How To Use The Beijing Subway

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The Beijing subway can seem like a daunting beast to tame, especially if you don’t speak or read any Chinese. Though fear not the as the Beijing Subway really isn’t that difficult to use, with the process having been made easier to use and more efficient due to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Read on and we’ll explain how to use the Beijing Subway, as it truly is the best way to get around Beijing by public transport.


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Before we go any further remember to book your hotels early for your trip. We reccomend booking a hotel near one of the subway stations so it will make it easier to get around. Click here for the latest hotel prices in Beijing.


| How To Use The Beijing Subway|

Basic Info On Beijing And China

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Beijing is the 3rd largest city in the world by population proper at 21.5 million. This means it can get a little busy, and just a tad hectic when travelling. The culture of lining up to buy a ticket is in place to a certain extent, however it is common practice in China to simply push in. This culture is in place not just for travelling on the Beijing Subway, but also in local shops, and restaurants. So be wary of others pushing in front of you, as you will need to be prepared to be more assertive.


If being more assertive feels weird and rude, remember you are in a different country, with a different culture being in place. Pushing and large crowds may seem unfamiliar and foreign, but this is normal life in Beijing, and this is what the locals do. So don’t be shy. However please do use common sense, if there is a small line of say 3 people, normal Western rules of lining up will apply. However if it’s simply a large swarm of people, pushing is acceptable.


Why Use The Subway In Beijing?

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Since Beijing is one of the largest cities in the world, traffic jams are part of daily life in Beijing. One of the best ways to avoid traffic jams is to use the subway which has been built directly below Beijing. This makes it convenient travelling during peak hour times in which if you were travelling in a car it may take you 1 – 2 hours due to traffic, however if you use the subway it could take 15 mins. The handiness of the subway cannot be underestimated.


The usefulness of the Beijing Subway system not only extends to the ease of use, but also the efficiency, speed of travel, and how often trains leave. I never had to look at a timetable once, sine trains leave every 5 minutes there was no need for a time table. This is great since you don’t need to race for a train thinking if you miss it, you will need to wait 30 minutes. This makes planning a lot easier since you can simply get to the station without needing to remember when the trains leave.


The Price Of Using The Beijing Subway

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The other main reason for using the Beijing subway is due to the price compared to using a taxi. Getting from The Temple of Heaven to Tiananmen Square (East or West) will only cost around 4 Yuan ($0.6 US). Whereas for a taxi it is automatically 13 Yuan ($2 US) for getting into the taxi. The price will stay at 13 Yuan for around 2 – 3 minutes, after this time the price will start to increase slowly. Getting from The Temple of Heaven to Tiananmen Square will cost around 30 Yuan ($4.6) depending on the traffic.


How To Use The Beijing Subway

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Because Beijing was the host city for the 2008 Summer Olympics, this meant that the transport system was upgraded, and as a result was made to be more efficient, but most of all more user friendly. This extends to everything to catching trains, directions, and buying tickets. The subway system works much like any other major subway system of the world like New York, or Tokyo, in that everything is in a grid like formation. All the lines are colour coordinated, with the lines all having the English equivalent and the Simplified Chinese names for the station.


Since everything works on a grid formation this makes things easy if you’re needing to transfer lines, which is more than likely. When changing lines you simply exit the train and follow the signs. The signs are in English, and will be colour coordinated for the line you want, for instance it’ll say, “Transfer to Line 5” with the arrows being in purple since that’s the colour which represents line 5.


It may seem a little daunting, but it really is simply. Below I’ve made up 2 mock up scenarios, with both starting from the same point The Temple of Heaven (Tiantandongmen).

Example Passages

From The Temple of Heaven (Tiantandongmen) to Tiananmen Square East (Tian’anmen Dong) :

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Starting from the Temple of Heaven you will need to catch the Tiantongyuan North train on Line 5 and get off at Dongdan. At Dongdan you will need to change trains to Line 3 to get to Tiananmen Square East. Follow the directions in the station to take you to Line 3. Once there you will need to catch the Pinggouyuan train on Line 3 and get off at Tiananmen Dong ( Tiananmen East). The journey will take around 15 – 20 mins.


From The Temple of Heaven (Tiantandongmen) to The Summer Palace (Beigongmen) :

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Catch the Tiantongyuan North train on Line 5 to Dongdan. At Dongdan change lines to Line 3 to get to Xidan. Follow the directions in the station to take you to Line 3. You will need catch the Pinggouyuan train which goes west on Line 3. Once at Xidan change lines once again, this time to Line 4. You will need to catch the train going north to Anheqiao North, but get off at Beigongmen. The journey will take around 45 mins – 1 hour.


To make things even easier when on the train there are two train announcements, 1 in Chinese, and 1 in English. And just incase you can’t quite hear the announcements, above the door there is an animated map which shows which station you are approaching and which ones are next in line.


How To Buy Tickets For The Beijing Subway

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Perhaps this is the part people dread most. If you get lost you don’t necessarily need to admit this to anybody and avoid embarrassment, however when purchasing tickets in Chinese there is always the thought that you may order the wrong tickets, say the wrong thing, or they don’t understand you which can be quite embarrassing in itself. Buying tickets is very easy, though don’t expect the ticket person to understand English. If they do, you got lucky. You will need to speak a little Chinese.


There are two methods to buying tickets. The first is talking to a person, the other is using a machine

1) Person to Person

This can be the easiest, but at the same time the most difficult option. To use this option you either need to be able to say the number of tickets you want to purchase, than the destination you want to travel to in Chinese. For instance if you’re wanting to buy 2 tickets to Tiananmen Square East you will say – “Liang ga (two) Tia an men dong (east)”. It’s very easy, the number then the destination. This is the method which Lexi and I used, and we didn’t have any trouble. FYI, our Chinese is horrible.

Otherwise if you can simply point to where you want to go on the map and either write down the number (1, 2, or 5) or raise your fingers for how many tickets you want.

2) Machine

The second option can be more troublesome, but ultimately you can go at your own pace. The machine to purchase tickets will be next to the ticket office. There are two languages for the machine, Chinese and English, so you can switch between the two. You can either search by the name, or the click on the map where you want to go. You then select how many tickets you want, than insert your money. It really is quite easy.


List Of Popular Destinations Written In Chinese, Pinyin, And English With The Closest Subway Station

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Temple of Heaven – Tiāntán – 天坛   | Closest Station: Tiantandongmen – 天坛东门

Tiananmen Square East – Tiān’ānmén Guăngchăng Dong – 天安门广场东

|Closet Station: Tian’anmen Dong –  天安门东

Tiananmen Square West – Tiān’ānmén Guăngchăng Xī – 天安门广场西

| Closet Station: Tian’anmen Xi – 天安门西

The Summer Palace – Yíhéyuán – 颐和园   | Closest Station: Beigongmen – 北宫门

Lama Temple –  Yōnghé gōng –  雍和宫   | Closet Station: Yonghe gong – 雍和宫


Where to stay in Beijing?

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I’ve already sussed out the best budget hotel for you in Beijing, but if you’re after more options check out this website to see the latest prices on Beijing Hotels.


Watch my Beijing Travel Vlogs

You can see all of my China travel vlogs here: China Travel Playlist. Don’t forget to subscribe!


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Have you travelled in China, how did you find it? Was it easy, or stressful? Do you have any tips of your own on how to use the Beijing subway? If so let us know in the comments section below.

Written by Lexi
Lexi Forrest is an experienced luxury traveler who has a passion for scenic destinations. She's traveled to 25+ countries over the past 10 years.