Traffic in Beijing is horrendous no matter the time and traffic laws are not well enforced. As a pedestrian, always be extra vigilant because drivers won’t necessarily stop for you. On public transportation, expect to be surrounded and accidentally shoved by other people, because you will be packed together like sardines. Personal space is non-existent in the overcrowded subway trains and buses. The idea of patiently waiting in line has not yet caught on here either. You have to assert yourself to get anywhere and expect to get bumped a little. It’s important to be proactive and crafty as you navigate through the hoards of commuters, otherwise you could end up waiting around all day to get on a packed train.
Public Transportation: Although crowded, public transportation in Beijing is incredibly convenient. The subway is safe, clean, and easy to understand. It’s by far the fastest and cheapest way to get around. All station signs are marked in both English and Chinese and the system is extensive enough that you can get within 15 minutes walking distance or closer of almost any spot in the city. UrbanRail Beijing offers information about the subway system and its various lines.
Single ride tickets (3 RMB) and rechargeable subway cards are available at all subway stations. The rechargeable cards require a 20 RMB deposit and can be refilled throughout your stay. These cards can also be used to ride the bus system, which is a little bit more difficult to navigate as a foreigner if you do not have some mastery of Chinese. The subway hours differ depending on the station, with most first trains departing around 5:00am and last trains departing around 11:00pm.
Taxis: In Beijing, taxis can sometimes be difficult to come by, especially during rush hours. Local cab drivers will also sometimes refuse to stop for foreigners, just to avoid the potential hassle of a language barrier. Insist that your driver turns on the meter when you enter the cab to avoid having to negotiate a fee at the end of the ride.
There are some taxi hotlines you can call but none are reliable; hailing taxis on the street remains the best method. If you do not speak Chinese, bring a map and an address written in Chinese to give to your driver. Also, always carry your hotel or apartment building’s business card and/or address with you in case of emergency. If you need to travel far outside the city, hiring a driver for a daily fee is the easiest option. Travel to major tourist sites outside the city is made simple and cheap by numerous bus services.
Rickshaws: Enter at your own risk! Rickshaw drivers will often try to swindle foreigners, so be sure to negotiate a fair price before getting in. In the event of a disagreement over money at the end of the ride, it is wise to just pay the extra fee to avoid an altercation. In a pickle, rickshaws get the job done—but take heed.
Travel throughout China: Air travel within China and to other Asian cities internationally is convenient via the extremely large and state-of-the-art Beijing International Airport. There are daily domestic flights to Xi’an, Qingdao, Kaifeng, Luoyang, and Zhenzhou. The airport is easily accessible by the subway system, but if you are carrying lots of luggage it is easier to take a cab (the cost will likely be around 100 RMB).
Another, more affordable, option for travel within China is by train, as Beijing is linked directly to all the surrounding major cities by express rail. Many smaller towns are also serviced by slower local trains with infrequent departure times. Beijing China Train Transportation has more information on train travel in China.