Exploring Beijing by Metro or Bus: What's Accessible by Public Transit?

Beijing's Forbidden City
Beijing is a surprisingly accessible city thanks to public transportation. The network of metro stations and buses ensure that you can navigate the sprawl of China's capital with relative ease. After our difficult experience getting around by taxi in Hangzhou, China, we decided to focus on traveling by a combination of public transit and walking in Beijing so that the language barrier would be less of a factor. Beijing was our favorite stop on our trip to China and I chalk that up to the ease of getting around on the trains and buses in the city. Here are some ideas for attractions to visit in Beijing that are accessible by public transportation.

Beijing Transit Card

Beijing Transit Card for the metro and buses
To get started with public transit in Beijing, simply purchase a rechargeable transit card at any of the stations in Beijing. We even took the train from the Beijing Airport to the city although this involves a separate ticket. The ticket machines have an option to do the transaction in English to speed you on your way. Tap in when you enter the train station and tap out at the exit to calculate the fare. In most cases, the fare was a few yuan (less than $1 USD at the time of writing). You'll go through a casual security screen as you enter a station (walk through a metal detector and put your bags on a belt).

Google Maps is blocked in China but it if you use a VPN, you can access public transit directions in Beijing. We used this technique to navigate in the city with Express VPN

Beihai Temple

Beihai temple in Beijing China
Beihai Temple is a gorgeous and idyllic spot just behind Beijing's Forbidden City. We took the metro to the Forbidden City station and then hopped on a bus that let us off just a few feet from the entrance gate. We spent a morning walking around the picturesque buildings. We learned that the number of figures adorning the roof of a temple is an indicator of its importance. The temples at Beihai had between one and nine figures.
Temple adornments indicating importance in Beijing China
Beihai Park sits on an island. Take some time to explore the surrounding area on foot and walk to Houhai Lake for a variety of choices for lunch.
Lotus boats with a view of Beihai Park behind in Beijing

Beijing's Bell and Drum Towers

Beijing's Bell Tower
We love to walk and opted to continue on foot from Houhai Lake to Beijing's Bell and Drum Towers. Climb the Bell Tower for sweeping views over the city.
Beijing's Drum Tower
In the Drum Tower, we watched the traditional drum show which takes place at scheduled intervals.
Inside Beijing's drum tower

South Luogu Lane and Associated Hutongs in Beijing

Smoking mango drink in Beijing China
South Luogu Lane is just a short walk from the Bell and Drum Towers. Branching off from Luogu Lane there are associated hutongs, narrow alleyways lined with traditional houses. We strolled into a few of the hutongs and then made our way back to buzzing Luogu Lane which was lined with shops and restaurants. A lot of people were walking around with smoking mango juice. We spotted the kiosk selling the drink and couldn't resist indulging. The concoction consists of mango juice on the bottom with shaved iced and real mango and cream on top. The dramatic flair is created by a capsule of dry ice tucked away in the plastic cup.  When we reached the end of Luogu Lane, we popped into Nanluoguxiang Station to return to our hotel

The Summer Palace in Beijing

Dragons on the bridge at the Summer Palace in Beijing
The Summer Palace in Beijing is situated on a picturesque lake. Historically, the Summer Palace was built by emperors and expressly for use by the ruling families of China. Today, residents of Beijing flock to the Summer Palace by the thousands for a weekend getaway. To get to the Summer Palace, take the metro to Beigongmen Station. 
Kite touching the clouds at the Summer Palace in Beijing China
I remember looking up to the sky soon after we arrived on the shores of the lake. The most beautiful kite I've ever seen was flying high above us. As we stood and watched, the kite rose higher and higher until it was finally touching the clouds.
Shiqikong Bridge to Nanhu Island at the Summer Palace in Beijing China
Crossing the Shiqikong Bridge to Nanhu Island, we spotted a crowd gathered around this gentleman. We were impressed by the tremendous wheel of kite string that he was expertly feeding out. Well played, sir!
Kite flyer in Beijing China
The Summer Palace is also home to the Marble Boat or The Boat of Purity and Ease. Built in 1755, the Marble Boat is now a pavilion on the lake.
The Marble Boat at the Summer Palace in Beijing China
The Long Corridor along the lake at the Summer Palace features nearly a kilometer of richly painted columns from the 18th century.
The Long Corridor at the Summer Palace in Beijing China
Suzhou Market Street recreates the ancient shops of Suzhou China. I was particularly impressed by the colorful dragon decorations.
Dragon pillars on Suzhou Market Street at the Summer Palace in Beijing China

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square in Beijing China
Tiananmen Square, the beating heart of communist China, is also easily accessible by public transportation. The square is so big that there are two stations running along the top near the Forbidden City and another at the south end: Tian'anmen East, Tian'anmen West, and Qianmen stations.

A giant portrait of Chairman Mao presides over the square.
Portrait of Chairman Mao on Tiananmen Square in Beijing China
Tiananmen Square is also the gateway to Beijing's Forbidden City.
Entrance to the Forbidden City on Tiananmen Square in Beijing China

The Forbidden City

Golden rooftops of the Forbidden City in Beijing China
We spent half a day wandering around Beijing's Forbidden City. We admired the golden roofs of the temples.
Crowds of visitors at the Forbidden City in Beijing China
The Forbidden City was quite crowded when we visited so we spent a fair amount of our time elbowing our way in and jockeying for a position near roped-off temples to see what was inside. The Forbidden City also features a museum of historic clocks which you can access for an additional fee. We thought it was worth a look.

Beijing's Old City Wall

Beijing's Old City Wall
We stayed at the Beijing Marriott City Wall Hotel which was conveniently located within walking distance of Jianguomen subway station. Jianguomen station is the gateway to the Old City Wall. We spent some time walking in the idyllic park surrounding the Beijing Old City Wall and paid a small entry fee to climb a restored section for views over parts of Beijing. 
Garden in front of Beijing's Old City Wall

Beijing's Ancient Observatory

Beijing's Ancient Observatory
The Old City Wall is also home to Beijing's Ancient Observatory. The observatory is just steps away from Jianguomen station and was something that we discovered due to our curiosity rather than our guide books. For a small fee, we spent about half an hour marveling at ancient astronomical instruments. Fascinating...
Ancient astronomical instruments at the Ancient Observatory in Beijing

Wangfujing Shopping Street

Fountain on Wangfujing  Shopping Street in Beijing China
Wangujing is Beijing's upscale shopping street. Accessible via Wangfujing Station on the metro we enjoyed window shopping and people watching. 
We also stumbled upon a fascinating free fountain show outside the ornate Beijing Department Store. 
Wanfujing Snack Street in Beijing China
Wangfujing Snack Street lies just off of the main thoroughfare near the station. We visited in late afternoon and the food stalls were already buzzing. We saw all manner of Chinese delicacies including scorpions on a stick. Some of the scorpions were still wriggling. I couldn't bring myself to try one.
Scorpions on a stick spotted on Wanfujing Snack Street in Beijing China

Beijing's Lama Temple

Incense burning at Beijing's Lama Temple
Beijing is known for a variety of beautiful and tranquil temples. On our last day in Beijing we commuted by train to Yonghegong Station and the Lama Temple, a vibrant community of Tibetan Buddhist monks. Also known as the Yonghe Temple, you pay a small entrance fee which includes a large pack of incense and a DVD about the temple. We took a leisurely stroll, lit some incense, and steeped in the idyllic surroundings that felt far from the chaos and crowds of Beijing's streets.

Hot Pot on Beijing's Ghost Street (aka Dongzhimen St)

Hot Pot restaurant on Beijing's Ghost Street
Dongzhimen Street, also known as Ghost Street, is know for Hot Pot restaurants. Most of the restaurants are located between Dongzhimen and Beixinqiao stations on the metro line. The language barrier was often a problem for us at restaurants in China. We could usually get by pointing at picture menus, but in the case of hot pot, there is more to ordering and preparing the food than that. We got really lucky and found one restaurant where one employee spoke a tiny bit of English. It was enough that she was able to help us order through the tablet based system that the restaurant employed. 
Meat for a hot pot dinner in Beijing China
Our helpful waiter didn't speak English but he proactively jumped in and helped us to cook our food. We had an amazing time cooking our meat and veggies in a mixed broth (one half was mild and one half was fiery hot and spicy). Our hot pot experience in Beijing was one of our most memorable meals in China and we were able to get here independently thanks to public transportation. 
Hot Pot in Beijing China

Finding a Home Base to Explore Beijing by Metro

We stayed at the Beijing Marriott City Wall Hotel which was conveniently located within walking distance of Jianguomen subway station. When visiting Beijing, definitely take care to find a hotel convenient to public transportation. It will make getting around by subway so much easier.

Check out the map below to see the spots that we visited and associated metro stops. 

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Exploring Beijing by Metro or Bus: What's Accessible by Public Transit?



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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: Exploring Beijing by Metro or Bus: What's Accessible by Public Transit?
Exploring Beijing by Metro or Bus: What's Accessible by Public Transit?
Learn about things to see in Beijing China that are accessible by public transportation. A photo-rich post by travel blogger, Jennifer (aka Dr. J) from Sidewalk Safari.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog
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