Bicycle

Cycling is the most enjoyable way of getting around Běijīng. The city is as flat as a mah-jong table and almost every road has a bike lane, even if cars invade them. The quiet, tree-lined hútòng (alleys) are particularly conducive to cycling.

Bike Rental

Běijīng is in thrall to the new wave of Chinese bike sharing apps such as Mobike and Ofo. But to make use of the legions of branded bicycles all over the capital, a Chinese SIM card and bank account is generally required, although this situation may evolve as the apps spread overseas. Alternatively, the following are good options for renting bicycles (租自行车; zū zìxíngchē):

Bike Běijīng

Giant

Natooke

Bike stands around the Hòuhái lakes also rent bikes (per hour ¥10). Hostels typically charge ¥30 to ¥50 per day for a standard town bike.

Buying a Bike

Giant For new bikes and equipment.

Bike-sharing Scheme

Though it has largely been superseded by China's tidal wave of bike-sharing apps such as Ofo and Mobike (for which you will you need a Chinese bank account tied to a Chinese online payment solution, such as Alipay), Běijīng has an older bike-sharing scheme that can more readily be used by visitors. To use the red and white bikes, which, unlike the new apps, have to be docked and undocked from parking hubs outside central subway stations and on busy main streets, you must have an ordinary Běijīng travel card (refundable deposit ¥20) that is activated for bike-rental use.

To do that, head to either exit A2 of Tiantan Dongmen subway station or the kiosk just outside exit A of Dongzhimen subway station (marked with a bicycle logo). Both are only open Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 11.30am and from 2pm to 4pm. You will need your passport and a ¥400 deposit to activate the card for bike use, and the Běijīng travel card must also have at least ¥30 of credit.

Swipe your card at one of the bike sharing hubs to get a bike; then swipe it again when you put it back. Note that when swiping your card, don't remove it until you hear a click. Bike use is free for the first hour, so if you use them cleverly, swapping bikes at another kiosk before your hour is up, it means free bikes. After the first hour, it's ¥1 per hour to begin with, before it starts rising in price to ¥2, ¥3 or ¥4 per hour, depending on how long you keep the bike for.

Bus

Běijīng’s buses (公共汽车; gōnggòng qìchē) have always been numerous and cheap (from ¥2), but they’re now easier to use for non-Chinese speakers, with swipe cards, announcements in English and bus-stop signs written in pinyin as well as Chinese characters. Nevertheless, it’s still a challenge to get from A to B successfully, and the buses are as packed as ever, so you rarely see foreigners climbing aboard.

If you use a travel card, you get 50% discount on all journeys.

Useful Routes

1 Runs along Chang’an Jie, Jianguomenwai Dajie and Jianguomennei Dajie: Sìhuìzhàn, Bāwángfén, Yǒngānlǐ, Dōngdān, Xīdān, Mùxīdì, Jūnshì Bówùguǎn, Gōngzhǔfén, Mǎquányíng

4 Runs along Chang’an Jie, Jianguomenwai Dajie and Jianguomennei Dajie: Gōngzhǔfén, Jūnshì Bówùguǎn, Mùxīdì, Xīdān, Tiān’ānmén West, Dōngdān, Yǒngānlǐ, Bāwángfén, Sìhuìzhàn

5 Déshèngmén, Diànmén, Běihǎi Park, Xīhuámén, Zhōngshān Park, Qiánmén

15 Běijīng Zoo, Fùxīngmén, Xīdān, Hépíngmén, Liúlíchǎng, Tiānqiáo

20 Běijīng south train station, Tiānqiáo, Dashilar, Tiān’ānmén Sq, Wángfǔjǐng, Dōngdān, Běijīng train station

44 Outer ring Xīzhímén, Fùchéngmén, Fùxīngmén, Chángchūnjiē, Xuānwǔmén, Qiánmén, Tàijíchǎng, Chóngwénmén, Dōngbiánmén, Cháoyángmén, Dōngzhímén, Āndìngmén, Déshèngmén, Xīnjiēkǒu

52 Běijīng west train station, Mùxīdì, Fùxīngmén, Xīdān, Gate of Heavenly Peace, Dōngdān, Běijīng train station, Jiànguómén

103 Běijīng train station, Dēngshìkǒu, China Art Gallery, Forbidden City (north entrance), Běihǎi Park, Fùchéngmén, Běijīng Zoo

332 Běijīng Zoo, Wèigōngcūn, Renmin Daxue, Zhongguāncūn, Hǎidiàn, Běijīng University, Summer Palace

These double-decker routes may also be useful:

2 Qiánmén, north on Dongdan Beidajie, Dongsi Nandajie, Dongsi Beidajie, Lama Temple, Zhōnghuá Mínzú Yuán (Ethnic Minorities Park), Asian Games Village

3 Jijia Miao (the southwest extremity of the 3rd Ring Rd), Grand View Garden, Lèyóu Hotel, Jìnguāng New World Hotel, Tuánjiēhú Park, Agricultural Exhibition Center, Lufthansa Center

4 Běijīng Zoo, Exhibition Center, 2nd Ring Rd, Holiday Inn Downtown, Yuètán Park, Fuxingmen Dajie flyover, Qianmen Xidajie, Qiánmén

Car & Motorcycle

China does not recognise the International Driving Permit, but it is relatively straightforward to obtain a temporary driving licence that allows you to drive in Běijīng and the surrounding area. The Vehicle Administration Office at Terminal 3 at Běijīng Capital International Airport issues temporary licences, and you can also rent cars at Terminal 3 and other locations around town from Hertz.

A separate licence is needed to drive a motorbike and it is generally not possible to rent motorbikes in Běijīng as the capital, like many Chinese cities, has restrictions on where motorbikes can be driven. No licence is required to drive a scooter, or electric bike, but they are not normally available for hire. Given the relatively low cost of hiring a car with a driver, or a taxi for the day, few visitors self-drive.

Road Rules

Cars in China drive on the right-hand side of the road. Even skilled drivers will be unprepared for China’s roads: cars lunge from all angles and chaos abounds.

Car Hire

  • Miles Meng (137 1786 1403; www.beijingenglishdriver.com) Friendly, reliable, English-speaking driver. See his website for prices.
  • Mr Sun (孙先生; Sūn Xiānsheng; 136 5109 3753) Only speaks Chinese but is dependable and can find other drivers if he’s busy. Round trips to the Great Wall from ¥600.
  • Hertz (赫兹; Hèzī; 400 888 1336; www.hertz.cn; 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm Saturday and Sunday) Has an office at Terminal 3 of Běijīng airport, as well as at 10 other locations around town. Self-drive hire cars (自驾; zìjià) from ¥279 per day. Car with driver (代驾; dàijià) from ¥1100 per day.

Local Transport

Massive and getting bigger every year, with another 12 lines set to be in operation by 2021, the Běijīng subway system is modern, safe, cheap and easy to use. It does get crowded, though. Fares are ¥3 to ¥8, depending on how far you are travelling. Get hold of a travel card (refundable deposit ¥20) if you don’t want to queue for tickets each time you travel. The travel card also gets you a 50% discount on all bus journeys within the municipality of Běijīng.

To recognise a subway station (地铁站; dì tiě zhàn), look for the subway symbol, which is a blue English capital ‘D’ with a circle around it.

The Metroman smartphone app reveals the Běijīng subway map in all its ever-expanding glory, with stations listed in both English and Chinese.

Rickshaw

Rickshaws (三轮车; sānlúnchē) are less common these days, but you will still see them (both the cycle-powered ones and the motorised ones), especially around major tourist sights. Generally speaking they’re more expensive than taxis, and foreign tourists are often heavily overcharged, so we don't advise using them.

Hútòng Tours

Rickshaw tours (one hour, per person ¥100) can be taken around the Hòuhǎi Lakes and around the alleys by the Drum Tower, although they are aimed mostly at tour groups, and riders don’t speak English.

Taxi

Taxis (出租车; chūzūchē) are everywhere, although finding one can be a problem during rush hour, rainstorms and between 8pm and 10pm – prime time for people heading home after eating out.

Flag fall is ¥13, and lasts for 3km. After that it’s ¥2.3 per kilometre. Rates increase slightly after 11pm.

It's rare for drivers to speak any English, so it’s important to have the name and address of where you want to go written down in Chinese characters. Remember to keep your hotel’s business card on you so you can get home at the end of the night.

Most Běijīng taxi drivers are honest and use the meter (打表; dǎ biǎo). If they refuse, get out and find another cab. The exception is for long, out-of-town trips to, say, the Great Wall, where prices are agreed (but not paid for) beforehand.

China's official taxi hailing app, Didi Dache (滴滴打车), which acquired Uber's China operations in 2016, now has an English-language version with features that include 'canned' messages you can send to drivers that are translated automatically. Using it requires a Chinese phone number and a WeChat payment account, although the company was in the process of adapting its service to accept foreign phone numbers and credit cards at time of research.

The Basics

Key Information

Bicycle

The most fun and often the quickest way to get around. Almost every road has a bike lane. Bike rental per day is around ¥50, or take advantage of Běijīng's bike-sharing scheme.

Walking

The best way to see Běijīng’s hútòng.

Subway

Quick, modern and easy to use (all signage is in Chinese and English), but often crowded, so don't expect a seat. Fares range from ¥3 to ¥8.

Bus

Dirt cheap and they go everywhere, but difficult for non-Chinese speakers to negotiate, and often overcrowded. Per trip ¥2; with travel card ¥0.8.

Motor Rickshaw

Fares have to be negotiated (rickshaws don't have meters) and tourists are often heavily overcharged. We don't recommend using them.

Taxi

Cheap by Western standards but at certain times hard to find, and traffic jams can really slow things down. Flag fall is ¥13.

Key Routes

Buses 专1 & 专2 These two handy buses do clockwise circuits of the Forbidden City, looping south to Qiánmén, via Tiān'ānmén Sq.

Subway Lines 1 & 2 For 30 years, until 2002, these were Běijīng's only two subway lines. They're still the most useful for tourists, as between them they get you to the Forbidden City, Tiān'ānmén Sq, the Drum Tower, the Lama Temple, the main train station and the shopping hubs of Xīdān and Wángfǔjǐng.

Key Phrases

dǎ dī (打的) To take a taxi (colloquial)

dǎ biǎo (打表) To use the meter

qù _____ duōshǎo qián? How much to _____ ?

zuò chē (坐车) To take a bus

qù _____ ma? Does this go to _____ ?

mǎi piào (买票) To buy a ticket

yīkǎtōng (一卡通) Travel card

shuā kǎ (刷卡) To swipe a travel card

xià chē (下车) To get off any vehicle

dào le! (到了) We've arrived!

kuài dào le (到了) We're nearly there

dǔ chē (堵车) Traffic jam

zū zìxíngchē (租自行车) To rent a bicycle

yǒu suǒ ma? (有锁吗?) Do you have a bike lock?

dǎ qì (打气) To pump up a tyre

How to Hail a Taxi

  • It's almost always best to simply hail a passing taxi from the side of the road.
  • A red '空车–for hire' sign will be illuminated in the front windscreen when a taxi is free.
  • Your hotel may be able to help arrange a taxi for day trips out of town.

Top Tips

  • Go right to the very end of subway carriages for a bit more breathing space (but probably still no seat).
  • Every subway platform has public toilets at one end.
  • If a taxi driver refuses to dǎ biǎo (use the meter), get out and find another one.
  • Taxi drivers don't speak English, so always have the name and address in Chinese characters of the place you're going to. And don't forget your hotel's business card, so you can find your way home again.

When to Travel

  • Rush hour Roughly 7.30am to 8.30am and 6pm to 7pm. This is when the subway is heaving, but it's also very tough to find an available taxi. Avoid these times if you can, or cycle.
  • Rainstorms Taxis are always elusive when it's raining.
  • Evening In areas where there are lots of bars and restaurants, it can be hard to find a taxi from around 8pm to 10pm.

Transport Etiquette

  • Do give up your seat for children or the elderly, even if it seems as though others aren't prepared to do so.
  • Passengers of all ages (not just kids) rush to any spare seats the moment the subway doors open.
  • Don't expect people to let you off your subway carriage before they get on.
  • Bus and subway passengers expect to be allowed to move next to the door in preparation for getting off at the next stop.

Tickets & Passes

  • It’s worth getting a free travel card (一卡通; yīkǎtōng; deposit ¥20) at any subway station or large bus station. It makes subway travel more convenient and gives you 60% off all bus rides, including those out to the Great Wall. You can recharge them at most (but not all) subway stations and bus-station ticket kiosks.
  • Children shorter than 1.2 metres travel for free, but each must be accompanied by a fee-paying adult.