Getting Around Beijing
The best ways to get around Beijing are on foot and by subway. As one of the largest, most populous cities in the world, Beijing has its fair share of traffic problems. During morning and evening rush hours, the roads are clogged with a mix of cars and bikes. Therefore, the only ways to get around efficiently are on your own two feet and the subterranean route. Most of the top attractions are clustered together, so walking to each one is your best option. If you're traveling long distances, hop on the subway, get off at the station closest to your destination, and then flag a taxi. Whichever mode of transit you decide to use, be sure to purchase the newest possible map. Beijing's thoroughfares and transportation system are evolving at an incredible rate.
Most visitors arrive through Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK), located about a 30-minute drive (sans traffic) from downtown. While visitors find taking a cab into the city very easy, others avoid the extra cost by using the Airport Express train to reach subway lines 2, 10 and 13. The ticket costs 25 yuan, or about $3.50.
First, understand that Beijing is massive. You're ludicrous if you attempt to tackle this megapolis solely on foot. That said, you should explore this city in sections. Once you get to a neighborhood, walk as much as you can. You don't want to waste time in traffic; there is too much to see and do here!
Immune to above-ground traffic, Beijing's subway is efficient and cheap, with new lines and improvements added quite often. The subway is easy to use and English maps are available at popular tourist stops. Tickets start at 3 yuan (about 43 cents) and increase to 9 yuan (about $1.30), depending on distance. You can buy single tickets or a reloadable card at the stations.
A gigantic fleet of nearly 30,000 buses traverse the city streets, shuttling passengers from point A to point B. You'll see them zooming by and be tempted to hop on one, but you need to prepare yourself before doing so. There are so many lines that you can easily get on the wrong bus. Also, during rush hour, buses can be very crowded, so recognizing your stop becomes increasingly difficult. Bus fare is calculated by distance traveled, with the lowest fare starting at 2 yuan (about 30 cents). Stops are announced in English and Chinese and routes are denoted by numbers and Chinese characters.
Taxis are safe, comfortable and relatively cheap. That said, taxis are not always the fastest means of transportation. Beijing's avenues are nearly always busy. If you're traveling long distances or during rush hour, consider using the subway to get close to your destination and then take a cab the rest of the way. Lastly, taxis can be difficult to catch at peak times. All legitimate Beijing taxis have a meter, which should start at 13 yuan (about $1.90). After about 2 miles, the fare will start to slowly increase. Rates will also be bumped up after 11 p.m. It's always a good idea to have your hotel's name and address written down on a piece of paper in Chinese in case your driver doesn't speak English.
Renting a car in Beijing is a mistake. Taxis and public transportation make getting around easy and affordable. With a car, you will only complicate your movements with parking and traffic. Further, unless you have a Chinese driver's license, you cannot legally drive a vehicle on the road. Should you want the freedom of a car, hire a car service for the day. If you require a vehicle for one reason or another (and have the appropriate license), you'll find rental agencies at Beijing Capital International Airport and throughout the city.
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