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Favorite Places: The Great Wall at Mutianyu, China

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For the our new TPG weekend series, “Favorite Places,” I’m sharing a day trip I recently took from Beijing to Mutianyu—one of the many sections of the Great Wall of China that are open to visitors. (All photos by Julio Gaggia.)

Mutianyu section of The Great Wall of China
Mutianyu section of The Great Wall of China

Roughly 5,500 miles long, the Great Wall of China was built in sections starting back in the 7th century BC, but most of what remains was built or fortified during the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century. Millions of tourists visit many different sections of the Wall each year, but since those sections closest to Beijing are Badaling and Huanghua Cheng, it seems like most of them go there. However, the section of Mutianyu (which means “Admire Fields Valley”) is better-preserved and less crowded, so that’s where we went.

While not cheap, the car service was an excellent way to see Beijing's sites.
While not cheap, the W Beijing’s car service was an excellent way to see the area’s sights.

You can get to Mutianyu by bus or taxi or by taking a tour, but we opted for the W Beijing Chang’an’s car service; this was a splurge at $50/hour, but it’s extremely convenient and flexible, so we were happy to use it for many of our excursions in Beijing. Our trip to the Great Wall was an hour and 15 minutes long each way, but we had views of the local landscape and WiFi in the car to keep us occupied.

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You don’t have to pre-book your visit to this section of the wall. Since it’s farther away from Badaling, it’s much less crowded.

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The driver dropped us off at the admission center to the Great Wall, where we purchased tickets. Admission is ¥60 CNY ($9.65 USD) and you can pay extra to take a gondola or ski lift up to the actual wall. Be aware, though, that the place where you go to catch your ride up to the top is still a bit of a hike.

Steps up to the Great Wall of China are too big for my size 14's.
The tiny steps up to the Great Wall of China proved a challenge for my size 14 feet.

We opted for the ski lift/toboggan package (more on that below!). Arriving at the wall around noon, we wandered around to take in the gorgeous hillside views; green in the warmer months, the landscape in this area is all but covered with pine and cypress trees. Along the Mutianyu section there are 22 watchtowers spaced about a half-mile apart, where guards once communicated with smoke and fire signals.

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We enjoyed some gorgeous views from the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.

It’s recommended that you reserve a good part of your day for an excursion to the Great Wall from Beijing, so we were happy to see that there are plenty of places to eat at the wall in Mutianyu—even, regrettably for this wonder of the world, a Subway and a Burger King.

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The last thing you’d expect to see at the Great Wall of China: Burger King.

You can get back down the way you came, or take the more awesome route and ride down in a toboggan!

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The gondola and ski lift tickets cost ¥100 CNY ($16 USD) for a round-trip, though you can opt to ride the toboggan on the way down.

No stopping to take pictures while tobogganing.
No stopping to take pictures while tobogganing, folks!

The Great Wall of China as amusement park ride? Sure, why not? Overall, it was an unusual way to see the Wall and have fun while doing it—especially if you’re lazy…like me!

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