The thought of how to get around in Beijing, and one with the traffic problems China’s capital is notorious for, is certainly daunting. Luckily, you’ll have a wealth of transportation options at your disposal, making it relatively painless to get from one sight to the next.
The Beijing of the past was a city of bicycles, and nearly everyone who resided here chose cycling as their main form of transportation. Thanks to China’s expanding economy and middle class, the city averages more than 1,000 new cars on the streets every day. That many vehicles makes for some serious traffic jams. It also means that biking around Beijing is one of the fastest (and cheapest) ways to get around. Everything is flat and most of the major streets have dedicated bike lanes, though that doesn’t guarantee the occasional impatient taxi driver doesn’t swerve into them.
If you don’t fancy pedaling yourself through the city, pedicabs wait outside many Beijing attractions waiting to carry visitors to other nearby destinations, and a pedicab ride through the old hutong neighborhoods should be on every Beijing itinerary. Bicycle rentals are common throughout the city, but particularly in the tourist areas, like the hutongs. If you’re going to rent, it’s best to use your own lock to prevent theft.
Taxis are much cheaper in Beijing than in the United States, but you may have difficulty finding a driver who speaks enough English to understand you. If you do decide to take a taxi, have a Chinese speaker write down your destination in characters to show to the driver. Taxis in Beijing (and throughout China) are required to use their meters, so you shouldn’t have any problems getting ripped off.
When Beijing hosted the Olympics in 2008, the city’s subway system got a massive upgrade, and today it’s both fast and reliable. Most of the time, the subway can easily get you from one place to another, but during rush hour, this form of transportation can be unbearable. Beijing’s subways close early by big city standards, so if you’re planning on staying out past 10pm, plan an alternate form of transport back to your hotel.
If you have some grasp of Mandarin, the bus system would be the cheapest way to get around Beijing short of walking. Unfortunately, buses are subject to Beijing’s terrible traffic congestion, so what would normally be a short journey can turn in to an hour or more affair.