(For other short-haul trips from Beijing, click here)
Qinhuangdao is divided into three districts: Beidaihe to the west, Qinhuangdao proper in the center and Shanhaiguan to the east. It takes an hour by bus or taxi to travel from Beidaihe to Shanhaiguan, so depending on what you wish to see and do, you'll need to plan your trip accordingly to maximize your time.
Shanhaiguan, or Shanhai Pass, is where the Great Wall meets the sea. It is comprised of courtyard homes, monasteries, temples, gates, pavilions and towers. The site is filled with tourists, so be prepared to climbs its walls with throngs of Chinese visitors.
To get away from the crowds, head to the lanes and alleys adjacent to the Pass. Because most Chinese to Shanhaiguan travel in tour groups by the busloads, they stick to the main site, the Pass, and completely overlook the charming lane-ways nearby where many folks in this part of Qinhuangdao call home. Some of the alleys and homes have been redone and renovated, others are in a crumbling state. In the end, you'll feel like an explorer as you get lost in the maze of lanes – all by yourself.
The city center. There isn't too much to see here except for the Red Ribbon, a red bench that runs 500 meters through Tanghe River Park. Condé Nast Traveller calls the Red Ribbon one of the "Seven wonders of the modern world."
The beach. It's packed with Beijing and Tianjin residents, so get there early to stake out a spot. Russian tourists also frequent Beidaihe and trilingual signage - in Mandarin, English and Russian -- is the norm. The roads that lead down to the beach are largely dotted with seafood restaurants. Prices are inflated, but still affordable, and because Beidaihe is a seaside town, you'll want to delve into the local crab, cuttlefish, lobster, and scallop offerings.
Qinhuangdao is roughly a two-hour train ride east of Beijing in Hebei Province. You'll ride the bullet train – or D-class train – traveling at 150 km/h (China's fastest trains - or G-class trains - run at speeds of up to 310km/hr). Although several trains leave for Qinhaungdao daily, you'll want to book ahead of time. There are many ticket offices (售 票 处 ) around Beijing that sell train tickets.
From Beijing there are trains that go to Beidaihe, Qinhuangdao and Shanhaiguan. If you just want to soak in the rays on the beach, be sure to book a train to Beidaihe and not the other districts, otherwise you'll pay a hefty cab fair and lose valuable time traveling to Beidaihe. If you wish to see all three districts, consider staying a night so you aren't rushed.
Tip: If you only plan on doing a day trip but want to see the sites and visit the beach, get a ticket from Beijing to Shanhaiguan. But, make sure you depart back to Beijing from Beidaihe. That way, when you begin your day sightseeing in Shanhaiguan and end your day on the beach, you can simply return to Beijing from the Beidaihe station rather than travel back to Shanhaiguan. Summary: departure ticket - Beijing to Shanhuaguan, return ticket - Beidaihe to Beijing.