Because not many people own a car, public transportation is very well developed with an extensive subway and bus network.
Last updated May 2017
During rush hour Beijing subways and buses can be incredibly crowded with barely any room to even turn around or reach your own pant pockets. (Single-day ridership on the Beijing subway hit 10 million in March 2013, said the Beijing Morning Post.) If you hate tight spaces or need your personal space, this will not be a pleasant experience for you.
On the upside, it is very safe and female riders don’t need to be concerned about unwanted touching. (You may get a fair dose of staring though if you are tall and blond.)
A subway stop soon may open near you
Beijing’s subway system is ever expanding and surpassed Shanghai as the world’s largest metro system. When we first came to Beijing on a visit in 2006, there were three subway lines: Line 1, the ring line 2, and line 13 connecting to the northern periphery.
Now Beijing has thirteen subway lines, five additional unnumbered lines connecting to the outlying areas like the Changping line in the North or the Daxing line in the South, and an Airport Express Train, that connects the Capital Airport to the subway system.
New stops and entire lines are still being added every year.
Taking Beijing subway is easy
Signs at the subway stations and in the trains as well as regular announcements for the next stop are in English and Chinese.
The cost of a single ride starts at 3 Yuan and increases with the distance. Just swipe your Yikatong on the way in and the way out. (To learn more about the Yikatong, read 7 Ways to Get Around in Beijing.)
You can buy a ticket at the ticket window, where you need to tell the name of your destination station. Or you ca use the ticket machines, which have an English language option.
Tickets are only valid on the day they are bought. And you can only use the Yikatong for one person. Subway fare prices for Yikatong and single ticket are the same, although with the Yikatong you can get a discount if the monthly use exceeds a certain threshold.
If you buy a single ticket, make sure you keep the ticket. When leaving the subway station at your destination you have to “feed” the ticket into the turnstile machine to get out.
Beijing has now so many metro lines and interchanges that it is sometimes not easy to determine the fastest or best route. To help with that, you can use an app like Metro Beijing (also available for Shanghai).
You still have to walk
Connecting between different lines can be quite a trek, especially between older lines, and may involve climbing stairs. Sometimes, escalators are only for the way up, going down you have to walk. Newer lines often have nice and short connections and escalators in every direction.
Be prepared to have to carry any luggage, baby stroller, etc. up and down some stairs. Even if there is an elevator, it may not operate without personnel present. Beijing public transport is not very accessible for handicapped people or elderly, nor user-friendly for folks with baby strollers. Maybe that’s why you won’t see many strollers. Small children are often rather carried.