Beijing - Getting Around
Yes it’s big. But don’t let it scare you. Beijing is actually quite a straightforward city to move across, and its central grid of streets don’t take too long to master. Buy a map and break the city down into zones - at the heart of which is the Forbidden City complex and, fanning out from there, a ruler-straight matrix of avenues whisk you effortlessly to all the city’s main sights.
Beijing’s transport network, once woefully inadequate, is fast coming up to speed (thanks, mainly, to the 2008 Olympics), and, while knowledge of English is scant, if you at least have the names of the streets/destinations written down in Chinese characters, you should be pointed in the right direction, at least.
Callout Background Image
Beijing’s subway is rudimentary, but is getting bigger all the time - with nine lines planned by 2015. It does offer an efficient route around the city (the Circle Line, Line 2) for a flat fee of RMB 3: for stations, look for the big blue G sign with a D within it. Line 1, which runs east to west, passes under Tianenmen Square and calls at many central tourist sights.
If you plan on traveling a fair amount, invest in a Yīkātōng (一卡通 ) pre-paid card. You can pick one up at main station interchanges (including the awesome Beijing South Station’s futuristic mega-structure) which has a RMB20 refundable deposit. Swipe the card at the entrance turnstiles and use it, if you dare, on bus routes too, for reduce bus fares of up to 60%.
All taxis are, by law, metered - official taxis sporting red stickers on the window - you’ll pay around RMB 10 for the first 4km, and an additional RMB2 for each kilometre thereafter, with average trips around town costing around RMB20. For more comfort, opt for the firms using American or European cars as Chinese Xiali’s aren’t the most relaxing on the city’s cobbles. Always take a map with you, as many drivers don’t speak English. Tipping isn’t expected, but it’s always nice to round up to the nearest RMB. You’ll find ranks throughout downtown, and you can hail them in the street - if you’re lucky. If you fancy a tour of the city, you can hire a cab for the day for around RMB 400.
Callout Background Image
By far the most enjoyable way to whizz around the city is by bike - not as foolhardy as it seems, as Beijing enjoys more dedicated cycle lanes than any other city in the world, and four wheeled transport usually respects their two-wheeled counterparts.
You can even join a guided Bicycle tour and really get to discover all those secret alleyways and sidestreets you simply won’t discover on your own. That the city is as flat as a pancake won’t do you any harm either! For Bicycle hire, try: Beijing Bike (Quinmen Zixiching, Tel: 8976 5664).