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Shanhaiguan Great Wall — First Pass Under Heaven

Shanhaiguan Great Wall — First Pass Under Heaven

Written by Chris QuanUpdated Jul. 20, 2023

Shanhaiguan (Shanhai Pass) has been known as the "First Pass Under Heaven" since ancient times. It is a major pass of the Great Wall, with strategic importance at its east coast beginning. 'Old Dragon's Head' is where the wall itself meets "the Pacific Ocean" at the Bohai Gulf.

  • Chinese: 山海关 Shānhǎiguān /shan-heye-gwan/ 'Mountain-Sea Pass'
  • Open: 7:00am–5:30pm (peak season: April–November); 7:30am–5:00pm (off season: December–March)
Old Dragon's Head meets the sea>

Location of Shanhaiguan

Shanhaiguan was the most important pass of the Great Wall of the Ming Dynasty, protecting the widest corridor between China and its strongest rival neighbors, the Manchu.

It's in Qinhuangdao Prefecture, Hebei Province, nearly 300 km (186 miles) east of Beijing. Shanhai Pass is not like other Great Wall sections in mountainous or remote areas — the main fortress is in the middle of a large town.

Shanhaiguan Great Wall Map

Shanhaiguan's History: Who, When, and Why Built It?

The Great Wall at Shanhaiguan has a long history of more than 600 years and held a very important military position in ancient times. Most of the walls and fortifications are well preserved, and still have their original look.

In 1381, General Xu Da of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) led the construction of the Shanhaiguan Great Wall defenses. Shan means 'mountain' and hai means 'sea', and Shanhai Pass got its name due to its position between mountains and sea.

It served as the paramount frontier defense in the Ming era. And it was when the Manchu marched through it that signaled the end of the Ming Dynasty.

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Unique Features of Shanhaiguan

"You will not understand the military power of ancient China if you do not visit Great Wall at Shanhaiguan."

Dimensions: Length, Height, and Width

Shanhaiguan Great Wall stretched 26 kilometers (16 miles) long, closing the 10-kilometer gap between the mountains of Horn Peak and the sea at 'Old Dragon Head', and continuing 16 km in the mountains to the fort of 'Nine Openings'.

The average height is 12 meters (39 feet), and its width is over 10 meters (33 feet). It was built of rammed earth faced with bricks.

A Tourist Complex with 6 Major Attractions

shanhaiguan tourism map

Shanhaiguan now is a tourist complex with six major tourist areas, including Laolongtou ('Old Dragon's Head'), the Temple of Meng Jiang Nü, Jiaoshan ('Horn Mountain'), First Pass Under Heaven (the main fortress area in Shanhaiguan Town), Longevity Mountain, and Yansai Lake. Among them, Laolongtou and the First Pass under Heaven should not be missed.

Tourist Sights Inside the Fortress Area

Shanhaiguan Pass

Shanhai Pass's fortress layout is a square walled town. The wall is about 14 meters high, and 7 meters wide.

  • Arrow Towers: There used to be an arrow tower on each gate of the pass. Now only the tower on the east side (the gate with the 'First Pass Under Heaven' plaque (天下第一关 Tiānxià dì yī guān) is well preserved. These arrow towers controlled the main flow of traffic through the pass.  
  • The Gate House in front of the east gate is surrounded by a high wall and protected the fort town's nearby walls.  
  • Shanhaiguan Great Wall Museum has ancient-style architecture and contains many exhibitions like cannons and Great Wall models. You can learn about the Great Wall's history and culture there. 
  • Bell and Drum Tower is in the center of the fortress area.

Walking Conditions

The Great Wall at Shanhaiguan is well preserved and restored, surrounded by paved streets, and therefore walking conditions pose no significant risks.

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Best Time to Visit Shanhaiguan

You can visit Shanhaiguan all year round. But you are suggested to avoid China's major holidays when the wall is packed with Chinese tourists:

  • Labor Day Holiday — 5 days in/around the first week of May
  • National Day Holiday — 7 days in/around the first week of October

The scenery of the Great Wall varies with the seasons and each season has its pros and cons. Click here for what you can expect on the Great Wall near Beijing >>>

How to Get to Shanhaiguan (from Beijing)

Shanhaiguan is about 300 km due east of Beijing. There are over 13 high-speed train services daily running between Beijing and Beijing South train stations and Shanhaiguan, taking 2 to 3 hours. The First Pass Under Heaven is about 10 minutes walk north of Shanhaiguan Train Station. 

Public buses to the First Pass Under Heaven (天下第一关 Tianxiadiyiguan): 13, 25, 33, 302

Public buses to Old Dragon Head (老龙头 Laolongtou): 13, 21, 25

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Nearby Attractions

Besides admiring the Great Wall, visitors can also visit the Temple of Meng Jiang Nü and the Great Wall Museum, climb nearby mountains, or go boating on Yansai Lake.

Qinhuangdao, a popular beach town with Beijingers, is just down the road.

Tour with China Highlights

China Highlights use high-quality air-conditioned private transport to take the hassle out of getting to the Great Wall. If you are planning a trip to Shanhaiguan, China Highlights can help you design a Shanhaiguan tour.

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