We landed in Beijing at exactly 10:05 am with a 22-hour layover ahead of us. Our rule for layovers is, if the layover is 8+ hours long (Iceland being an exception, there 6 hours are enough to soak in the blue lagoon), we get a visa and explore the country. As we were making our list of things to do in Beijing, our quest for adventure kicked in, and we wondered-- Would it be possible to visit one of the 7 wonders of the world on a simple layover? The answer is yes! Here's how we did it.
I love long layovers; I always view them as a free trip and another place to check off my bucket list. With just a little bit of planning, you're able to visit the Great Wall of China, enjoy the night markets and street food on a simple layover of 12+ hours in Beijing.
There are tours available to pick you up from the airport and take you sightseeing for the day. Including a visit to the Great Wall! We found this very helpful as public transportation is not time efficient when on a layover.
The Great Wall of China is one of the seven wonders of the world, but why is it a wonder? The Great Wall is the most extended human-made structure in the world built without machines since construction started in the 7th century BC. Despite construction starting so early, the wall was not built in a single period. Most remaining we see today were built about 600 years ago. It took around 2,500 years to build The Great Wall of China.
After landing in Beijing, you can get a 72 -Hour- Visa- Free transit stamp at the airport and explore China for up to 72 hours for free! After stamping our passports, we proceeded to the exit, where we met our private tour guide for the day. We hung out all day with IG: GreatWallMyLove and had an incredible time. Xiaowei is a local tour guide in Beijing that can personalize an all-day tour according to your needs with pickup / drop off at the airport or in town. His tours include a visit to the Great Wall, different temples, palaces, and ruins nearby. I highly recommend booking a tour with him; we felt at ease and stress-free driving around with a local and learning some of China's history along the way, not to mention knowing that we would make it back in time and not miss our flight. About The Great Wall-- The Wall is divided into many different sections, here we'll cover the top 5 most scenic, popular, and within a reasonable distance. I. Badaling: This section of the wall is the most popular among tourists as it's only a 2 hr drive from Beijing. Badaling is a restored part of the wall that offers stunning scenery if you can look past the hundredths of bodies trying to hike it! Visiting this area can quickly be done on a half-day trip. Other things you'll find here are cable carts that take you up and down the wall, the Great Wall museum, and a circular screen cinema. II. Mutianyu: This section of the wall is fully restored, and the one we decided to visit as its only a 1.5 hr drive from Beijing, and crowds tend to fluctuate depending on time. I recommend visiting as early as possible for an almost crowd-free experience. This part of the wall could easily be a half-day hike, and it offers watchtowers, cable carts that can take you up or down, a slide for when you're at the top of the wall to slide down ( super fun!), and stunning sceneries. *traffic in China is extreme, so these times are with a traffic-free drive. Always allow yourself some extra time* III. Jiankou: This section of the wall is wild, and the most challenging to hike since some of it is broken and continues to break. Steps in this part of the wall are very steep, making this a dangerous hike. Reaching this part of the wall is about a 3 hr drive, so allow yourself a full day to explore this area. Despite the challenges, what makes this section a photographer's dream is its natural, untouched, raw beauty.This Section of the wall remains in its original form from when it was once built. IV. Simatai: This is the only section of the wall open for night tours and an overnight stay. The hike here is steep as most of the wall is still wild; Therefore it is less crowded. This section of the wall was acknowledged as a world heritage site in1987, and reaching this area is about a 3hr drive from Beijing. You'll find other facilities here are cable carts, battery carts, zip lines to Simatai's west wall and boats on the reservoir heading to the east towers. This section of the wall is best hiked during fall when the natural scenery of red leaves is breathtaking and at night when lanterns are lit to illuminate the path.
V. Huanghuacheng: This Section of the wall offers water and land views as its set next to a lake. The scenery here is breathtaking, and some parts of the wall are still immersed in water. Reaching this part of the wall is about a 1.5 hr drive from Beijing and is excellent for hiking and camping as it's fully restored, but it can also get crowded.
Our layover was 22 hours, so we decided to spend the night in Beijing and got a hotel in the center. After getting dropped off at our hotel and showering (much needed after a full day of hiking), we decided to venture out and check out the night market, that lucky for us, was walking distance from where we were staying. This market is famous for having outrageous street food and snacks. Beware that it gets crowded, and the smell can, at times, not be the most pleasant. Unless you're a die-hard foodie that loves eating bugs, I recommend only stopping by to check it out for about an hour or so and maybe try a bug or two; after all, you're already there. We decided to roam the night market and nearby streets for a little bit. After we settled down at our hotel and had a nice relaxed dinner and bottle of
wine followed by a good night's sleep before flying back to the states the next morning. The truth is, even though I'm a foodie that will try everything safe to eat, I'm not much of a bug eater. Fernando loves them! He described these scorpions as being crunchy and tasty, like a power snack! I was more like, yeah, ok-- You can have them all. Lol The next morning, we woke up early and took a local direct bus to the airport. One thing I noticed when being in Beijing was my limited access to Social Media. I was not able to post on IG or Facebook, and some web pages were restricted. We also noticed how strict they were at the airport; we could not board the plane with any drinks. I'm used to that being the case before the checkpoint. After, I've always been allowed to bring water or drinks purchased at the terminal. One thing I did enjoy was the duty-free shopping inside the airport. I bought a stunning handmade bangle for under $5!
That's it for our 22 hours layover in Beijing. Have you had a layover in Beijing? Leave a comment with what you did and what your experience was like-- Would love to hear from my fellow wanderlust tribe.
Thanks for reading!