Beijing Daxing: China’s New Destination Airport

WildChina > Destinations > Beijing > Beijing Daxing: China’s New Destination Airport

For anyone that’s been paying attention to China steadily rising up the must-see travel destination lists, alongside the increasing ubiquity of Chinese tourists, it will come as no surprise that China’s capital city is home to the world’s second-busiest airport. In fact, in 2018, Beijing Capital International Airport – already operating at full capacity – saw over 100 million travelers pass through its terminals. On top of that, the Middle Kingdom is set to surpass the United States as the largest air travel market in the world by 2023. Needless to say, it was high time China’s capital city got a second international airport.

Daxing Airport

Ready for travelers at Beijing Daxing International Airport  |  Image by Andres Vargas

To much fanfare, Beijing Daxing International Airport opened its runways for business on September 25, 2019 – just in time for the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. With facial recognition software, robots, and AI fueling much of the operations (but not the actual fueling process, don’t worry), convenience and accessibility are at the core of the airport, as is its design.

The building is the largest single-structure airport in the world at roughly 7.5 million square feet in size, befitting a country as massive as China. Lucky for travelers, its sprawling size won’t mean increased walk times. Thanks to its radial design, not only will more aircraft be able to load and unload at once, but passengers should also only have to walk eight minutes at most to reach their gate.

Daxing Airport

Zaha Hadid-designed Beijing Daxing International Airport  |  Image by Andres Vargas

What’s more, although the airport is only a little more than a month old, Daxing is already well on its way to becoming one of Beijing’s architectural icons. While transportation to and from the airport and the center of Beijing is yet to be as convenient as the airport itself, we don’t actually mind. The airport is a place to visit in and of itself. Designed by an award-winning team, featuring viewing platforms and indoor gardens, and containing modern art installations, Daxing is set to become one of those airports that you will never forget flying through.

Our recommendation: Getting to an airport on time in a city you don’t know (or even know really well) can be stressful at the best of times. Add to that a vastly variable travel time because of traffic and… well, no one wants that kind of stress. So, why not head out there even earlier than your overbearing elderly relatives may have once suggested? Plan to arrive four hours early instead of two. Or go even earlier and have lunch and a stroll around.

Daxing Airport

The ‘Starfish’  |  Image via Shutterstock

Contemporary Design Meets Chinese Culture

Designed by the renowned late architect Zaha Hadid, the building has been nicknamed the ‘Starfish’ for its distinctive six-pointed, burnt-orange asterisk-like design when viewed from above. However, while working on the project before her untimely death in 2016, Hadid explained that the design was actually meant to be a phoenix (feng huang in Chinese) in flight. It is this celestial muse that is especially emblematic. An auspicious symbol in Chinese culture, the phoenix is also associated with the south in feng shui, which is particularly notable given that Daxing rests in Beijing’s southernmost district. In fact, in the traditional school of feng shui, a phoenix is said to be the mythological creature that guards a home’s main entrance. And what grand home sits almost directly to the airport’s north, roughly 30 miles away in the city center? The Forbidden City – which, as any house with good feng shui must do, faces south.

Walking into the airport, one would be forgiven for thinking they’ve stepped foot into a contemporary museum or performance hall. With its daring curves, swooping parabolas, bold lines, and vaulting arched skylights, Daxing is a veritable cathedral of modern design. Yet, it has one foot firmly planted in culture and age-old customs.

Daxing Airport

Zaha Hadid-designed Beijing Daxing International Airport  |  Image by Andres Vargas

Like in traditional Chinese architecture, the airport is organized around a central courtyard with interconnected spaces surrounding it, similar to the siheyuan (courtyard house) found throughout the country. And travelers won’t just have to huddle next to an outlet waiting for their flight to be called. Instead, they can wander through one of the five traditional Chinese gardens that are tucked at the end of each departure lounge when the weather (and air) is good. Designed with assistance from prominent Chinese contemporary artist Xu Bing, the outdoor courtyards feature meandering pathways through greenery and rocks, pavilions, and benches reminiscent of the renowned gardens of Suzhou. And the eye candy doesn’t stop there.

We said you’d be forgiven for thinking that Daxing was a contemporary museum, but in fact, some parts of it actually are. Many spaces within the airport were designed and curated by China’s prestigious Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA). From large installations that are just waiting to be ‘grammed to interactive screens inspired by traditional ink and wash paintings, CAFA’s handiwork is sure to keep travelers entertained as they wait for their departure.

Daxing Airport

Zaha Hadid-designed Beijing Daxing International Airport  |  Image by Andres Vargas

Art not your scene? For those more interested in duty-free shopping, dining, or caffeinating during their layover, Daxing has that covered too. When all the flights are fully up and running, the airport will have over 300 restaurants and shops (currently there are about 100 open). And we aren’t just talking about your typical convenience stores and mediocre, overpriced dining outlets. Excellence is the name of the game at the airport, along with the policy of “same price and same quality as the city.” Luxury brands like Ferragamo, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, and Cartier are all setting up shop in Daxing. When it comes to food, there’s something for everyone, whether you’re looking for Asian favorites like ramen or dim sum, American diner cuisine at Blue Frog, or healthy, plant-based options. Oh, and as for Starbucks, there are currently four different outposts open with six more on the way.

So, while the airport is obviously a travel hub first and foremost, its breathtaking architecture, thoughtful art spaces, and abundant shopping and dining options make Daxing a destination in and of itself. Some of our Beijing team were fortunate to be able to see it for themselves and they agree that it is well worth exploring before catching a flight. If you’re lucky enough to have a flight out of there, we recommend that you arrive at least 1.5 hours ahead of the time you would normally arrive just so you have time to see everything.

Daxing Airport

Zaha Hadid-designed Beijing Daxing International Airport  |  Image by Andres Vargas

How to Get There (and Away)

At approximately 30 miles from the city center in one of Beijing’s less traveled districts, Daxing Airport isn’t exactly quick and easy to get to – yet. Luckily, there are a multitude of plans in the works to change that. If you’re planning on catching a taxi or Didi from the middle of Beijing (roughly $30/220RMB), the ride will take about 1.5 hours in light traffic or more than two hours on a bad day.

If public transportation is more your speed, there are currently only two options available. The brand-new high-speed (up to 160km/hour) Daxing Express (approximately $5/35RMB) departs from Caoqiao Station on line 10 and will deliver you to the airport in 19 minutes. Alternatively, the Beijing-Xiong’an Intercity Railway Line (about $4.20/30RMB) runs from the Beijing West Railway Station to Daxing in 30 minutes. As of now, however, this method only runs in the direction of the airport with the return route opening in 2020. Additionally, shuttles are also available to transport passengers between Daxing and Beijing Capital Airport.

Daxing Airport

Zaha Hadid-designed Beijing Daxing International Airport  |  Image by Andres Vargas

In the future, construction of an expanded airport express extending further north, the Intercity Railway Connector linking Daxing with Beiijing Capital Airport, and a more extensive Beijing-Xiong’an Intercity Railway Line will make getting to the capital’s newest airport much simpler (and faster).

As for what airlines will be calling Daxing home, that’s still in flux, at least where international airlines are concerned. Currently, all of China’s major domestic carriers (including China Eastern, China Southern, and Air China) have flights in and out of Daxing. Internationally speaking, member airlines of the Skyteam Alliance are also operating out of Daxing, or at least they will be in the future if they aren’t already. As always, we highly recommend that you double-check your flight reservations for the correct departure and arrival airports as some airlines operate out of both Beijing Capital Airport and Daxing. Trust us, you don’t want that stress of needing to get from one to the other before the new Intercity Railway Connector is up and running.

So, move over Singapore Changi Airport. Beijing Daxing International Airport is here to steal the title of the airport you most want to hang out in. To find flights in and out of Daxing, just search for the airport code PKX. We can’t wait to see you in Beijing!