If you’re travelling to China then the Great Wall of China is probably on your list of must see sights. However you don’t need to sign up to a tour group to get out there, and get dragged to tourist traps and souvenir stores along the way – you can ride a train from Beijing right to the foot of the Great Wall at Badaling in a little over an hour.
At the station
We started the day heading across Beijing by subway.
Bound for Line S2 of the Beijing Suburban Railway, which runs to the Great Wall at Badaling.
First off – we had to buy a ticket from the booking office.
Then off to the waiting room until it was time for the train to depart.
Out to the platform.
And our NDJ3 diesel multiple unit train was waiting in the platform.
Time to take a seat.
And grab a snack from the dining car.
And away we go
Departure time, and we headed north out of Beijing.
Leaving behind the 4th Ring Road.
And level crossings a plenty.
We paralleled the elevated tracks that carry Line 13 of the Beijing Subway.
Sped through little used suburban stations.
And railway goods yards.
Diesel locomotives awaiting their next move.
Locals wandering over the tracks.
Farewell to Beijing
As we continued north, eventually the suburbs started to thin out.
But new apartment blocks were starting to make their move.
Along with roads to nowhere.
And even a driving school.
But eventually urban life gave way to farming in the countryside.
The mountains appearing in the distance.
And we reached our first station stop, Nankou – 50 kilometres north of Beijing.
An important railway depot on the line.
Where we passed a second train coming the other way.
Then then we began the steep climb towards the Great Wall itself.
And on to the Great Wall
The terrain grew ever more mountainous.
Steel mesh preventing rockfalls onto the railway tracks.
But winding our way through the mountains, at Juyong Pass we found what we came to see.
The Great Wall of China!
We passed beneath the wall itself.
And continued climbing higher up into the mountains.
Time to zig and zag
Our train then paused at the switchback station of Qinglongqiao West.
Where trains reverse direction.
Zig-zagging through a steep section of railway.
And we’ve arrived!
After our train reversed direction and took off down the other track, we soon arrived at our destination – Badaling station.
And said farewell to our train.
Onto the Great Wall
After leaving the train, we had to make our way past tourist traps and car parks.
But we made it – through the gate.
And there it was.
Up onto the Great Wall.
Getting a fantastic view of where we had started.
And how much further we could climb.
Just don’t look down!
In the distance I could just see Badaling railway station.
And a southbound train headed back to Beijing.
As we continued along the wall, the crowds petered out.
Until we reached the end of the line.
a newly restored section of the Great Wall not yet open to tourists.
So time to turn back.
Back to Badaling station, passing through the usual security checks.
And into the waiting room.
When our train arrived, it was a mad rush to get the best seats.
But our seats still had a great view.
Station staff watching our train roll by.
The last rays of sunshine striking the Great Wall at Juyong Pass.
As we left the mountains behind.
And back to Beijing
Back down at Nankou, some people were headed home.
But others were still hard at work.
Building new buildings.
New suburbs creeping across the plains.
And more roads to nowhere.
But eventually we reached Beijing.
Household life oblivious to the passing trains.
Except for those waiting for our train to pass.
At one of many level crossings.
And the little ones.
Waving as we passed by.
And the end
Back at where where we started the day.
I farewelled the train.
Then dodged the crowds making their way home north of Beijing.
Footnote: an update for the current day
Back when I visited the Great Wall in 2013, Line S2 departed from Beijing North station and travelled out of Beijing along a single track railway via multiple level crossings.
But since 2016 trains to the Great Wall along Line S2 now start at Huangtudian railway station, 15 kilometres to the north – accessed via Huoying station on Beijing Subway Line 8 and Line 13.
And in 2019 a second rail route to the Great Wall opened up – when high speed trains commenced serving the underground station of “Badaling Great Wall” on the Beijing–Zhangjiakou intercity railway.
For the most up to date information on the current situation, visit the How to take the train from Beijing to The Great Wall of China page by “The Man in Seat 61”.
Footnote: the Qinglongqiao switchback
On the climb up to Badaling there are two switchback station – the original station of Qinglongqiao opened in 1908 was part of the Jingbao Railway, the first railway designed and built by the Chinese.
But as traffic on the single track railway grew, the steep terrain made duplicating the existing route difficult. As a result, a second switchback at Qinglongqiao West was opened in 1962, northbound traffic using the new route.
And southbound traffic using the old.
More on the history of the switchback can be found in this Chinese language article.