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UPDATED OCTOBER 2020 – The Great Wall of China is one of those attractions that should be on everyone’s bucket list. It truly is a remarkable architectural feat, and to see it in person is an incredible experience. Although a bit more challenging, visiting the Great Wall of China with kids can be done, even if you are traveling with a baby or toddler.
About the Great Wall of China
The primary section of the Great Wall known as the Ming Great Wall spans more than 5,500 miles. To put that in perspective, imagine if there was a wall spanning the USA from the west coast to the east coast.That would be massive, right? Now imagine if that wall continued across the entire Atlantic Ocean… in essence running from Los Angeles all the way to London. That is the approximate length of the Great Wall of China! This staggering statistic alone is enough to quantify the Great Wall as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
It took more than 2,000 years to build the Great Wall, which means there are centuries of history built into this remarkable site. There are parts of the wall that have been reconstructed while other parts are only partially standing, and still others are in ruins. Still it is one of the most famous landmarks in the world.
Bandaling is the most popular portion of the Great Wall. It is the most visited and usually the most crowded section of the Great Wall. The primary reason for its popularity is simply its proximity to Beijing. It is a convenient 1.5-2 hour drive from the center of Beijing. While it is typically crowded, we went on a cold, rainy day, so there were hardly any people beyond the first initial climb. At times, it felt like we had the site all to ourselves. Crowds thin out significantly the further you walk on the wall.
Visiting the Great Wall of China with Kids
The Great Wall of China is not an easy or leisurely walk. I originally envisioned climbing a few flights of stairs and then casually strolling along a stone path that weaves through the countryside at a gradual incline. Boy, was I wrong! Here are a few things to know before visiting the Great Wall of China with kids or without.
There are a lot of steep, uneven stairs
The Great Wall of China, at least the section we visited, is in a mountainous area. You are constantly hiking up or down at a steep incline. And by “steep” I mean ridiculously steep. You will feel like it’s leg day at the gym during your trip to the Great Wall.
The stairs are not only steep, some are taller than usual and the stones are uneven. Some of the steps were almost as high my knees. The steps can be a bit tricky and even dangerous for small children. If visiting the Great Wall of China with kids, watch them closely and make sure they hold onto the handrails. That, at least, shouldn’t be hard for them to do, considering the hand rails are about a foot high.
While the steps may be built for giants, the handrails were built for toddlers. Take your time, and if possible, I recommend investing in a child carrier and wearing young children. The attraction is obviously not stroller friendly, so it’s either wear them or let them walk.
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The Great Wall of China can get very crowded
Depending on the time of year you visit and the weather, the Great Wall can be extremely crowded. Even on a rainy day in the off season we fought through the crowds at the beginning of the trek. This is another reason a child carrier would be beneficial if visiting the Great Wall with small children. At the very least, I would make sure you have a child safety harness backpack with you if traveling with little ones who like to run ahead of you.
Walking the Great Wall of China with kids is challenging
We’ve already discussed the stairs and uneven stones. Depending on the section of the wall you visit there may be areas where the trek is more dangerous and challenging. Even at Badaling, a certain level of fitness is required. While visiting the Great Wall of China with kids is doable, make sure the area of the wall you are visiting is suitable for young trekkers. And be prepared for your children to get bored and tired of walking. I’ll admit my daughter wasn’t the happiest little person while we were there. She was cold and it was wet, but we were only in China for 72 hours, so we had to make the most of it, despite the weather.
Other things to consider when visiting the Great Wall of China with kids
Here are few additional pointers and things to consider when visiting the Great Wall of China with kids.
There are bathrooms along the wall – at least there were at Badaling. I don’t expect that is the case everywhere. We did not use the bathrooms while we were there, so I cannot speak to their cleanliness. However, I would almost bet the bathrooms do not have toilet paper, as many public bathrooms in China do not. Bring your own just in case. There is also a strong possibility the toilets are squat toilets. That is something else we came across quite a bit in China. Luckily, our potty training toddler did not need to use one, but I would be prepared just in case.
If you plan to visit the Great Wall of China with kids, bring some entertainment for the road trip there and back. It’s roughly a two hour drive to the wall from central Beijing, so a few travel activities or small toys will go along way. You can easily book a tour of the Great Wall of China that includes transportation.
A good pair of walking shoes or hiking boots is a must when visiting the Great Wall of China with kids or without! You want a shoe with a supportive sole since you will be doing a lot of walking, but you also want something that has a good grip in the event of rain. The stone pavers can get extremely slippery when wet. It’s easy to slip and fall if visiting the Great Wall of China in the rain. We almost slipped a couple of times ourselves.
Because of the elevation, it will also be cooler at the wall than in Beijing, so you may need a lightweight jacket in spring or fall. If you get to the wall and it’s raining, they sell ponchos outside the gates. They are inexpensive and ugly, but at least you’ll stay dry. Don’t make the mistake I did. Check the weather ahead of time and bring a rain jacket if needed, otherwise you’ll be wearing a bright red trash bag in all your photos on The Great Wall of China. Admittedly, this was not my best look.
Things to do around the Great Wall of China
There are a few restaurants and souvenir shops around Badaling where you can grab a bite to eat or have a cup of hot tea or a refreshing drink after your descent. Keep your eye out for the Chinese saying above. It is written several times on walls and sculptures in the area. The saying translates to “He who does not climb the Great Wall is not a true man.” You can get a certificate before you leave the attraction by showing your ticket to enter. This saying is inscribed on the certificate. You can also buy a souvenir photo for about 5 US dollars. You can do this inside the visitors center right before you get to the parking lot. There were no English signs identifying this area. In fact, we only knew about it because we had an interpreter with us.
Still have questions about the Great Wall? Check out this short video of our walk along the world-famous tourist site.
Have you been to the Great Wall of China with kids? Leave us a comment and tell us about your experience.