We found the Beijing Metro cheap, efficient and clean, albeit crowded.
Tickets can be bought from machines with touch screens offering multiple languages, and also from the ticket booth.
We also used the metro system to catch a train to Beijing International Airport, and it was extremely convenient.
There's a lot of traffic going on in Beijing, so you should know that getting on a taxi isn't the best way to get around the city. You'll be stuck in traffic jams for a long time and even if there won't be any traffic jams, Beijing's roads are "ring roads" and it may take a while to get on the right ring.
The best way to get around the city is by using the Metro. There are over 10 lines that get to almost anywhere around the city. The station names are written in English and in the trains PA system talks in English, too, so you won't get lost or anything. And the best thing about the subway - it doesn't cost a lot at all! Every time you enter the station you need to pay only 2 yuan! You can get into a station, get on a line and change lines as much as you like until you get out from your destination's station. Then, when you come back to get back to your hotel, you need to pay 2 yuan again. Just so you know, a taxi will cost you around 10 yuan or even more.
Really, I loved the Metro! And there are even hours that aren't rush hours and lines that aren't crowded, so you won't have to be crammed in the train.
The Beijing Metro system is comparable with the Shanghai Metro system. It has 14 lines in total to connect within the city, suburban, and the Airport. Beijing has the oldest subway in mainland China since 1969. You can see some of the stations are old. The metro train is the easiest way to travel within the city of major attractions, railway stations, and the airport. Here are some of the metro travel tips to important places:
Tian'anmen West (Tiananmen Square)
Tian'anmen East (Tiananmen Square)
Wangfujing (Wangfujing Shopping)
Guomao (Financial Street, CCTV Building)
Tiantandongmen (The Temple of Heaven East Gate)
Olympic Sports Center (Olympic Park)
Beijing has an extensive subway (metro) system which can help you avoid the city's traffic jams as you get from one place to another around the huge city. Beijing's subway system has at least 10 lines, and covers many of the main tourist attractions (the Great Wall and Summer Palace are two exceptions). We found it to be very inexpensive and user-friendly. It costs a flat 2 RMB (about US$0.30) to ride the train, regardless of how far you are going. There are plenty of maps in the stations, so it was easy to figure out which train to take. The station names are given in both characters and pinyin (Chinese words written in Latin letters). On board the trains, there is a display in each car showing where you are along the line at the time. The station announcements were also very clear and easy to understand.
The Beijing Subway is a quick way to get around and it's cheap. But it can get PACKED at times. It doesn't even have to be rush hour! By the way, you'll never be able to park at Tiananmen Square, so you must take the subway or get dropped off by a taxi down the street. There's no stopping anywhere on Changan Road near it.
Beijings Subway is clean, fast and efficient. Tickets are recycleable and the cost depends on distance. Prices are cheap. Find your destination and look for final stop on route to find the appropiate line.
Costs around 20p a journey, fixed price whether you want to go one stop or change multiple lines. The subway is easy to use, but can be very busy at times.
Maps are easy to follow and most of the city is covered.
Metro is a pretty convenient way of travel in Beijing and if you want to feel the Chinese experience, it is a must. Ridership on Beijing Subway set a daily record of 4.92 million on August 22, 2008. It is pretty effective and the trains come often. I was a traveller most of my time in Beijing and I must say that the subway is not very much slower than a Beijing taxi. And about 50 times cheaper.
It operates between 5AM and 11PM.
It's actually quite easy to get around Beijing (and considering the weather and pollution at road level), it may well be a good thing too!
Simply go to any station and buy a flat one-way ticket from any ticket booths. You pay according to the distance travelled.
The train system [北京地铁] is kinda modelled after the British and Hong Kong system. The sights and sounds of Beijing can be experienced in the train carriages. The carriages aren't exactly air-conditioned so it can get stuffy around peak hours and you'll get the rich chance of literally enjoying the smell of Beijing. Don't be surprised to see both vendors hagging their wares and beggars hagging you for wares in the train carriages as well.
Access link for Map of Beijing Subway: BEIJING SUBWAY
There is a store-value card called "Yi Ka Tong" (or IC Cards) you can purchase. This card will allow you to travel on both public buses and the Beijing Metro for a period of time or as long as you have money in the card! Save me the hassle of hunting down coins and small changes. It's kinda like the Octopus Card of Hong Kong and the Ezylink card of Singapore. There is a 20RMB deposit (which you can claim back from IC Card outlets) and on top of that, any amount of money you wish to add, depending on how much you think you're going to spend.
You get through the gates of the subway and board and alight the buses by flashing the card on a sensor and your fare will be automatically deducted.
This has to be the cheapest way to get around town just 3 RMB for a ride anywhere on the system.....that comes out to $0.32 US cents ....how can you beat that. The signs are easy to spot, it's safe...of course watch out for pickpockets....and all the signs are in English !!!! doesn't really go to all of the tourist attractions but too enough of them that there are walkable just lookout for the traffic !!!!
Update May 2009:
In the 3 years I was there, Beijing under went a massive built up in infrastructure for the 2008 Olympics, now there is something like 8 subway lines, and the cost has come down to 2 RMB to go anywhere in the system !!!!! and the subway station now have on site security that if they see you with a bag they make you put it thru a machine similar to the one's at the airport..... The only bad thing is that the trains are crowded no matter what time you get on them and they stop running at 11:30 p.m. each night.
All the subways have signs in English and announcements on the trains are made in English....don't be scared to jump on the train, it's easy and really safe !!!!!
For me subway has always been one of the most convenient transportation means. First of all because there is no risk to get into the traffic jam.
Beijing subway is not an exception. Nice trains, btw.
BEWARE: don't buy anything like Parisian 'carnet de 10 tikets', it won't help. Beijing subway tickets are valid only for the same date (when purchased) and only from the same metro station. For example, if you buy a ticket at Tianan' Men Dong station, you won't be able to use this ticket from any other station.
The Subway in Beijing is so easy to use - the machine are in English & Chinese. Just make sure you have plenty of coins as most do not take notes. Those that do tend to be 'out of order' or have a huge queue.
The subway is 3rmbs per trip per person so once you leave the station that's it the trip is over but if you transfer within the station and don't exit you still travel on that ticket - how awesome is that???
People will be pushing and shoving so be alert of your belongings - they will push not from behind but from the sides especially at the vending machines. No personal space here.
Check the last destination of the metro you're wanting to board so you get on the right line.
Beijing's subway network extensively covers the city and surroundings. If you will need to travel around the city a lot, subway can be your preferred choice. The pricing is not based on distance, it is a fixed price of 2 Yuan. You may change some subway lines and travel from one corner of the city to the other corner and it will only cost you 2 Yuan. Of course if you take the subway for a couple of stops, it will still cost the same. Beijing subway is very user friendly, you can find English signboards everywhere (thanks to Olmpics). The available lines are Line 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 13, Olympics Line and Airport Express. Airport Express charge is of course different than the fixed price of 2 Yuan. Beijing subway is the cheapest I have travelled so far.
Beijing's subway is a very easy way to get around in this big city. Avoid the rush hours, then it is also very pleasant. Thanks to the Olympic Games in 2008 every sign, every station has English. Also the announcements of the stations is in English.
Buying tickets: there are vending machines, which only take 1-Yuan-coins or 10-Yuan-Notes. A ticket cost 2 yuan. It is still almost impossible to get 1-yuan-coins, so you need to go to the nice lady in th einformation booth to get your ticket. Only if you are 5 people, then you could buy 5 tickets with a 10-yuan-note. Beware, if you buy 5 tickets for you alone with the thought, that you can use the tickets the next day,too. That you can not! The tickets bought are only to be used from the station, where you bought them, and only for the same day.
The website takes you on a tour to all the stations and their surroundings. Very interesting.
The Beijng metro is one of the most efficient metro systems there are. It's easy to use, easy to transfer to and all the signs and announcements are written or said in English and Chinese. One single ticket costs 2 RMB and you can transfer unlimited times (but I don't know how long the ticket is valid for). On every station there's a map showing the 4 exits you can take and sometimes including some landmarks or points of reference so that you can decide which exit is the most convenient for you.
You can buy the ticket from the machines or the manned counters. On entering the metro, place the ticket on top of the machine to open up the (sort of) turnstile and pass. On exiting the metro, insert the card in the machine.
I really like that they reuse the cards but a card that's been reused too much might not work properly sometimes.