A must-see! There are multiple sections that are relatively close to Beijing. The best-known is Badaling, but most Great Wall reviews says that Mutianyu is much better, mostly due to the insane crowds at Badaling.
Unfortunately, Mutianyu is harder to get to, requiring either a somewhat lengthy bus-then-transfer-to-minibus ride (which did not sound like fun with small children) or a taxi/private car rental (which would have required us lugging the car seats all the way from Shanghai). In contrast, Badaling is accessible via train -- much more manageable, and no car seats required. And we figured that the cold weather would likely keep the crowds down.
The S2 train goes from Beijing North Railway Station to Badaling. Finding schedules online was a little bit of a challenge. This page currently has schedules, but that might change in the future!
Beijing North Railway Station is accessible via the Xizhimen subway station (line 2). There is plenty of signage in Chinese and English to direct you from the subway exit to the train station. Allow a few extra minutes to buy tickets at the station (it was 12 yuan/about $2 per adult; the kids were free) and get to your train. We didn't... and ended up missing our train! If you find yourself in the same boat and need to kill some time till the next train, there is a nice mall attached to the subway/train station. Plenty of restaurants and shops, and a fantastic fish tank on the lower level. And regular toilets, unlike the train station :)
The train ride takes about an hour, but the nice thing about trains is that the kids can get up and walk around, go to the bathroom, etc. Way better than a bus ride of the same length.
We were a little worried about missing the Badaling station stop, but it was very clear. It was the only station stop where the announcements were made in both Chinese and English :) Plus, pretty much the entire train got up.
Once we arrived, it was a short walk (a little under a kilometer) to the base of the Great Wall. There were signs, but we mostly just followed our fellow train travelers.
Turns out we were right about the cold keeping the hordes of visitors away. This is the main parking lot. Apparently, it is packed in summer, but on our visit, it was a ghost town:
This worked out really well for us, but I do think I'd opt for Mutianyu in summer, despite the hassle of getting there.
There are a variety of restaurants at the base of the Great Wall, but none up at the top, so bring food/water if you think you'll need it during your stay. Also, you might want to use the bathrooms at the bottom. The bathrooms at the top were probably the foulest bathrooms I've ever used in my life. Chinese toilets (which are stinky under the best of circumstances), port-a-potty style... ::shudder::
You can either walk up to the top, or you can take a cable car. Since we were getting a late start on the day (due to missing our intended train) and since it probably wasn't a good idea for me to hike at altitude while pregnant, we opted to take the cable car. It was 60 yuan (about $10) roundtrip for my husband and me. The kids were free.
Once you get to the top of the wall, you just walk... and walk... and walk. There are lots of steps, uneven terrain, and steep inclines, so it's a bit of a challenging walk for kids, especially little ones like Noob. And I can't see any way that you could bring a stroller up there. Needless to say, the Ergo was an absolute lifesaver. In fact, Littles got tired midway through, and Noob wanted to walk anyway -- so it was into the Ergo for Littles!
(This carrier isn't a great fit for her anymore; you can see how it hits her very low on her back, and doesn't support her bottom from knee-to-knee. But it's perfectly safe, just not quite as comfortable as it once was, for child and wearer. Still, better than having to either force her to walk or carry her in our arms!)
Despite the challenging walk, the views were absolutely worth it. Truly spectacular, and a highlight of our entire China trip.
This is easily accessible from the Tian'anmen East or Tian'anmen West subway stations (both on line 1).
Unfortunately, our visit was a bust. It was freezing cold and so just a few minutes into it, the kids were literally screaming because they were so cold. So we ended up seeing just a handful of things before turning around and heading back to the hotel for some hot chocolate :)
If you plan to go during times of extreme temperatures/weather (hot, cold, rain, etc.), know that it's a pretty long walk from the entrance to the entire Forbidden City area (right near the subway exits) to the entrance of the actual Imperial Palace, where you pay your admission fee and all that. Both kids were already pretty cold by the time we got to the entrance, and it didn't get any better once we got inside. There are many "buildings" inside the Imperial Palace, but they are all open-air pavilions that provide virtually no shelter from the elements.
We really should have saved ourselves the admission fee and turned around at the entrance. It wasn't worth what we paid (40 yuan/about $7 per adult, plus a little more for audio guides that we barely used) for the little that we saw. The walk to the entrance would've given us enough of a taste of what it's all about without tormenting the kids any more than necessary.
This is directly across from the entrance to the Forbidden City, easily accessible from the Tian'anmen East or Tian'anmen West subway stations (both on line 1).
It's just a big square with a lot of monuments :) Plenty of room for the kids to roam, and gawk at Communist-era architecture and statuesque soldiers. There are a bunch of museums in the buildings surrounding the square, too.
There is a lot more to see in Beijing, but that was all we had time for! Still well worth the trip!