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Our first trip ever to China included a stop in Beijing and of course we thought we cannot miss the Great Wall! We wanted to do it via public transport and it took a few tries honestly, information was scarcer then, but the great adventure yielded wonderful results.
The closest site to Beijing and most popular place to visit the wall is called Badaling. It is also the oldest section of the wall open to tourists and thus it has good infrastructure, it is well preserved and handles the flow of tens of thousands of people every day.
Getting to the site is not hard as it seems anyone in Beijing will want to take you, however for the traveler not looking to get overcharged or inconvenienced it may take a little planning. Hotels and taxis will readily showcase their availability but be prepared to pay far more than a simple bus or train ride will cost. It still will be affordable in comparison to the distance travelled (it can range about $80 USD for a roundtrip of 100 miles), however a combination of metro and bus or metro and train will get you to and from, for just around fifteen dollars.
Passengers can hop aboard the S2 Beijing Suburban railway and make their way from the Beijing North Railway station. The logistics are limited as one can only travel after 10am and buy tickets in a crowded station on the same day. The best option seems to be the buses from Dashengmen station just a ten minute walk from the metro stop in Beijing. Dashengmen is easily recognized on a map and it is a landmark temple edifice with major highways swirling all around it. Know that buses depart early morning and are finished around early afternoon. In that case one will need to take a taxi or wait till the following day.
Bus #’s 877, 919 and 880 operate the route most frequently. The cost should be 12RMB anything outrageous from that is a fake bus. Hours of operation range from 05:00 till 18:30 depending on the bus and time of year.
Note that many tourists do not realize that the buses board BEHIND the temple, so many will stand out in front by a sign that says buses to Badaling as they roll by. Taxi drivers are of no assistance and usually try to convince the tourists that the buses aren’t running or are finished for the day. Check all the way around the monument to look for buses with signs indicating they are going to Badaling. Once on board they will depart when full which can be a couple minutes in heavy traffic hours. It will be a mix of locals and tourists and the ride is about an hour.
The Bus will drop off right in front of the entrance to Badaling and a marked area indicates this is the same place to catch a bus back, times are posted and are pretty accurate, so one can plan on catching a bus back at whatever time. Just know the line can be longer in high season and it may be good to arrive a half hour before the bus arrival time of the one you wish to catch.