A rechargeable transport card (jiāotōng kǎ ) for the underground, buses and taxis is available from subway stations and kiosks.
Relying on buses (gōnggòng qìchē ) can be knuckle-gnawingly frustrating unless it’s a short hop; thick congestion often slows things to an infuriating crawl (average speed below 10km/h) where Běijīng creeps by in slow motion. The growth in bus lanes aims to speed things up. Getting a seat can verge on the physical, especially at rush hour. Běijīng’s Chinese-only bus routes on bus signs are fiendishly foreigner-unfriendly, although the name of the stop appears in pinyin.
Fares are typically Y1 or under depending on distance, although plusher, air-conditioned buses are more expensive. You generally pay the conductor once aboard the bus, rather than the driver.
Buses run 5am to 11pm daily or thereabouts, and stops are few and far between. It’s important to work out how many stops you need to go before boarding. If you can read Chinese, a useful publication (Y5) listing all the Běijīng bus lines is available from kiosks; alternatively, tourist maps of Běijīng illustrate some of the bus routes. If you work out how to combine bus and subway connections, the subway will speed up much of the trip.
Buses 1 to 124 cover the city core; 200- series are yèbān gōnggòng qìchē (night buses), while buses 300 to 501 are suburban lines.
Useful standard bus routes are:
1 Runs along Chang’an Jie, Jianguomenwai Dajie and Jianguomennei Dajie, passing Sihuizhan, Bawangfen, Yonganli, Dongdan, Xidan, Muxidi, Junshi Bowuguan, Gongzhufen and Maguanying along the way.
4 Runs along Chang’an Jie, Jianguomenwai Dajie and Jianguomennei Dajie: Gongzhufen, Junshi Bowuguan, Muxidi, Xidan, Tiananmen, Dongdan, Yonganli, Bawangfen and Sihuizhan.
5 Deshengmen, Dianmen, Beihai Park, Xihuamen, Zhongshan Park and Qianmen.
15 Beijing Zoo, Fuxingmen, Xidan, Hepingmen, Liulichang and Tianqiao.
20 Beijing South train station, Tianqiao, Qianmen, Wangfujing, Dongdan and Beijing train station.
44 (outer ring) Xinjiekou, Xizhimen train station, Fuchengmen, Fuxingmen, Changchunjie, Xuanwumen, Qianmen, Taijichang, Chongwenmen, Dongbianmen, Chaoyangmen, Dongzhimen, Andingmen, Deshengmen and Xinjiekou.
54 Beijing train station, Dongbianmen, Chongwenmen, Zhengyi Lu, Qianmen, Dashilar, Temple of Heaven, Yongdingmen and Haihutun.
103 Beijing train station, Dengshikou, China Art Gallery, Forbidden City (north entrance), Beihai Park, Fuchengmen and Beijing Zoo.
332 Beijing Zoo, Weigongcun, Renmin Daxue, Zhongguancun, Haidian, Beijing University and Summer Palace.
Special double-decker buses 1 to 8 run in a circle around the city centre and are slightly more expensive, but spare you the traumas of normal public buses and you should get a seat.
Before the Olympic Games, foreign visitors were effectively barred from driving in Běijīng. Only residents who have lived in Běijīng for one year could apply and licence application procedures took a month to process. Such draconian restrictions were to be lifted for the Olympic Games, but may have been reinstalled. Check with Hertz (800-8108 833) for the latest news. Taxis are cheap and hiring a driver is a proposition, which can be arranged through Hertz (from Y520 per day), at major hotels, CITS (6515 8587) or other travel agencies.
Běijīng’s Capital Airport is 27km from the centre of town or about 30 minutes to one hour by car depending on traffic.
The newly opened Airport Line light-rail link (Y25, first/last train to airport 6.30am/10.30pm, first/last train from airport 6.30am/11.05pm) runs every 15 minutes, connecting Capital Airport with Line 2 of the underground system at Dongzhimen.
Numerous buses also run to and from the airport. Almost any bus that gets you into town will probably do; then you can hop in a taxi and speed to a hotel or link up with the underground system.
Several express bus routes (6459 4375 or 6459 4376) run regularly to Běijīng every 10 to 15 minutes during operating hours. Tickets on all lines are Y16. Line 3 (first/last bus from Capital Airport 7.30am/last flight, first/last bus from Beijing train station 5.30am/9pm) is the most popular with travellers, running to the Beijing International Hotel and Beijing train station via Chaoyangmen. Line 2 (first/last bus from Capital Airport 7am/last flight, first/last bus from Aviation Building 5.30am/9pm) runs to the Aviation Building in Xidan, via Dongzhimen. Line 1 (first/last bus from Capital Airport 7am/11pm, first last bus from Fangzhuang 5.30am/11pm) runs to Fangzhuang, via Dabeiyao, where you can get onto the subway Line 1 at Guomao. Check that your bus runs to the correct terminal.
A bus also runs from Nanyuan Airport – Beijing’s other airport – to the Aviation Building in Xidan, coinciding with departures and arrivals.
Many top-end hotels run shuttle buses from the airport to their hotels.
A taxi (using its meter) should cost about Y85 from the airport to the city centre, including the Y15 airport expressway toll. Join the taxi ranks and ignore approaches from drivers. When you get into the taxi, make sure the driver uses the meter. It is also useful to have the name of your hotel written down in Chinese to show the driver.
The subway (dìtiě ) is both fast and reliable and enjoyed massive expansion before the Olympic Games. Currently nine lines are operating (including the Airport Line), with two more under construction, including Line 9 which will link Beijing West train station with Line 1 and Line 4.
Line 1 (Yīxiàn) runs east–west from Pingguoyuan to Sihui East; Line 2 (Èrhàoxiàn) is the circle line following the Second Ring Rd; Line 4 (Sìhàoxiàn) links Gongyixiqiao and Anheqiao North; Line 5 (Wǔhàoxiàn) runs north–south between Tiantongyuan North and Songjiazhuang; Line 8 (Bāhàoxiàn) connects Jiandemen with Forest Park; Line 10 (Shíhàoxiàn) follows a long loop from Jingsong in the southeast to Bagou in the northwest; Line 13 runs in a northern loop from Xizhimen to Dongzhimen, stopping at 14 stations; and the Airport Line connects Dongzhimen with the terminals at Capital Airport. The Batong Line runs from Sihui to Tuqiao in the southeastern suburbs. At the time of writing, the flat fare was Y2 on all lines (Y5 if you swap between Line 13 and the rest of the subway system).
Trains run at a frequency of one every few minutes during peak times and operate from 5am to 11pm daily. Disabled passengers note that escalators often only go up. Only a few platforms have seats. Stops are announced in English and Chinese. Subway stations (dìtiě zhàn) are identified by subway symbols, a blue, encircled English capital ‘D’.
Běijīng taxis come in different classes, with red stickers on the side rear window declaring the rate per kilometre. Y2 taxis (Y10 for the first 3km, Y2 per kilometre thereafter) include a fleet of spacious Hyundai cars, with air-con and rear seat belts. The most expensive taxis are Y12 for the first 3km and Y2 per kilometre thereafter. Taxis are required to switch on the meter for all journeys (unless you negotiate a fee for a long journey out of town). Between 11pm and 6am there is a 20% surcharge added to the flag-fall metered fare.
Běijīng taxi drivers speak little, if any English, despite encouragement to learn 100 basic phrases for the Olympics crowd. If you don’t speak Chinese, bring a map or have your destination written down in characters. It helps if you know the way to your destination; sit in the front (where the seat belt works) with a map.
Cabs can be hired for distance, by the hour, or by the day (a minimum of Y350 for the day). Taxis can be hailed in the street, summoned by phone or you can wait at one of the designated taxi zones or outside hotels. Call 6835 1150 to register a complaint. Remember to collect a receipt (ask the driver to fāpiào); if you accidentally leave anything in the taxi, the driver’s number appears on the receipt so he or she can be located.
Flat as a mah jong board, Běijīng was built for bicycling and the ample bicycle lanes are testament to the vehicle’s unflagging popularity. The increase in traffic in recent years has made biking along major thoroughfares more dangerous and nerve-racking, however. Cycling through Běijīng’s hútòng is far safer and an experience not to be missed.
Budget hotels often hire out bicycles, which cost around Y20 to Y30 per day (plus deposit); rental at upmarket hotels is far more expensive. Rental outfits are increasingly common, including the (expensive) centrally located streetside operation (6313 1010; 8am-8pm) on Jinyu Hutong, which hires out bikes for Y10 to Y20 per hour, Y60 to Y80 per day. Another rental operator (per four hours Y10, per day Y20, deposit Y400) can be found by exit B of the Gulou Dajie subway station (8am-10pm).
When renting a bike it’s safest to use your own lock(s) in order to prevent bicycle theft, a common problem in Běijīng.