Home to more than 21 million residents, Beijing boasts a sophisticated network of roads, railways and transports. It is estimated that there are millions of people using the public transport system everyday. So what transports to use for tourists? This blog will be my complete guide to public transport in Beijing.
1. Beijing public transport overview
1.1. Beijing public transport overview
Beijing is the most important transportation hub in mainland China in air, rail and road transportation. It is estimated that there are millions of people using the transport system every day.
It is no surprise that Beijing is ranked as the most congested city in China. Traffic jams are common in which taking buses or taxis at this time of the day will drain your limited vacation time.
1.2. Main forms of transport in Beijing
There are three main forms of public transport in Beijing including subways, buses and taxis. According to a report conducted by Statisca, the subway served a total of 3,07 billion passengers in 2021, making it the most-used mode of transport for Beijinger.
Although Beijing tops the list for most expensive cities in the world, the travel expenses are surprisingly cheap, with fares ranging from ¥3 to ¥8.
Besides subways, buses and taxis, rickshaws and bicycles are other modes of transport. You can find the below part for details of each transport.
2. Subways – Most convenient transport for tourist
The Beijing Subway has a total of 25 lines (including 20 rapid lines, 2 airport rail links, 2 light rail lines and a maglev) which covers up to 678.2 km. The system has been extended over recent years which is planned to be the largest in the world.
Subway is undoubtedly the best option for tourists to roam around the city. Moreover, all signs and announcements are in English which make it easier for tourists .
Subway is the only transport that can be used during rush hour since there aren’t any taxi drivers to accept ride requests. However, it is also the time when all people using public transport so each train compartment is packed with people
I had been in a subway during rush hour, and I had to compete for places to stand since there are no available spaces in the train compartment.
Baggage check is required upon entering any subway station (not only in Beijing but also any other cities in China).
3. Bus – Budget-friendly but not for tourists
Bus is another budget-friendly transport to use in Beijing, but not in terms of convenience. Actually, there are over 1,200 bus routes running in Beijing, including regular downtown lines, suburban lines, night lines and intercity lines.
So why is such a big network considered to be not a good option for tourists. It’s all about the language barrier. All signs and announcements are in Chinese. It was even quite difficult for a person who knows Chinese like me.
I only used the bus one time and I don’t want to use it for the second time. As if you don’t pay attention, you will miss the bus stop.
Payment by both cash and the Transportation Smart Card can be accepted.
4. Taxi – Best options for short-route journeys
4.1. Taxi in Beijing
The flag-down rate is 13¥ for the first 3km, and goes up by CNY2.30 per extra kilometer. For short-distance routes or during rush-hour, most drivers will refuse to turn on the meter and ask for a higher fare than normal. If you know Chinese, remember to make a bargain (this is when you make the most use of your Chinese).
Make sure to get in the right cab as there are also illegal cabs known as 黑车 (heiche, meaning ‘Black Cabs’ as in “black market” or “illegal”), which operate via a pre-negotiated fare. All legal cabs will be painted yellow or black and display their permits or paperwork on the windshield.
4.2. Read this before using taxis in Beijing
Keep in mind that most taxi drivers in Beijing cannot speak English (some don’t even know basic English phrases). It is recommended to prepare your destinations in Chinese (save in photos or notes) and show them to the driver.
Install Didi (a Chinese ride-hailing app) to book for a ride in Beijing (and of course in China) as Uber, Grab or Gojek are not usable in China.
It is impossible to book a taxi during rush hour before there will be no driver accepting your ride requests.
5. Bicycles – Environment-friendly option
Beijing was once known as the world’s ‘bicycle kingdom’ in which bicycles dominated the transport system and can be seen in every part of the city. With rapid urbanization, bicycles could do nothing but give room for other means of transport like buses or subways.
However, with government efforts to minimize the notorious pollution, bicycles have returned to be a preferred mode of transport.
It is estimated that there are 86,000 public bicycles at the docking stations and 2.35 million dockless. If you wish to use public bicycles, make sure to install bike rental apps and scan the QR code.
However, I would not recommend bicycles as it is not easy for tourists to find their ways in a big and congested city like Beijing.
6. Rickshaw – Curated only for hutongs
Used to be a traditional form of transport, rickshaws are an excellent way to experience old Beijing culture and Hutongs (alleyways). The rickshaw is a two or three-wheeled vehicle which is pulled by a rickshaw puller. Yes, it is only for tourists.
Rickshaws can always be found in tourist areas. A rickshaw ride will allow tourists to enjoy the signature street scene of hutongs. Keep in mind that a tourist-loved transport is not cheap and it is even more expensive than taking a taxi.
The legal rickshaw drivers are easily identified, for they wear a chest plate carrying his name and the supervision telephone number.
7. Summary: A complete guide to public transport in Beijing
7.1. Tips to get around Beijing
– Baidu Maps is the most popular navigation app since Google and of course Google Maps got banned in China.
– Sometimes the police will check your passport. Make sure to bring your passport along (or photos of the first page of your passport and page with China visa).
7.2. Beijing travel tips
– Autumn is the best time to visit Beijing for beautiful scenery and cheaper prices (since it is not China’s domestic travel season).
– Learn some basic Chinese words to communicate with taxi drivers, vendors or even hotel receptionists.
– QR code payment is so popular in China that many people don’t accept cash (as they don’t want to take changes).
– Book your accommodation near Wangfujing Road as it will enable you to explore the main tourist attractions of the city at a few steps (Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square,…).
I hope this blog will help you know how to get around in a big city like Beijing. I don’t get any difficulties while traveling around Beijing.
If you need any further information, kindly see other blogs in the Beijing series.
– MUST-USE WEBSITE TO PLAN YOUR NEXT TRIP –