Most visitors encounter the Great Wall at Bādálǐng (Bādálǐng Chángchéng; 6912 1338/1423/1520; admission Y45; 6am-10pm summer, 7am-6pm winter), its most-photographed manifestation, 70km northwest of Běijīng. The scenery is raw and yields choice views of the wall snaking archetypally into the distance over undulating hills. Unless you visit during the bitterly cold days of winter, however, don’t anticipate a one-to-one with the wall, and prepare for guard rails, a carnival of souvenir stalls and squads of tourists surging over the ramparts. A summer weekend trip reminds visitors that China has the world’s largest population, so opt for a weekday excursion.

Two sections of wall trail off in opposite directions from the main entrance. The restored wall crawls for a distance before nobly disintegrating into ruins; unfortunately you cannot realistically explore these more authentic fragments. Cable cars exist for the weary (Y60 round trip).

The section of masonry at Bādálǐng was first built during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), and was heavily restored in both the 1950s and the 1980s. Punctuated withdílóu (watchtowers), the 6m-wide wall is clad in brick, typical of the stonework employed by the Ming when they restored and expanded the fortification.

The admission fee also includes a 15-minute film about the Great Wall at the Great Wall Circle Vision Theatre (9am-5.45pm), a 360-degree amphitheatre, and the China Great Wall Museum (9am-4pm).