Four new stretches of the Beijing subway opened over the weekend, in the process leapfrogging Shanghai to become the world’s largest urban subway system in terms of length of track (442 kilometers to Shanghai’s 437).
Perhaps most significant of the new lines is Line 6, which cuts its way east-west across the city from Haidian in the west to Tongzhou in the east, bringing online key areas in the center of the city which were previously not accessible by subway such as Nanluoguxiang and Houhai. Line 6 also has been billed as a stress relief to the over-capacity Line 1, whose path it traces about 3 kilometers or so northwards.
Meanwhile, Line 10 has seen its L-shaped arc go almost complete circle, with a southeastern swing that traces the outside of the Third Ring Road. Two minor additions connect Line 8 (the Olympic line) southwards to Gulou and Line 9 connecting southwestern Fengtai district and most significantly linking the massive Beijing West Railway Station into the subway system.
Given it’s the New Year and commuter pressure will be low, there’s no better time to explore the new locations that are now easily accessed by the subway. Here’s a few you might want to check out:
Nanluoguxiang (Line 6): Opening at the south end of this hipster hideaway means trolling its coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques is all the more easier. Stop by Plastered or NLGX for a fashionable Beijing shirt or sample dishes both domestic and international from one of its myriad hutong cafes.
Beihai North (Line 6): While it provides easy access to well-known Beihai Park, its name hides its significance as the south entrance to expat-friendly Houhai, which at this time of year is flooded with outdoor ice skaters. A quick walk less than 500 meters to the east will lead you to the entrance of Houhai on the northern side of the street, from which its just a short jaunt to skate rental spots. Head over to Hutong Pizza to warm up for lunch.Also due north of the Beihai North station is Prince Gong’s mansion, a pleasant if touristy spot to see how the royals lived way back when.
Qingnian Lu (Line 6): This eastward station would ordinarily hold little appeal for the typical expat, except for the existence of the massive Joy City Shopping Mall , a veritable paradise of shopping, dining and kiddie fun. With a massive indoor skating rink, two floors of dining, the city’s first branch of Toys R Us and the gargantuan EE City indoor kids experience, where children can pretend to be one of 84 different occupations.
Dongdaqiao (Line 6): now has the honor of being a close access point to the popular Sanltiun/Gongti area, this one at the intersection of Dongdaqiao Lu and Chaowai Dajie. Nearby landmarks include Chaowai Soho (about a half kilometer southeast), the southeast gate of Gongti (home to Fundazzle, about 500 meters northeast of the station, and slightly farther away the Blue Zoo (about 900 meters northeast), and Central Park (800 meters southeast).
Panjiayuan (Line 10): Just three stops from China World is Beijing’s most famous outdoor antiques market, Panjiayuan. A great place to browse for curious little knick-knacks of dubious origin (unless you’re an expert, don’t expect to find genuine antiques — though friends back home are unlikely to be able to tell the difference). There’s action there in the wintertime (and the crowds less intense) so bundle up and head out. The entrance is 200 meters due west of the station on the south side of the road. Also in this neighborhood are a couple of Yashow-like markets filled with dozens vendors of eyeglasses, collectively (and colloquially) referred to as "eyeglasses city". If you can’t find frames you like there, they probably don’t exist. The buildings are located along the western side of the 3rd Ring Road about 200 meters north of the Panjiayuan station.
Beijing West Railway Station (Line 9 extension): This isn’t much of a destination in itself, but this station is the Beijing terminus for many of the trains heading to popular destinations across China, from Hong Kong and Guangzhou to the south, Xian and Henan in central China, as well as Yunnan, Kunming and Tibet in the southwest.
For more fabulous details about Beijing’s subway system and how it will look in the coming years, check it out on its updated Wikipedia page here.