By | 16th January 2018

Do you need a car in Beijing?

Do you need a car in Beijing > Should you rent a car in Beijing China > Beijing ( BJS ) Do you need a car in Beijing? Is it worth hiring a car in Beijing? Should you rent a car in Beijing?

Beijing Car hire summary

Overall drive rating

Based on a weighted score across all cost and quality factors. [Full notes - drive rating]


  • Price alone isn't the only factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Beijing but clearly it's an important one. See our "why" section for more figures.
  • Cost factors include - price of car hire (peak and off peak season), car hire extras, fuel, tolls and parking costs.
  • Quality factors include - scenic drives, road quality and upkeep, general safety and congestion levels.
  • A complete index of all 10 factors will be uploaded shortly.

Cheapest rate for one week

Based on cheapest economy car hire deal with no added extras. [full notes - basic costs]



  • This is the very lowest price we could find for a one week car rental period in Beijing during the quiet season.
  • You will almost always end up paying more than this figure, but any extra costs or supplementary charges are usually determined by the renter, so we cannot easily compare like with like.
  • In many cases, rental companies will offer a cheap rental and then expect you to take out expensive insurance waivers. There are always ways to avoid this!

How much should I expect to pay in the peak season?

Based on cheapest deal during the summer holiday season. (Unless otherwise noted) [full notes - seasonal variations]



  • During the peak holiday season, public transport is often better value, as many train and bus fares are fixed throughout the year. See our "why not" section for more suggestions.
  • For most featured destinations, the peak season will be during the summer, typically July and August for northern hemisphere destinations. However, peak demand might occur at different times, for example in some ski resorts or winter sun destinations etc.

Free parking score

Based on the number of hotels which offer free parking. Total 1061 - of which 376 have free parking. [full notes - parking]



  • Free hotel parking is very useful to have when you are hiring a car, and it's always worth checking ahead beforehand.
  • If free hotel parking is not available, you might want to consider renting a car for a single day, rather than for your whole trip.
  • The availability (or lack of) free hotel parking can be a really important factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Beijing, as it can be a significant extra daily cost which you won't usually be paying at home!
  • Parking costs play a very major part in our consideration of whether or not it's worth hiring a car in each destination.
  • By using public transport, walking or hiring a bicycle, you can avoid having to worry about parking charges altogether! See our "why not" section for more suggestions.

Beijing public transport quick facts

Train score

Higher scores go to the systems which don't just take you to the most amazing places, but also to the ones which are easy to use, fast, reliable and frequent. A good train system on its own is usually enough to determine that you don't need to hire a car in many destinations.


  • [full notes trains]
  • Trains include all kinds of urban rail system from trams up to metro and suburban networks.
  • Trains also include mountain railways and cable cars.
  • Generally, places with a good rail network will automatically mean that you don't "need" to hire a car, but you can still might find that on balance you are better off by having one.

Water travel score

This is a general rating for all types of water travel, including scheduled ferries, sea / rivers cruises and excursions in Beijing


  • [full notes - water score]
  • The water score looks at means of transport on water - it does not consider water based activities like surfing or kayaking.

Overall public transport score

This is a more practical rating based on bus and rail travel, and also including ferries and other boat services, where they are part of the public transport network.


  • [full notes - overall transit] buses | trams | metro | local & regional rail | national rail
  • Is public transport in Beijing good value, or is it worth hiring a car just because it is cheaper overall?
  • Even if public transport is cheap and reliable, you might still feel that you should hire a car in Beijing because it will still give you more flexibility to reach out-of-the-way places, especially in rural areas.

Walking and Cycling Overview

Active travel score

This overall rating considers walking and cycling in and around Beijing. It includes factors such as the quality of the street environment, and whether you are likely to feel safe walking or cycling, together with the availability of bicycle hire and the ease of linking walking or cycling routes with public transport.


  • [full notes - active score] walking (city) | hiking | cycling (city /  country).
  • A high active travel score means that you might not need a car in Beijing, because you can see everything you need to see using a combination of your own two feet and the public transport system.

Car rental in - Beijing Need v worth & should!

Whether you have come here asking "do I need a car in Beijing", "is it worth hiring a car in Beijing", or whether or not you "should" hire a car here, these are all slight variations on a similar theme. Here we break each one down according to the criteria we use for each question. This is a weighted score based on the values above. These are explained further in the text which follows - [#why] [#whynot]. Do you need a car in Beijing?

Do you need a car in Beijing?

This is essentially based on whether or not public transport and other "non car" options are good enough to get around and beyond the city. For the lowest "need" score, the destination should have a combination of excellent all-round public transport, great opportunities for walking and cycling, together with poor value car hire or generally poor quality roads. 
  • In destinations where both public transport and car hire options are excellent, the verdict for "do I need a car in  Beijing " will swing towards a strong no, because you can do absolutely fine without one).
Is it worth hiring a car in Beijing?

Is it worth hiring a car in Beijing?

Is car hire good value, especially during the peak season? How does this compare with transit fares? This question mainly looks at issues of cost and practicality.
  • In destinations where both public transport and car hire options are excellent, the verdict for "is it worth hiring a car in  Beijing" will swing towards whichever option offers the lowest overall cost for a group of 2-4 people travelling together.
Should you rent a car in Beijing?

Should you rent a car in Beijing?

Weighing up the above questions, if you are here for the first time AND asking about hiring a car, is it a good idea?
  • The final "carometer" swing is much more opinion based, and it takes into account which options will give you the truly best travel experience (n our humble opinion of course). Where a destination offers an excellent score with or without a car, the swing will go towards whichever option we feel gives the most truly unforgettable experience.
  • Ultimately, it's your choice whether or not you rent a car here. We're trying to give you something that's sufficiently far enough away from a "maybe" to help you make that choice. Ultimately, people only come to us because they are uncertain, but we don't really know what each person's preferences are. Whether we say you should or you shouldn't rent a car in  Beijing, you might also want to look up some of our other cities to see how  Beijing compares with other destinations in  China or  Asia.
  • By using public transport, walking or hiring a bicycle, you can avoid having to worry about parking charges altogether! See our "why not" section for more suggestions.

What does everyone else do?

Do most people hire a car in Beijing?

This is based on our observations of (a) car rental facilities and (b) what we think most people will do here. It's not an exact figure, just an estimate of how likely people are to get hold of a rental car here.
  • his is based on the percentage of people "in the market" who we think are likely to hire a car. This includes anyone arriving on holiday here who would usually hire a car on their travels, so it doesn't include people who don't usually drive (or don't drive), people staying with friends etc.


Visitors per year (million)

  • Cities with more visitors are more likely to have more complex airport car rental arrangements, and generally they will also have better public transport, but this is not always the case, especially in North America.


  • [full notes - do as everyone else does?]
  • You may wish to go with the flow, or you might prefer to avoid doing the most popular or obvious option. This will vary according to the range of choice available. This tends to be much higher in destinations which are closer to the middle of the car or no car scale.

Who is travelling?

Your group size and travel budget has a major impact on whether or not getting a rental car is good value compared to using public transport as your main means of getting around. Ultimately, these are all "worth" questions:

Is it worth renting a car in Beijing if I am a solo / budget traveller?

Generally, hiring a car is not good value for solo travellers for multiple reasons, especially as most of the costs of renting apply to the car, not the occupants. With public transport, the reverse is usually true! However, there are always some places where you will need a car, simply because they are almost impossible to reach using public transport.

Is it worth renting a car in Beijing for 2 people travelling together?

A rental car can be good value for couples or for friends travelling together, but since most cars come with at least four seats, it's often still better value to use public transport. However, if you prefer to keep yourselves to yourselves, then you might still want to rent.

Is it worth renting a car in Beijing for families?

Families of groups of 3-4 people travelling together will always get the best value from a rental car. However, you may also be burdened with extra costs for car seat hire, and you well also prefer to use local trains and buses, if they are quicker than getting stuck in heavy traffic.

Where are you staying?

The place you are staying, together with the sort of places you want to see, will have a large impact on whether or not you "need" to rent a car:

Do you need a car in Beijing if we are staying in the city centre / main resort area?

Most large towns or purpose built holiday resorts will have some kind of public transport, whereas parking provision will vary greatly from one place to the next. 

Do you need a car in Beijing if we are staying on the edge of the urban area?

Typically you may be staying in an apartment or hmall house on the edge of a resort or urban area. These places usually have some level of public transport, but not as much as city / resort centres.

Do you need a car in Beijing if we are staying in a rural area?

Rural proprties might include larger villas or apartments, but they can still be within a short walk of a bus stop or local railway station, and the opportunities for hiking and cycling might also be substantial, depending on the destination.

What is your attitude towards driving?

We can give you suggestions based on whatever we consider to be a "typical" visitor to Beijing, but ultimately your decision is also going to be influenced by whether or not you ususally prefer to hire a car in the first place.

Should I hire a car in Beijing if I prefer not to drive?

This is especially the case when there is only one main driver in the group, and it's based on the attitude of the driver rather than their passengers! The main driver may also simply prefer to use public transport, or they may prefer to take scenic train journeys where available.

Should we rent a car in Beijing if we are easy either way?

This is more aimed at the typical visitor who isn't that bothered about how they get around, as long as it is the most convenient / best value option.

Should I rent a car in Beijing if I prefer to drive?

For people who usually prefer the freedom and flexibility of having a hire car. Is it still best to rent a car in Beijing, or are there good reasons not to?

When it comes to making transport choices, whether it is roads that are as thick as treacle, crowded subways or streets that are impossible to cross, Beijing really looks as bad as it gets, however you prefer to get around.

Do you need a car in Beijing? Introduction

When someone asks "Do you need a car in Beijing?", this often breaks down to two key questions:
  1. Can you actually get around using public transport, or is a car all but essential?
  2. Is it worth hiring a car in Beijing? Is it good value for money, compared with non-car options?
Over the next few sections, we wil look at the pros and cons of driving in Beijing as a tourist, and ultimately weigh these up, so we can answer the key question of Should you rent a car in Beijing?
Why? Why not? Ratings Comments

Why should you rent a car in Beijing?

What are the main reasons for hiring a car here? Do you just want to drive locally? Do you want to go further afield, or should you even look at taking a road trip? In terms of factors like the cost of the hire itself, fuel costs, road tolls and parking charges, is it worth hiring a car in Beijing?
  • No reasons!!! – Beijing car rental is not advised / not usually possible without Chinese licence.
  • See taxi / hiring a car with driver below.
  • Pedestrian perils – the streets in Beijing are very difficult to cross, even if you consider yourself to be a “confident” and agile pedestrian. Be prepared for turning cars to come at you from the left and the right, even when you have a green man. Dangerous traffic violations are a common everyday occurrence in Beijing – far more so than in any comparable city that I have visited. However, this still isn’t a reason to consider driving here!
  • Crowded subway – the subway in Beijing is notoriously crowded, and at peak times you will have to queue to get in to some of the busiest stations. Transfer corridors between platforms can be crowded too, as of course are the trains! However, this is still no reason to really think about any alternative choices. Buses are crowded too, and slow over any distance.
  • You will have a much bigger problem finding a taxi, and even if you do find one, the subway is still going to be far quicker once you get on it!
[whynot2 num=”30″]
  • Superlative subway – Beijing has the busiest single metro system in the world. (The combined systems of Tokyo – Yokohama are busier).
  • The Beijing subway serves all of the major points of interest. It provides comprehensive coverage of the whole city.
  • Buses are also widely available. They are very useful for shorter local trips.
  • The subway and the buses are both extremely cheap to use . Expect to pay around $0.25 per trip.
  • Taxis are widely available and cheap. (But it can be a problem to find one in the rush hour).
  • Most of the places of interest in the city are within the inner circle (Line 2) of the Beijing subway.

Beijing Airport Express

If you do decide to get around the city using just public transport and walking, then it’s still worth bearing in mind that the cheap prices that apply on the buses and subway do not apply on the airport express rail link. Depending on whereabouts in the city you are staying, and the size of your group, it might still be worth just taking a taxi for this particular trip. Remember that the airport rail link in Beijing is nothing special. It’s not a superfast maglev like Shanghai, nor is it particularly well connected with the rest of the city.

Getting out of Beijing / Car + driver

For any kind of travel beyond the city of Beijing, then a hire car or at the very least a car with driver might start to look like a reasonable idea. There is still no need for this if you just want to visit popular tourist sites. In particular, if you just want to go to the most accessible parts of the Great Wall of China, you can do this by tour bus.

Visiting the Great Wall of China from Beijing

Numerous different tour operators will provide day trips to the Great Wall of China from Beijing, typically going to either Badaling or Mutianyu.

Before confirming any booking, make sure you check the language that the tour will be offered in. You might well find agents offering seemingly very cheap trips to the wall from around US$10, but the tour will be entirely in Mandarin, and the tour guide will speak very little English.

James says - a few trip notes:

Now if you are a local Beijing resident, then you are already heavily discouraged from owning a car through heavy taxation rates on first year car registrations. Car ownership is only possible by entering into a ballot where only one in 5 applicants wins.

Beijing’s transport nightmare

So what has this got to do with whether or not to get a rental car in Beijing? Well, as a tourist, you will have to face even heavier restrictions! If you don’t have a local Chinese driving licence (see box text), then there’s no point in even going to the rental desk in the first place. You might expect that all of these very heavy restrictions on car usage would add up to creating a city where it was reasonably easy to get around by other means.

So if we were just assessing Beijing by based on public transport alone, then the city does actually look perfectly respectable. If we were just doing our assessment based on raw statistics, then the fact that is Beijing has the world’s busiest metro system. Beijing also has one of the world’s biggest networks of dedicated bus lanes, with a single journey on either system costing around just $0.25.

The stats don’t paint the whole picture!

This all looks very good, but statistics alone never paint the complete picture. Just try going out of one of the many super heated (in winter) complexes of buildings in Beijing and crossing the road at a busy intersection. Never mind the worry of drivers making right turns, they are coming at you making left turns as well. It feels like this special privilege of owning and driving a car in Beijing gives drivers an entitlement that means that the pedestrian here frankly just doesn’t matter.

The city does have a token urban bike hire programme. But with many cycle lanes acting as impromptu car parks, very few people dare to cycle. For 9 million bicycles in Beijing, read there now being about 9,000 left.

On top of the unpleasant  challenge of crossing the road, Beijing is one of the most heavily polluted cities on earth!

Car or no car? It’s lose-lose either way!

So it goes without saying that any advice we could offer for getting around the city of Beijing itself isn’t going to based on hiring a car. We don’t think this transfers in any way to a suggestion that Beijing is a pleasant place to get around without one. Instead when it comes to transport alone, Beijing feels more like a 21st century transport dystopia. If you really want to feel like you are on the set of Blade-runner, there are one or two buildings that can make you feel just that!

Do you need a car in Beijing? – No, absolutely not!


Our slider ratings range from 0 (it isn't even possible to hire a car, e.g. Hong Kong) through to 10 (you really must rent a car here, e.g. Phoenix, Tampa). However, most places are somewhere inbetween these extremes, and this is where it gets more interesting! Further ratings breakdowns, including a much more detailed public transport rating, are currently being added. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.


What is our final score for Beijing on the Carornocar scale?

Remember, this isn't so much a rating of the road network, or a score for what we think of the buses or trains, but it's simply a scale showing the swing between whether or not we think a rental car is a good idea here.


Would you hire a car in Beijing?

Have you driven in Beijing? Do you agree with our advice on whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Beijing}? Do you need a car in Beijing? For some or all of the time? Tell us what you think using the comments section below:

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