The Great Wall of China#1 in Best Things To Do in Beijing
Just north of Beijing, you'll find one of the most famous monuments in the world: the Great Wall of China. Although it's unlikely you'll see the whole thing, you should aim to experience a portion of it. That begs the question: Which section?
Only an hour's drive northwest of Beijing, the Badaling section is convenient, hosts a large souvenir market, and has a gondola to whisk visitors up and down the wall. Sounds perfect, right? Well, and that's why thousands of tourists decide to venture here. This can create mob-like scenes that can spoil the trip, but it's unpredictable. Plenty of visitors rave about this section of the wall and say a visit is a must. Entrance to the Badaling section of wall (not including the gondola ride) costs 40 yuan (about $6) in the winter and spring and 45 yuan (about $6.60 ) in the summer and fall. You can start hiking the Badaling portion at 6:40 a.m., and you must be down by 6:30 p.m. every day.
The Mutianyu section, an hour's drive northeast of Beijing, is the favorite of recent travelers. Here, you'll find majestic mountainous vistas, a cable car for quick and easy access, a fun sled ride down, and (best of all) fewer tourists. Admission costs 40 yuan (about $6), and visitors are welcome from approximately 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, depending on the season.
Farther from the city, the Juyongguan, Simatai, Jinshanling, Huanghuacheng, Jiankou and Gubeikou sections offer adventurous travelers more challenging hikes and unique landscapes. If you opt for one of these sections, take the time to carefully research it beforehand. Each portion meanders through different terrain and has its own pros and cons. Some sections are in better condition than others, and transportation to and from them can be less reliable.
You can reach the Great Wall of China via public bus (with Badaling and Mutianyu being the easiest to access), but some routes may include transfers. For convenience, some past visitors suggested hiring a driver from Beijing. Guided tours are also a popular option for many recent travelers (though several warn against purchasing tours that include stops at the underwhelming Ming Tombs).
Whichever portion you choose, be sure to bring plenty of water, sunscreen and snacks. The hike alone can be tiring, and hot weather can take its toll on unprepared visitors (especially young kids and seniors). You'll see vendors stationed along each route hawking souvenirs and water, but you'll pay a pretty penny for the convenience. For more information, speak with your hotel's concierge, who can arrange the appropriate transportation for you.
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#2 Summer Palace (Yiheyuan)
When the bustle of Beijing becomes too much for you, do as the emperors would do and retreat to the Summer Palace. Located in the northwest suburbs, this oasis – literally, an oasis with serene Kunming Lake – is home to several attractions. Nearly every gate, pavilion, hall and tower has a unique history and merits a photo. Despite the palace's historic appeal, most tourists are charmed by what's outside: The Summer Palace possesses the largest imperial garden in China. The Seventeen-Arch Bridge stretches into Kunming Lake, providing excellent views of the east bank and South Lake Island. And at an impressive 2,388 feet in length, the Long Corridor garners lots of attention.
Travelers are rarely disappointed by the wonders of the Summer Palace. Many advise visiting early in the day to avoid crowds, but regardless, most call the palace amazing. Reviewers suggested setting aside at least half a day to wander the grounds. Visitors also recommended seeing the site with the help of a guide, who can help you understand its vast history.
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