How to Visit the Great Wall of China on a 12-Hour Beijing Layover?

Prepare yourself for an unforgettable visit to the Great Wall of China during your 12-hour layover in Beijing. Learn all the essential tips and tricks to make the most of your limited time at this iconic landmark.


Ah, the Great Wall of China! We've actually never really thought about visiting it before but the idea came up when planning our trip to Australia. We found out that some flight options allowed us to stop and spend some hours in Beijing, which meant close to some sections of the Great Wall. We also found out that some tour agencies were specialized in layover tours, making it easier for people. Therefore, it was decided: we'd go for one of these flight options and would make the most out of our layover on Chinese territory!


China has over 3.000 years of history which makes it really hard to experience it all in just a day! However, if you're lucky to stop in Beijing for a few hours, take the opportunity to get a glimpse of the country! In this post, we give you all you need to make the most out of your layover in China.


As we journeyed back from Australia to Europe, having just visited Rafael's sister in Sydney, we found ourselves with a layover in Beijing courtesy of China Southern Airlines. With a limited time frame, we seized the opportunity to explore the iconic Great Wall of China. Here are some essential details to consider for making the most of your layover excursion to this remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site:

  • Location: The Great Wall spans across northern China, and while there are several accessible sections from Beijing, the Mutianyu section proved to be the best option for us. Opting for a section closer to the city ensures a convenient and time-efficient visit.
  • Accessibility: Given the short layover duration, choosing a section of the Great Wall with easy accessibility from Beijing Capital International Airport is paramount. Consider transportation options such as tours or private drivers to optimize your time.
  • Weather: Beijing's climate varies, so checking the weather forecast beforehand is advisable. Dressing appropriately for the season ensures a comfortable and enjoyable experience exploring the Great Wall.
  • Entry Fees: Most sections of the Great Wall require an entrance fee, so budgeting for this expense is essential. Additionally, factor in any extra costs for transportation and amenities to avoid any surprises.
  • Time Management: With just 12 hours at your disposal, meticulous planning is key. Allocate sufficient time for travel, exploration, and potential delays to make the most of your layover adventure.

By taking these crucial factors into account, you can elevate your layover in Beijing into an unforgettable journey to the renowned Great Wall of China. For more detailed information on each aspect, refer to the sections below.



China has established a fairly easy system of visas for long layovers. Indeed, different categories of visas exist depending on how long your layover is: 24-Hour Visa-Free Transit72-Hour Visa-Free Transit and 144-Hour Visa-Free Transit. The steps to get these documents are relatively easy: upon arrival at Beijing airport, you need to go to the "24/144-Hour International Transfer" line. There, you will be asked to fill in a form and a visa application as well as to show your passport and the boarding pass with confirmed seats for your next flight as a proof that you are on a transit in China. For more information about visas, please check here this useful website. However, the process can be a bit lengthy but the good news is that you do not need to prepare anything in advance.


Our flight landed in Beijing at 11.30 a.m. and departed that same evening at 11.30 p.m., allowing us to have 12 full hours there. The Great Wall tour itself (from the moment you hop in the car to the moment you get back at the airport) takes between 4 to 6 hours, depending on how long you stay at the Great Wall. It takes around 1 hour by car to reach the Great Wall from the airport, which means a total of two hours drive with the way back. To enjoy the Great Wall, we advise you to stay there at least two hours. Thus, we recommend going on a tour only if you have at least a 6 or 7-hour layover.


So as we had limited time during our layover, we decided to go through a layover tour agency.  We thought it was the best option and we absolutely don't regret it! After a flight of almost 12 hours, we were exhausted and wouldn't have had the patience to deal with all the logistics required. Don't forget that most Chinese people do not speak English fluently and that most signs are written in Mandarin.


Planning your journey to the Mutianyu Great Wall from Beijing? Here are several transportation options to consider:

  • By car (approximately 2 hours): Traveling by car offers convenience and comfort, with a journey time of about 2 hours from Beijing downtown. Taxis from Beijing to Mutianyu Great Wall cost at least CNY 250 (40 USD), but availability may be limited due to the distance. For a hassle-free experience, consider using a private car service like China Discovery. Their professional drivers and guides ensure a safe and comfortable trip from your hotel to the Great Wall.
  • By taxi: Travelers can opt for a taxi ride to reach the Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall, with prices typically around 250 CNY (approximately 37 USD). Simply show the message "请带我去慕田峪长城景区" (which means "Please take me to Mutianyu Great Wall Scenic Area") to the taxi driver for easy navigation.
  • By bus (approximately 2.5-3 hours): Several bus options are available, though they typically take longer than traveling by car.
    • Mutianyu Shuttle Bus: Depart from Beijing Tourist Distribution Center and arrive at Mutianyu Great Wall Parking Lot 1.
    • Bus 916: Board at Dongzhimen Wai stop and transfer to Bus h23/36/50/24/35 to Mutianyu Roundabout.
    • Bus 867: Operating during peak season from Dongzhimen Wai stop to Mutianyu.
  • By train (approximately 3 hours): Travelers can consider taking a train from Beijing or Beijing East Railway Station to Huairou Railway Station, which takes about 1 hour. However, it's worth noting that this option may not be the most convenient for reaching the Mutianyu Great Wall Scenic Area due to additional travel time by cab or bus.

Considering factors such as time, convenience, and budget, the best transportation option to Mutianyu Great Wall may vary. Evaluate your preferences and schedule to make the most suitable choice for your visit.



As previously said, we chose the easy way and booked a tour through a tour agency. After checking the reviews online, our choice was made: we'd do it with Layover Tour Beijing. What we liked was that they offered various tour options, all depending on how long your layover is. The tour we chose was based on the "Mutianyu Great Wall & Forbidden City & Hutong Layover Tour" (check it here), except that as we got to Beijing airport around noon, we were not able to visit both the Great Wall AND the Forbidden City. Thus, we advise you to visit either the Great Wall or Beijing, not the two of them.


The agency is very flexible so don't hesitate to tell them what you'd like to visit, the staff will create a tailor-made program for you. Everything is taking care of, so you have nothing to worry about! On the day of the layover, our guide picked us up at the airport and later on took us to our car with a dedicated drive who was ready to take us on our tour.


For the Great Wall Tour, the starting price is 180 USD for one person. But the more you are, the cheapest it becomes. We paid only 220 USD for two! In order to book and secure the tour, half of the total amount must be transferred via PayPal; the other half must be paid at the end of the tour, preferably in Chinese Yuan (CNY). So pay attention to the conversion and do not forget to withdraw cash at the airport before you leave (you will need some cash, not only to pay for the other half of the tour but also to cover your personal expenses like meals and souvenirs).


The price includes the admission fee for the Great Wall of China, the English-speaking tour guide and a vehicle with a professional dedicated driver. However, the price does not cover meals, personal expenses, gratuities and tips to both the guide and the driver. Apart from the price of the tour itself, other fees must be added.


The Great Wall of China is located in Northern China. It measures more than 21.000 km in length and was originally initiated by Emperor Qin during the 3rd century BC to protect China and prevent attacks from barbarian nomads. The construction of the Great Wall continued even after the Qin Dynasty ended up in 1279, it is the result of hundred years of man work.


It is important to keep in mind that the Great Wall of China did not start out of a single and gigantic wall but is rather made of several smaller and unconnected walls which were built by war leaders in order to fight each other. During the "Warring States Period" (from 475 BC to 221 BC), China was made of seven states: Chu, Qi, Wei, Yan, Zhao, Qin and Han. These smaller and unconnected walls were built in order to protect each territory. The ultimate goal of a bigger and unified wall was to defend China against Mongol invaders and Huns coming from the north.



The Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall is one of the best-preserved and best-known section of the Wall. It is located 65 km at the north of Beijing and measures a total of 5,4 km. Its construction first started during the Northern Qi Dynasty (between 550-557). Over the years, it was partly destroyed but was then rebuilt a few centuries later, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The reconstruction aimed at strengthening its defensive potential and protecting the northern part of China, including the capital and imperial mausoleums.


Opening hours |

Summer: from 7.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.

Winter: from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.

Admission - 60 CNY (around 9 USD)

(incl. when traveling through a layover tour agency) |

MUTIANYU cable car, chairlift & toboggan

Make your exploration of the Mutianyu portion of the Great Wall even more thrilling with the various transportation options available, including cable cars, chairlifts, and toboggans. These choices not only provide ease of access but also add an extra element of excitement to your visit.

  • Cable car: Offering a scenic ride up to the Great Wall, the cable car provides stunning views of the surrounding landscape. It's a convenient way to reach the higher sections of the wall, especially for those with limited mobility or looking to save time. Prices for a one-way ticket range from approximately 80 to 100 CNY (around 12 to 15 USD), depending on the season.
  • Chairlift: Experience an alternative ascent to the wall's entrance (watchtower number 6) with a gentle ride on the chairlift. Revel in panoramic views as you soar above the picturesque landscape. Chairlift tickets range from approximately 50 to 80 CNY (around 8 to 12 USD) for a one-way trip. Please note that this option is not included in the layover tour price, as you have the alternative of walking up, which does, however, take longer.
  • Toboggan: Descending from the Great Wall can be just as exhilarating as ascending it, thanks to the toboggan ride. Whizz down a winding track through the forested hills, adding an element of fun to your visit. Toboggan rides are priced at around 50 to 70 CNY (around 8 to 10 USD) per person for a single trip.

These transportation options not only enhance your journey to the Great Wall but also provide memorable experiences along the way.


The Mutianyu Section consists of a total of 23 watchtowers. This section of the Wall was mainly built with granite and measures between 7 and 8.5 meters highThis segment boasts unique features, including crenelated outer and inner parapets, allowing for firing from both sides — a rarity among Great Wall sections. We recommend a leisurely stroll between towers, particularly from number 14 to 23, offering breathtaking views.


The 2250-meter stretch open to the public offers a scenic hike, taking approximately 3 hours from the eastern edge to the 23rd tower on the western edge. Opting for a cable car ride to watchtower 14 and hiking to watchtower 23, then returning to 14, takes about 1.5-2 hours. Alternatively, hike to watchtower 6, requiring about 50 minutes, and descend via chairlift or toboggan. For additional exploration, consider the two hiking paths from the ticket office, though these routes may tire you out before fully appreciating the scenery.


  • It is said that the Great Wall is the longest cemetery on Earth: during its construction, a lot of men died. Some authors estimated that a total of over a million people died. Human remains have been found under some parts of the Wall by archaeologists.
  • One of the construction material is somehow surprising: most of the parts of the Great Wall are built with stone, brick, wood and some other materials. But more interestingly, sticky rice flour was used as a mortar to bind the brick.
  • We touched upon this one before but the Great Wall is the longest structure that was ever built by humans. While it is hard to tell exactly how long is the Great Wall, it was estimated that it measures more than 21.000 km.
  • Today, the Great Wall is considered as the symbol of China and is one of the most impressive architectural achievement in human history. It is said that it is the only man-made structure visible from space.


We enjoyed our Great Wall experience, though the weather was disappointing with rain and fog limiting visibility. If conditions are poor, consider discussing alternative plans with your guide from Layover Tour Beijing, they usually are very flexible and they would certainly understand that you don't want to visit the Great Wall in a crappy weather. As previously said, we opted for a tour combining both the Great Wall of China and iconic places around Beijing, but in hindsight, focusing on one destination would've allowed for a more relaxed exploration. For more Beijing inspiration, check out our post here on iconic sites in Beijing like the Forbidden City.

And now it's your turn to tell us how your layover was at the Great Wall of China. Did you like it? What else would you recommended doing when on a layover in Beijing? We look forward to reading your comments in the section below.