My girlfriend and I are planning a trip to Thailand this winter (from the UK), and the cheapest option appears to be Air China, with a 6-hour layover in Beijing (PEK).

Given that neither of us can speak or read Chinese, will we be able to find our way around? Are the signs & displays repeated in English (or another language with Latin characters)? Are there plenty of multi-lingual staff? (both in the airport and the catering outlets)

Also, is 6 hours long enough to see anything of the city using the 72-hour visa-free transit option? or is it better to remain in the airport?

  • 1
    Are you sure you want to transit through a Chinese airport, considering the delays caused because of the air space being closed due to military exercises ? online.wsj.com/articles/…
    – DumbCoder
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 10:25
  • Last airport express train arrives PEK at mid night, and the earliest one starts at about 5-6am. If you are staying in the night, you might want to consider that as well, since the cabs IMHO are hard to deal with the language barrier.
    – AKS
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 14:46
  • @DumbCoder paywall
    – o0'.
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 19:37
  • @DumbCoder - It appears that virtually all the flights we can afford on the dates we are going go through China - and the ones that don't either go through Russia or the Middle East...
    – Nick C
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 10:06
  • @NickC either Russia or the major Middle Eastern airports would be a much smoother and more comfortable connection than any airport in mainland China.
    – jbg
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 9:18

2 Answers 2


At Beijing Airport you will easily find your way around. All signs are bilingual (Chinese/English). You cannot really mis where you need to go. I cannot vouch for the staff, however.

Forget visiting the city. If you have a 6-hours layover, you want to be back at the airport 2 hours before. Getting to the city center (i.e. Tiananmen Square) will take you at least an hour, but also on the airport itself, the distances will be quite large, you need to take a kind of metro on the airport itself as well. Queues for a security check took me also another half an hour. Basically in the best case (you know where and how to buy tickets with yuans) you might be left with less than half an hour in the city.

  • 1
    I'm sorry, but airport express takes around 20 minutes from airport to city center
    – MikkaRin
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 10:27
  • 3
    @MikkaRin No, that is to the connection to line 10 (IIRC). You are not in the city center yet. Also, waiting times for the airport express can be as much as 15 minutes. You should budget that in your worst case scenario. Including buying tickets etc.
    – Bernhard
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 11:17
  • it's 4 minutes from Sanyuanqiao (cross with 10 line) to Dongzhimen
    – MikkaRin
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 11:53
  • Sure, but as you can read from my answer I take Tiananmen square as a reference. That is half an hour from Dongzhimen
    – Bernhard
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 11:56
  • 1
    I upvoted both answers, all the info here is valuable. As long as we are clear on what we mean, there is no need to enforce a single definition of the centre of the city!
    – Relaxed
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 15:26

Airport in Beijing is international. All signs used Chinese and English. Airport staff mostly able to speak English.

Road from airport to city center will takes about 20 minutes on Airport Express. You will have enough time to make a small walk or get a delicious dinner. Near Dongzhimen station you can find a lot of good shopping centers.

Airport Express time table

  Dongzhimen -> Sanyuanqiao  -  4 min
  Sanyuanqiao  -> T3         - 19 min
  T3 -> T2                   - 14 min
  T2 -> Sanyuanqiao          - 17 min
  Sanyuanqiao -> Dongzhimen  -  4 min
  • 3
    Dongzhimen is not the city center, in my opinion. If you know your way around Beijing it is probably quicker, but you have to assume they don't.
    – Bernhard
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 11:18
  • 1
    @Bernhard Dongzhimen is a city center. Actually all inside line 2 calls a city center. Speed of Airport Express doesn't depends of how good you know the city
    – MikkaRin
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 11:47

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