Suggested photography sites

If your primary goal is photography, there are two places that are the most commonly photographed in the Beijing area, corresponding to the two most commonly seen Great Wall scenes from books, magazines, postcards, and so forth. These two locations are Xiwuyanlou, the West Five-Eyed Tower at Jinshanling, and Zhengbeilou, the Sharp North Tower at Jiankou.

From Xiwuyanlou, facing east towards Jinshanling, you can see the entire Jinshanling Great Wall spread out before you. Beyond that is a view of the Simatai ridge. Since you're facing east, the best light usually comes late in the day. When the air is clear, the sun illuminates most of the wall all the way to Wangjinglou at the top of the Simatai ridge. Because the wall runs in so many directions and up and down so many hills, and due to the interesting terrain and surroundings, the entire scene is majestic.

View of Jinshanling from Xiwuyanlou
Simatai ridge in the distance

Zhengbeilou is possibly the most popular spot for photographers anywhere on any Great Wall. The scenery from here is just fantastic. Looking over the entire Jiankou Great Wall, you are looking to the west, so the lighting at sunrise is ideal. It’s no wonder that you see the traditional image of the Jiankou Great Wall from Zhengbeilou in books, videos, magazines, and calendars everywhere. The elevation of Zhengbeilou is 991 meters (3250 feet).

From Zhengbeilou, face west and you can see the entire Jiankou Great Wall in all its glory. Since you're facing west, sunrise and the early parts of the day provide the best lighting here. Sometimes you will get clear weather and a fantastic, distant view of the wall. A long line of the wall from Yingfeidaoyang north to Jiuyanlou gets illuminated by the sun and looks highly impressive.

In addition to these two places, however, there are many other excellent vantage points for photography which will net photos that are not so familiar and are therefore more special.

Niujiaobian, just to the east of Zhengbeilou, offers what I consider an even better view that that seen from Zhengbeilou. The elevation is higher and you can not only see the Same Jiankou Great Wall seen from Zhengbeilou, you can also see the beautiful Zhengbeilou tower in front of it. With the right composition, you can get the Niujiaobian Great Wall in the foreground, Zhengbeilou in the middle, and Jiankou in the background. This view encompasses great distance and so clear weather is essential to getting good photos. Like at Zhengbeilou, you're looking west, so early morning photos are best.

View of Zhengbeilou and the Jiankou Great Wall
Photo taken from inside top tower at Niujiaobian

At the other end of Jiankou is another high point at Jiuyanlou. From Jiuyanlou, several good views are available in various directions. To the east, you can see the entire Jiankou Great Wall, and to the west, you can see both branches of the wall at Moshikou, plus the walls of Xiangshuihu, Lianyunling, and Dazhenyu winding their way up and down the mountain ridges into the distance.

The Wohushan Great Wall at Gubeikou offers wonderful photo opportunities as well. As you ascend the ridge of Wanshoushan and Wohushan, turn around occasionally and look back to the east. At certain places you will be rewarded with an expansive view of Gubeikou's Panlongshan Great Wall, with both Jinshanling and Simatai visible in the background. This is another long-distance shot that requires clear weather for best results, but the rewards for being at the right place at the right time are more than worthwhile with clear images all the way to Wangjinglou at Simatai's summit.

Wangjinglou also offers great views of Jinshanling. This tower is not easy to reach, but once you are there, looking to the west offers a magnificent overview of the wall at Jinshanling and Gubeikou. If the weather permits, you can see all the way to Wohushan and even further. This is a westward view and the lighting is best in the morning and early in the day.

In Hebei Province, there are many wonderful photo opportunities. Some of the best locations include Banchangyu, Naziyu, Zhuizishan, Shibeigou, and Huachangyu.

In Shanxi Province, Laoniuwan and Datong offer beautiful locations in which to photograph the Great Wall. Since the terrain here is not as mountainous as it is further east, good photo locations are not necessarily at specific peaks, but rather, there are all around. Many different perspectives are available and your creativity is the only limit.