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The Great Wall of China twists through deserts and plains, over mountains and plateaus like a Chinese dragon. The structure’s length is estimated at 8,852 kilometres. Not all parts of the Great Wall have been preserved in good condition and thousands of years of history have obviously left their mark. Beijing is a great starting point for a visit to both the restored and the more authentic segments of the Great Wall.
The most westerly point of the Great Wall is located near Jiayuguan, at the heart of the Gobi desert, and it ends in the East China Sea some 2,300 kilometres further. In fact, there’s not just one but several Great Walls. The first segments were built in the 7th century BC, and the Great Wall was extended by various Chinese dynasties; both as a defence against invasions from the north and to strengthen the prestige of the emperors.
The section of the Great Wall at Badaling is beautifully restored. Dating back to the Ming Dynasty, this part is easy to reach from Beijing as it’s just 70 kilometres from the centre of the Chinese capital. A drawback of the location near Beijing is that it can be quite busy with visitors, but if you have enough stamina, just keep walking east or west until it becomes less crowded. In Badaling you’ll also find China’s Great Wall Museum, focused on the construction of the Great Wall and the history of the dynasties.
One of the most unspoilt parts of the Great Wall is located near the village of Jinshanling, 125 kilometres northeast of Beijing. Over a trajectory of 10 kilometres, many original features can still be admired. As it has been decided to keep this segment in its original condition, you may have to do some climbing. It is also possible to stay the night in the village, which hosts the Chinese Wall Marathon in May every year.
The British geologist and geographer William Lindesay ran 2,470 kilometres along the Great Wall in 1987, covering this entire distance as a solo runner. He has been researching the Great Wall ever since, and in 2011 led an expedition to Mongolia where he discovered a segment of the Great Wall that had been forgotten since the days of Genghis Khan. Lindesay also organises adventure tours along the wall for any interested adventurers!
The Great Wall meets the Bohai Gulf, in the northern part of the East China Sea, at Shanhaiguan. Some 300 kilometres from Beijing, this beautiful spot can easily be reached by express train, which takes around 2.5 hours. This part of the Great Wall was built during the Ming dynasty and stretches out some 20 metres into the sea. To the locals it looked like a dragon drinking from the water, hence the name Laolongtou – old dragon’s head.
Laolongtou, 5 kilometres south of Shanhaiguan, Hebei province