Beijing is a huge city so being able to get around efficiently without getting lost is extremely important. Luckily, China knows what they’re doing when it comes to their transportation system. There are multiple ways to get around (and ways NOT to get around) that I will explain throughout this post. Even if you can’t speak Chinese!
The Best Way to Get Around: The Subway
The subway is CRAZY EASY to get around. Personally, I think Beijing’s subway system is 10X easier to understand than New York’s subway system. Almost every station has two trains – each going a different direction. You’ll have to find the sign that show the stops each train goes to and in which order the stops go so you know which train is right for you (these signs are usually posted in two different places in plain sight – they’re hard to miss!).
Everything is in Chinese AND English. So don’t worry about not being able to read the signs.
Once you get onto the subway, there will be another sign above the exit doors that show which stop you’re at, which stop is next and what stops transfer to a different line. If you are sitting/standing at a part of the train that is hard to see the sign, don’t worry, they will announce each stop in both Chinese and English over the intercom.
But Kayla, how do I know which line I need to be on? Just look at the map (click here to view the map) and find the station closest to you and the station you need to get to. Just follow the lines until you get to your destination. Any station where two lines intersect is a transfer line. Once you get off the subway to transfer to another line, there are huge numbers with arrows to direct you toward the correct station you need to transfer to. Super easy!
….and did I mention it’s insanely cheap? The tickets for a one-way ride ranges between 3-5 Chinese Yuans, which is equivalent to $0.45 to $0.75!
How do I get my tickets for the subway? Each station has a machine before you enter the subway that allows you to enter where you’re going. It will automatically calculate how much your ticket will cost between the two stations and will distribute the ticket after you pay the machine. The machines have both Chinese and English options.
Note: China is extremely strict on controlling what you’re doing, what you’re buying and where you’re going, so each subway station requires you to go through a bag screen check before getting on the train. So be prepared for that!
THE SUBWAY DOES NOT RUN 24/7. Each train runs from around 5AM-11PM. This was what I was disappointed about the most with the trains. While I was in Beijing, I went to a rooftop bar and stayed out until 4 in the morning. Since the subway hadn’t opened back up yet, I was required to find a different way to get back to my hostel. That’s where the taxis come in.
Another Form of Transportation: Taxis
Taxis aren’t my first choice because it’s harder to communicate with the driver when you don’t know Chinese, but it’s not impossible. Taxis are typically much cheap than Uber/Taxi charges in the US. Plus, you can haggle with most of them for cheaper fares. But be sure to set an exact price before they start driving so they don’t charge you extra if they get “lost.”
My best tip for riding in taxis when you can’t speak Chinese is to look up the destination on your phone, get the Chinese translation and keep a screenshot of it on your phone to show the taxi driver so he can understand exactly where you need to go. Google typically translates the addresses for you – but remember… Google is illegal in China!
Now that you have an idea of the best ways to get around Beijing, let me give you an extra tip on how NOT to get around.
Once, a lady told me a story about how she had decided to take a Rickshaw and the driver took her into an alley and wouldn’t let her leave until she handed over an excessive amount of money.
Not all richshaw drivers are scammers like this, but I definitely wouldn’t take the chance! Stay away from them!