Asia > China > Beijing
See: Why rent a car in Beijing ? | Why not? | Ratings | Summary | Comments
(All of these pages will look a lot nicer when they are tidied up later in the spring)
Your key questions for any destination:
Do I need a car in Beijing?
Strictly speaking, there are very few travel destinations anywhere in the world where it's absolutely essential to rent a car in order to see the main points of interest.
That's why we give you loads of ratings scales from 1 to 10, rather than just yes or no answers!
- The need question is generally answered by looking at public transport (transit) options. Is it good enough for visitors who are happy to consider using it?
- How many public transport routes are there, and are they mainly rail or road (bus) based?
- Is public transport fast, frequent, safe, reliable and cheap?
- Does public transport actually take you to the places you'll probably want to see?
Is it worth hiring a car in Beijing?
This question is usually more about value for money. For this, we look at Beijing car hire options, and consider how rental costs compare with using transit.
How far are you likely to drive anyway, and how much might you expect to spend on fuel, road tolls, parking and any other charges. We compare Beijing with other destinations locally and around the world.
This is obviously much more of an issue if you are planning a longer road trip than it is on a small island.
Should I rent a car in Beijing?
This is basically a merging of the two questions. Everything else might be about giving certain facts about the costs of car rental or using public transport in Beijing, but answering this question is very much a matter of opinion.
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.
Please note that Carornocar.com is currently being revised and updated in preparation for the Summer 2022 (northern hemisphere) tourist season.
We do not intent to include detailed covid information, nor do we intend to suggest hiring a car, just because public transport might still have a mask requirement. Our advice will be based on the same criteria we've always used, ie whether or not you can get a better travel experience, or at least a better value one, by choosing not to hire a car.
Beijing is in car rental price band: 0/10 (1 = cheapest car rental location)
General comment - based on price alone, is it worth renting a car in Beijing?
No. Car rental only available to holders of Chinese driving licences.
Can you expect big swings in car rental prices in Beijing between the peak and the off peak season?
0/10 (0 = stable prices)
Driving score: 1/10
Non car score:4/10
(0 = car hire not advised / 10 = rental car essential)
General comment -
Why? Visiting Beijing using a hire car
Why do you need a car in Beijing ?
Why not? Visiting Beijing without a car
Why don't you need a car in Beijing ?
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 (or simply agreeing a day rate with a local taxi 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, and in particular if you just want to go to the most accessible parts of the great Wall of China.
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.
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, and car ownership only being possible in the first place by entering into a ballot where only one in 5 applicants get the opportunity to go ahead and buy a new vehicle.
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, because 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.
So if we were just assessing Beijing by based on public transport alone, then the city does actually look perfectly respectable – and if we were just doing our assessment based on raw statistics, then the fact that Beijing has the world’s busiest metro system, and one of the world’s biggest networks of dedicated bus lanes, with a single journey on either costing around just $0.30.
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) or air-conditioned (in summer) 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, as if this special privilege of owning and driving a car in Beijing gives drivers a kind of 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 extremely unpleasant basic challenge of trying to cross the road, Beijing is one of the most heavily polluted cities on the planet, again, despite all the government attempts to restrict car ownership.
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, but even though that may well be the obvious case, 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, and 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.
Ratings: How does Beijing compare?
Is it worth hiring a car in Beijing? TBC
This is based on a rough consideration of the costs of renting a car in Beijing, and how this compares with the costs of using public transport. The answer to this varies hugely from one destination to the next, based on a wide range of factors. It's based on renting a car at the airport (TBC), and driving for an average of 2-3 hours on open roads on most days.
How does this compare if:
You are travelling:
Solo / As couple / small family / larger family / senior couple etc
Does car rental make sense on different budgets?
Do you need to hire a car in Beijing? TBC
This is based strictly on whether or no we think it's possible to visit Beijing (and the surrounding area) without using a car. Of the three key questions, this one is the most likely to be a "no".
Should you rent a car in Beijing? TBC
This is a balance of all factors. Remember this is an answer to the question for people who are already asking it. That's why the answer might still be a "yes", even when public transport is good.
See global comparisons
Hiring | Driving | Parking
Trains | Buses | Local travel
Car hire basics:
Public transportation basics:
Regular bus services: YES
Coach (inter-city): YES
High Speed Rail:
Rail type (end stub / through / junction / hub):
As you start ....
Does Beijing airport have a direct rail link?
(Yes - within terminal / adjacent / short walk) (Yes - bus transfer / other) No
Has our advice for Beijing car rental changed over time, or has it been pretty constant?
2017 - 1
2019 - 1
2021 - 1
Average score - 1
Do you or don't you need a car in Beijing ?