Catching the train to the Great Wall of China

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.

Looking over the valley at Badaling

At the station

We started the day heading across Beijing by subway.

Line 2 crowds in morning peak at Xizhimen station

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.

Ticket office at Beijing North Railway Station

Then off to the waiting room until it was time for the train to depart.

Waiting room at Beijing North Railway Station

Out to the platform.

Platforms at Beijing North Railway Station

And our NDJ3 diesel multiple unit train was waiting in the platform.

Washing the trailing NDJ3 locomotive of our train

Time to take a seat.

Onboard a second class 25DT type carriage

And grab a snack from the dining car.

Drinks and snacks for sale from the buffet car

And away we go

Departure time, and we headed north out of Beijing.

Cyclists waiting at the level crossing on Xueyuan South Road in Haidian District for our train to pass

Leaving behind the 4th Ring Road.

Traffic on Beijing's 4th Ring Road

And level crossings a plenty.

Bikes, scooters, cars and buses all waiting for our train to clear the Shuangqing Road level crossing

We paralleled the elevated tracks that carry Line 13 of the Beijing Subway.

Line 13 of the Beijing Subway parallels the Jingbao Railway

Sped through little used suburban stations.

Sign at Qinghe railway station in northern Beijing

And railway goods yards.

Man stands beside the tracks, waiting for our train to pass

Diesel locomotives awaiting their next move.

China Railways diesel locomotive DF4 6047 waits in a siding outside Beijing

Locals wandering over the tracks.

Locals wait for our train to pass at Shahe railway station (沙河站)

Farewell to Beijing

As we continued north, eventually the suburbs started to thin out.

Cars outnumber cyclists in the northern Beijing suburb of Huilongguan Town

Quiet rivers.

Locals stand on the edge of the bridge as our train passes

But new apartment blocks were starting to make their move.

Apartment blocks in the northern suburbs of Beijing

Along with roads to nowhere.

Crossing over yet another Chinese road to nowhere

And even a driving school.

Beijing briving school, with their own road network

But eventually urban life gave way to farming in the countryside.

Farmland takes over from the northern suburbs of Beijing

The mountains appearing in the distance.

Mountains start to appear on the horizon

And we reached our first station stop, Nankou – 50 kilometres north of Beijing.

Nameboard at Nankou railway station

An important railway depot on the line.

Stabled carriages in the yard at Nankou railway station (南ロ车站)

Where we passed a second train coming the other way.

Nankou station, as we cross a NDJ3 locomotive on a train headed the other way

Then then we began the steep climb towards the Great Wall itself.

Heading up into the mountains near Juyong Pass

And on to the Great Wall

The terrain grew ever more mountainous.

Mountains of stone near Juyong Pass

Steel mesh preventing rockfalls onto the railway tracks.

Steel mesh prevents rockfalls onto the railway tracks

But winding our way through the mountains, at Juyong Pass we found what we came to see.

Billboards beside the Great Wall of China at Juyong Pass

The Great Wall of China!

First glimpse of the Great Wall of China from our train at Juyong Pass

We passed beneath the wall itself.

Great Wall of China viewed from our train at Juyong Pass

And continued climbing higher up into the mountains.

Transmission lines cross the mountains near the Great Wall

Time to zig and zag

Our train then paused at the switchback station of Qinglongqiao West.

Station nameboard at the switchback station of Qinglongqiao West

Where trains reverse direction.

Diagram showing the layout of Qinglongqiao station

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.

Leaving the train at Badaling for the Great Wall of China

And said farewell to our train.

NDJ3 diesel locomotive trails the train departing Badaling

Onto the Great Wall

After leaving the train, we had to make our way past tourist traps and car parks.

Looking up the Great Wall from the car park

But we made it – through the gate.

Passing through the gate at Badaling

And there it was.

Red flag flies over the Great Wall of China

Up onto the Great Wall.

Tourists everywhere at the entry to the Great Wall

Getting a fantastic view of where we had started.

Looking down on the tourist traps at Badaling

And how much further we could climb.

Looking over the valley at Badaling

Just don’t look down!

So many stairs on this section of the wall

In the distance I could just see Badaling railway station.

Badaling railway station, as viewed from the Great Wall

And a southbound train headed back to Beijing.

Looking down from the Great Wall to a southbound train departing Badaling station

As we continued along the wall, the crowds petered out.

Tourists start to peter out as you head along the wall

Until we reached the end of the line.

Newly restored section of the Great Wall south of Badaling, but not yet open to tourists

a newly restored section of the Great Wall not yet open to tourists.

Newly restored section of the Great Wall south of Badaling, but not yet open to tourists

So time to turn back.

Homeward bound

Back to Badaling station, passing through the usual security checks.

X-Ray machine for scanning baggage at Badaling station

And into the waiting room.

Waiting room at Badaling station

When our train arrived, it was a mad rush to get the best seats.

Passengers run down the platform at Badaling so they can get the good seats

But our seats still had a great view.

Jagged mountains near Juyong Pass

Station staff watching our train roll by.

Station master standing guard at Sanpu (三堡站) station

The last rays of sunshine striking the Great Wall at Juyong Pass.

Sun goes down on the Great Wall of China at Juyong Pass

As we left the mountains behind.

Scattered industry on the northern fridge of Beijing

And back to Beijing

Back down at Nankou, some people were headed home.

Street vendors still open for business in the evening

But others were still hard at work.

Team of workers digging away at the sides of a creek

Building new buildings.

Building an apartment block the old fashioned way

New suburbs creeping across the plains.

New buildings on the northern edge of Beijing

And more roads to nowhere.

Another little used multi-lane road in China

But eventually we reached Beijing.

Ad-hoc extensions to houses beside the railway tracks

Household life oblivious to the passing trains.

Domestic life in the northern suburbs of Beijing

Except for those waiting for our train to pass.

Cyclists and pedestrians waiting on Xueyuan South Road in Haidian District for our train to clear the level crossing

At one of many level crossings.

Bikes and scooters waiting for our train to pass at Qinghe railway station

And the little ones.

Domestic life in the northern suburbs of Beijing

Waving as we passed by.

Mother and son watch our train fly past

And the end

Back at where where we started the day.

NDJ3 locomotive ready to lead a train out of Beijing North railway station

I farewelled the train.

NDJ3 locomotive ready to lead a train out of Beijing North railway station

Then dodged the crowds making their way home north of Beijing.

Hoard of passengers ready to board the next train out of Beijing North railway station

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.

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2 Responses to Catching the train to the Great Wall of China

  1. Andrew says:

    What a great and interesting trip. Thanks.

  2. Pingback: Beijing's dead end expressway - Checkerboard Hill

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