Travelling on China’s subways

Upon arrival at China’s subway stations you will find that most signs have English writing as well as Chinese – thankfully!  Plus ticket machines have an English option. So directions on where to go and how to get tickets is easy.

Helpful symbols to look for

But just in case you don’t find what you need, here are some useful symbols that we used:

Train station – 火車站

North – 北

South – 南

Exit – 出口

Ticket – 車票

Toilet – 廁


Best phone app to use

I’ll post a separate blog on what apps we have found useful but for now, this is the one we used for subways:

We have found metroman was a very useful offline tool for finding the route you needed (there are a couple so select the one with an M inside a yellow circle).  Type in the ‘to’ and ‘from’ destinations and it will offer a selection of subway options.

You can either download the metroman full version or individual maps.

Getting a ticket

The self-service ticket machines are easy to use with an English button option too.  There are desks but we never needed to use them.

As with everything in China, the ticket machines only take local credit cards (which we don’t have).  The only money it will accept is RMB 10, RMB 5 or RMB 1 (coins only).  So don’t expect to turn up with a RMB 100 note and get change! Note: Shanghai subways seem to accept RMB 20 notes though.

To select the ticket you want first choose the line you want to go – select the station – then select the number of tickets.  Put in your money and click ok on the screen. It will then produce the tickets (and any change).



Next step is to go through the Security gates.  In each subway station is a security gate, where you put your bag through a scanner and then walk through a screening gate.  I’m not convinced that the screening actually does much, but it’s a process you have to go through at every station!

Ticket gate

Once you are through security you tap your card on the top of the gate and walk through – easy enough and wander down to your platform.

Be warned don’t subway stations are huge! Sometimes we felt it would have been quicker to just walk there!


Boarding the train

The subways are fairly busy but not rammed (even when we travelled with all our luggage in rush hour!).  The platforms have gates, preventing you from going near the train line.

The platforms are as you’d expect with signs pointing to the stops along the line. Again, all in English so easy to use with the metroman app.

When the train arrives the doors open with an arrow showing where passengers disembark.  Then arrows on either side showing where to board. Most people tend to adhere to this format.

The trains are air conditioned so makes for a pleasant unsticky journey.  Be quick if you want to grab a seat as the chinese are quick off the mark!

We didn’t have any issues. There was once when our boys got told to stand up off the floor by someone who was patrolling the trains. He seemed like he just wanted to tell someone what to do as he told another lady not to cross her legs! Ha ha.



A quick exit and most Chinese residents will be ready at the door before arriving at the station.  All signs lead up if you are transferring or exiting.


Transfer to another line

You do not need to exit, instead the signs will direct you – with a bit of walking – to the line you need. 

Exiting the station

Once you have reached your destination you need to place your card into the machine (not tap on top).  The doors will open and your card will disappear.

A very seamless and easy process so far! Who said train travel in was difficult! 

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