With almost 11 million visitors per year, it might feel like an impossible task to get away from the crowds and experience the Great Wall of China without the tourists. But is it in fact possible? Can you explore the Great Wall of China in relative peace and quiet? Here are 3 tricks to help you beat the crowds at the Great Wall of China and make the most out of your experience.
One: It’s all about timing
We all know that timing is everything, and visiting the Great Wall of China is no different. To get the most out of your visit, make sure you consider what you want most – great weather or less crowds, winter snows or blossoming flowers? Remember that no matter the season, there will always be more crowds on weekends and public holidays.
During Spring (March to May), visitors will have spectacular views of lush green forests and blossoming apricot trees. It’s quite cool, but as a result there will be significantly less tourists as well as discounted tours. In Summer (June to August), the Great Wall of China will be filled with tourists enjoying the sunshine, particularly on weekends.
Autumn (September to November) is generally considered to be the best time of year to visit (which is what I did, but that was by chance rather than good planning). If you time it well, you might be able to see the Great Wall of China surrounded by mountains in an array of colours – from red to yellow, brown to dark green. Visiting the Great Wall of China in Winter (December to February), will give you the opportunity to experience the wall with a completely different perspective. The snowy mountain-sides and walkway absorb the noise and it is both peaceful and beautiful.
Two: Location, location, location
As with everything else, location is everything. Deciding which section of the Great Wall of China to visit may seem like a simple task, but it is important that you consider the pro’s and con’s of each before selecting a tour, or planning your own route. I have included links to other bloggers in this section so you can read about each in more detail.
After a reasonable amount of research, and taking into account my time constraints, I chose to hike from Jinshanling to Simatai. This is one of the most popular hiking routes due to its mixture of restored and original walls that are jumbled together to make it relatively wild but beautiful. It is a 2-3 hour drive from Beijing, which makes it a very long day trip.
I was tempted to explore Mutianyu which is only an hour away from Beijing, but this section has been fully restored. While this makes it easy to explore, after days on the Trans-Mongolian I was keen to stretch my legs! If I wasn’t so stiff from the train, I would have loved to explore the Jiankou section which is completely wild and insanely steep.
For something different, the Huanghaucheng section combines the Great Wall of China with a beautiful lake scenery. Some parts of the wall are even underwater and there is even a 500 year old chestnut orchard at the foot of the wall. For handicapped travellers, Juyongguan is wheelchair-friendly and is only an hour and a half from Beijing. Here you can see where Genghis Khan led his troops as he rode into China.
If possible, avoid the Badaling section as it is always very crowded with Chinese tour groups, especially during Chinese New Year (usually late January and early February). Despite the crowds, this section also has its charms and here you can combine your hike with a visit to the Great Wall of China Museum.
Three: Tour or solo?
Deciding whether to visit the Great Wall of China on a tour or make your own way really comes down to personal preference. Generally, I always choose solo travel instead of tours, however, as I had just finished the Trans-Mongolian, I didn’t have time to plan or research anything so I wasn’t able to organise it for myself. I enjoyed my tour, but would have enjoyed having time to travel further along the wall as I hiked at a faster pace than other members of the group.
Tours are generally easy and well organised as they pick you up from your hotel and drop you off at the wall. You are given a bit of background information to help you understand the section of the wall you are visiting, as well as some snacks. For some reason, my tour group was given a loaf of bread. A whole loaf of unsliced bread. Incredibly strange.
However, the day was considerably longer with the tour than if I had driven myself because we had to stop off at lots of different hotels to pick people up. Our time on the wall was restricted and we had less freedom to explore at our own pace than if I had visited on my own. A great compromise is to hire a private guide, as Dave and Deb from the planetD did on their recent visit. This way you can select a more remote section of the wall and have much more flexibility over your route and travel speed.
This article is part of my Trans-Mongolian series. To read more about some of my stops, check out 5 unusual things to do in St Petersburg, Must see Moscow, Lake Baikal photo series and 7 things I learned in Mongolia. Or, do the Trans-Mongolian yourself! Learn how to book the Trans-Siberian and how to organise your Russian and Chinese visas.
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Have you visited the Great Wall of China? What are your tips and tricks to beat the crowds?