China’s Great Wall undulates for over 5,500 miles (8,880km) across the north of the country – an astounding engineering feat and a vivid testament to both the might of the emperors who built it, and the fear inspired by the Mongol hordes whom it was designed to repel. Work on the fortifications began in the 5th century BC but peaked during the Ming era (14th–17th century), when much of the rammed earth and brickwork was replaced by dressed stone and most of the hallmark square lookout towers were erected.
Sections of the wall are easily reachable on a day trip from Beijing, but it pays to pick your spot, particularly on weekends and public holidays. To avoid the queues and crowds, we recommend the 6-mile (11-km) stretch between Jinshanling and Simatai, which is much wilder and set amid truly spectacular scenery – ideal for soft trekking. For the less sure-footed, we also like Mutianyu, where the ramparts have been well reconstructed and a cable car ensures easy access to high battlements yielding yet more superb views.