Beijing Capital is the world's second busiest airport by passenger numbers. The impressively huge, gleaming roof arching over Terminal 3, designed by noted British architect Sir Norman Foster, illustrates the expansion efforts made as part of preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. This terminal is considered to be one of the best designed airport terminal buildings in the world from an architectural point of view, and the sixth largest building (and second-largest airport terminal) in the world by area size.
In comparison, the grey concrete architecture of Terminals 1 and 2 is somewhat underwhelming and seems to show China as it was before its rapid economic modernization and expansion: functional but not impressive at all.
Scams at the airport
Arrival: Take your taxis from the stand outside, not the touts or desks inside, and insist on the meter. If you are in a group of three or more or have a lot of luggage, touts will claim you need a minibus, and then lead you towards a people carrier in a car park, but then it will turn out they are actually leading you to a shabby taxi parked behind it, which will charge far more than the regulated fare.
Be aware of another scam where impostors who pretend to work for the taxi company pose at the official-looking stands outside offering rides to the city (especially in the non-regular hours where there are not many people about). You will be led into a "taxi" with a fake meter (which could be hidden) which runs very quickly (¥200-300 to the city, and even up to ¥400 to the Birds' Nest Stadium). Read the section on taxis for details on how to distinguish between fake and legitimate taxis.
Departure: Ignore any people walking around offering to sell you an exit fee ticket/receipt. There used to be an airport construction (or exit) fee of ¥90, but now it is included in the plane ticket.
The airport now has three terminals, with flights and airlines roughly divided as follows:
- Terminal 1: Hainan Airlines (Domestic).
- Terminal 2: China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Hainan Airlines (International), Hong Kong Airlines, Korean Air. Skyteam alliance is based here.
- Terminal 3: All other airlines. Air China and its subsidiaries, most foreign airlines, etc. Oneworld and Star Alliance are based here.
Terminal 3 is huge: it alone is bigger than all five of London Heathrow's terminals. Additional time should be allocated when flying from here. Terminal 3 check-in closes 45 minutes before flights depart.
Many people use taxicabs to reach town from the airport. The taxi driver will almost certainly not read or speak English, so do try to get the name in Chinese characters of your hotel so that you can let your taxi driver read where you want to go. Many drivers are recent arrivals from the countryside and do not know the city well.
A taxi from the airport to the city should cost between ¥70 and ¥120 and takes between 30 minutes to an hour depending on traffic (traffic jams are common). You will have to pay the fee shown on the meter (make sure the driver uses it) plus the ¥10 toll for the airport expressway.
Taxis are your sole option at night since the earliest arrival time by subway at the airport is 06:30 (taking the first subway at about 05:30, depending on station, and the first airport express at 06:00 to T3 or T2).
The Airport Express train to the airport opened in July 2008. The train runs in a one-way loop from T3 to T2/T1 then Sanyuanqiao (transfer to subway line 10) and Dongzhimen (lines 2, 13). A one-way fare is ¥25, and the trip takes about 20 minutes from Dongzhimen to T3, 30 min to T2. Do not take the train just to get from T3 to T2/T1, as this will cost you the full ¥25; use the free shuttle bus instead.
The last train leaves around 10:45PM. After that you can take a shuttle bus until about midnight, and taxis all night long.
By shuttle bus
A slightly cheaper way to get to the city centre is to take the airport shuttle (机场巴士 Jīchǎng Bāshì), ☎ . , Buses for each route leave every 10-30 minutes. There are several lines running to different locations throughout Beijing. The shuttle bus website also has a map available. ¥24 for a one-way trip.
- Line 1 (to Fangzhuang): 1. Liangma Bridge (亮马桥 Liàngmǎqiáo); 2. Baijiazhuang (白家庄 Báijiāzhuāng); 3. World Trade Centre (国贸 Guómào) & Dabeiyao (大北窑 Dàběiyáo); 4. Panjiayuan (潘家园 Pānjiāyuán); 5. KingWing Hot Spring International Hotel (京瑞大厦 Jīngruì Dàshà) & Shilihe (十里河 Shílǐhé); 6. Guiyou Shopping Mall (贵友大厦 Guìyǒu Dàshà) & Fangzhuang (方庄 Fāngzhuāng). Runs 07:30–22:30. Return stops are 6, 3, and the airport. Convenient for getting to the south east of the city.
- Line 2 (to Xidan): 1. Sanyuan Bridge (三元桥 Sānyuán Qiáo) 2. Dongzhimen (东直门 Dōngzhímén); 3. Dongsishitiao Bridge (东四十条桥 Dōngsìshítiáo Qiáo); 4. Civil Aviation Building (民航营业大厦 Mínháng Yíngyè Dàshà) & Xidan (西单 Xīdān). Return stops are 4, 2, and the airport. Runs 07:00 till the last flight. Return runs ??-21:00. Heads south-west.
- Line 3 (to Beijing Railway Station): 1. Yuyang Hotel (渔阳饭店 Yúyáng fàndiàn); 2. Dongdaqiao (东大桥 Dōngdàqiáo, bypassed after 22:30); 3. Chaoyangmen (朝阳门 Cháoyángmén); 4. Yabaolu (雅宝路 Yǎbǎolù); 5. Beijing Railway Station (北京站 Běijīng zhàn). Runs 07:30 till the last flight. The Beijing Railway Station stop is actually at the west gate of the International Hotel (国际饭店 Guójì Fàndiàn), across Chang'an Avenue. Return stops are 5, Dongzhimen, the Jingxin Building West Gate (京信大厦西门 Jīngxìn Dàshà Xīmén), and the airport. Convenient for the city center, the southeast of the city, and Chaoyang, Chongwen, and Dongcheng districts. Bus drivers and ticket collectors don't speak English, so that might be a problem if you want to get off at earlier stops.
- Line 4 (to Gongzhufen): 1. China International Exhibition Centre (国际展览中心 Guójì Zhǎnlǎn Zhōngxīn); 2. Xibahe (西坝河 Xībàhé); 3. Anzhen Bridge (安贞桥 Ānzhēn Qiáo); 4. Madian Bridge (马甸桥 Mǎdiàn Qiáo); 5. Beitaipingzhuang (北太平庄 Běitàipíngzhuāng); 6. Jimen Bridge (蓟门桥 Jìmén Qiáo); 7. Friendship Hotel (友谊宾馆 Yǒuyì Bīnguǎn); 8. Beijing TV Station (北京电视台 Běijīng Diànshìtái); 9. Zizhu Bridge (紫竹桥 ǐzhú Qiáo); 10. Hangtian Bridge (航天桥 Hángtiān Qiáo); 11. Gongzhufen (公主坟 Gōngzhǔfén) & Xinxing Hotel (新兴宾馆 Xīnxīng Bīnguǎn). Return stops are 11, 7, 5, 3, and the airport. Runs from 07:00-23:00. Convenient for the north and north-west of the city, and Haidian district.
- Line 5 (to Zhongguancun): 1. Wangjing (望京 Wàngjīng) & Huajiadi (花家地 Huājiādì); 2. Xiaoying (小营 Xiǎoyíng); 3. Asian Games Village (亚运村 Yàyùncūn) & Anhui Bridge (安慧桥 Ānhuì Qiáo); 4.Xueyuan Bridge (学院桥 Xuéyuàn qiáo); 5. Just west of Bǎofúsì Qiáo (保福寺桥). Return stops are 5, Beijing Aeronautics University North Gate (北航北门 Běiháng Běimén), Huixin West Street (惠新西街 Huìxīn XīJiē)/Anhui Building (安徽大厦 Ānhuī Dàshà), Huixin Dongjie (惠新东街 Huìxīn Dōngjiē) & SINOPEC (中国石化集团 Zhōngguó Shíhuà Jítuán), and the airport. From 08:30-21:30. Convenient for the north of the city, particularly the university district within Haidian.
- Line 6 (to the Olympic Village): 1. North Guangshun Ave (广顺北大街); 2. Middle Huguang St. (湖光中街); 3. Yuhuili (育慧里）; 4.Beiyuan Rd. & Datun (北苑路大屯); 5. Olympic Village (奥运村); 6. Best Western Olympic Statium Hotel (亚奥国际酒店） 8:00-21:00. Return stops are 6, Best Western OL Statium Hotel, IGSNRR of CAS, besides Nangounihe bus stop (中科院地理所), Datun, Gate A of Zone IV of Wangjing Xiyuan (望京西园四区A门), West Zone of Wangjing Garden (望京花园西区) and the airport. From 6:00 to 19:10. Convenient for the north of the city, particularly the Olympic venues within Chaoyang District.
A number of youth hostels and luxury hotels run their own complimentary shuttle buses services - ask the place where you are staying if they have one.
The cheapest way to get to the city would be to take public bus #359 or bus #640. The former runs from the airport to Dongzhimen, where you can catch subway line 2 or line 13. If you go to the airport by taking either of the buses, you need to transfer to Konggang #1 (空港1路) at Jichangdaokou (机场道口), which then takes you to Terminal 2. After that, if you go to Terminal 3, you need to take the free shuttle. Taking buses is not very fast or convenient.
Travel between Terminals 1 and 2 is via a long corridor with travelators. A fit person can make the route in about 10 minutes. A free shuttle bus runs between Terminal 2 and the new Terminal 3. It departs every ten minutes or so (every 30 minutes from 23:00 till 06:00), and the journey time is about 10 minutes.
Terminals 1 & 2 have very little going for them. Try and plan to spend as little time here as you can.
Terminal 3 is a much nicer environment with many options for eating, drinking and shopping.
Eat and Drink
Most eating options are higher priced than in Beijing itself.
Land-side there is a KFC.
Land-side there are two KFC chicken outlets, and the restaurants in the basement have relatively low prices compared to what's above. A meal at any of these places should cost around ¥20.
Air-side there are really very few options, and no great ones. There is a Starbucks, a generic cafe and a couple of Chinese noodle restaurants.
Land-side there are lots of options, with leading Western chains available.
Air-side there are also a few Western chains, however a much more limited selection than Land-side.
Airside there is a large shop directly after immigration (and before Starbucks) selling 'traditional' Chinese souvenirs. The moon cakes and other bean paste pastries may make good gifts.
There is free Wi-Fi available, although to comply with local laws you will need to either:
- Find an automated registration machine that will scan your passport and print out an access code. These machines are rather hard to find so you should ask the help desk.
- Log onto the free Wi-Fi, type in the phone number of your Chinese mobile phone and wait for the SMS with an access code. (Somewhat curious, since a pay-as-you-go SIM can be purchased many places with no registration at all.)
- Go to a help desk and show them your ID (such as your passport), and they will give you an access code.
Facilities on arrival include ATMs and money changers. Be aware that upon departure, porters may want ¥10 to wheel your bags 50m to check-in.
Signs throughout Terminal 3 are in both Chinese and English. Signs are also often shown in Korean as well.
There are nearby accommodations in Beijing's Chaoyang District and Shunyi District. Note that the taxi drivers may not be very familiar with these areas so print out the name of the hotel in Chinese and a map if possible.
Not much. The airport is very much outside of Beijing centre.