Initially I was a little hesitant whether to do the Great Wall Tour or not mainly due to times and I have to admit that I was slightly lost among all the various tour operators offerings layover tours. Looking back, this has been one of the highlights of my travel life and one of the best attractions I have ever visited.

A few hours before my departure in Sydney, I had emailed Beijing Layover Tours via their website and shown my interest. The company was very quick to response as well as answered any follow-up questions of mine immediately via email and WhatsApp. 

After the check-in at Sydney airport, I was looking further into it, reading more about and decided to do it. Literally just before boarding my flight to Beijing, I had confirmed my tour and transferred the confirmation fee of USD 50 via PayPal.

I landed at 4:15 in the morning in Beijing at Terminal 3. At that time the airport was quiet and empty, which certainly helped this layover excursion. I am sure there are times where you will need to plan with additional hours due to traffic at the gates, on the roads as well as queues at the Great Wall. 

After leaving the airplane, I made my way as quickly as possible to Chinese border control, in order to be in the front of the line. First, you have to go the “Temporary visa” counter to get your short-term entry. You will fill out the “Temporary visa” form, pass it to the boarder control and receive your visa. Due to the time of day, as well as me being first, it took less than 15 minutes for the whole process. However, it was a small desk with maximum three to four people working there, so that the line can get longer quickly. 

Next you fill out the “arrival card” and line up at the border control. Again, it was pretty empty, so that I was able to go through quickly. Then you have to declare your customs by putting your hand luggage on the conveyor belt before exiting. 

Around one hour later at 5:30 I was done. Bear in mind that in China, social networks and emails are blocked, so best to finalise your communication prior to landing in Beijing. With that being said, network reception worked perfectly fine. I called Beijing Layover Tours, who were quick to respond and advised me to wait at Maan Cafe to be picked up at 6:30.

Seeing that I was by myself and that I am not the biggest fan of guided tours, I had booked a personal driver for USD 120. At 6:20 my driver arrived at the cafe holding up a sign with my name. He was called Jack. I was picked up in a spacious minivan and Jack offered me water, fruits and even internet. He spoke perfect English and was super friendly as well as happy to answer all my tourist questions.

We arrived at the Great Wall at around 7:45. It says that the Mutianyu Great Wall is open from 7:00 – 18:00 between April and October and 7:30 – 17:30 between November to March. However, Jack told me that it normally opens around 8:15/30. There are two ways to get to the Great Wall: Option 1) Gondala, which I chose and believed to be the better option, as it is closed and warmer, has nicer views and gets you closer to the highest part of the Mutianyu Great Wall. Alternatively Option 2) Chairlift, which is open and instead of going down, you can also ride the sled. 

While all charges are included for the car, the driver and the entrance, you have to pay for the gondola or chair lift. Both cost RMD 120, which is around USD 15. Make sure to find an ATM at Beijing airport to withdraw some RMD to have some Chinese money with you as they only accept cash. Also, please note that when I arrived on an early January morning that it was freezing cold. I put on an additional pair of socks and wore a thick down jacket. With that being said, when I got to the wall, the sun came out and after I started walking, I got warm quickly.

As soon as the gondola opened, Jack accompanied me in the gondola and brought me to the top. We were the first people of the day, which felt pretty special I must admit. I was extremely lucky as it was an incredible nice day with clear blue skies and sunshine. Jack took a few tourist photos of me and pointed me in the right directions. 

Mutianyu Great Wall has a total of 23 towers. The gondola takes you to tower 14, so closer to tower 23, which is the highest part. On the other hand, the chairlift takes you to tower 6. With that being said, the section between tower 14 to 23 sits higher, thus offering better views and is said to be more scenic and beautiful. I first walked up to tower 23 and then on my return to tower 12, before taking the gondola back down at tower 14.

After around one hour of exploring and enjoying this incredible man-made construction, I went back down. Jack was awaiting me in the cafe near the entrance, where I also bought a few souvenirs, incl. the wooden picture of the Great Wall with my name and date engraved.  

We left the Great Wall around 10:30 and arrived back at Beijing airport around 11:45. As I you are only in transit, you will have no bags to check-in and already possess your ticket. So, Jack kindly accompanied me straight to the security control, where we said “zian jiàn”.  

Throughout the booking the company was always available and very quick to answer my queries, which made the whole experience really smooth. Aside from the service this was hands down my best ever layover and I cannot recommend it high enough to do the same if you ever find yourself in Beijing airport with more than 8 hours to spare. 

For further information and booking please check out the following links below.