Climbing the Great Wall of China in winter offers a unique take on this iconic destination. The gentle silence of a snow-draped landscape has replaced the jostling crowds of summer and snowflakes are tumbling through the air. These wrap the wall in a soft white cloak and create a winter wonderland that is as beautiful as it is unusual. On this cold December morning it feels as if the Great Wall of China is mine alone.
Four separate sections of the wall can be easily reached from Beijing but locals favour Mutianyu which is located 90kms from the capital. This segment was restored in the 1980s and is renowned for the visual drama of its tightly packed guard towers and knife-edged mountain peaks.
Surrounded by towering pine trees and stunning scenery, it offers a compromise between the slightly closer yet tourist-packed Badaling and the physically challenging sections at Juyongguan and Simatai. Like Badaling, Mutianyu has a cable car which transports visitors to the top of the wall. There is also a luge track taking people to the bottom which still operates in winter provided there isn’t too much snow. You can take the cable car both ways or buy a combined cable car/luge ticket. In summer visitors huddle in the towers to escape the searing Beijing heat but in winter these magnificent fortifications are pleasantly snug.
Tower 14 is the highest point at Mutianya and the ideal spot to view the long line of imposing towers and parapets stretching into the distance as they pierce the snow-laden sky. It’s a visually dramatic introduction to Beijing and highlights why visiting in winter can be so rewarding. Not only is the landscape especially beautiful but the crowds of the summer months are nowhere to be seen. Popular tourist sites such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City can also be enjoyed in relative solitude in winter, particularly if you visit mid-week.
Disclosure: The writer travelled to Beijing with assistance from Shangri-La Hotels and China Southern Airlines.