I’m convinced that Mutianyu is the best place to visit the Great Wall of China with kids. The historical significance or wow factor can easily be lost on young minds so it may be up to you to sell this journey outside of Beijing.
My Hong Kong-born was unusually keen to visit the Great Wall. But, mention of the toboggan ride at the Mutianyu section sealed the deal. Little did she know that I’m partial to Mutianyu anyway, for reasons listed below.
Perhaps, throw in the possibility of a stuffed animal reward at some point during the visit (and, throw it around for some fun photos). A few extra RMB spent are worth ticking this great wonder of the world off your bucket list.
About the Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall
Mutianyu is actually one of the most well-preserved parts of the Great Wall of China and older than the more popular Badaling section. It was built during the Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577), drastically restored in the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and restored again between 1982-1986 under government orders.
This section of the Great Wall of China is more densely-packed with watch towers than other parts of the wall are. In addition, merlons or holes in the wall used to fire cannons are present on both sides of the wall—another rare feature. The surrounding area is covered with natural vegetation and we were lucky enough to visit while fragrant spring chestnut tree blossoms blew around us in the light wind. Blue sky was in and pollution was nowhere to be seen.
Getting to Mutianyu
Mutianyu is about 60 km from Beijing city limits. It seems that wherever our luxury hotel in Beijing is, the drive takes about 90 minutes versus Badaling at 60 minutes.
On our last trip, we hired a private driver and a tour guide through the Four Seasons Hotel Beijing concierge desk, which I highly recommend when traveling with kids because the only itinerary you follow is your own. We tacked on Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City (this is a very common itinerary), but my daughter tired of walking in Tiananmen Square (it’s huge) so we skipped the Forbidden City early and headed off to Mutianyu. Tip: Think twice about scheduling all three Beijing attractions with kids in tow—it’s likely too much.
I packed her headphones and iPad loaded with movies to occupy her during the relatively easy drive to Mutianyu. I’m also a fan of ordering in-room dining to-go when at a Four Seasons because not only am I certain that my daughter will eat it, they always pack it in a portable cooler with water and utensils and deliver it straight to the driver at a predesignated time.
Mutianyu Is Less Crowded
Naturally, because it takes a bit longer to get to Mutianyu, it’s less touristy. Sure, there are Westerners and trinkets to be purchased but it is less crowded than Badaling, where most celebrities and dignitaries take their token photographs. On a beautiful Friday in April of a holiday weekend, I was able to score clear photos of the wall at Mutianyu without a single other person in them.
Cable Car Up to the Great Wall at Mutianyu
You have two choices: an enclosed gondola and what appears to be a standard ski-lift-like chair lift. I figured that since it was a gorgeous day and my 7-year-old who wears size 10 clothes has skied before, that we’d be OK using the chair lift. We were, but I’m not going to underplay how freaked out I was about her little behind slipping through the back of the chair lift. Take the enclosed cable car with young kids. It seats six and also drops you at a higher elevation.
Options after taking the enclosed chair lift include walk down to the toboggan area, which will lead you to the bottom of the Great Wall near the parking lot. Or, walk the wall to a higher elevation. It’s up to you. The chair lift is right next to the toboggan. Both the gondola and chair lift carry people back down from the wall.
Toboggan Down the Great Wall of China
Though this feature admittedly has looser safety regulations than it might in, say, the United States, riding a toboggan down the Great Wall of China is really fun. A lever easily controls the speed of the toboggan which you can ride tandem with young kids or by yourself. There are two different sizes that are chosen for you by staff once you hit the front of the line.
Our speed wasn’t lightning fast, but it did take a decent amount of time to wind down the hillside. Maybe 3-5 minutes or so? I wasn’t clocking it but it was longer than a roller coaster or Disney ride, for sure. It is totally OK to sling your handbag around your shoulder, bulky or not, but a backpack would be easier. Staff doesn’t seem to care what you have in tow.
Be prepared for the kids to ask for more toboggan tickets, which means more cable car or gondola tickets.
Dining at Mutianyu
Definitely pack snacks for the car ride but don’t fret too much about what to eat after arriving. Picky eaters and those who don’t like Chinese food should pack a picnic though. It’s not convenient to eat mid-way through touring the Great Wall of China because restaurants are all at the base. Plan to eat before or after your adventure. Options include snacks (mostly dried fruit) from vendors lining the walk from the parking lot to the ticket booths. There’s also a Subway sandwich shop near the parking lot, as odd as this sounds.
Mutianyu Village boasts a number of authentic Chinese eateries. Most are small, but The Schoolhouse is popular (and also offers lodging).
And, if you get hungry or thirsty on the Great Wall, vendors sell water, soda, beer and snacks.
Near the Subway is a decent bathroom. Use it because there aren’t any on the wall. Note that there are Western toilets clearly marked, however, you will need to bring your own soap. Tip: Always carry travel soap (I use hand soap sheets) and/or hand sanitizer when traveling in China because it is absent in many bathrooms, even nice ones.
Most people speak limited English which helps with simple things like purchasing stuffed pandas and getting on and off the chair lift. The other benefit to having a guide is that he or she probably visits the Great Wall almost every day with tourists so they know the staff, where the food is, appropriate pricing and the like.
The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu
We spent probably under two hours in total here before my daughter became tired, but it was totally worth the drive. Note that moderate to advanced hikes throughout surrounding areas of the wall are possibilities as well as tours of Mutianyu village. More information is found at the Mutianyu website.
Open 365 days a year
April to October: 7:00 – 18:00
November to March: 7:30 – 17:30
Have you visited the Great Wall of China with kids? Which section?