Six of the most beautiful sections of the Great Wall of China | CNN

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The Most Beautiful Sections of the Great Wall of China

Editor’s Note: Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel series that focuses on intriguing topics in the travel world, such as the biggest, tallest, and most expensive attractions and destinations. This month, we celebrate these superlatives.


Having spent nearly 12 years in Beijing, I’ve had ample opportunities to explore various parts of China.

I’ve visited over 100 cities, not to mention numerous towns and villages across the country’s 31 provinces.

Reflecting on my travels, I’ve discovered that my explorations of different Great Wall sections in Beijing motivated me to venture beyond the capital and uncover the wall’s other segments across the country.

The construction of the Great Wall commenced over 2,500 years ago, tracing its origins back to China’s Spring and Autumn Period roughly from 770 BCE to 476 BCE. Subsequent dynasties and factions added various sections as they vied for dominance.

The construction eventually halted in the 17th century.

Although not a continuous structure, the Great Wall stretches over 21,000 kilometers, weaving through 15 provinces, 97 prefectures, and 404 counties.

While some sections draw large numbers of tourists, many parts have faded into obscurity, disrepair, or even oblivion.

Whether you are embarking on your first or fiftieth visit to the Great Wall, the destinations below promise to enhance your China travel experience. (Watch the video above for breathtaking aerial views of these sites.)

Yongtai Turtle City is in north central Gansu province.

The Great Wall encompasses more than just physical barriers; in certain places, watchtowers on rugged mountain peaks, fortified towns, and even wide rivers are considered part of the “wall.”

Turtle City, constructed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) as a component of the “Yellow River Defense Line”, was finalized in 1608 and accommodated about 2,000 infantrymen and 500 cavalry units at its peak.

This fortress city presently resides in Sitan Township of Jingtai County in north-central Gansu province.

Despite the lack of actual turtles in Turtle City, the garrison town earned its moniker due to its distinctive layout.

The southern gate represents the head while the western and eastern gates symbolize the flippers. The town’s oval enclosure serves as the body, with the northern gate acting as the tail. As one of China’s best-preserved walled cities, it remains a site of historical significance waiting to be explored.

It is advisable to stay in Jingtai County center for convenient access. The ancient city is merely a 30-minute taxi ride from your accommodation, allowing you to capture the best light for stunning photos.


1. What is the historical significance of the Great Wall of China?

The Great Wall of China has a rich history dating back over 2,500 years, with its construction starting during China’s Spring and Autumn Period. It served as a defensive structure against invasions and played a crucial role in Chinese history.

2. How long is the Great Wall of China?

The Great Wall spans more than 21,000 kilometers, stretching through 15 provinces, 97 prefectures, and 404 counties in China.

3. What are some unique sections of the Great Wall worth visiting?

Some unique sections of the Great Wall, such as Turtle City, offer historical insights and stunning views for visitors. These lesser-known parts provide a different perspective on this iconic landmark.When visiting Jingtai, don’t miss out on trying the local delicacies like the five Buddha tofu and the spicy vegetarian Jingtai cold mixed noodles. Explore the vibrant night market at Jingtai County People’s Square with over 50 snack stalls for a delightful culinary adventure.

How can I get to Jingtai?

If you are traveling to Jingtai, you can reach Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, which has a well-connected international airport and high-speed train services from various cities in China. The journey from downtown Lanzhou to Yongtai Turtle City is approximately 195 kilometers and takes around 2.5 hours by road. From Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport, it’s a shorter 1.5-hour drive covering 125 kilometers.

What are Mutianyu and Jiankou?

Mutianyu and Jiankou are two interconnected sections of the Great Wall known as the Stone Dragon, extending about 25 kilometers along the mountaintops of Beijing.

Why should I visit Mutianyu and Jiankou?

These sections represent significant Ming Dynasty Great Wall structures that have withstood the test of time. Walking on either Mutianyu or Jiankou offers a profound historical experience.

What makes Mutianyu and Jiankou unique?

Mutianyu is considered the more tourist-friendly segment after being restored in the 1980s. It features commercial amenities and a cable car for visitors. On the other hand, Jiankou, known as the “wild wall,” does not require tickets and has a more rugged, untouched appeal.

How can I access Jiankou?

Jiankou can be reached via Xizhazi village. You may even have the opportunity to stay with Great Wall historian William Lindesay and his family at The Barracks, their home located by the wall.

Where to stay near Mutianyu?

For comfortable accommodations near Mutianyu, consider The Brickyard for a pleasant stay during your visit.

What are the seasonal attractions at the Great Wall?

During fall and spring, the gray brick of the wall contrasts beautifully with the seasonal vibrant colors, offering picturesque scenery for photography enthusiasts. In winter, there are skiing and skating opportunities near Mutianyu for winter sports enthusiasts.

How to travel to Mutianyu and Jiankou?

Renting a car as a foreign tourist has become more accessible since the relaxation of restrictions on temporary driving licenses in China. Alternatively, you can hire a car with a driver for the day or opt for the Mutianyu Special Tourism Bus from Dongzhimen Wai Bus Station.

Visiting Mutianyu or Jiankou is not just a journey through history but a chance to witness the grandeur of one of the most iconic structures in the world.## Exploring Lesser-Known Sections of the Great Wall in China

When it comes to visiting the Great Wall of China, most people think of popular sections like Badaling and Mutianyu. However, there are lesser-known sections that offer a unique and less crowded experience. Two such sections are Bataizi and Laoniuwan.

Bataizi Village

Located inside the Motianling section of the Great Wall, Bataizi Village is home to the ruins of a Gothic church constructed in 1876 by a German missionary. Despite being damaged and repaired multiple times over the years, only the bell tower remains standing today. The contrast between the church ruins and the ancient Great Wall against the backdrop of lush green hills makes Bataizi a picturesque destination for a morning or afternoon visit.

After trekking along the wall and exploring the church ruins, visitors can pay a visit to the village’s “new” church and meet Father Pan. He can provide insights into the village’s longstanding connection with Catholicism. Additionally, consider including a trip to Datong on your itinerary, where you can explore the Yungang Grottoes and the Hengshan Hanging Temple to enrich your travel experience.

Laoniuwan Village

Referred to as the place where the Great Wall meets the Yellow River, Laoniuwan Village is home to the historic Laoniuwan Fortress, built in 1467, and the iconic Wanghe Tower, constructed in 1544. Situated in Pianguan County, near Xinzhou City in Shanxi province, Laoniuwan offers a unique perspective of the Great Wall against the scenic backdrop of the Yellow River and Inner Mongolia.

Late summer or early fall is the recommended time to visit Laoniuwan to avoid challenging mountain roads during spring rainstorms and extreme cold weather with limited infrastructure support. The village’s picturesque location where the Great Wall intersects with water makes it a must-visit for travelers seeking off-the-beaten-path destinations.

How to Get There

Bataizi Village is located 80 kilometers west of Datong, with Zuoyun County being a short 35-minute drive away. Datong can be easily accessed via plane or high-speed train from other Chinese cities. A taxi ride from downtown Datong to Bataizi costs around 300 yuan ($43). Alternatively, travelers can take a bus to Zuoyun County and then switch to a taxi for the final leg of the journey.

For those seeking luxury accommodations, the five-star Yunzhong Traditional Courtyard Hotel in Datong and the foreigner-friendly Zuoyun Jinshan International Hotel in Zuoyun County are recommended options that can be booked through popular hotel booking platforms.


1. Can you visit Bataizi and Laoniuwan in a single day trip?

While it’s technically possible to visit both villages in a day, it’s recommended to allocate a separate day for each destination to fully immerse yourself in the unique offerings of each location.

2. Are there tour guides available at Bataizi and Laoniuwan?

Both villages may have local guides available for hire, offering in-depth knowledge and insights into the historical and cultural significance of the sites.

3. What other attractions are near Bataizi and Laoniuwan?

Besides the Great Wall sections, nearby attractions such as the Yungang Grottoes in Datong and the Hengshan Hanging Temple offer additional cultural and historical experiences for travelers in the region.A recommended activity is taking a boat ride along the river to enjoy the picturesque views of the Yellow River Gorge and marvel at the ancient architecture.

To reach Laoniuwan, it’s best to rent or book a car from Datong to Laoniuwan via Bataizi as public transportation options are limited. Pianguan is the nearest city, about an hour away, reachable only by bus. An airport in Shuozhou, opening soon, is 140 kilometers from Laoniuwan.

The construction of the Great Wall in Simatai began in 1373 and was periodically expanded and reinforced during the Ming Dynasty. The Fairy Tower at Simatai is well-known but less visited due to accessibility challenges.

For a stunning view of the Fairy Tower, visit Wangjing Tower a few hundred meters away. The journey offers breathtaking vistas without the need for special safety gear like ropes or ladders.

The hike to the Fairy Tower offers a glimpse into the challenges faced by ancient travelers navigating the rugged terrain surrounding the wall. It provides a top-tier hiking experience coupled with a fascinating history lesson.

Five-star accommodations are available at Hobo Farm, along with a restaurant serving Western and Chinese cuisine. For a more affordable 4.5-star option, consider Yatou’s Homestay. Both can be booked through major hotel reservation platforms.

To access the Fairy Tower and Wangjing Tower, head to Tangjiazhai village in Beijing’s Miyun district. The village is approximately 140 kilometers from downtown Beijing, and booking a private car is the recommended mode of transport for efficiency.

Alternatively, take a high-speed train from Beijing Station to Miyun district and switch to a bus or taxi from there.

Constructed during Emperor Jiajing’s reign (1507-1567), this section of the wall stands at an impressive seven meters tall in some areas, a testament to the laborious process of stone piling during its construction.


How can I reach Laoniuwan?

The best way to reach Laoniuwan is by renting or booking a car from Datong to Laoniuwan via Bataizi as public transportation options are limited.

What are the nearest cities to Laoniuwan?

Pianguan is the nearest city to Laoniuwan, about an hour away, accessible only by bus. Shuozhou, with an airport opening soon, is 140 kilometers from Laoniuwan.

What is the significance of the Fairy Tower at Simatai?

The Fairy Tower at Simatai is a well-known tower of the Great Wall, though less visited due to access difficulties, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.

Where can I find accommodation near the Great Wall?

Hobo Farm offers five-star lodging with a restaurant serving Western and Chinese dishes. For a more budget-friendly option, consider Yatou’s Homestay, both available on major hotel booking websites.

How can I access Tangjiazhai village?

To access Tangjiazhai village, the gateway to the Fairy Tower and Wangjing Tower, in Beijing’s Miyun district, it’s recommended to book a private car from downtown Beijing or take a high-speed train to Miyun district and switch to a bus or taxi from there.Dushikou, a hidden gem near the town of Chicheng in Hebei province, offers a unique experience for visitors. Unlike other parts of the Great Wall near Beijing built with kiln-fired bricks, Dushikou boasts a piled-stone wall that sets it apart.

The best time to visit Dushikou is during the summertime, particularly in July and August when the lush green hills of the grasslands create a picturesque setting. The cool evenings make it ideal for outdoor activities like barbecues or bonfires.

Accommodation options in Dushikou include cozy farmhouse lodgings, while those looking for more choices can head to Chicheng, just a 45-minute drive away, where various hotels are available.

Food enthusiasts will delight in the local specialties such as lamb skewers, roast leg of lamb, and delicious oat noodles, reflecting the region’s proximity to Inner Mongolia.

For travelers wondering how to reach Dushikou, the infrastructure developed for the 2022 Winter Olympics has significantly reduced travel time. Driving is an option, or alternatively, taking a bus from the Liuliqiao Transport Hub in Beijing to Chicheng followed by a short taxi ride to Dushikou is also convenient. Keep in mind that public transportation may take slightly longer than traveling by private car.

FAQs about Dushikou:

1. When is the best time to visit Dushikou?
The best time to visit Dushikou is during the summer months of July and August when the surrounding grasslands are at their peak greenery.

2. What are the local food specialties in Dushikou?
Local specialties in Dushikou include lamb skewers, roast leg of lamb, and delicious oat noodles.

3. How can I travel to Dushikou from Beijing?
You can drive to Dushikou or take a bus from the Liuliqiao Transport Hub in Beijing to Chicheng, followed by a short taxi ride to Dushikou.

4. What type of accommodations are available in Dushikou?
Visitors to Dushikou can choose from comfortable farmhouse lodgings or opt for hotels in Chicheng, which is a short drive away.

5. Is public transportation a viable option to reach Dushikou?
While public transportation is available, it may take slightly longer than traveling by private car due to the location’s accessibility.

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