Before you set foot in China, find the best ways to get around Chinese cities and to travel from one destination to another.
China is a large country and has an equally large number of transport options.
Below you will find information on the main transport options available in China to help you choose the ones that suit you best.
As China is such a vast country, if you are intending to travel between cities you may want to consider fast transport to save on time, including internal flights and the high speed rail. Your best mode of transport within each city will depend on how large the city you're visiting is as well as how concentrated the tourist attractions are.
It's best to research this before arriving so that you can commute easily between your desired attractions with minimum fuss or stress.
Travelling from city to city:
Internal flights. Air China, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Changan Airlines, Hainan Airlines and Shanghai Airlines are some of the major domestic airlines operating in China. They have regular flights connecting Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xian, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Xiamen.
High speed rail. China has the world’s largest network of high speed rail, also known as bullet trains or CRH trains. These are a fast, reliable and affordable means of travel in central and eastern regions of China. You can see the high speed rail map here.
For an idea of how far major cities are from one another, Shanghai and Beijing are approximately 1,200 kilometres apart. An internal flight for this route takes 2 hours 15 minutes. A high-speed train journey takes anything from 5-9 hours depending on how many stops your service commands. Bus travel is cheaper, though leaves and arrives at terminals outside the city centres. Total journey times from centre to centre is around 8 hours.
Xi'an is near equidistant from Shanghai and Beijing. Flights from each are around 2 hours. High speed trains from Shanghai take between 6 and 11 hours, depending on the number of stops. High speed trains from Beijing take between 4.5 and 6 hours. Buses are more expensive though can take up to 15 hours.
Generally, train travel is preferred over bus or coach travel between major Chinese cities.
China public transport
Types of transport. Buses in China are cheap and quite comfortable, although they are also very slow. To buy a ticket, go to the bus station in the city where you are staying. The officials usually speak English, so you will not have too much of a problem buying a ticket.
Trains are one of the best options in China for cheap, fast and safe travel. To travel from one major city to another, you can take a bullet train, which is really fast but also much more expensive than standard trains. It is highly recommended that you buy the tickets at least two days in advance because seats sell out quickly. You can purchase tickets in person at the train station or online through an authorised agency.
Although subways can get crowded during rush hour, they are a highly effective means of transportation within cities given their convenience, cleanliness, reliability and speed.
In China, you can also rent bicycles from several hotels. The streets and highways are flat but the traffic is unpredictable and quite dangerous. Most of Beijing's main streets have bike lanes which are safer than the roadway, although they are often crowded with thousands of cyclists at peak times.
China is a huge country, so if you have to cover a long distance, flying is a good option. It can save you a lot of time and can be a lot more comfortable than other options. Also, ticket prices are generally affordable.
Paying for transport. To buy a train ticket, you need your passport and enough cash to buy the ticket. You can also buy a China Rail Pass, which is a pre-paid electronic card you can use on bullet trains. In addition, each subway has its own smart-card which offers discounted fares and ease of access.
Getting to and from the airport. In every major city in China, public buses and an underground metro connect the airport to the city centre. Private transfers, airport shuttles and taxis are other options to get to and from the airport in each city.
Best apps for getting around. China Metro is a useful app that has downloadable subway maps of 15 cities with information about fares, timetables and shortest routes. If you are looking to travel from one city to another by train, the China Trains app can help you plan your journey and book tickets.
Taxis and Uber
Taxi. If you don’t want to take public transport, taking a taxi is a good option in China. There are many taxis and they are very economical. It is important to carry the destination written in Chinese as drivers are unlikely to speak English. Chinese tuk-tuks are cheaper than taxis, but you must agree to a price beforehand.
Uber. Uber is not available in China, but you can use other app-based, on-demand taxis in China like Didi, which has acquired Uber’s Chinese division.
China car hire rental companies
Renting a car can be a good choice if your are looking to get out of the city and want to drive yourself.
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You can find several private transfer and airport shuttle services that provide door-to-door transfer to the airport in every major city in China. Many of these can be found on Viator or City Discovery. Transfers to some of the more popular locations can be booked below.