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Air

Most travellers will fly into Běijīng. Average flight times include: London 10 hours, New York 14 hours and Sydney 12 hours. Běijīng’s international airport is Běijīng Capital International Airport (PEK). If coming from elsewhere in China, you may also fly into the small Nányuàn Airport (NAY).

For good deals on flights to and from Běijīng, try Ctrip (www.ctrip.com) or eLong (www.elong.net).

Běijīng Capital International Airport

The world’s second-busiest airport by passenger traffic, Běijīng Capital International Airport has three terminals. Terminal 3 (三号航站楼; sān hào hángzhànlóu) deals with most long-haul flights, although international flights also use Terminal 2 (二号航站楼; èr hào hángzhànlóu). Both are connected to the slick Airport Express, which links to Běijīng’s subway system. The smaller Terminal 1 (一号航站楼; yī hào hángzhànlóu) is a 10-minute walk from Terminal 2. Free 24-hour shuttle buses connect all three terminals.

Facilities

All terminals have ATMs, money-changing facilities, information desks with English-speaking staff, booths selling local SIM cards, plenty of eating options and shops galore (although much less so at Terminal 1).

Sleeping

If you need to stay by the airport, Langham Place lays on a free shuttle bus and is well regarded.

Transport Options

Airport Express

The Airport Express, also written as ABC (Airport Běijīng City), is quick and convenient and links terminals 2 and 3 to Běijīng’s subway system at Sanyuanqiao station (Line 10) and Dongzhimen station (Lines 2 and 13). Avoid catching one of the waiting taxis on the road beside the Airport Express at Dongzhimen (not an official taxi rank). They invariably seek to overcharge tourists by not using the meter. Train times are as follows: Terminal 3 (6.21am to 10.51pm); Terminal 2 (6.35am to 11.10pm); Dongzhimen (6am to 10.30pm).

Bus

There are 17 different routes for the airport shuttle bus, including those listed here. They all leave from all three terminals and run from around 5am to midnight. Note that you may have to show a valid photo ID when buying your ticket.

Line 1 To Fāngzhuāng (方庄), via Dàběiyáo (大北窑) for the CBD (国贸; guó mào)

Line 2 To Xīdàn (西单)

Line 3 To Běijīng train station (北京站; Běijīng Zhàn), via Dōngzhímén (东直门), Dōngsì Shítiáo (东四十条) and Cháoyángmén (朝阳门)

Line 7 To Běijīng west train station (西站; xī zhàn)

Line 10 To Běijīng south train station (南站; nán zhàn)

Coach service to Tiānjīn (天津; ¥82, 2½ hours, hourly 7.30am to 11pm)

Taxi

A taxi should cost ¥90 to ¥120 from the airport to the city centre; bank on it taking 40 minutes to one hour to get into town. Ignore unofficial drivers who may approach you as you exit customs and join the line for an official cab. When you get into the taxi, make sure the driver uses the meter (打表; dǎ biǎo). Have the name of your hotel written down in Chinese to show the driver. Very few drivers speak any English.

Taken for a Ride

A well-established illegal taxi operation at the airport attempts to lure weary travellers into a ¥300-plus ride to the city, so be on your guard. If anyone approaches you offering a taxi ride, ignore them and join the queue for a taxi outside.

Car

The Vehicle Administration Office on the 1st floor of Terminal 3 – look for the ‘Traffic Police’ sign – issues temporary driving licences for use in Běijīng municipality. Applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 70, and must hold a temporary Chinese visa (three months or less). The straightforward process involves checking out your home driving licence and undergoing a simple medical test (including an eye-sight test). You’ll also need two passport photos and copies and translations of your documents, although it can arrange this for you at the office. The whole procedure takes about 30 minutes and costs ¥10. Once you have the licence, you can hire a car from Hertz (www.hertz.cn), which has an office just along the corridor. Self-drive hire cars (自驾; zìjià) start from ¥279 per day (unlimited mileage). A car-with-driver service (代驾; dàijià) is also available (from ¥1100 per day).

Nányuàn Airport

The very small Nányuàn Airport feels more like a provincial bus station than an airport, but it does service quite a few domestic routes. Airport facilities are limited to a few shops and snack stalls, and don't expect to hear much English.

Transport Options

Bus

The shuttle bus (机场巴士; jīchǎng bāshì) goes to Xīdàn (西单; ¥18, 1½ hours, 9am to last flight arrival) via Qiánmén (前门). You can pick up the subway at either destination.

Taxi

A taxi costs around ¥60 to ¥70 to the Tiān’ānmén Sq area. Ignore drivers who approach you. Use the taxi queue. Make sure the driver uses the meter (打表; dǎ biǎo).

Bus

There are numerous long-distance bus stations, but no international bus routes to Běijīng.

Bāwángfén Long-distance Bus Station

Bāwángfén long-distance bus station (八王坟长途客运站, Bāwángfén Chángtú Kèyùnzhàn; 17 Xidawang Lu) is in the east of town, 500m south of Dawanglu subway station. Destinations include the following:

Bāotóu 包头; ¥181, 12 hours, 6pm

Chángchūn 长春; ¥288 to ¥362, 12 hours, 6pm and 9pm

Dàlián 大连; ¥326, 8½ hours, 10am, noon and 10pm

Harbin 哈尔滨; ¥375, 14 hours, 5.30pm

Shěnyáng 沈阳; ¥165 to ¥227, nine hours, regular (8am to 10.30pm)

Tiānjīn 天津; ¥35, two hours, regular (7.30am and 6.30pm)

Sìhuì Long-distance Bus Station

Sìhuì long-distance bus station (四惠长途汽车站, Sìhuì Chángtú Qìchēzhàn; Jianguo Lu) is in the east of town, 200m east of Sihui subway station. Destinations include the following:

Bāotóu 包头; ¥180, 12 hours, 10.30am

Chéngdé 承德; ¥85, four hours, regular (6am to 5.50pm)

Dāndōng 丹东; ¥270, 12 hours, 4pm and 5.40pm

Jìxiàn 蓟县; ¥30, two hours, regular (5.10am to 7.30pm)

Liùlǐqiáo Long-distance Bus Station

Liùlǐqiáo long-distance bus station (六里桥长途站, Liùlǐqiáo Chángtúzhàn) is in the southwest of town, adjacent to Liuliqiao subway station. Destinations include the following:

Dàtóng 大同; ¥133 to ¥150, 4½ hours, regular (7.10am to 6pm)

Héféi 合肥; ¥380, 13 hours, 1.45pm

Luòyáng 洛阳; ¥148, 10 hours, 5pm and 7.30pm

Shíjiāzhuāng 石家庄; ¥83, 3½ hours, regular (6.30am to 6.30pm)

Xiàmén 厦门; ¥580, 30 hours, 11am

Xī’ān 西安; ¥278, 12 hours, 5.45pm

Zhèngzhōu 郑州; ¥130 to ¥158, 8½ hours, regular (8.30am to 9pm)

Liánhuāchí Long-distance Bus Station

Liánhuāchí long-distance bus station (莲花池长途汽车站, Liánhuāchí Chángtú Qìchēzhàn) is a short walk north of Liùlǐqiáo long-distance bus station and close to Liuliqiao subway station. Destinations include the following:

Ānyáng 安阳; ¥100, 6½ hours, six daily (8am to 5.30pm)

Luòyáng 洛阳; ¥150, 11 hours, 5pm and 6.30pm

Yán’ān 延安; ¥256, 14 hours, 2.30pm

Zhàogōngkǒu Long-distance Bus Station

Zhàogōngkǒu long-distance bus station (赵公口汽车站, Zhàogōngkǒu Qìchēzhàn) is in the south, 10 minutes' walk west of Liujiayao subway station. Destinations include the following:

Shànghǎi 上海; ¥340, 16 hours, 4.30pm

Jǐnán 济南; ¥129, 5½ hours, regular (6am to 7.30pm)

Boat

Tánggū Port

The nearest major port is Tiānjīn International Cruise Home Port (天津国际游轮母港, Tiānjīn Guójì Yóulún Mǔgǎng). Express trains leave from Běijīng south train station to Tiānjīn every half-hour (¥54 to ¥93, 30 minutes). From there, take subway Line 9 to Citizen Plaza station (市民广场; Shìmín Guǎngchǎng; ¥12, one hour), then take bus 513 to the last stop (东疆游轮母港; Dōngjiāng Yóulún Mǔgǎng; ¥2, 40 minutes, 7am to 5pm).

At the time of writing, ferry services to Dàlián (大连; ¥260 to ¥880, 12 hours, 8pm) in Liáoníng province were running only between June and October, but check as the service is frequently suspended. It leaves on even-numbered days (the return comes back on odd numbers). Boarding starts at 6pm and tickets can be bought on the day of travel. You can also catch a ferry from here to Incheon (¥888 to ¥1590, 24 hours) in South Korea. Ferries leave twice a week, on Sundays and Thursdays; departure times vary. Check www.jinchon.cn for more details.

Car & Motorcycle

It is possible to drive to Běijīng from other countries, either by car or motorbike, but it requires a lot of paperwork that takes a couple of months to arrange. If you do so, you will have to stick to a route agreed beforehand, you can only enter the country at certain border crossings and it is compulsory to be accompanied by a Chinese guide. Such are the complexities involved in driving to China that most people use specialist travel agencies to arrange the necessary permits and permissions.

Train

Běijīng has three major train stations for long-distance travel (Běijīng station, Běijīng west station and Běijīng south station). Běijīng north station is used much less.

There are international train routes to and from Mongolia, North Korea, Russia and Vietnam, as well as trains to and from Hong Kong and Lhasa in Tibet.

Train Ticket Types

It is possible to upgrade (补票; bǔpiào) your ticket once aboard your train, but only on the rare occasions that a better option is available.

Soft Sleeper

Soft sleepers (软卧; ruǎn wò) are very comfortable, with four air-conditioned bunks in a closed compartment. Often, they cost as much as discounted airfares to the same destination.

All Z-class trains are soft-sleeper trains with up-to-date berths. A few T-class trains also offer two-berth compartments, with their own toilet. Tickets on upper berths are slightly cheaper than lower berths.

Hard Sleeper

About half the price of soft sleepers, hard sleepers (硬卧; yìng wò) are the golden ticket everyone wants and are the hardest to obtain: book them well in advance. Normally comprised of six air-conditioned bunks in an open-ended doorless compartment, there is less room than in soft sleepers, but they are still comfortable (clean bedding is provided). There is a small price difference between berths, with the lowest bunk (下铺; xiàpù) the most expensive, then the middle (中铺; zhōngpù), then the highest bunk (上铺; shàngpù).

As with all other classes, smoking is prohibited. Lights and speakers go out at around 10pm. Each compartment is equipped with its own hot-water flask.

Seats

Soft-seat class (软座; ruǎn zuò) is more comfortable but not nearly as common as hard-seat class. First-class (一等; yīděng) and 2nd-class (二等; èrděng) soft seats are available in C-, D-, and G-series high-speed trains. First class comes with TV, mobile-phone and laptop-charging points, and seats arranged two abreast.

Second-class soft seats are also very comfortable, with courteous staff. On older trains, soft-seat carriages are often double-decker, and are not as plush as on the faster and more modern high-speed express trains.

Hard-seat class (硬座; yìng zuò) is not available on the faster and more comfortable C-, D- and G-series trains, and is only found on T-, K- and N-series trains and trains without a number prefix; a handful of Z-series trains have hard seats. Hard-seat class generally has padded seats, but it’s a strain: unsanitary and noisy, packed to the gills and painful on long journeys.

You should get a ticket with an assigned seat number, but if seats have sold out, ask for a standing ticket (无座、站票; wúzuò or zhànpiào), which gets you on the train, where you may find a seat, but will otherwise have to stand in the carriage or between carriages (with the smokers). Hard-seat sections on newer trains are air-conditioned and less crowded.

Buying Train Tickets

Ticket Counters

There are no longer dedicated ticket offices for foreigners at the main stations in Běijīng, although there is sometimes a ticket window with a temporary 'for foreigners' sign attached to it. Otherwise, join any queue, but arm yourself with a few key Chinese phrases, or better still have a local write down what you want so you can show the ticket seller. Increasingly, ticket sellers at the three main stations speak a bit of English, but don’t count on it.

Planning Ahead

Never aim to get a hard-sleeper or soft-sleeper ticket on the day of travel – plan ahead. Most tickets can be booked in advance between two and 20 days prior to your intended date of departure. Buying hard-seat tickets at short notice is usually no hassle, but it may be a standing ticket rather than a numbered seat. It's normally no problem getting a same-day ticket on high-speed G, D and C-category trains to nearby destinations such as Tiānjīn. Tickets can only be purchased with cash, and you will need to show your passport to get them.

Return Tickets

Tickets are one way only. If you want to buy tickets for a train between two destinations beyond the city you are buying your ticket in, it is often better to go to an independent ticket office that charges a commission.

Busy Periods

As with air travel, buying train tickets around the Lunar New Year and during the 1 May and 1 October holiday periods ranges from very hard to impossible. At these times, touts swarm around the train stations selling black-market tickets; be wary of buying them as foreigners frequently get ripped off. You’re better off trying one of the many independent train-ticket offices dotted around the city – they charge a ¥10 mark-up per ticket. Or else ask at your hotel or hostel – they will usually take a mark-up of up to ¥50 per ticket.

Online Bookings

Tickets can be bought online at China DIY Travel (www.china-diy-travel.com/en), or at China Trip Advisor and Ctrip, although the last two charge a hefty commission. If you read Chinese, or know someone who does, you can book online at the official Chinese ticket website www.12306.cn without paying any commission.

Bullet Train to Tiānjīn

You can book tickets in advance for the C-class 'bullet train' from Běijīng south station to Tiānjīn, but trains are so frequent that you rarely have to wait more than half an hour for a train (except during public holidays) anyway.

International Trains

Mongolia

Two direct weekly trains leave from Běijīng train station to the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar (乌兰巴托; Wūlánbātuō): the Trans-Mongolian Railway train (K3; hard sleeper/deluxe ¥1259/1849, 27 hours, 11.22am) goes via Ulaanbaatar en route to Moscow, and leaves every Wednesday. Meanwhile the K23 service has a train which leaves on Tuesdays (¥1222/1888), 27 hours, 11.22am).

In the other direction, the K4 leaves Ulaanbaatar at 7.15am on Tuesday and arrives in Běijīng at 11.40am on Wednesday. The K24 departs from Ulaanbaatar at 7.15am on Thursday and reaches Běijīng the following day at 11.40am.

Russia

The Trans-Siberian Railway runs from Běijīng to Moscow (莫斯科; Mòsīkē) via two routes: the Trans-Mongolian Railway train (K3; hard sleeper/deluxe ¥3500/5600, 8.05am) and the Trans-Manchurian Railway train (K19; hard sleeper/deluxe ¥3900/6000, 11pm). The K19 leaves Běijīng train station every Saturday at 11pm. It arrives in Moscow on Friday at 5.58pm.

The return K20 leaves Moscow at 11.45pm on Saturday and arrives in Běijīng on Friday at 5.46am.

Vietnam

There are two weekly trains from Běijīng to Hanoi (河内; Hénèi). The Z5 (M2 in Vietnam) leaves Běijīng west train station at 3.45pm on Thursday and Sunday, arriving in Hanoi at 8.10am on Saturday and Tuesday.

In the other direction, the Z6 (M1 in Vietnam) leaves Hanoi at 9.40pm on Tuesday and Friday and arrives at Běijīng west at 9.55am on Thursday and Friday. Only soft-sleeper tickets (¥2063) are available.

North Korea

There are four weekly services to Pyongyang (平壤; Píngrǎng; hard/soft sleeper ¥1017/1476). The K27 and K28 both leave twice a week from Běijīng train station, meaning there’s a train on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Each train leaves at 5.27pm and arrives the following day at 7.30pm.

Return trains leave from Pyongyang at 10.10am on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, and arrive the following day in Běijīng at 8.31am.

Visas, Tickets & Tours

Visas are not available at the border crossings to/from Mongolia, North Korea, Russia and Vietnam. Ensure you arrange one beforehand.

You can only buy international tickets through travel agencies in Běijīng, not at train stations. For Mongolia, Russia and North Korea, buy tickets at the helpful office of the state-owned CITS housed round the back of the left-hand side of the lobby of the Běijīng International Hotel (北京国际饭店; Běijīng Guójì Fàndiàn), one block north of Běijīng train station. Trans-Siberian/Mongolian/Manchurian tickets can be bought from home, using Intourist Travel (www.intourist.com), which has branches in the UK, the USA, Canada, Finland and Poland.

For Vietnam, buy tickets at the office of CRTS. There’s no English sign, but it’s opposite the easy-to-spot Tiānyòu Hotel (天佑大夏; Tiānyòu Dàxià). Walk straight out of Exit C1 of Military Museum subway station, take the first right and CRTS will be on your left (10 minutes).

For help with booking a tour to North Korea, Běijīng’s leading tour company to the area is Koryo Tours.

Train Categories

C

Meaning

chengji gāosù (城际高速)

Type

ultra-high-speed express

D

Meaning

dòngchē, héxiè hào (动车和谐号)

Type

high-speed express

G

Meaning

gāotiě (高铁)

Type

high-speed

K

Meaning

kuàisù (快速)

Type

fast train

T

Meaning

tèkuài (特快)

Type

express

Z

Meaning

zhídá tèkuài (直达特快)

Type

direct express (overnight)

Left Luggage

Left-luggage counters (行李寄存; xíngli jìcún) and lockers can be found at all the main Běijīng train stations. Prices are ¥5 to ¥10 per bag per day. They tend to be open from around 6am to 11pm.

Běijīng Railway Station

The most central of Běijīng’s four main train stations, Běijīng Railway Station, which has its own subway stop, is mainly for T-class trains (tèkuài), slow trains and trains bound for the northeast; most fast trains heading south now depart from Běijīng south train station and Běijīng west train station. Slower trains to Shànghǎi also go from here.

Approximate travel times and typical train fares are as follows:

Dàlián 大连; Z-series, soft sleeper ¥372, 10½ hours (8.27pm)

Dàlián 大连; K-series, hard sleeper ¥239 to ¥244, 12 hours (4.46am and 8.06pm)

Dàtóng 大同; K-series, hard seat ¥99, six hours (2.49am, 10.57am and 3.45pm)

Harbin 哈尔滨; D-series, soft seat ¥306 to ¥313, 10 hours (6.58am, 10.02am, 1.51pm and 3.15pm)

Harbin 哈尔滨; T-series, hard sleeper, ¥261 to ¥268, 12 hours (5.10am, noon, 6.57pm and 9.24pm)

Jílín 吉林; Z-series, hard sleeper ¥244, 12 hours (4.55pm)

Shànghǎi 上海; T-series, soft sleeper ¥476 to ¥879, 14 hours (7.33pm)

Běijīng West Train Station

The gargantuan Běijīng West Station accommodates fast Z-series trains, such as the following (fares are soft sleeper unless indicated).

Chángshā 长沙; ¥504, 13 hours (regular)

Fúzhōu 福州; ¥673, 20 hours (2.45pm)

Hànkǒu (Wǔhàn) 汉口; ¥409, 10 hours (11.32am, 5.43pm and 6.02pm)

Kowloon (Hong Kong) 九龙; ¥707 to ¥738, 24 hours (train Q97, 1.08pm)

Lánzhōu 兰州; Z- and T-series, hard sleeper ¥322 to ¥363, 17 hours (five daily)

Nánchāng 南昌; Z-, T- and K-series, hard sleeper ¥296 to ¥322, 11½ hours (eight daily)

Wǔchāng (Wǔhàn) 武昌; T- and K-series, hard sleeper ¥261, 10 hours (seven daily)

Xī’ān 西安; Z- and T-series, hard sleeper ¥214 to ¥268, 11 to 12 hours (six daily)

Other typical train fares for hard sleeper tickets, and travel times:

Chángshā 长沙; T- and K-series, ¥322, 14 hours (regular)

Chéngdū 成都; Z-, T- and K-series, ¥399 to ¥456, 26 to 31 hours (7.53am, 11.32am, 11.46am, 4.32pm and 10.16pm)

Chóngqìng 重庆; T- and K-series, ¥381 to ¥389, 25 to 30 hours (7.16am, 10.31am, 3.12pm and 9.23pm)

Guǎngzhōu 广州; T- and K-series, ¥426, 21 hours (5.15am)

Guìyáng 贵阳; T- and K-series, ¥434 to ¥463, 29 hours (4.10pm, 9.13pm and 9.23pm)

Kūnmíng 昆明; Z-series, ¥536, 38 hours (8.55am and 1.06pm)

Shēnzhèn 深圳; K-series, ¥434, 24 to 29 hours (11.21pm)

Shíjiāzhuāng 石家庄; D-series, 2nd-class seat ¥86, two hours (7.58am, 1.18pm, 3.29pm and 9.16pm)

Ürümqi 乌鲁木齐; Z-series, ¥536, 34 hours (10am)

Xīníng 西宁; T-series, ¥353, 20 to 24 hours (1.12pm)

Yíchāng 宜昌; G-series, 2nd-class seat ¥605, 21½ hours (8.30am, 9.32am and 12.51pm)

Tibet

For Lhasa (拉萨; Lāsà) in Tibet (西藏; Xīzàng), the Z21 (hard seat/hard sleeper/soft sleeper ¥360/720/1144, 44 hours) leaves Běijīng west train station at 8.10pm, taking just under two days. In the return direction, the Z22 departs Lhasa at 3.30pm and arrives at Běijīng west train station at 8.20am.

Subway

Běijīng West has its own subway stop on line 9.

Bus

Public buses leave from the right of the station as you exit. Useful Bus 52 heads east past Xīdàn, Běijīng train station and Jiànguómén.

Taxi

Use the official taxi rank (underneath North Plaza) or walk a block away from the station and hail a cab on the street. Ignore drivers who approach you. Insist drivers use the meter (打表; dǎ biǎo).

Běijīng South Train Station

The ultramodern Běijīng South Station, which is linked to the subway system on Line 4, accommodates very high-speed ‘bullet’ trains to destinations such as Tiānjīn, Shànghǎi, Hángzhōu and Qīngdǎo.

Fúzhōu 福州; D-series, ¥765 to ¥2389, 15 hours (regular)

Hángzhōu 杭州; G-series, 2nd-class seat ¥538, six hours (regular)

Jǐ’nán 济南; G-series, 2nd-class seat ¥184, 1½ hours (regular)

Nánjīng 南京; G-series, 2nd-class seat ¥443, four hours (regular)

Qīngdǎo 青岛; G-series, 2nd-class seat ¥249 to ¥314, five hours (regular)

Shànghǎi (Hóngqiáo station) 上海虹桥; G-series, 2nd-class seat ¥553, 5½ hours (regular)

Sūzhōu 苏州; G-series, 2nd-class seat ¥523, five hours (regular)

Tiānjīn 天津; C-series, 1st/2nd-class ¥54/93, 30 minutes (regular)

Běijīng North Train Station

The smaller Běijīng North Station can be accessed from Xizhimen subway station.

Bādǎlíng Great Wall 八达岭; hard seat ¥6, 75 minutes, regular (6.12am to 1.35pm)

Hohhot 呼和浩特; K-series, hard sleeper ¥72 to ¥222, nine hours (7.29pm and 11.47pm)