China’s capital is a huge city, so any visit there is going to require using transport of some form to get around and see all the wonderful things it has to offer. Of course, you can get around by taxi, but to save some money and get a more local experience, using the reliable public transport system is a great way to get around and see Beijing. Here’s a guide to help you understand how to use it.
Beijing was the first city in mainland China to have a metro system (or subway – as it is locally referred to in English), and currently the system is made up of 17 lines, but it is expanding every year. Stations are easy to spot as they are marked with the metro’s symbol, a blue circle around a hollow square.
The metro operates daily from 05:30 – till 23:00. There are two main rush hours: around 08:00 in the morning and later – at about 18:00. Whenever possible, avoid travelling on the metro at these times as trains become uncomfortably crowded and some stations are so overrun by people that you have to queue on the street to even enter.
It is possible to buy single journey tickets at machines at every metro station. To do this, you need to know the name of your destination station so as to correctly calculate your fare. Machines only accept ¥1 coins as well as ¥5 and ¥10 notes and journeys typically cost between ¥3 and ¥10 depending on the distance you’re travelling.
To save yourself time, it is more convenient to get a pre-paid Yitakong card for ¥20 (which is refundable if you return the card at the end of your trip) and load it with credit. You can load up to ¥100 at a time and each time you touch the card in and out for a complete journey, the cost of that journey will be deducted from your balance. Prices are the same as for single journey tickets, but it will help you avoid queuing and fumbling with change.
There are more than 20,000 buses serving over 700 routes in Beijing, so they form a vast network that reaches almost every part of the city. Buses numbered 1 to 300 serve the city centre, while higher numbers go further into the suburbs. Many operate in dedicated bus lanes to make sure they don’t get stuck in the frequent traffic jams that Beijing is subject to, meaning that a bus will usually be quicker than taking a taxi – even at busy times.
The disadvantage of using the bus system compared to the metro is that many bus stops display route and timetable information only in Mandarin, so if you can’t read it, it can be quite a difficult system to navigate.
However, if you know in advance which bus to take, it is very cheap: typically only ¥2 per journey. If paying cash to the driver, try to make sure you have the exact change, however you can also use your Yitakong card if you have one, in which case it will be at least 50% cheaper than the cash fare.
Onward travel from Beijing
Beijing Station, the main train station is where trains towards Russia via Mongolia depart and arrive and is directly on metro line 2 where journeys operate on the regular tariff. To get to or from the airport by metro, special fares apply: a single journey originating or terminating at Beijing Capital International Airport station cost a flat fare of ¥25.
Things to beware
Like in many major cities, you should beware of your personal possessions when using the public transport in Beijing. Pickpocketing, especially on crowded buses, can be an issue, so it’s advisable to carry your backpack on your front, for example. Note also that some metro stations will require you to pass your belongings through an X-ray machine and for you to walk through a metal detector, though this is normal procedure.