Portions of the Great Wall are within an hour’s drive of Beijing city limits, but a longer drive is necessary to avoid overcrowding and excessive commercialization. Located about 70 kilometers northwest of the city, Badaling is home to one of the nearest sections of the Great Wall. Visitors will trade off bumping shoulders with tourists for convenience and safety precautions (such as handrails). If you have several days off, visit the wall on a clear, sunny day. It will be hot in summer, but the views are much more spectacular without the Beijing haze.
My group visited the Badaling today, a Saturday, so the Wall was packed with tourists. President Calderon of Mexico was also visiting the Wall while I was there, so traffic delays and security precautions added several hours to the experience. With Olympic tourists and foreign dignitaries visiting the city in August, a trip to more remote locations such as Mutianyu (90 km) or Simatai (110 km) may save time and frustration. If visiting Badaling, consider renting a taxi for the day or arranging transportation through your hotel. The Ming Tombs, also nearby, are worth visiting only if you have extra time after visiting The Forbidden City and other attractions within the city.