One of China’s most significant and most popular attractions is, of course, the Great Wall. But figuring out where to see the Great Wall is one of China’s big mysteries.

The Great Wall of China runs from the western deserts to the east coast near Beijing

The Great Wall of China runs for as much as 20,000 kilometres (13,000 miles), depending on what you’re counting. What most of us want to see, the defensive walls, run from Shanhaiguan in the deserts of Western China to the sea east of Beijing.

Badaling, on the outskirts of Beijing, is the easiest location to see the Great Wall

The wall is easiest to see in Beijing, at tourist sites like Badaling in the outer suburbs of the city. But don’t expect to see too much if you do it this way. Easily accessible locations like Badaling are tourist hotspots, crowded with camera-toting travellers, traders and touts. These sections of the wall have been extensive restored and while they’re impressive they’re not necessarily terribly authentic.

The Great Wall at Simatai has a lot more authenticity and includes some crumbling sections

A much better option is the Great Wall of China at Simatai, about 120 kilometres from Beijing in Miyun County, near the small town of Gukeikou. This part of the wall was closed for a few years while it was being restored but it was opened again early in 2014 but you may need an official guide as there’s still some construction work being done around Simatai.

View of the Great Wall at Simatai from the top of a watch tower

The Simatai section of the Great Wall is steep and much of what you can see is very authentic, even if crumbling in places. It’s easy to get a real sense here of what it must have been like to be a soldier stationed on the Great Wall hundreds of years ago – the isolation and the majesty of the wall and the mountains it snakes across.

At Simatai the Great Wall snakes majestically over mountain peaks

If you’re feeling athletic, the Simatai section of the Great Wall runs for around 5.4 kilometres and has about 35 watch towers. Although crumbling, most of it is walkable and the western end of the Simatai section of the wall has been pretty well preserved. The other end is a lot rougher and a lot steeper.

There are some gondola style cable cars that run part of the way to the top of the eastern section of the Simatai Great Wall on top of Yangshan Mountain and provide amazing views of the wall and watch towers. Check out the video below for a preview of the cable car experience.

You can get to Simatai Great Wall by tour bus from Beijing. Once there, you’ll pay a fee of about 40 RMB for admission to the Great Wall itself or 80 RMB for admission to the Gubei Water Town which includes the wall. The cable car costs another 80 RMB for a one-way ticket.

Gubei Water Town below the wall at Simatai is worth taking a look at too!

If you want to go by private car, take the Jingcheng Expressway out of Beijing to Exit 24 and follow the signs. Or you can catch public bus No 980 from the bus station at Dongzhimen to the drum tower at Gulou and then catch the No 51 or No 38 local bus to Simatati village where you can walk to Gubei Water Town.

It’s a long way to go for a day trip, so you might want to stay overnight. We don’t know much about the hotels around the Simatai area but these there are about 100 hotels in Gubeikou town quite close to Simatai tourist area.