China 2014: High-Speed Train from Beijing to Shanghai

Because I had booked my flights as a roundtrip in/out of Shanghai, I had to get back to Shanghai for my departure (I had initially booked this trip using a US Airways business class award to North Asia with a stops in both Beijing and Shanghai, but ended up canceling the award and booking a revenue AA ticket due to schedule changes and because I decided to requalify for AA Executive Platinum status).

My flight was at 4:50pm, so I actually had enough time to take the first train in the morning from Beijing to Shanghai, and then take the metro from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway station to Shanghai Pudong Airport.

As much as I love flying, I think I’d take trains a lot more if they were more convenient (high speed rail between LA and SF anyone?). It’s like taking a flight, but there’s more leg room, you’re much more likely to be on time, and you don’t have to deal with the TSA!

The high-speed train to Shanghai
The high-speed train to Shanghai
2nd-class seats
2nd-class seats
Decent leg room
Decent leg room
Not too dissimilar from airplane seats
Not too dissimilar from airplane seats
View of the "cabin"
View of the “cabin”

The train ride from Beijing to Shanghai takes about 5.5 hours. Throughout the ride, there are people walking up and down the aisles offering food and beverages for sale. There aren’t quite as many bathrooms as I’d expect, and half of them are squat toilets, but know that you can just wait for a western toilet if you wish. There are also outlets at each seat (although you might have to share).

The seating is 3-2 in second class. Somehow (or maybe not surprisingly), I got stuck in the middle seat of the three seats on the left, so you should definitely try to get a seat on the right-hand side of the train.

After arriving at Shanghai Hongqiao, to get to the airport, I essentially took the number 2 line the entire way. It takes a long time, but it’s super cheap.

Given how notoriously delayed flights in China can be, I highly recommend taking the train. It’s fast and efficient and a good experience overall.


    1. I didn’t see any empty seats in my compartment (or at least seats that remained empty the whole way, as people do get on and off the train), but I did not search extensively for empty seats to move into. The middle seat wasn’t that bad, either.

  1. Do you remember price of ticket in 2nd class versus 1st class booking last minute. Is there an English website for info and booking? Thanks

    1. I don’t remember exactly, but I think it’s about a $50 difference between classes. I don’t think you can buy railroad tickets in China online without a Chinese bank account or bank card, but there are companies that have English websites that will book for you in advance for a fee (I think around $10-$20 per ticket). There was also a designated English language ticketing window at the Shanghai train station, if you wait until you get to China to buy your tickets.

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