Only a 70 km (44 mi) drive from Beijing, Badaling (Bādálǐng, 八达岭) is the most visited section of the Great Wall. Constructed during the Ming Dynasty, Badaling underwent extensive reconstruction during the 1950s and 1980s and now features amenities that invading barbarians would certainly kill for, from cable car rides to snack stands, caged bears, souvenir shops and restaurants, not to mention air-conditioned tour buses traveling down the expressway which links this length of wall to the capital.
With all the extras and the site's popularity, those seeking a less crowded and commercialized experience may want to head further out to Simatai, Jinshanling or other spots. But for those on a tight schedule who want to get in a visit to a prime length of the Great Wall, a Badaling day trip is an excellent option. Despite all the commercial trappings and crowds, a walk along the Badaling wall can be a stunning experience.
With a little effort (the climbs can be steep, hence the cable car), you can gain commanding views of the surrounding countryside and get a strong sense of the overall grandeur and expanse of the world's most famous (if ineffectual) defense project. It's a pleasure to take in views from the Ming-era watchtowers as the ancient wall snakes its way into distant, rugged hills. An off-season visit can be a real delight, especially after a snowfall when the wall's dark brick makes for a striking contrast against the white slopes and ridges.
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