Moon Beijing and Shanghai: China’s Iconic Great Wall

Great Wall of China.
Getting Around the Wall: Beijing and Shanghai Guide

Moon Beijing & Shanghai (Moon Handbooks) features a detailed chapter on visiting China’s Iconic Wall

By Hannah Monahan

The Great Wall of China.
The Great Wall of China. © 1997; AISA, Archivo Iconográfico, Barcelona, España

American business has increasingly moved towards global connections in China’s major cities Beijing and Shanghai. More and more people are traveling to these places on business rather than pleasure.

The life of a business person can be hectic with meetings and conferences. This leaves little time for experiencing everything these great cities have to offer.

Moon Beijing & Shanghai by Susie Gordon is a guide to taking in all these cities have in the most efficient way. It is a how-to on visiting China for the active business person.

Included are highlights for each city, easy-to-use maps, a three-day itinerary designed for travelers with limited time, and a list of the author’s top 20 things to do on a weekend in Beijing.

Author Susie Gordon began writing where she grew up in Lancashire, England. She attended Oxford University where she studied English and later moved to London for her first job as a writer for an internet agency.

In 2008 she visited China and fell in love with the contrast of contemporary and classic in Shanghai along with the clash of austere Communist architecture and the grand design of the Forbidden City in Beijing.

Gordon decided to move to Shanghai permanently after her visit, where she has worked for a range of publications including City Weekend Magazine and the Shanghai Business Review. With her experience traveling and working in China’s most business-centered cities, Moon Beijing & Shanghai is written from the perspective of a businesswoman herself.

Excerpt from Moon’s Beijing and Shanghai

The Great Wall

Ancient millstone on the Great Wall of China.
Ancient millstone on the Great Wall of China. photo by Fiona Tunstall.

The Great Wall stretches across the northern reaches of China from the ocean at Shanhaiguan in Hebei Province to Lake Lop in the autonomous Xinjiang region in the west, close to the Taklamakan Desert.

It was built to protect the nation from nomadic warlords coming down from the north, including Mongolian invaders. The structure was begun in the Qin Dynasty (220-206 B.C.), but most of what survives today was built during the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644).

The construction of the Great Wall was the longest building project in world history. The actual wall stretches for 6,259 kilometers (3,889 mi), but trenches and natural barriers like hills take its length to the official figure of 8,851 kilometers (5,500 mi). Even though it is not visible from space as the legend claims, it one of the most impressive sights you will see in China.

Where to stop on the Wall

One of the most iconic structures on Earth, the Great Wall of China should definitely be included in your Beijing itinerary. Many of the Wall’s best-preserved and most interesting points lie within easy reach of Beijing.

If you want a quick stop and don’t mind crowds and souvenir hawkers, try tourist-favorite Badaling that lies 70 kilometers (43 mi) outside of Beijing and has convenient transportation links. Equally well connected and meticulously restored is Mutianyu- another popular spot for visitors. To see the wall at its craggiest and most remote, head to Jinshanling instead.

It’s farther out of town and great for hiking, but not as well-kept as the stretches of the wall closer to Beijing. The Wall at Simatai used to be one of the most beautiful and natural, but has been closed for renovation since June 17, 2010, and the authorities have yet to specify when it will be reopened.

Jinshanling is a good alternative, with similar terrain and equally good hiking opportunities. The Wall at Huanghuacheng takes its name from the yellow blossoms that flower in summer; its lake and reservoir add to the scenic beauty of the spot.

History of the Wall

Much of the most-frequented parts of the Wall date from the Ming Dynasty and reflect the architectural style of the period. Watchtowers, forts, and beacons occur at regular intervals and the Wall’s parapets are indented with crenelations designed for archers to shoot through. Garrisons of armed soldiers guarded the towers, while men on horseback patrolled the Wall itself, watching for invaders.

The terrain surrounding the Great Wall posed challenges to the armies that constructed it, as they worked to build the Wall up among hills, mountains, and ridges. Goats were used to transport bricks up the craggy peaks and millions of laborers worked on the Wall throughout its construction. In terms of scope, skill, and history, there’s no doubt that the Great Wall of China is a true wonder of the world.

Planning Your Time

It’s best to set aside a whole day to see the Great Wall. It’s workable in half a day if you go to the sections that are nearest to downtown Beijing, but once you get there, you’ll probably want to stay as long as physically possible, just to soak up the scenery and exhilaration of actually being there.

Set off as early as you can and take snacks in case you’re caught short and need refueling at the Wall. There are snack vendors and restaurants to varying degrees of plenty, depending on which part of the Wall you visit, but it’s best to come prepared.


Susie Gordon, author of Moon Beijing & Shanghai.
Susie Gordon, author of Moon Beijing & Shanghai.

Public transportation is your best option, with comfortable and reliable buses traveling regularly from downtown Beijing to the various sections of the Wall. Bus travel is cheap too, with most trips costing under ¥15 each way. The only problem is keeping to the timetables, which can sometimes be restrictive.

If money isn’t an issue, a taxi is a convenient choice and allows more flexibility. Taxis can be hailed from the street in downtown Beijing to take you to the Wall, but it’s a better idea to get your hotel or hostel to book one for you: Explain to the driver where you want to go and whether you want him or her to wait for you while you tour the wall.

It’s a good idea to get the driver to wait, as you won’t have to worry about finding another taxi when you’re ready to head back.

Organized Tours

Visiting the Wall on an organized tour is another option and one that is logistically easier than going it alone. If you don’t speak Mandarin or Chinese, it can be a challenge to navigate public transportation. However, if you do go on an organized trip, be aware that companies will invariably take you to some sort of shopping emporium, be it a jade market or calligraphy gallery, and encourage you to buy souvenirs at inflated prices.

You’ll usually be limited to whichever restaurant they are getting a commission from, too. Most hotels and hostels organize tours, but if you want to book one yourself, a reputable tour company that eschews commission-based detours is Great Wall Hiking (139/1136-1359,

They offer walks in Jinshanling, Mutianyu, Huangyahuan, Gubeiko, and Jiankou and provide pick-ups and drop-offs at your hotel in Beijing. One-day tours start at around ¥1,300.

The Beijing Hub Tour Dispatch (10/6601-5622 or 10/5298-0138) was set up by the government in 2005 to replace the old tourist bus system. It runs routes to various parts of the Wall, some lunch and entry tickets. The service runs to Badaling daily, and to Mutianyu and Huanghuacheng only on weekends April 7- October 15. (Note: When the Simatai approach was open, it was a part of the weekend service. It is presumed that upon reopening, the same schedule will be resumed.)

The Hub’s official website is exclusively in Chinese and difficult to navigate, but offers timetables and other helpful information on this website.

Staying Near the Wall

Staying overnight at the Great Wall is a good idea only if you are interested in longer hikes. Otherwise, seeing the Wall in the morning or a day is more sensible, since the hotel options are limited. Many cater only to Chinese guests, lacking the license that would allow them to accept foreigners. Notable exceptions include the Schoolhouse at Mutianyu- a series of private guesthouses arranged around a central venue in Matuanyu Village- and the luxury Commune at the Great Wall near Badaling.

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