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How Get to Mutianyu Great Wall without a tour

I can only assume that it’s in the contract of every hotel concierge/airport worker/hostel receptionist/taxi driver on the planet that when somebody has a suitcase and/or backpack you have to pretend you’re interested in what they’re doing, where they’re going and why they’re doing it.

In Mexico, LA, Taiwan and then China I got asked so many times what my plans were for China.

Every time someone asked me “so how are you going to do it?” I kind of panicked and thought maybe China was like North Korea, Bhutan and Tibet, in that you can only visit as part of a Government-sanctioned tour.

It’s not.

People just tend not to go there without having an actual plan apparently.

And I can see why – China is kind of scary.

What with only having 48 hours in Beijing and wanting to make sure I didn’t miss the Great Wall, – the only reason I went through all the head stress of getting there – I did kind of look into doing a tour.

However, most of the tours I came across online or through my hotel cost at least $60 per person which, at first glance, doesn’t seem so bad when you bear in mind that it’s inclusive of transport to and from Beijing, a guide, entry fee and sometimes lunch.

Do it yourself, though, and it’ll cost you little more than £10.

The benefits of going it alone are being able to decide when you want to start your day, how long you want to spend on the wall and when you want to end your day. If you’re on an organised tour, you have a schedule and more often than not they only actually give you one hour on the wall. The main advantage to going with a tour, though, is having the tour guide there with you to give you all the facts and figures, and to answer any questions you have. However, most of the information you get from a real life human guide you’ll find in Lonely Planet China or any other guidebook.

I decided to go it alone to save a few bob, and I don’t regret it.

The two most easily accessible parts of the Great Wall from Beijing are Badaling and Mutianyu.

I opted for the latter, as it’s the least visited of the two, and so figured it’d be less crowded.


Using public transport to get there from Beijing is pretty easy, and the best part is you don’t really need to know any Chinese to do it! People will just see you, a foreigner, on the bus and automatically think “ah, Great Wall”.

First off, you need to find your way to Dongzhimen Subway Station.

My hotel was in the area, well within walking distance, but if you’re based anywhere else in the city, you want Line 2 or Line 13 as they are the only ones that service it.

When you arrive at Dongzhimen, you have to find the 916 Express bus – the signs for the bus are in both English and Chinese, so no worries there! Unless you don’t speak English, but then you wouldn’t be reading this so never mind.

All the information I found on other websites mention that the bus runs “regularly” from 05:50 until 18:50 but none actually specify the frequency. Well, they run all the time. All. The. Time. Like, every ten minutes or so. If you miss one, you don’t even have time to take a seat before the next one is pulling up.

When you get on the bus (through the front door) you have to put your money in the little box on the left, NOT to the driver. Take my advice and don’t make that mistake or he will look at you like you’re a serial cat murderer, snatch the money out of your hand and shove it in the box with more force than you would expect to come out of such a tiny little man.

It costs ¥12. Make sure you have the exact amount because the world’s happiest bus driver does not give change.

Get off the bus after about 60 minutes at Huairou North Avenue otherwise known as Huairou Beidajie.

There will come a time, about 45-50 minutes in, when the bus will stop at a bus stop and a man will pop his head around the corner, zone in on the foreigners and tell you that “this is for Mutianyu“. He will be very convincing, and the fact that he seems to speak English is kind of reassuring.

He is lying.

He’s a big fat liar and if I was his mother I would put him on a permanent time out. Or lock him under the stairs.

He doesn’t speak English; he’s just mastered the accent to make his one and only sentence believable. He’s actually a taxi driver, not just a helpful stranger, and probably not the only one to try and pull this stunt. He insisted to me that the bus I wanted to get didn’t exist and I had to get his taxi or I would be stuck forever, and it would “only” cost me ¥90 which is an absolute b a r g a i n.

Not a bargain, he’s a liar.

I told him that I really wanted to get the bus, and he was making me lose my friend – my friend being a random white stranger who’d fallen for the same tomfoolery as I and was already halfway up the street – but he followed me aaaalll the way to the strange man, to whom I quickly blurted “I pretended I know you so he would let me go but he just followed me anyway, please pretend you know me thanks“. He was very niceTaxi driver tried to give us “good price” of only ¥50 each. That is not a good price, Taxi. Not when it should be ¥50 per cab, not per person, and especially not when you’d just quoted me ¥90 for one person about 5 minutes ago.

Moral of the story: if anybody tries to get you off the bus, don’t be an idiot like me, or you’ll end up walking in crazy heat for about forty minutes with no actual clue as to where you’re going.

But at least I made a friend.

I’ve lost my train of thought now…

Stay on the bus until you see a big building on the left that has big huge letters sticking out of the top that says CHINAMOBILE.

Get off the bus here and cross the road so you’re standing outside the building that says CHINAMOBILE. It doesn’t have a bus stop sign, but it is definitely a bus stop I promise.

Get the H23 or H24 to Mutianyu Roundabout.

This bus is the opposite to the 916 Express – don’t try and put the money in the little box, because it’s likely to be sealed shut. If it’s empty-ish, take a seat and the ticket inspector will come to you. If it’s relatively full, seek out the ticket inspector.

It costs ¥3

If you’re unsure about where to get off, just let the ticket inspector know that you want Mutianyu and she or he will tell you when it’s time to abandon ship. Or else just follow any other tourists you may see.

When you get off the bus, just walk around the corner.

And voila, Mutianyu Great Wall ticket office!

The cost of entry is ¥45 plus ¥15 for the shuttle to the base of the mountain that leads up to the Wall. I have no idea if the shuttle is optional or not, but I assume not as she didn’t give me a choice.

To get to the Wall, you have two choices:

1) take the cable car (¥100 return journey)

2) take the footpath which is actually about a million steps

As I was wearing flip-flops, hadn’t eaten a lot that day and am generally just a really lazy person, I wasn’t under any circumstances going to take the footpath. It was always my intention just to pay for the cable car.

When my new friend from the whole bus debacle said that he was going to take the footpath because “I’ll only be here once” I kind of jumped on the YOLO bandwagon and went along with him.

And it wasn’t so bad.

Quite scenic, not too tough and overall an enjoyable walk – definitely worth saving the ¥100 on the cable car!

To get back to Beijing you do exactly the same as getting there, but in reverse, and the cost of the buses are the same.

So, to summarise:

Getting there: ¥12 + ¥3
Entry: ¥60
Getting back: ¥12 + ¥3

Total: ¥90/£10.25/$13.50

Possibly one of the cheapest of the New 7 Wonders of the World I’ve been to. And I’ve been to them all 😉

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