If you’re visiting China, the chances are you’re in the market for a trip to see the Great Wall of China.
And who’d blame you?!
It outdates Christianity, has one hell of a history, is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, and has a toboggan on it. I mean, what’s not to like?! And at over 13,000 miles long it actually stretches almost 10 times the length of the Welsh coastline. That’s one long-ass wall!
A lot of people who visit China do so on an organised tour – it’s such a huge country that you’d have to spend a lifetime there to see its many faces, and so organised tours are a great way to experience the highlights in a short space of time, with everything planned out for you in advance. They’re also great for people like me, who got kicked out of their Mandarin language classes for being absolutely dreadful at the pronunciation, as having an organised tour eliminates that epic language barrier you’d evidently face as a non-Chinese speaking person.
What you may not realise is that you don’t have to be part of an organised tour to visit the Great Wall of China – nor do you have to be taking part in some cross-country bike ride for charity.
You can totally visit the Great Wall of China on a day trip from Beijing without a tour!
And it’s surprisingly easy – and cheap – to do!
In fact, visiting the Great Wall of China is so budget-friendly that I had to double and triple check the exchange rate to make sure I really had spent so little money.
Are you looking to visit the Great Wall of China on a budget?? Keep reading to find out exactly how you can do it for less than £15.
The Great Wall of China, as we’ve already established, is pretty darn long. It’s so long, in fact, that it’s split into sections. These sections are dotted throughout China, but the one you’re here to find out about is the Mutianyu section, accessible from Beijing.
About the Mutianyu Great Wall
The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China is the longest fully-restored section of the wall currently open to the public, meaning that although it may be quite as “original” as some of the other sections, it’s 100% safe. No crumbling bricks and 12 foot drops to death here.
The fact it has been fully restored also means it’s one of the most wheelchair-accessible parts of the wall, which is always a plus!
The origins of the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall date back to around 550AD, and the Northern Qi Dynasty. It has since been strengthened, fortified and rebuilt multiple times throughout history under various different rules.
These days, it’s one of the most popular sections of the wall due to its close proximity to Beijing and basically just being an absolute beaut.
Why visit Mutianyu without a tour?
Okay, so first thing’s first – if you’re not a very patient person, or you don’t have a taste for adventure then finding your own way to Mutianyu is probably not the right idea. Seriously, book on a tour instead.
To get from Beijing to Mutianyu you’ll have to navigate Beijing’s not very simple public transport system, often with no English signage. Then you’ll possibly have to wait what feels like hours in Beijing’s non-stop traffic, get conned by a taxi driver and walk more than you’ve ever walked in your life!
I’ll be honest, I actually wanted to visit the Great Wall as part of an organised tour as I figured it’d take away all of the hassle of having to do it myself, as I only had 2 days in the country. The only reason I didn’t sign up for a tour is because everything I came across online or through my hotel was at least $70.
And that wasn’t a price I could justify when a DIY trip would cost little more than £10
The main benefit 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 simply to save a few bob, and I don’t regret it.
How to get to Mutianyu from Beijing
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. Badaling is by far the most popular section of the wall and sees at least 70,000 visitors per day, which is absolute madness!
Using public transport to get to Mutianyu from Beijing is pretty simple if you know what you need to do, and the best part is you don’t really need to know any Chinese to do it! Although a basic understanding of Mandarin definitely wouldn’t hurt, most people along the way 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’ve just told him Modern Family is cancelled, 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.
The bus ride costs around ¥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 into the journey, 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 timeout 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 BARGAIN.
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 nice and played along.
The taxi 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 the crazy heat for about forty minutes with no actual clue as to where you’re going. But at least I made a friend.
So yeah, heed my advice and 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 I promise you it is definitely a bus stop.
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.
This bus 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 to the wall 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.
From the ticket office to the Great Wall
To get to the Great Wall from the ticket office, first you have to take the shuttle car you just paid for and then you have two options:
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. It was so very scenic, not too tough and overall an enjoyable walk – definitely worth saving the ¥100 on the cable car! Online sources say you should put aside around an hour for the hike, but it’s totally doable in around 30-40 minutes and that’s while wearing flip-flops and multiple photo stops.
How much does it cost to visit Mutianyu without a tour?
Assuming you walked to Dongzhimen Sub Station and hiked up to the wall, the total cost of your visit to the Great Wall at Mutianyu would be:
Public transport from Beijing to Mutianyu: ¥12 + ¥3
Entry ticket for the wall (ticket + shuttle): ¥60
Public transport from Mutianyu to Beijing: ¥12 + ¥3
Total: ¥90 / £10.55 / $14USD
Possibly one of the cheapest of the New 7 Wonders of the World I’ve been to. And I’ve been to them all 😉
If you’re looking for the other parts of the Great Wall of China, check out this post by Crawford Creations: The Best Places To See The Great Wall of China From Beijing
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