Visit the Great Wall is a “bucket list”. Beijing is the most popular tourist city in China. And Visit Great Wall of China is a MUST do when you are here. But there are so many options and a lot of sections you can go to visit, such as Badaling, Juyonguan, Mutianyu, Jinshanling, Simatai, Jiankou… If you only have 1 day and only choose 1 place to go, which is the best part of the Great Wall you should go to visit?
This is a question should be answered by different situations:
Layover or limited time (half day trip)
With kids or Seniors, want a leisure trip
Choose a hike to see wild and rebuilt
The most beautiful wild Great Wall
#1 Layover or limited time (half day trip)
The closest Great Wall from Beijing city is not Mutianyu or Badaling
If you have time limited, the closest Great Wall from Beijing is Juyongguan Great Wall. It is only 60 km away from Beijing. Normally you can get there in 1 hour by car. The car can drive directly down the wall and walk 2 minutes to get to the Great Wall. So if you have very limited time, the nearest wall you can get from Beijing city is Juyongguan Great Wall, you can make the trip within 4 hours.
Mutianyu and Badaling are both not far away from the city, but Mutianyu is less busy than Badaling. I would like to recommend you visit Mutianyu if you have more time.
If you are on a layover trip and have very limited time, the nearest Great Wall from Beijing airport is Mutianyu Great Wall. It is only 55kms away from the airport, as the road is not all highway, so you need about 1 hour 20 minutes drive to get there. Plus get the visa, queue for bags, take the shuttle bus/ cable car, spend 30 minutes walk on the wall, you need a minimum of 6 hours to make the trip.
So if you have limited time, Mutianyu is the best choice.
#2 With kids or Seniors want a leisure trip
If you are travel with little kids or the Seniors, despite the view have a cable car is very important. There are 4 sections of the Great Wall with cable car: Badaling, Mutianyu, Simatai, and Jinshanling. But it is still a distance from the entrance to the cable car station.
Mutianyu is not good for people who are not good for walking. After the shuttle bus of Mutianyu, you need to take a lot of steps to get to the cable car station, it is SUPER difficult for some people such as someone may need a wheelchair.
Simatai is also hard to use the cable car for people who are not fit, as after the cable car it is still a long way to the Great Wall.
I suggest you choose Jinshanling and the way to the cable car is almost flat, so you can either walk or contact with the tourist center to drive you to the Cable car. You can get a great view only 2 minutes walk after the cable car.
But if you are travel with kids, they must love something exciting, the toboggan from Mutianyu is always a highlight to visit the wall.
#3 Choose a hike to see the wild and rebuilt
There are many hikes you can choose to hike the Great Wall, but there is 2 most famous hike you can choose from:
A. Jiankou to Mutianyu
B. Jinshanling to Simatai west
I personally prefer the view at Jiankou, but it is more dangerous and the government always find a reason to block the road. For now, the way go to Mutianyu from Jiankou is blocked, so you need a detour to get through. It is not always doable, you’d better have a guide.
Jinshanling to Simatai is classic and beautiful, it is a 7 km hike route from the main gate to the east gate of Jinshanling which is also called Simatai west. (The way from Jinshanling to the real Simatai is not open, so you have to go down from the east gate of Jinshanling.)
I have a blog to compare with these 2 hikes: Jiankou to Mutianyu or Jinshanling to Simatai west
#4 Photographers who want to take the best photos
If you are a photographer who wants to take the best of the Great Wall photo and also want to take a photo of the sunrise and sunset, I would highly recommend you Jinshanling Great Wall. Jinshanling is the only section of the wall who has people on duty at the entrance. You can go any time of a day and the view is spectacular. The wall is a bit challenging at some point, but it really worth it for people who want to visit the Great Wall and take amazing photos.
#5 The most beautiful wild Great Wall
There are only 3 sections you may feel hard to make a decision. Jiankou, Huanghuacheng, and Gubeikou.
Huanghuacheng is a section close to Beijing and it is good for almost all fitness levels, you can make the hike very flexible. So if you travel with family or don’t like tough walk it is good to go there.
Gubeikou Great Wall is far away from Beijing. But it is BETTER preserved than other wild sections. You can feel more history of the Wall without a tough walk.
Jiankou is the most challenging one, it is hard to go and a bit dangerous. But the view is the best. Our government has a lot of control to stop people to visit. I will update the information once I got it on my blog: How to hike from Jiankou to Mutianyu on your own?