The essential guide to the Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China, photo by Robin Zebrowski on Flickr

There’s no sight in China more famous than the ancient Great Wall, a structure that not only has a deep cultural and historical significance for Chinese people, but has also fascinated foreigners since they first stepped foot on the Silk Road. For centuries, it has been said that the Great Wall of China is so mighty that it can be seen from the moon, and while this is most definitely not true, the wall it one of the few man-made structure to be visible from a low orbit around the planet. Many legends, historical anecdotes and tales surround the wall, and even for people who have never seen China with their own eyes have probably heard about it. But if you visit China, a trip to the Great Wall is almost self-understood. While China might have countless sights to show to its visitors, the wall will always be among the first. Here is an essential guide to the Great Wall of China, for those who are planning on visiting it soon.


photo by jenbaltes on Flickr

The earliest reports of the wall date back to the time of the Qin Dynasty, back in the 3rd century BC. Next to nothing of the original walls remain, but subsequent dynasties have repaired the structure and added new parts of it. By the 15th century, the Ming Dynasty increased efforts to consolidate the wall in order to keep away nomadic tribes. Extensions to the wall were added, old sections were repaired, and the wall became so intricate that new sections of it have been rediscovered even recently. The wall as we know it now runs from Shanhaiguan in the east, to Lop Lake, almost the entire northern part of China, and it is 8,851.8 km long.


Considering how long the wall is, no tourist can visit all of it, and not all sections of the walls are even open for visitors either. Some of the most famous and circulated parts of the wall are near Beijing. Juyongguan pass was used to defend the city, and it is in very good shape even today. The “West Pass” of Jiayuguan, and Shanhaiguan are also very interesting and well preserved. One of the most striking portions of the wall is the Jinshanling section in Luanping County, which was over steep and craggy slopes, and have over sixty watchtowers. Mutianyu section in Huairou County is one of the most picturesque stretches, surrounded by thick green forests.


photo by Matt Barber

Each section of the wall operated under slightly different rules, and will most likely each have their own admission fees, and if you want to hike from one point to another you might have to pay twice. Several of the best preserved parts of the wall can be visited on day trips from Beijing, but the many walled towns and garrison towns along the wall make truly delightful destinations that will also offer you a glimpse of life outside the capital.

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