I’ve been living in Beijing for just under a year now, but have had a fair few visitors so I’m something of a reluctant expert on how to get from the airport to the city centre. As with many things in China, the straightforward can often be made more complicated than necessary so here’s a rough guide on how to get to the city centre and vice versa.
Airport Express Train
If arriving at a civilised hour, the airport express train will be your best bet. The train is clearly signposted, runs through all terminals and will take you to Sanyuanqiao and terminates at Dongzhimen. You simply head to the ticket counter, hold up your finger for one, and pay the 25 kuai fee. It runs about every 10-12 minutes from the airport, from 06.35 – 23.00.
When you arrive at either Sanuanqiao or Dongzhimen, you can either transfer onto the metro (metro map below) or head outside and take your chances on a cab. Be warned though, cabs are sometimes tricky to find around these areas and you may have to settle for a tuk tuk instead. The tube system is pretty straightforward, so if you’re used to travelling cities by metro then you shouldn’t have a problem.
There are a few options if you’d prefer to get a cab to the city centre. Cabs in Beijing are dirt cheap, and the drive shouldn’t be more than around 150 kuai, depending on how far you’re heading. But this is also dependent on the type of cab you get. There are three options:
- Once you leave arrivals you’ll be inundated with drivers shouting “taxi! taxi!”. These are private cabs and I’ve gone with this option before in my more desperate times, as you’ll get in a car almost straight away – the sacrifice being that you’ll pay a fair bit more. Don’t accept extortionate prices – I’ve travelled long distances from the airport for much less than 200 kuai, but a bit of haggling is required.
- Head towards the official airport taxi rank – clearly signposted – and wait in the queue for a cab. This will undoubtedly take a pretty long time, especially if arriving late at night when the airport express is no longer available. However, it’ll also work out a lot cheaper as price is decided by the meter rather than a set agreed price. The queue is outside, so I wouldn’t recommend this idea when visiting Beijing in the winter months.
- Download an app called WeChat and add the account GrabTalk before you arrive. GrabTalk act as a personal secretary service for foreigners in China and can help you with a lot of stuff during your visit. They’re most useful for their cab service though – simply message them with your estimated arrival time, terminal and destination, and ask for a place to meet the driver in the airport. If you connect you bank card to WeChat (a little tricky – I’ll be covering this soon) then you can pay them over the app.
TOP TIP: The best piece of advice I can possibly offer, not only for the above but also for general China travels – have the address of the place you want to go in Chinese, either as a picture or note on your phone, so you can easily show people. Try to accompany this with a map too, as many times drivers won’t actually have heard of where you want to go until they see where it’s pinpointed on a map. There is no point trying to tell the driver the address in Chinese verbally. Even if you’re pronouncing it perfectly, you’re foreign and coming from the airport, so they will answer you with “what, WHAT? I don’t know it. Where?!” Even if you know some basic Chinese phrases, this can still be quite intimidating.
There is also a shuttle bus which runs from 05.30 – 20.00, though I’ve never taken it because the Beijing bus system both confuses and terrifies me. If you want to save that dollar that you’d spend taking the express train though (seriously – just take the train), you can find a fairly comprehensive map here.
If your hotel offers a shuttle service that will definitely be the best way to go, as you can avoid the inevitable looking around trying to translate street signs that occurs when reaching your destination area. Just make sure you have a pre-arranged meeting point, because sometimes it can be tricky finding someone with decent enough English to ask directions from.
If you’re alone, the express train is the best option, but obviously having company makes the taxi a cheap and efficient way to go.