Taxis, buses, peddle bikes, and cars all contribute to major traffic and unforgettable rush hours in Beijing. Fortunately, the Beijing Subway provides a more convenient way to get around, and 10 million people use it every day. Once you’ve got your Yikatong card or app, navigating this massive system of 23 lines and some 390 stations will feel manageable. (Plus, all the signs are in English as well as Chinese.)
It might seem daunting to figure out the second largest subway system in the world, but with the following guide and a little bit of pluck, you’ll have this sorted before you can say “Zàijiàn!” (“See you later!”).
How to Ride the Beijing Subway
Fare rates: Fares are based on distance traveled, except for the Airport Express Lines, which have fixed rates. Distance-based fares range from 3 to 9 yuan (about 40 cents to $1.40). The Capital Airport Express charges 25 yuan per ride, and the Daxing Airport Express fares range from 10 to 50 yuan per ride, based on which class you choose. Children under 4 feet, 3 inches tall ride free when accompanied by an adult. If there is more than one child with one adult, only one child rides free. You can check ticket prices by downloading the Beijing Subway app.
Types of passes: The Beijing Subway has two kinds of physical tickets for tourists: single trip and a stored-value, contactless smart card called the Yikatong. Yikatongs can also be used to pay for buses, taxis, and public bicycles. If you have an iPhone or watch, simply use Apple Pay combined with Apple Wallet to buy and top up a digital card. Android users can download Easy Pass (易通行 Yitongxing) to do the same, but the app is in Chinese.
- Single trip tickets: You can purchase a single trip ticket in any Beijing Subway station from a ticket vending machine. Bring coins or 5 yuan and 10 yuan banknotes to use in the machine. Some stations have automatic ticket machines that can scan smartphones for payment via WeChat or Alipay. Each station has ticket vending machines where you can purchase single tickets or top up your Yikatong card.
- Yikatong cards: You can purchase a Yikatong card from the Customer Service Center of all subway stations, ticket windows of the Airport Express Train, Transportation Smart Card Service Centers, and some branches of the Agricultural Bank of China. You can also use WeChat and Alipay to pay at ticket machines. Tourists can purchase a three-day, seven-day, or 15-day pass on their Yikatong card, which cost 10 yuan, 20 yuan, or 40 yuan, respectively.
- Digital passes: Purchase through Apple Wallet or Easy Pass.
Hours of operation: Most lines operate from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., but that fluctuates slightly, depending on the station and line. The Airport Express opens at 6 a.m., and depending on the line, trains run every three to 10 minutes.
Delays and lost Property: To stay up to date with schedule changes, download the official Beijing Subway app or call the BJMTR service hotline at 010-639-88622 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. The app also lets you register lost property. If you speak Chinese, you can follow them on Weibo or their WeChat account for updates as well.
Transfers: Major transfer stations are especially busy during public holidays and rush hour. Commuters will have longer walks between lines in older stations which are known for their long hallways. Newer stations have been designed for more efficient transfers, with some even having cross platform transfers.
Accessibility: Most stations have four exits in four directions, clearly marked in Chinese and English. For those with mobility issues, the Beijing Subway is not a good option. Most entrances are not wheelchair-friendly and have stairs or escalators. Additionally, the heavy crowding and gaps between the train and platform can be challenging.
Subway etiquette: Personal space does not exist, especially during rush hour. Do not expect people waiting on the platform to wait for those getting off before they board. Board quickly and do not be afraid to push.
Rush hour: Rush hour is extensive, running from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Do not be surprised if you get pushed by a professional train pusher during this time.
See maps, lines, routes, news, and more specifics at the official BJMTR site.
Other Transit Options
Beijing has more than 1,200 bus routes, including regular downtown lines, suburban lines, night lines, and intercity lines. You can pay by cash, use a Yikatong, the Easy Pass app, or Apple Pay. With the Yikatong Card and app, you receive a 50 percent discount on buses in the downtown area, and 20 percent discount in the Greater Beijing Metropolitan Area. Routes are charged by distance with the minimum set at 2 yuan and the maximum varying from 10 to 12 yuan, depending on the bus. (Children under 4 feet tall are free.)
Bus routes 1, 2, and 3 are specifically for tourists. Buses 1 and 2 do clockwise circuits of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Bus 3 goes to the Bird's Nest and Water Cube in Olympic Park. The fare is about 10 to 20 yuan for these buses.
Subway lines: The Airport Express line links Dongzhimen, Terminal 3, and Terminal 2 of Capital Airport via Sanyuanqiao. It only takes about 20 minutes from the airport to Dongzhimen and costs 25 yuan. At Dongzhimen, passengers can transfer to Line 2 or Line 13, or at Sanyuanqiao transfer to Line 10.
The Beijing Daxing Airport line is the newest airport line and links the Beijing Daxing International Airport to Caoqiao and Daxing New City stations. The trip takes 19 minutes, costs 10 to 50 yuan, and runs from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Shuttles: The Beijing Capital Airport shuttle bus runs every 30 minutes from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and covers different routes, including to Beijing Railway Station. It costs 2 -30 yuan.
Daxing International Airport has six shuttle bus lines to the city center. Most run from 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Line 6 runs only during the night shift. Tickets cost 30 yuan.
Beijing is full of taxis, and you can use your Yikatong to pay for your ride (rates begin at 13 yuan). Cabs are nearly impossible to find at rush hour, though, if you don’t have a taxi hailing app like DiDi. Download this app, or plan to stick to the subway.
Bikes are great for wandering Hutongs (narrow streets) and are also a popular transport option in Beijing—almost every road has a bike lane, and Beijing has 86,000 public bicycles for rent from docking stations. These are free the first hour and then cost you 1 yuan per hour, with a max of a 10 yuan or 20 yuan charge per day, depending on the district. You can use your Yikatong to pay for them. Alternatively, 2.35 million undocked bikes can be rented through various bikeshare apps.
Renting a car is not recommended for tourists. Drivers tend to operate by a different set of standards in China than in Western countries. If you need to rent a car, though, all the information on the process can be found here. We recommend renting from Avis, as you can do it on the site in English. Prepare to spend at least two hours at the airport to get the documents and do the tests for the rental process, all located in Terminal 3.
Fares have to be negotiated beforehand with the driver. They can be a fun but pricier way to see the hutongs than by bike or walking.
Tips for Getting Around Beijing
- Subways, buses, and bikes will almost always be a better option than taking a taxi.
- There are buses running 24 hours in the city, but the subway closes around 11 p.m.
- You can rent bikes downtown, and in Shunyi, Fangshan, and Yanqing districts from 6 a.m. to 12 a.m with 24-hour return. Other suburbs and outskirts have 24-hour rental and return.
- Every subway platform has public toilets.
- If a taxi driver refuses to use the meter, get out and get another one.
- Always have the name and address of your hotel in Chinese, as well as the place(s) you are going.