Public Transport Options in Beijing

Beijing’s public transportation system is quite good with the centerpiece being a constantly expanding subway network. However, many destinations cannot be reached by subway and it can be unbearably crowded, meaning that taxis are often the most convenient method of moving around the city. But note that during peak hours Beijing’s roads can be completely gridlocked. At these times, it might even be worthwhile to face the enormous crowds in the subway. People ride bikes everywhere in Beijing and this can also be a good way to travel around.

If you’re staying in Beijing for an extended period it might be worthwhile to buy a Yikatong card. Similar to London’s Oyster card or Hong Kong’s Octopus card, it can be used to pay for travel on the subway and buses. As it becomes more widespread it will be able to be used for taxis and at some convenience stores, as in Shanghai and Guangzhou. The card can be bought at subway stations for a refundable ¥20 deposit plus however much credit you want to add to the card. Credit can be added at top-up machines or from cashiers in subway stations.

Be sure to take the time to do some walking around Beijing. While it’s not a practical means of moving between sights, many tourists find strolling through the old hutong districts to be some of their most enjoyable times in the city. The most easily accessible hutong areas are around the Drum and Bell Towers or west of Dongsishitiao and Chaoyangmen subway stations, as far as the stations on Line 5.

Getting Around Beijing By Subway

Although it is still too small to be considered world class, the Beijing subway benefited enormously from significant expansion in the past few years. The current lines might seem somewhat awkwardly arranged, but they make sense when viewed together with the future development plans. Unfortunately, most of the remaining planned lines won’t open until 2012 or later.

As the first subway to be built in China, the old lines 1 and 2 look a little dated. However, the new lines are modern and clean. The whole Beijing subway system is easy to navigate: all the stations have English signs and there are announcements in English on the trains telling you the name of the next station. The first trains start from the ends of the lines a little after 5am while the last ones leave around 11pm. Trains arrive every 2-7 minutes.

The Beijing subway is very cheap at a flat fare of ¥2 per trip to anywhere in the network. In 2008, the Beijing subway finally came out of the dark ages and replaced their paper tickets with an electronic ticketing system. Tickets (in the form of a plastic card) can be purchased either from the touch-screen automatic machines (displayed in Chinese and English) or from the cashiers.

The Beijing subway system covers most major tourist attractions, including Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, the Lama Temple and Summer Palace as well as the major business and shopping areas. The Tuanjiehu subway stop on Line 10 is fairly close to the Sanlitun nightlife area, however, there are no subway stations close to other party precincts Houhai and Nanluogu Xiang.

Beijing Subway Website: www.bjsubway.com (currently in Chinese only)

Getting Around Beijing By Taxi

Taxi is the most convenient way to get around Beijing when the subway isn’t an option or when you can’t be bothered fighting the underground crowds. Taxis are plentiful, though it can be very difficult to get one during peak hours or in bad weather. You can hail a cab from just about anywhere. To avoid communication problems, take the name of your destination written in Chinese and show it to the taxi driver. Make use of our “Show the taxi driver” notes beneath every place mentioned in our guide to Beijing.  It will make getting around Beijing by taxi much easier.

Flagfall for taxis in Beijing is ¥10, which covers you for the first 3km of travel. Each additional kilometer costs ¥2. At night flagfall is ¥11 for the first 3km and ¥2.4 for each additional kilometer.

Getting Around Beijing By Bus

With such a decent subway system and cheap taxis there is little reason to travel on public buses in Beijing. They are crowded, slow and the routes are difficult to decipher. If you do want to take public buses you will usually pay ¥1 for the older buses or ¥2 for the newer air-conditioned buses, though the fare can vary depending on the distance. Buses can be a good option for reaching tourist attractions on the outskirsts of Beijing or outside Beijing, such as the Summer Palace and the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China.

Getting Around Beijing By Bicycle

Bicycle is an extremely popular method of getting around Beijing for locals, expats and visitors alike. Most streets in Beijing have dedicated bike lanes, though you still need to deal with the unruly traffic at times, as well as the countless other cyclists. Still, compared to other cities in China, Beijing is very convenient for cyclists. Many hostels and some hotels will rent bikes from ¥20 per day.

Getting Around Beijing By Rickshaw

There are plenty of bizarre little transport options floating around Beijing. These range from dangerous motorised tricycles with an enclosed cabin at the back for passengers, to rickshaws and beyond. A rickshaw ride along quiet streets can be fun. But most of the other options have little practical value, unless you get a kick out of the sheer absurdity of them. Prices should be negotiated in advance and you will need to bargain.