China has built a comprehensive transportation system of airports, trains, highways, subways, ports, and waterways that is world class in many places.
In the past decade, the construction of high speed rail lines, highways, and many new subways has transformed China's transportation system and the daily life of the people.
This information is about how to best enjoy these new transportation facilities to go to China, travel between cities, and local travel.
How To Get to China
By Air Travel
Airplanes are the fastest and most convenient means of transportation for international travel between most of the countries in the world and China. Air travel can save precious time and energy for enjoying the attractions in your destination.
China's Airlines have witnessed dramatic improvements year upon year. In 2015, 436 million air passengers were ferried. This is almost double the passengers who flew in 2009.
The hubs of China's air travel are Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. These four cities were in the world's top 20 busiest airports in 2015.
International flights go to major cities around the world, and domestic flights go to all major cities within the country. See top gateway cities>>
There are two cities in China that have two airports: Beijing (Capital International Airport and Nanyuan Airport) and Shanghai (Pudong International Airport and Hongqiao International Airport).
Air Travel Tips
- If you choose to board a plane by yourself, please make sure of your flight information: departure time, flight terminal and airport.
- Please let us know if you are a member of a certain airline company if you book flights with China Highlights because we can consult about membership points for you.
- Visa free access: Currently about 16 cities have 72-hour visa-free access.
Book Discount China Flights with China Highlights: real-time search, lower prices, and easy booking.
By International Cruise Ship
Cruise ships: Some would enjoy the leisurely option of international travel by cruise ship. Cruise ships dock at Tianjin for passengers going to Beijing. Ships ply all around East Asia and could take you to China or Hong Kong.
By International Train
International trains: Russians and Europeans might consider a journey from Moscow to Beijing. The journey time presently is about 124 to 144 hours depending on the route.
There are direct train lines to Vietnam also. The Hanoi, Vietnam to China train is an option especially for border crossing from Guangxi. International trains also go to Ulan Bator (Mongolia) and Pyongyang (North Korea).
How To Travel Long Distances in China
Once you're in China, we recommend domestic flights for simple, convenient longer distance travel, especially to western China and parts of central China.
But a recent development is that China's new bullet trains allow travel to many cities in the central, eastern and northeastern areas that is fast, convenient and economical.
Transportation Between Main Tourist Cities
Here is a plethora of information including bus stations, trains, and ferries and addresses for travel between these cities:
China Train Travel
Traveling by train is one of the cheapest ways to travel on some of the long distance routes in China, and it is popular with the local population. In general, we recommend that tourists would benefit from taking bullet trains where possible and only taking the slower regular trains to save money if you have the time to travel or the interest. See Out of the Ordinary Trains below for special interest trains.
Bullet Train Travel
Bullet trains: On routes to cities where it is available, it offers speed, convenience and economy. China's new bullet train system is unique in the world for its size and low priced tickets. For example, you can presently travel between Beijing and Shanghai by the superfast G train in five or six hours for 88 USD and save money and time.
However, for longer journeys between Beijing and Guangzhou (8 to 10 hours) or Shanghai to Chongqing (13 hours), taking a plane is probably more convenient though more expensive.
English: Compared to regular train stations, the bullet train stations have more extensive English signage and the staff speak more English.
What To Expect on Chinese Trains
It is important to know what to expect if you decide to travel by train in China.
English is generally not spoken by any of the staff on the regular trains or in the regular railway stations, and there are limited English signs on the regular railway stations.
China Highlights recommends booking a soft sleeper because you'll get a separate waiting lounge. Priority boarding is available at the railway stations for passengers traveling in the soft sleeper section.
Train Travel Tips
- China Trains Schedules and Booking
- More information about Train Travel in China including classifications, accommodation classes of China's trains, and tips for taking trains in China.
- International Trains: Beijing–Ulan Bator, Beijing–Moscow, Beijing–Hanoi, and Beijing–Pyongyang.
The Shanghai Maglev Train was the first commercial maglev line in the world, and as yet, it is the only working commercial line. It was listed by Guinness Records in 2003 as the fastest train in the world in commercial use. It can reach 431 km/hr (268 mph) during the journey.
These two regular trains below are notable:
- The scenic Qinghai to Tibet train: If you have the time to travel and can afford the extra expense, this high altitude train in an enjoyable experience for many. But it is much more expensive than a flight to Lhasa.
An App for Train Travel on the Go
China Train Booking brings our widely acclaimed China train ticket booking onto your smartphone. More and more travelers plan and book tickets with smartphones, and this app is just the right one for smart train travel. It helps travelers search real-time timetables, check availability, and book China train tickets with just some taps on your phone.
Long Distance Travel in China by Bus
We suggest that you don't use long distance buses unless absolutely necessary due to uncomfortable conditions and safety concerns. Buses go everywhere in China and are economical, but theft and other issues are more likely.
In 2012, the total mileage of highways in China reached 4,237,000 km (2,633,000 miles). Almost all towns, counties, and cities are accessible by highway, and buses can take you almost anywhere. Highway construction has actually intensified since.
Road conditions are usually very good, but be prepared that in remote areas such as Guizhou, Tibet and Xinjiang, the roads might be poor. It is suggested that travelers lower their expectations for facilities or comfort in these areas.
The frequent departures available for buses make the tickets easier to get than train tickets. Buses are also often cheaper than train travel for the same distance.
Sleeper buses are available for longer trips. Bed space is very cramped and you should take extra special care of your belongings. Theft is more common on buses than in the hard bed or soft bed cabins on trains.
Read more information about highway travel in China, including how to buy bus tickets, how to find and board the bus, bus travel tips, and conditions in China's buses.
China Tourist Cruises
Yangtze cruises: Of all the rivers, the long and broad Yangtze River is the favorite for cruise boat tours.
There is interesting and beautiful scenery. You can travel all the way from Shanghai to Chongqing by cruise boat and see cities and highlights in between as your leisurely travel.
Since they are simple to use, safe and quite inexpensive (a ticket may be as low as 30 cents USD), travel by subway is probably the best way for tourists where they are available.
Rapid construction: Since 2002, subways were rapidly built in many cities. Now  about 23 cities have subways lines, and more subway systems are under construction in other cities. The top two longest subways are in Shanghai and Beijing.
They are a good way for tourists to get around because there are English signs and maps and English speaking attendants. Subways stop at central hubs where you can conveniently transfer to other means of transportation.
More information about China's subways such as boarding and tips.
Taking a Taxi in China
Taking a taxi is the most comfortable and secure way of getting around. Taking a taxi is a very fast and convenient way to get to your destination, whether it be a hotel, a scenic spot, an airport, or a railway station.
You can find taxis in almost every city, and the fare is relatively inexpensive for Western travelers. Simply wave your hand and a taxi will stop for you. Prices vary by city but are usually very cheap. The meter should always be activated. Pay the driver upon arrival. Tipping is not the custom.
You can order a taxi from your hotel and ask the concierge to write down your destination on a card. Tourists can also hire a taxi for a half or a whole day, but make sure you first agree on a price with the driver.
More information about taxis in China including the differences between taxi fares in the main tourist cities and tips for taking taxis in China.
Private Transport and Touring - free of hassles, more flexibility
Private drivers: The most convenient and pleasant way is to go with us on private tour or transport. Our driver and guide will wait for you at your hotel and drive you around where you want to go by air-conditioned car.
- Your guide will arrange your entry tickets and any transport tickets (in advance), saving you a lot of time and trouble lining up.
- Our English speaking guide will help you travel quickly and comfortably and interpret for you.
We are known for providing hassle free and individualized help for our customers. We are especially helpful for tourists who don't speak the language and are new to traveling in China. Going with a disreputable outfits can cause problems.
Unusual Local Transportation
In many places tourists go, there are people on motorcycles, tricycles, pedicabs and even bicycles available and looking for riders. We suggest that tourists new to China avoid these for safety and to avoid being overcharged. Locals will often ride these types of vehicles for convenience and price, but they are familiar with the area and know what to expect.
Cycling in China
Cycling is an excellent method for getting around in China's cities or seeing tourist sights such as Guilin or Xi'an. But now in many inner cities, cycling is restricted or illegal.
China still is thought of by many as the kingdom of bicycles. China had 500 million bicycles in 1987 or one for every two citizens. But China now has the largest automobile industry by far, and about twenty million automobiles are sold each year.
However, in some poor rural parts of the country, bicycles are still ingrained in everyday life. They are an important means of transportation, and while on tour in China, you can rent a bike and join them riding bikes in the country.
Walking in China
There is probably no better way than walking around to give you an authentic experience of ordinary life. By walking in the lanes or the neighborhoods, you will see things you might never notice from the tourist coach.
However, before you hit the road, here are some tips:
- When crossing the street, you need to look BOTH ways even if the green light is on.
- Pickpockets are very common in tourist spots. Don't carry your valuables and passports in a backpack. Put them securely in an inside pocket or a secure pocket in a waist bag and keep an eye on it.
- Remember to get a business card for your hotel in case you get lost or want to get a taxi back. Or you can ask the hotel staff to write down the places you want to go in both Chinese and English.
- Buy a tourist map of the city with street names and sights in both English and Chinese in case you want to ask for directions.
- Take some small change with you in case you get tired or lost and want to take a subway, bus or taxi. Taxi drivers are reluctant to break 100 Yuan notes, and you might end up getting fake notes in your change.
See also Chinese Traffic Conditions>>
Recommended China Tour Packages
If you are planning a China tour, please see our popular tours below for inspiration:
- 5-Day Shanghai Region BULLET Train Tour: Ride some of the world's fastest trains to the ancient cities of Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Nanjing.
- 11-Day Classic WONDERS Tour: This is the 2016 best seller visiting the highlights in Beijing, Xi'an, Guilin and Shanghai on this around the country tour.
As one of China's biggest travel and tour companies, we can help you go almost anywhere. Tell us how we can help, and we'll also arrange accommodations, tours, and meals as needed. Save time and money too! Read more about China Highlights tours.
Our private transport (with a guide for all your questions and translation needs) offers a far more reliable and fulfilling alternative to public transport. They can pick you up, wait for you, and drive you around. Contact us to make arrangements.