Getting Around in Beijing

Getting Around in Beijing

If you don’t live in Beijing already (you should, it’s the coolest city ever) then you may have no idea just how large this place is. If you do reside here (congratulations, you are obviously a super cool individual) you will now be aware of the sprawling metropolis that you have come to inhabit.


With an area ten times larger than that of Greater London and a population of twenty million, getting around Beijing can at times be somewhat problematic. So, regardless of whether you live here or are simply visiting, we at That’s Mandarin have listed the best ways to get from A to B and the necessary lingo for your use.


With an ever expanding subway that stretches its tentacles every few months, the underground transport system remains one of the biggest in the world. ‘So, surely that comes with its complications?’ you ask. Not really. At times it can feel like you’re a sardine being squeezed into a can, but overall it’s a clean, reliable system with only a small number of diversions during expansion periods. Tickets are fairly priced at an incredibly cheap 2 RMB regardless of how far you intend to travel, although there are plans to change this later in the year.

Useful Vocabulary
One ticket please  一张票 Yī zhāng piào
I want to buy a subway card  我要买一张地铁卡 Wǒ yàomǎi yī zhāng dìtiě kǎ
What time does the subway close?  地铁几点关门? Dìtiě jǐ diǎn guānmén?
Where is the nearest subway?  最近的地铁站在哪儿? Zuìjìn de dìtiě zhàn zài nǎ’er?
Too many people, what to do!  人太多了,怎么办! Rén tài duōle, zěnme bàn!


Remember when Katie Melua sang ‘There are 9 million bicycles in Beijing’? While we do not doubt Miss Melua’s soothing words, it’s tough to get an exact figure. We’re pretty sure, however, that this number has grown somewhat due to the rise in city dwellers and all. Despite the high number though, bikes aren’t quite as noticeable as they once were due to the rise in disposable income and the ego-pleasing automobile. Status symbols aside, the classic push bike remains one of the most convenient inventions to own. Finding a car parking space in Beijing is about as easy as Chinese algebra and we don’t even want to mention the inconvenience of rush hour traffic jams (at least not until our next point about taxis, anyway). As you may have guessed, bikes here are affordable. But if you’re here for the short term, the red rent-a-bikes are also a good option and can be found at key areas around the city.

Useful Vocabulary
I like riding bicycles  我喜欢骑自行车 Wǒ xǐhuān qí zìxíngchē
I want to rent a bike  我想租一辆自行车 Wǒ xiǎng zū yí liàng zìxíngchē
My bike is broken  我的自行车坏了 Wǒ de zìxíngchē huàile
Can you fix it?  你会修吗? Nǐ huì xiū ma?
Obtaining a driver’s license in Beijing is certainly doable as a foreigner, and relatively straight forward. By visiting the Foreign Affairs Department of Beijing Motor Vehicle Administration, Chaoyang District, a license can be acquired – providing, of course, you have done your homework and studied hard in preparation. But the question remains: ‘Why bother?’ Unless you absolutely need a car to travel far out for work, then cars can be more troublesome than they are of use, not to mention bad for the environment. For that reason, delegating the laborious driving to someone else seems the way to go. With convoluted roads and endless streams of traffic during rush hour, it’s understandable that taxi drivers don’t always seem the friendliest of guys. Still, on the whole they’re decent chaps, and while their English may not be up to scratch, the cabs can be found almost anywhere at any time. Not to mention the starting price of 14RMB per ride, Beijing’s taxis are a relatively cheap form of transport. Just be sure you’re flanking a genuine (yellow striped) cab no matter how desperate you are to get home!

Useful Vocabulary
I want to go to…  我想去… Wǒ xiǎng qù…
How much to go to…?  去…多少钱?Qù…… Duōshǎo qián?
We can use the meter, right?  我们可以打表,对不对? Wǒmen kěyǐ dǎ biǎo, duì bù duì?
Go left  向左走 Xiàng zuǒ zǒu
Go right  向右走 Xiàng yòu zǒu
Go straight ahead  一直走 Yìzhí zǒu
OK, stop here. We’ve arrived  好了,就停这儿吧。我们到了! Hǎole, jiù tíng zhè’er ba, wǒmen dàole
We’ve spoken about the cheap subway, the even cheaper bicycles, and the ubiquitous taxi, but one of the more fun and fashionable ways to get around these days is the electric scooter. Accessible from a number of shops, the prices range from a staggeringly cheap 1,000 RMB to a higher quality model in the area of 5,000 RMB. Simply remove the battery after parking up for the evening, take it inside and charge it over night. The next day you’re ready to roll.

Whizzing around the city on your very own electric bike can certainly give you a taste of Beijing life, and after riding a scooter for a day or so, it will be difficult to return to that ‘walking’ thing you used to do with your legs. Enjoy the speed and freedom; just be sure to wear a helmet!

Useful Vocabulary
Battery  电池 Diànchí
No battery left  没电了 Méi diànle
Fast  快 Kuài
Helmet  头盔 Tóukuī