A trip to Beijing isn’t really complete without seeing its major world wonder – the Great Wall of China 长城. Most people head to the Badaling 八达岭 section which is closer to the city and more easily accessible, but the folk at Hotel Jen Beijing recommended me to head to the Mutianyu 慕田峪 section instead which is much less crowded and still fairly accessible by public transport, a great combination for indie travellers.
Here’s a look at how to visit the Mutianyu Great Wall of China by public transport including entrance fees for 300 yuan / S$60 or less. Info and costs are based on my own experience.
Getting from Beijing to Mutianyu by public transport
I was a bit worried about how difficult it would be to get to Mutianyu on my own – most people seem to take a private car tour to maximise their time, but I found that it wasn’t too difficult nor too expensive to take public transport. It took about 2.5 hours in total to get from Dongzhimen station (7am) all the way until the top of the wall itself (935am).
I definitely recommend getting to the wall earlier in the morning – the wall definitely felt more crowded in the later part of the afternoon, but in those first few hours before midday, it was not too crowded and pleasant all around.
I speak Chinese so I probably had an easier time, but I ran into two Swiss guys who had very detailed instructions all printed out from Tour Beijing (lots of pix and updated info) and did quite ok on their own – they were happy to have a Chinese speaker around, I was happy to find people who had done thorough research on navigating the Great Wall.
Step 1: Subway to Dongzhimen 东直门 Station
Most likely, the easiest way for you to get to Dongzhimen is via the subway. Lines 2, 13 and the Airport Express stop at this station.
Step 2: Head to Dongzhimen Bus Station (Jiaotongju 交通局)
The bus station is right above the subway station – follow the exit signs that lead you to the bus station or Jiaotongju. Exit C is the closest exit to take.
For Singaporeans: Chinese people don’t call it a Bashi Chezhan 巴士车站, which is what we tend to call a bus stop
Step 3: Take Bus No. 916 to Huairou 怀柔
The bus station is quite large but they have these large overhead signs that are quite easy to spot. You want to get the North Bound Platform to take Express Bus 916 towards Huairou.
If you have already been using a public transportation card (Yitongka 易通卡) to get around Beijing, you can just scan the card for just 6 yuan. If not, you can pay cash on board for 12 yuan (S$2.50) to the conductor – have small change on hand so it’s easier for everyone.
The bus ride takes about an hour. It’s an express bus so you’ll hit the highway and it’s a pretty quiet ride until you get to the city of Huairou. The stop you’ll want to get off at is Beidajie 北大街.
Most likely any foreigners on board are going to be getting off at this stop – that’s how I met those Swiss guys. If not, the conductor was really friendly, and if you tell them you are headed to Mutianyu, they’ll tell you when to get off the bus as well.
Step 4: Take a shared car to Mutianyu 慕田峪
I chatted up the 2 guys because the bus conductor told me that the public bus option to Mutianyu (H23) often requires a long wait as it is a rather rural route. The journey also takes longer – 50 minutes not including the waiting time as compared to 30+minutes by car, so he recommended I find some people to share a car with to get to Mutianyu.
Besides the 2 Swiss guys, I found another Chinese family of 4 who stopped at the same bus stop. They were domestic tourists from Xinjiang on a family trip and were very amused that I was on my own and had somehow made 2 western friends. They were negotiating prices with a driver who had a 7-seater which was just nice for us. It cost us just 10 yuan (S$2) per person for a one way journey.
Tour Beijing recommends you use official taxis to be safe, but my experience taking a shared car to and fro was quite safe.
You will be dropped off at the Tourist Service Centre where you can buy your necessary tickets for the Great Wall.
Getting your tickets to the Mutianyu Great Wall of China
After that journey, I finally found myself in Mutianyu, hooray! But the next challenge was figuring out the tickets, which might seem a bit mind boggling at first but is really not too bad once you figure out how things work. Again, the Tour Beijing page is very helpful for this. There’s an ATM in the Tourist Service Centre just in case you need cash.
I read and speak Chinese but having to figure out all the tickets I needed to get was a bit mind boggling for me at first. You purchase this all at once at the Tourist Service Centre Counter – let me break it down for you:
- Great Wall Entrance (45 yuan) – This is the entrance fee to the Great Wall
- Baidu Shuttle Bus (15 yuan, 2-way) – This gets you from the tourist centre where you bought your ticket to the base of the Great Wall. You can walk if you want, but I suggest saving your energy for the wall itself.
To actually get up from the base to the watchtowers on the Great Wall, you have 2 options run by 2 different companies. Getting a round trip ticket with the same company saves you money but means you have to double back to the same place to head back down. We took an option which was a little pricier but I think let us explore the wall more.
- Cable Car (100 yuan, 1-way) – we took the cable car up to Tower 14. The return ticket is 120 yuan
- Chair Lift / Luge (100 yuan, Tower 6) – You take a chair lift (like those for skiing) up, and then you can either take the chair lift or an exciting luge ride down. We were unlucky to encounter rain which is when the luge ride gets stopped so we took the chair lift down, but definitely do the luge if you can because it’s a nice long winding downhill route. The return ticket is 120 yuan.
- Hardcore hikers can hike up to the wall via stone steps to Tower 8 (South Mountain Path) or Tower 10 (North Mountain Path) in apparently around 3o minutes. I’m not much of a hiker, so I saved my energy for the actual wall itself.
In total that cost me 260 yuan (S$54), but people on a budget or hiking lovers can definitely save some money as the only real mandatory cost here is the entrance fee. See total costs including my transport below.
Walking The Mutianyu Great Wall of China
One cable car ride later, I was actually standing on the Great Wall for myself. The Great Wall really is quite the sight to see. Here are some of the highlights of the wall and the route I took to explore the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China.
You can get some food and drink both at the Tourist Visitor Centre and at a few spots up on the wall but it’s kinda overpriced. Pack a lunch or grab something the day before to save money.
Wear good shoes and prepare for a bit of a hike – most of the wall in the tourist area from Tower 1 to 23 has been restored and paved, but steps are not always even and some bits have a steep incline. The non-tourist areas are another matter altogether, I’ll talk about it in the Wild Wall section below.
My walking Route
Here’s a map of the wall for reference. My route was:
- Start from the Cable Car at Tower 14
- Turned left/west towards Tower 23
- Cross into the ‘Wild Wall’ beyond the tourist-friendly section, more on that below
- Returned back and walked all the way to the Luge section at Tower 6 to descend
Tower 14 to 23
The closer you are to the cable car or chairlift area, the more crowded it’s going to be. Because of the steep inclines, most people don’t walk all the way to the ends, so you generally get less people the further you walk.
Besides tourists, there are a number of people who help to maintain the wall and are probably less enamoured by the view as they walk it everyday, all day long. My companions wanted a shot of this cool old uncle who was one of several men we spotted maintaining the wall so I went over to say hello. He was on a break with his friends and happily chatty – he showed us his bamboo frame that he uses to transport concrete blocks along the wall and replace broken tiles. He can carry 2 tiles at a go – I held them up and golly they were heavy.
Past Tower 23 – The Wild Wall
The part that surprised me about the Great Wall is something that I call the Wild Wall, which is essentially sections of the Great Wall beyond what is officially clean up and restored. There was a lady at the so called official ‘highest point’ at Tower 23 who just said very curtly as we walked by her, that we were responsible for our own lives in the section beyond the official sanctioned areas.
In the Wild Wall area, you can see exactly how much was done to restore the tourist bits into what they are today. The wild bits are overgrown with trees and plants running rampant across the stones, and sections of walls are crumbling or even missing entirely. There are no safety barriers and rock bits clatter down inclines as you scramble up them. Definitely be mindful of your own safety, but it’s such an experience to see this relatively untouched part of the Great Wall.
I didn’t count how many towers we walked through, but there’s a really, really steep slope which is pretty precarious to climb. It feels like 45 degree incline and there are bits of rubble and stone all over, so you have to cling to the sides of the wall as you scrabble upwards. Watch out for people above you kicking down bits of rock as those can hit you quite hard if they gain enough momentum. The view on top though, is pretty worth it.
You could continue on the path towards the Jianguo section of the Great Wall, and we did spot other intrepid adventurers who had continued walking further along the wall, but we were pretty tired by that point and we hadn’t had any lunch yet, so we turned around and headed back the way we came.
Tower 14 to 6
We walked back from the Wild Wall past Tower 14 where we took the Cable Car up since we bought the Luge ticket to head back down which was at Tower 6. This let us explore an additional section from Tower 14 to 6 without having to backtrack if we had bought the return ticket for the Cable Car.
I really, really, really wanted to take the Luge down, but as luck would have it, it was kinda drizzly and rainy so the ride kept getting stopped and we were waiting in the queue for quite a long time. It didn’t seem like the rain was going to stop, so I called it and we took the chairlift down instead.
As Murphy’s Law would have it, it looked like they were going to restart the luge again as we were on the way down. C’est La Vie!
Total Cost and Itinerary
In total, this is what I spent:
Transport – 36 yuan
- Subway: Guomao – Dongzhimen: 4 yuan (2 yuan each way)
- Bus 619: Dongzhimen – Huairou: 12 yuan (6 yuan each way with Yitongka)
- Shared Car: Huairou – Mutianyu: 20 yuan (10 yuan each way, co-share with other people)
Entrance – 260 yuan
- Entrance Ticket: 45 yuan
- Baidu Bus: 15 yuan (2 way)
- Cable Car up: 100 yuan
- Chairlift/Luge down: 100 yuan
Grand total – 296 yuan (about S$60)
You can definitely do it cheaper for sure. If you skip the cable car and chairlift and just hiked, you only need to spend 100 yuan (S$20) which is a pretty damn cheap way to see a world wonder.
Bring your own food and drink because they mark up the prices really high on the wall. I bought a chocolate bar and ice cream for 40 yuan (S$8) but I was just kinda tired at that point so I forked out the dough.
There are day tours available from tour agencies that might be cheaper or of similar price point, but the plus point is that when you go on your own, you get to spend as long as you want on the Great Wall without worrying about your schedule.
- 0700 – 0710: Subway – Guomao to Dongzhimen (10 mins)
- 0715 – 0815: Bus 619 – Dongzhimen to Huairou (1 hour)
- 0820 – 0850: Car – Huairou to Mutianyu (30 mins)
- 0850 – 0935: Buy tickets, Bus transfer to Cable Car Station, Cable Car ride up to Great Wall (45 mins)
- 0935 – 1120: Tower 14 to Tower 23 (1 hour 45 mins)
- 1120 – 1300: Wild Wall section (4o mins)
- 1300 – 1500: Walk to Tower 6 (2 hours)
- 1500 – 1600: Waited for Luge, took the chairlift, bus transfer to Visitor Centre (1 hour)
- 1600 – 1900: Return to Beijing (3 hours)
- April to October: 0800 – 1700
- November to March: 0830 – 1630
Have you been to the Great Wall of China? Tell me about your experience and which part of the wall you went to see. I hope to go see other parts in future!