I was there during winter in December, just a few days before Beijing was hit by snow. If you ever find yourself having long layovers ( mine was 11 hours..) in Beijing, a must-visit attraction as it is one oft the World Wonder and a UNESCO Heritage site.. Also, with my nationality's passport, you can leave the both Shanghai and Beijing's airports without any hassle or need for transit visas.. (check China's immigration customs)
The Mutianyu section is the furthest from Beijing, about an hour and a half's ride from the city centre in smooth, icy, Sunday early morning traffic. (factor in more time during weekdays and peak work periods). It is the section least crowded with tourists and has better architecture with 22 watchtowers, compared to the most popular Badaling section. Other sections which are open to public are Jiayuguan and Shanhaiguan.
You can take a cable car (80 yuan = about USD $13) up to tower 15 or hike up the lane to the wall from Towers 6, 8 or 10. If you're a cat lover, behind the ticket counter, numerous, fluffy mountainous fat cats hang out.
Wear proper hiking boots with a non-slip grip and bundle up if you are going up in winter. It was -15 deg Celsius when I was there and freezing..... Surprisingly, at the top of the wall is not as cold as the foot of mountain..
Go read up on the Great Wall's history as there are plentiful of information on it abound. This section is graded AAAAA as the National Tourist Attraction of China hence it is one of the top attractions within the country and is well preserved. Beyond tower 20, few tourists venture up and some have been known to camp there overnight ( not sure if that is really allowed, but then again, there is no security to scour the entire wall.) After tower 22, the sections are not hike-friendly and not preserved hence climb at your own risk.
Tip: Go during winter when the wall just opened (around 8.30 a.m.) and you feel like you are the only soul on it. The top of the walls and mountainous landscapes are swathed with snow and it looks magical if the sky is crisp and blue. Sunsets are amazing too near 5.p.m and the wall closes at 6 in the evening. If you go during January or February during the Chinese New Year, be prepared to jostle with the celebratory crowd in sub-zero temps.
Best time to go would be in fall with the yellow, red and orange colours of the trees and it is less crowded. If you go in summer, you will be shoulder-to-shoulder with the tourists and pictures of the wall would be less awesome with background heads but the green landscape would still be stunning nonetheless.
Nutshell: One of the places in the world to visit before you're six feet under. Spectacular!
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