oxygen, although they do provide a cable car that will take you to the top, so you don’t have to worry.
The climb at times can be quite arduous and I can only imagine how difficult of a feat it was to build in an era without the help of modern building techniques. I wouldn’t recommend walking it on a rainy or particularly cold day, as you might find yourself landing on your butt more times than you care to. It’s not only steep, it’s slippery in places where the brick has been warn by the ever-present traipsing of tourists.
On the south side of the wall, there are five towers, from which the rest of the path appears to be draped like streamers for miles in the distance. From afar, it’s quite an incredible view. I imagine that another time of the year would have afforded us the addition of green vegetation or autumn foliage. But we were there to see the wall, after all, not the trees.
I know that the Great Wall of China is one of the top tourist attractions in the world, drawing more than 10 million visitors from all corners of the globe every year, but it’s still one of those really cool experiences that everyone should have in their lifetime. They don’t call it one of the 7 Great Wonders of the World for nothing. Just standing on it, peering out over the vast countryside below, you can almost sense the pride and determination that it took to build it, you can almost feel the years of toil and anguish the soldiers, convicts and laborers who constructed it must have felt, you can almost see the world in which building something so massive was necessary. It’s a living piece of history that I feel privileged to have walked on.
Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.